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Etiquette Lesson: Keeping Your Boundaries
In this modern first world life, maintaining your boundaries can be a constant struggle – the friend who calls at 3a on the regular crying about her messy love life, the mother in law who wants to be a little too involved in your life, your sister constantly claiming she just wants to do one thing like go to the doctor’s with the lure of hearing the baby’s heartbeat and then ropes you into going on two or three errands after.
Okay, the last one is totally my problem. But, boundaries are a big issue because it requires a lot of balance, some quid quo pro and not getting bogged down by all teh feels.
First, it is vital for you to do some hacking and slashing in your life. Are you part of any organizations that you’re only lukewarm about, but they take up a lot of your time and energy? They’ve got to go. With loved ones, it’s often not easy to just cut them out of your life for a whole mess of reasons. Hopefully one of those reasons is "because I love them and they are part of my support structure when they are not being a complete and utter pain in my ass".
But what about Facebook friends? Oh Facebook, why do you make me care about people I haven't thought about in years? It's okay to have a huge amount of Facebook (or Tumblr or Twitter) friends but you need to weed your reading list down to people who you actually interact with in some way outside of social media.
I have a French aspirational book addiction (stay with me, we're going somewhere). There's no logical reason for it but I always feel like my life would somehow be magically better if I could tie a scarf in a sexy way and jam as much bread into my mouth as humanly possible. They are full of advice on just saying no (to things you don't want to deal with) and it can be really liberating to not get sucked into every obligation that comes your way. Saying no can be intoxicating. A social outing that don't particularly interest me? Non! A social situations that makes me feel like I'm sticking your face in a blender? Non! Answering every phone call or text from a loved one who tends to stay in the same dramatic situation no matter how many hours of my life I've put in, trying to gently tell them to extricate themselves from the latest crisis? Non! Non! Non!
Once you start saying no, it's easy to get drunk with the toddler-like power of it. But just because you’re now learning how to steer the "no"-boat doesn’t mean you’re not going to get stuck doing things you don’t want to do.
I wanted to go to a whole cavalcade of weddings last summer/fall about as much as I wanted to eat my own eyeballs. I wanted even less to be a bridesmaid several times over. Being in charge of your life doesn’t mean that maaaaaaaaagically everyone will be doing everything in a manner that is convenient to your life.
So it's important to ask yourself these questions: While the person(s) are currently being a colossal pain in your ass for whatever reason (personal problems, wedding, moving, etc.), are they generally a colossal pain in your ass? Do you love them? Do they do right by you most of the time? If your answer is yes, sorry Charlie, sometimes we all have to suck it up and do things we don’t want to do. Be a good pony and put a smile on your face and put on that damn coral dress because they’d do it for you. And remember! You’re not a joy all the time either.
But what to do with people you don't want to deal with but must? Or loved ones who constantly tromp all over your boundaries, as carefree as kittens? I find there are few things help with dealing with people like that:
1. Gently, but firmly assert your boundaries. Be a broken record. If you said you could only be there until 6p, leave at 6p. If s/he is complaining that you don’t spend enough time with him/her, aren’t a good cook, don't love cats, say something along the lines of, “I’m sorry I don’t have more time/aren’t a better cook/hate cats/whatever, but I have a deadline on this project/it isn’t a priority for me/ have allergies.” Then change the subject. Lather, rinse, maim until the other person understands that this is a hard line for you.
2. If you can’t handle dealing with them at that moment, don’t pick up the phone, don’t return the text, don’t return the email. You will eventually need to, especially if it's an email from the boss but take a few minutes to pull yourself together. If it's not critical, give yourself a few hours or days to regroup and then respond.
3. Throw yourself into the experience as much as possible. When you are obligated to do something you don’t want to do or spend time with someone you don’t want to spend time with and there’s no escape, the best thing to do is to just commit. Do a great job on that presentation, have as much fun as possible, make the other person have as much fun as possible. Just open your heart and open yourself up to the possibility of it potentially being a good experience. Don’t let petty bullshit get you down, use step 1. and just rock out. Worst case, you’ll be home in a couple hours/days/weeks and you can go back to business as usual.
4. Be a scarecrow. If you want certain people at an event or workplace to avoid you, focus your energy on being repellent to them, like you're a scarecrow and they're a crow. Concentrate on being something that they want to ignore and they will hopefully do just that.
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