The Importance of Boundaries
‘No’ is a complete sentence. ~Anne Lamott
Evaluating the benefits and drawbacks of any relationship is your responsibility. You do not have to passively accept what is brought to you. You can choose. ~Deborah Day
Whatever you are willing to put up with is exactly what you will have. ~Anon
God has really been working on my heart lately in the area of boundaries.
To be perfectly honest and transparent, mine are a little jacked. Particularly in the area of relationships. And by “jacked” I mean…sometimes I just seem to lack the appropriate discernment to put the appropriate boundaries in place with the appropriate people. (Or should I say, with the “INappropriate” people). This blog isn’t easy for me to write, because it’s as much about admitting my own failings and shortcomings as it is anyone else’s. Yet it’s necessary, because I feel like women struggle particularly struggle in the area of boundaries – and single women, even more so.
Though I consider myself a smart woman with powerful intuition who can discern when someone isn’t 100% authentic, I am also a woman who trusts in people to a fault. I tend to be extremely naïve when it comes to people who knock on the door of my life. I trust that they are exactly what they say they are and who they present themselves to be. This, in the past, has caused me to fall into toxic friendships, bad business deals, and hurtful relationships…and it seems to be a test I keep failing, because God keeps bringing it across my path. Trust is important…but naivety is dangerous. I think the problem isn’t so much that I don’t sense when a boundary should be put into place, it’s that I have a hard time actually doing it, because I don’t want to be perceived as mean. Single women so often get unfairly labeled “bitter” and “angry,” I feel like sometimes I work overtime against those stigmas, even to my own detriment.
Case in point, some of my friendships. I live in Murfreesboro, which is about 30-45 minutes outside of Nashville, yet many of my close friends live in Nashville. Because of this fact, finding time to get together with my Nashville friends amongst both of our busy schedules can be tricky. However, I have found that up until recently, I was always the one going to them. It wasn’t even discussed, it was just assumed that I would be the one to make the drive to Nashville instead of vice versa. This got me to thinking – what would happen if I stopped being the one to go to them? Would our friendship survive? Some of these friendships are years in the making, and yet not ONCE have some of them offered to make the drive to Murfreesboro. How is that fair? Are they my friends only when it’s convenient to them? For some reason, it is SO HARD for me to put the boundary in place and to tell my Nashville friends that at least every other time, I’m going to need them to come to me. But I am trying. It’s a new boundary, so I haven’t had a chance yet to see how successful it’s going to be, but it will definitely be interesting to see which friendships survive the boundary and which ones don’t. My hope would be that they will ALL survive – but the thing about boundaries is, they tend to close out the people who don’t REALLY want to be there. I like to think my company and my friendship and what I bring to the table is enough to inspire my friends to drive any distance to hang out with me, but if it’s not, I’d rather know now than after years of wearing myself out to stay in the life of someone who is only in my life as long as the situation is convenient for them.
The second area I really struggle with boundaries is in relationships. I’m definitely a LOT better about this than I used to be, as there are certain things and behaviors I won’t put up with, however, I ‘m still a work in progress. I recently met a really amazing guy (by all appearances, anyway) on Twitter who seemed to be the very pinnacle of everything I was looking for in a man. He loved God, he was funny, he was charming, attractive, witty, smart, driven, he loved to read and watch movies…I mean, it was like God dropped the very person into my life (and my Twitter feed) that I had been praying for my entire life. (The day I “met” him, as a matter of fact, I had been praying to God for someone just like him). And it made it even more special that I met him on Twitter, as so many important things in my life have come to me via social media (my book deal, for example.) Since he was long distance, we transitioned from communicating via Twitter to texting to phone calls to our first Skype date…and things couldn’t have been going better. He shared with me his heartfelt intent to “pursue me,” and made it clear that he had every intention of doing just that. After a couple of weeks, he announced he would be stopping off in Tennessee to meet me in person while on his way to a business engagement not too far away. I was obviously thrilled to meet him and couldn’t wait for his arrival – but this is where the boundaries started to get a little weird.
