L I G H T B U L B ! Friendships don’t exist without boundaries. I’ll explain.
I went to the Chiropractor recently, while I was in the midst of an emotional shit storm. It went like this:
Chiro: Hi Shawna, how are you?
Me (through tears, too cheerfully): Hi! I’m good, I’m good! Sorry, I just got some bad news (indicating my phone), so I’m just kind of (wiggling fingers in front of eyes to indicate tears dropping.) Ahh! Ha ha!
Chiro: Oh. Well okay, but otherwise you’re…
Me (laughing manically): Yeah no, otherwise good! Things are good. All good. I’m sorry I’m all (wiggles fingers)… Ahh, crazy (sniff).
Chiro (averting eyes): OK well…
Me (pulling it together, realizing what the chiro is actually asking): Oh! But yes… ahem, I’m here because I’ve been experiencing some sciatic pain…
I hadn’t actually gotten any bad news. I lied to cover for the fact that I am a grown ass woman crying big tears – that I cannot control – in an inappropriate stetting. Before I got here, I confronted a loved one about what appears to me to be their lack of interest in our relationship. I did this OUT OF THE BLUE and OVER TEXT. It did not go well.
About a week ago I realized I was hurting pretty badly because I have been feeling this person slipping away for months, or maybe longer. She seemed to be uninterested in hanging out with me no matter how casual and easy I made it, no matter how much I insisted, no matter how many times I ignored how I felt and went along with something she wanted to do. And, from my vantage, she seemed to also be prioritizing spending time with other, newer friends. Ouch!
This is not the first time that I have felt like I don’t matter to someone. I grew up in an environment that demanded I ignore my own feelings and see things from my one parent’s perspective, and by the end of junior high, my other parent wasn’t even in the picture any more. Lesson there: you don’t matter, kid. As I entered adulthood, I began to lose close friends, one after another, and fast. First, it was my friend who got a new job and a new group of friends, and unceremoniously kicked me to the curb (literally, she pushed me out of the front door of a party with said new friends). Then, another friend chose new friends and a new boyfriend and completely stopped talking to me one day, ignoring my calls and texts and emails and stalker behavior until I got the point and gave up. Then a friend pledged a sorority and actually smacked me hard on the top of my head for embarrassing her in front of her new sisters. And now it seems to be happening again.
Something dawned on me after the chiropractor cracked my bones; the common denominator here is ME. What am I doing to push people away?
The answer is two-fold.
First, nothing. Good news! There is nothing that I am doing to force people to make choices for themselves that differ from what I want for myself. They are not me and I am not them. Friends will make choices for their own lives that (shocking, I know) have nothing to do with how they feel about me. However, I am making an egregious error in my reaction to those choices.
No matter what my friends do now, I cling to what once was like some kind of algae-starved sucker fish. I ignore my every instinct to say something about their treatment of me, to decline the half-hearted, obligatory invitations they extend to me, or to face how very different the dynamics of our friendship have become. In essence, I ignore how I feel in an effort to see things from their perspective, and I do it because I’m afraid that I don’t matter. Sounds familiar. I ignore the tension I feel until it all builds into something too hard for me to bear, then I force a confrontation or otherwise demand answers out of desperation, which is what has just happened via text message.
But no more. Maya Angelou once said, “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” I am breaking this cycle right here. I have a little boy at home and a little girl on the way. There is N O W A Y I N H E L L they are going to learn from my example that we should continue to hang onto people who treat us like we don’t matter because we’re afraid that it’s true. I matter, no matter how anyone treats me, and I’m not a victim. A person’s treatment of me is about them, not me.
So, I’m unpacking the mistreatment of my past.
Growing up, my mother was so afraid she was unworthy of love that she used emotional manipulation to demand that I prove my love for her; this included denying me my own point of view. She did this out of her own fear, not because I didn’t matter. She learned she was unworthy of love much in the same way I learned I didn’t matter. It was just as untrue for her as it is for me.
Friend #1 filled some need for significance she had with her new group of friends. At the party I attended, one of the new friends flirted with me. She saw this happen, became fearful that her significance within her new friend group was threatened, and ousted me. She did this out of her own fear, not because I didn’t matter. She learned she was insignificant at some point just as I learned I didn’t matter. It was just as untrue for her as it is for me.
Friend #2 felt like she was a better person around her new boyfriend and new friends. She had cheated on the boyfriend a few weeks prior, telling him and the new friends that she was with me. She wasn’t, but when the cheating came to light, I was the friend who supported her. She feared she was a bad person and equated being bad with being around me. She cut me out in an attempt to stop being a bad person. She learned she was bad at some point in her life just as I learned I didn’t matter. It was just as untrue for her as it is for me.
Friend #3 was afraid she wasn’t good enough and she wanted really badly to belong. She was excited to have the college experience with her sorority sisters, so she did what she could to fit in. She tried to include me, but I had no intention of trying to impress her sorority, and my behavior was embarrassing for her. She learned she wasn’t good enough somewhere in life just as I had learned I didn’t matter. It was just as untrue for her as it is for me.
I can easily forgive the pain I’ve suffered when I pause like this to consider what someone else was going through. It makes everything less personal. And, given what I have discovered, I can assume that whatever is going on with the friend I feel pulling away now has nothing to do with whether or not I matter and probably everything to do with some feeling they have about their own worthiness, whether they realize it or not. I can easily forgive that, too.
Finally, I can set boundaries around what I’ll tolerate.
I matter. So, a good friend or loved one who consistently neglects to include me in their important life events (ones they once couldn’t have imagined without me), or who acts as if it’s odd that I have an emotional reaction to our sudden lack of closeness, or who uses unkind language, emotional manipulation, or even inappropriate physical contact (like the slapper) in their response to me, isn’t actually a friend any more. I will ask to be included. I will expect my feelings to be important. I will request kind language & treatment. If their behavior continues unchanged, I will move on. That’s that.
Healthy relationships don’t exist without boundaries. And I’m not here for unhealthy, babe, because I matter.