What is the definition of a boundary? “A line which marks the limits of an area; a dividing line.” Until recently, I’m not sure that I have ever implemented a dividing line between myself and anything. But then the word kept cropping up, I was reading about boundaries everywhere, a buzz word flying around me like a fly when you hold an ice lolly outside. It made sense, how would anyone in my life know if they were overstepping a line if I had never made an effort to draw one. So I started thinking, what is the area that I’m comfortable to move within? And how much of boundary making is about protecting ourselves from change or being out of our comfort zones? Is it ever good to have your boundaries tested, challenged, intruded? I’m going to think aloud.
Within relationships, I have never implemented many boundaries. Sexually I was always really happy to have a ‘nothing is off-limits approach’ we try everything and if we don’t like it then we don’t do it again. However, in certain relationships not clarifying that particular elements of our sex life were solely meant for the bedroom, the lines became slightly murky. If I can grab you by the throat in sex? I learnt quickly as I was moving through (on reflection) toxic relationships, that clarity is key. Open conversations about where you draw the line, where you’re comfortable, what you like and when you like it, is so important. It’s not something to be embarrassed of or ashamed of, it should be a necessity in every sexual relationship. Sex is dangerous, because once that eroticism takes over, lateral thinking remains at the bedroom door. Anything is possible. Respecting the boundaries set in place within this kind of relationship is just as important as declaring them. If your partner tells you they draw the line at anal, for gods sake don’t stick your dick in them without any warning. It’s just not polite.
When I reflect on past relationships, a lot of what went wrong was probably because I never implemented any boundaries. I sat recently and journaled about what I would deem as ‘no-go zones’ in a relationship now. It’s hard for these to not sound like a list of rules that drain the spontaneity and fun from any encounter. I suppose you don’t want it to feel like Supper Nanny has come in and said ‘Okay sorry little Michael, but you can’t play with that toy anymore, it’s out of bounds’. So, I think it’s important to really sit with this list, break it down and explore the things that you absolutely will not compromise on. For example, in a relationship, because of my past negative experiences with controlling behaviour, I won’t accept any comments about my weight – whether I’ve lost it or not. Actually this one applies for a boundary in my life. full stop. And honestly, I don’t quite have the vocabulary yet to articulate this but, when anyone says to me ‘you look like you’ve lost weight’ or the opposite, they’ve over stepped a boundary for me. Fine, if I’ve asked their opinion, that’s my problem but, an unannounced observation about my body is triggering for me, as it undoes so much of the work that I have done surrounding the way that I view body. So, it’s now a boundary that I have where I make people aware that I really don’t appreciate it, even if they think they’re being kind. It’s funny, as I write this I realise that all of my boundaries stem from a relationship in which I should have implemented lines that were not to be crossed. For so many reasons, I appreciate that experience of having no means to communicate what was unacceptable for me, because I will never do it again. Like, ever. I will for example, always need to have a part of my life in which I feel like an individual, whether that’s going out with my friends, or a hobby or my job, I will always require an element of space within a relationship. Some people don’t want any space, totally fine, your boundaries become a jigsaw piece that you fit with the boundaries of others.
With the platonic relationships in my life, the boundaries that I have are a little different, really they exist for me to implement for myself, rather than asking others to alter their behaviour towards me. I now leave a room when my thin friends talk about feeling fat, because it makes me feel uncomfortable. If I don’t feel like drinking on a night out, I don’t drink on a night out. No longer at the mercy of the need to please or to fit in, I just make a decision for myself to respect the boundaries that I have put in place. Sometimes, for me, the prospect of a hangover is so unappealing that if I allowed myself to be convinced for the validation of others, I would be dismissing my own boundaries. Over stepping a line with myself. A lot of the boundaries that we implement with other people, are things that we ourselves have the power to manoeuvre. And none of this needs to change the relationships that you have in your life. I believe that if you explain anything with enough explanation and justification, somebody who respects and loves you, will accept almost anything. If they don’t? Perhaps that’s when you re-think their position in your life. Until then, don’t expect that they know where the lines are, these boundaries are invisible until you speak them into existence. It’s same with jokes. You know the ones, insults disguised in jest: ‘Jesus, can’t you take a joke?’ ‘No, I fucking can’t Sandra because your joke was about information that I shared with you en confident AND DID NOT EXPECT YOU to use against me in front of this group of people you twat.’ Be brave, if it’s not funny at your expense, it’s not funny.
Work life balance. Now this, requires boundaries. And it’s difficult, because we live in the corporate fucking rat race where working 24 hours a day is normal and expected. Above and beyond is the default. My ethos in life, courtesy of my straight-talking friend and flatmate Holly, is “Work smart, not hard”. Working hard, straining, pushing, wringing yourself into productivity, I believe isn’t actually that productive. What’s productive is working strategically, doing all that you need to do to fulfil your agendas and to impress whoever employs you. I don’t like working on the weekends, and I know that this is a boundary that is unobtainable for many, often for me too, but if I work a five day week, I’ll strive to find space and stillness at the weekend. I’m also edging toward deleting the email app from my phone, so that work remains something that I do only when I’m sat at my desk. This is also to try and minimise the mistakes I make as I send a rushed email whilst simultaneously trying to cook dinner, talk to my mother and watch Ru Paul’s Drag Race. It’s all about clear communication so that you know what is expected of you and your employer knows what you have to give. When Holly leaves the office, Holly leaves the office, I admire her for this.
So how do we find the words to implement these boundaries? It’s hard because it’s new, and you are at risk of coming across as super woke, slightly angry, protesting against the status quo. And maybe for a moment that is how you’ll come across, but, that’s how change comes to fruition. Somebody has to step out of line, somebody has to change the way that we communicate our feelings. Without stigma, without shame and with total respect and clarity, draw out your lines. Write down those boundaries and speak them into existence. Note what makes you feel uncomfortable. Note what you will not compromise on, it’s a positive activity and it can save a hell of a lot of pain and discomfort. But be mindful to note, when your boundary becomes a limiting space, a space that stops you from facing some demons or exploring different avenues. There may be things that you think don’t serve you, yet you have never truly experienced them. Be rational, be kind and don’t do everything at once, start by drawing out one line, in one aspect of your life. Move carefully and consider your movements. Oh, and draw in pencil, just incase you need to rub out a line. x