First of all, even though we were both very sincere and passionate Christians, he made no arrangements to stay at a hotel, which is what I thought would be the appropriate course of action. I very much wanted to respect the boundaries of the relationship and keep it completely pure, without putting either of us in a potentially compromising position. However, he seemed almost offended when I suggested he rent a hotel room. I, being the trusting and naïve person that I am, shouldered the responsibility of his reaction and assumed I had given him the wrong impression – that he thought I didn’t trust him or was a bad hostess. In hindsight, I should have spoken up right then and there and said: “I am a lady, and you are a gentleman. To that end, the first time we meet each other is not the appropriate time to place ourselves in the same living quarters for three days, which could lead to temptation, stumbles, or unnecessary awkwardness. I will be happy to recommend a nearby, reasonably priced hotel for you to stay at while you’re in town.” But I didn’t do that. I felt bad, guilty even, for putting him in an awkward position, when clearly he couldn’t have cared less about the position he was putting me in. So I arranged to stay at my parents’ house, which is a few streets over from my apartment, and invited him to stay at my apartment. Now I realize not everyone has the same convictions as me, and the idea of having a guy you’re interested in stay at a different location than you when he comes to visit might sound foreign to you. But I’m 34 and I’ve waited this long to find Mr. Right and I don’t intend to screw it up now or settle for the same kind of relationships I’ve had in the past, which failed as quickly as they began based on establishing false intimacy too soon. I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to kiss this guy the first time I met him…let alone spend the night with him! It is my intention to abstain from sex until I find the man God has for me and we are married. And I certainly didn’t want to do anything to cause the guy to stumble, either. I was looking out for and attempting to protect both of us, and he wasn’t. Bottom line. I was taking on the establishment of a boundary that he, as the pursuing man, should have taken on. And I put my own feelings of hesitation aside to keep from “hurting his feelings” or making him think I was “rude” or “mean.”
Because of this, it probably won’t surprise you to hear that after his visit to Tennessee, the guy dropped off the face of the planet. Though we had spent hours getting to know each other and praying together and the relationship had remained pure and upstanding; though he had dropped MAJOR hints about the future and called himself “my man” and told me I “owned his heart” and that we were “going to have an amazing life together;” and though he presented himself as a Christian man who wanted to cover and protect and guard my heart AND his, regardless of how the relationship progressed – in the end, he pulled the vanishing act. He didn’t do what I would have hoped he would have done, which was simply sit down with me and discuss the situation and let me know that his pursuit of me and my heart was coming to an end. I would have been fine with it. It was clear when he was here with me in person that something was OFF between us and that he was very distracted and disengaged. (He also spent an inordinate amount of time on his cell phone while we were together, which I’m proud to say I DID speak up about. I’m all for being supportive of someone’s dreams and their work and their passions…however, ignoring the story of how my grandfather died in order to tap out a text message to someone over lunch is NOT okay, and I let him know it.) The most disappointing thing about this situation is not that this guy didn’t feel we made a romantic connection, because I didn’t either…it’s that he didn’t feel like he owed me a proper explanation and owed the situation the proper closure. He felt like it was perfectly okay, as a Christian man, to behave no better than a man of the world and slither off silently into the bushes rather than man up and be honest with me about it so we could both move on with our lives in a healthy, mature way without confusion and hurt and burning an unnecessary bridge. And that makes me question whether or not my lack of proper boundaries from the get-go allowed him to feel as though he could treat me as disposable rather than with the respect and dignity I deserved. Obviously I am not going to shoulder the blame for this guy’s bad behavior…but I am going to work harder in the future to ensure I put the appropriate boundaries into place from the start of a relationship so there are no questions about how I deserve to be treated at the end of it. (For the record, I don’t think this guy is a bad guy – I honestly just think he’s young and still maturing. I strongly suspect he has a habit of “meeting” girls on Twitter, then rapidly moving on to the next pursuit once he finds someone he deems to be “better.” When he gets a little older, he’ll realize that there’s ALWAYS going to be someone or something a “little better,” even if you’re dating Charlize Theron, and you’re never going to be truly happy and learn to appreciate and value what you have as long as you’re out there endlessly searching for the “next best thing.” And if my assumptions about this guy are wrong, then he should have taken the time to tell me the truth about the situation instead of handing me nothing but silence. In the absence of clarity, one is left to simply fill in the blanks themselves.)
I say all this to say…SET BOUNDARIES, with your heart, your time, your LIFE. Not everyone who knocks on the door of your life should be allowed in. Not everyone has good intentions. This is not to say you should barricade your heart behind a brick wall and never allow anyone in…but you do owe it to yourself to protect yourself. You shouldn’t be the one doing all the bending, and the stretching, and the compromising. People who truly want to be in your life and belong in your life will ALWAYS be willing to meet you halfway. And if they’re not willing to meet you halfway, perhaps they shouldn’t be given the pleasure of meeting you at all. So cultivate discernment, take your time, get to know people, and only THEN welcome them into your life. Trust is to be earned, not just handed out freely. Boundaries will only ever offend people who aren’t really all that invested to begin with. And anyone who wants and deserves to be in your life will always respect your boundaries, period. End of sentence.