Monday, August 15, 2011

Setting Boundaries with a Friend

I'm posting a Guest Post by Allison Gamble:

Setting Boundaries with a Friend

Let’s call her Lisa. Lisa was my best friend. A promiscuous version of myself. And that was alright - funny, even, with the crazy situations she found herself in - until she set her sights on my roommate. It doesn’t take a psychology degree to know that’s where it got hard.

Friends are essential in everyday life. We depend on our friends to help us in tough times and laugh with us in happy times. Unfortunately, sometimes friendships can cross a line. Finding Lisa’s black lace garters in my living room? Definitely a boundary crossed. Detailed accounts of Matt’s sexual prowess? Another boundary crossed. Lisa roaming the apartment in the sheet off his bed? I found my boundaries shrinking in around myself closer and closer as she crossed every comfortable line in the sand I’d drawn around myself. Then, when my boundaries outlined a tiny square in the center of my bed, she decided to come in one day and lay down next to me to talk. I didn’t have a roommate and a best friend anymore. I had two roommates, and no space to myself.

To paraphrase Paula Cole, where did all my boundaries go?

Tips on Setting Boundaries

•            Make strong expectations of cleanliness
•            Set specific days of the month for bills to be paid
•            Ensure clear boundaries of personal space
•            Establish a firm understanding regarding dates and visitors

Sounds easy right? Think again. If you’re anything like me, you don’t want to rock the boat. It was easy to stay quiet and let Lisa have run of the house. But in their sex-haze, Matt would leave dishes in the sink for days, and I made the mistake of washing them myself, murmuring to myself in anger at this violation of my basic rights as a bill-paying resident of this apartment.

That’s where I went wrong. When you’re setting boundaries in your relationships, the most important element is letting everyone know just where your boundaries are. I shouldn’t have assumed that Lisa knew that it wasn’t appropriate to go into my room after we had redefined our relationship. When we were friends, she had spent the night in my bed with me, happy as kittens in a basket. After we had redefined our relationship - at parties, I introduced her as “Matt’s girlfriend,” not “my friend” like I had for years - I needed to tell her that I wanted my space back, that she could go into my room when given permission, not whenever she felt like it. I should have told Matt how I felt about Lisa spending the night every night. I gave away my voice, and no one could read my mind.

One of the trickiest situations is to have a friend move into the other’s home. They can be the best of friends; however, living with each other can drastically change things. They will learn personal things that probably did not want to know about the other person, and vice versa. It will be necessary to learn to share not only the TV, bathroom, washer/dryer but also bills and household chores. It’s wise to take on a roommate as far as money goes; but a person will need to ensure that the boundaries are clearly laid before the roommate sets up housekeeping.

Of course, friends do not have to share a home or even an office space to have respectable boundaries set. Our world is filled with technology that makes most people accessible whenever or wherever we may be. Because of the technology tsunami, many friends find it difficult to set boundaries on their personal time. Maybe I would have been okay with Lisa had I not been at the ready with a cellphone whenever she texted. Or maybe not. Either way, I needed to tell her that I needed space, and eventually I did.

When I finally opened my mouth to speak up for myself, Lisa and Matt were surprised. I seemed okay with everything. Of course I did. I was repressing my feelings in favor of theirs, and I let myself be miserable when I should have spoken openly and honestly about what I needed. My relationships with both of them are slowly rebuilding. We’re not as close as we used to be, but that’s no more their fault than it is mine.

Robert Frost opined that “good fences make good neighbors.” Does it mean that we have to be uncivil about it? Not at all. It does not mean that we have to be a door mat, either. Real friends enjoy each other within the given boundaries of friendship. When both sides respect the other, they can expect a lasting relationship.        

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