I made this painting for a friend who told me that she wants her life to be more boundaryful, but then I realized that I don’t really know from boundaries either. From etiquette podcasts to Cuddle Parties, I’ve studied the subtleties of yesses and nos for years, but I still have trouble knowing the difference between what I am and what others expect me to be. When I heard this episode of Invisibilia, I wondered if I might just have too many mirror neurons, but I don’t know how one gets tested for that.
Mirror neurons or not, I want to take responsibility for building stronger boundaries. In friendship, I tend to ignore differences or slights or do a lot of one-sided giving until I explode from resentment and become scary to the person—those are my ugliest and most shameful times. In dating, I ignore red flags because every man feels like my last chance to learn to be “more flexible” (Read: more lovable) and then I end up in lots of yucky situations that confirm my darkest fears about the world. This isn’t to say it’s my fault that guys (or friends or churches) are creeps sometimes, only that I want the self-love to walk away more easily when the warning signs come rather than ending up in panic-inducing scenarios over and over.
I’ve always wanted to do whatever someone I liked thought I should do. My sixth grade best friend Jill gave me the nickname “Doormat.” She would ask me to do all kinds of little tasks for her and I wouldn’t be able to stop myself from doing them. Once at a sleepover at her house, I stayed up all night because I didn’t have the courage to ask her to turn off the Enuf Z’ Nuff CD that was on repeat.
I’ve sometimes found positive ways to view and express my tendency toward servitude, most recently by vowing service thorough teaching, but in the end, I always end up in the same place— feeling spent, worthless, ashamed, invisible, alone.
I think a lot of people, women especially, are raised to feel guilty for taking up space in the world, for having a point of view. So my task now is to notice the little boundaries, to push back in tactful, constructive ways, to say no to the things I don’t like when I can so that my life has room to fill up with what I really want. I have to guard against seeing every friendship, community or date as My Last Chance. I want to teach myself that I don’t have to fight for a space in this world, but I do have to find out what my own space authentically looks like.