“Brady, I can’t. Who would I even date if I started saying, ‘no,’ to all these men who don’t put in effort? No one does, so what else am I going to do? There’s not many options. I don’t want to not have sex ever again. But I kinda would if I rejected all these guys just cause they don’t try.”
At some point in most all of my professional relationships, we have a conversation about boundaries. On my end, it is a terrifying conversation because it is a very vulnerable and charged one that gets right to the source of most relationship difficulties and personal insecurities.
There is a palpable fear that I sense every time I encounter another’s resistance to setting boundaries; a fear of loneliness.
Some better relationship advice: don’t pick your battles.A boundary, in essence, is a communicated and understood sense of what is wrong or unwanted for a person. A boundary is an expressed, “no.” Simple as. Yet incredibly challenging to do so, because it requires a level of self-awareness of what you do and do not want, and working out all of the ensuing conflict that may arise from standing up with integrity for what you do and do not want . Perhaps out of a fear of conflict and risking a relationship ending, many people won’t set boundaries, won’t address conflict, won’t stir the pot, won’t rock the boat, won’t be a person that would in any way jeopardize the relationship. With this, boundaries are not erected as a strategy to keep a relationship presumably going smoothly forward. However, that’s the implicit contradiction of not having boundaries. In not having boundaries for fear of losing relations when you make boundaries, you also do not experience being loved as you are and being in a tangibly trusting relationship.
By not setting boundaries, it is more than not smooth, it also is not having much of a relationship at all.
But how does this operate? Well I think one of the worst pieces of relationship advice is: pick your battles.
I’m not advising anyone to manufacture conflict in their personal relationships. There is a big difference from making up a conflict to make up a conflict, and not denying conflicts from arising, and thereby controlling them being addressed. I’m not saying you can control whether your boundaries exist or not, because that is a whole other topic altogether, but we can consciously control expressing our boundaries, and when we don’t express them we create relational problems in addition to personal.
Some better relationship advice: don’t pick your battles.
If you don’t like something and, “just let it go,” you are distancing yourself in your relationship. You are solving a problem by yourself and not with your partner. Yet, that’s why you have a relationship to begin with; figuring out who you are and what matters to you, and your partner figuring themselves out and what matters to them, and doing this together is what a relationship is all about. Letting conflicts and problems go unaddressed when they are noticed is an insidious tactic as well, for its aim is a vengeful winning and not a relating.
In not immediately bringing up a problem to address it as it arises, is to tactically wield that problem. You can strategically hold onto a problem, a boundary that you didn’t assert or address, only to use it later as ammunition, kitchen-sink style, to hurl it out with other things that were supposedly let go, but actually weren’t. This is using a relational problem designed to hurt another person, malevolently playing the victim wherein you made yourself the victim to gain the higher ground at some future point. This isn’t relating; this is aiming to win, and not solving a problem at all. Strategically, controlling how an issue comes up sabotages it being solved, and in not bringing issues up, well, you are also controlling how you are in a relationship at the cost of who you are.
Therein lies the personal cost of not having boundaries; you become less of a person and what matters to you, and you, matter less at your own doing.
There is a palpable fear that I sense every time I encounter another’s resistance to setting boundaries; a fear of loneliness.And it is scary to give up this part of controlling yourself. To be unedited with another person and have them see you as you are is terrifying. There may be parts of you that even you don’t like, so you don’t share or express yourself fully. Mechanically, this is all done with boundaries around sharing and expressing the things you don’t like that you fear may be the cause of conflict. And it may. And you may not have your boundaries honored. But there is no chance of it being honored, of you being seen, of you being loved, if you don’t put up a boundary to begin with.
Controlling yourself and editing who you are to avoid conflict fundamentally distances yourself in a relationship. Which, to me, the purpose of being in a relationship is in part, being in relation, and along with it comes agreeing, disagreeing, opposing, collaborating, and conflicting. And you can’t be in a relationship by avoiding conflict, because there isn’t a you in that relationship. There is an idea of you, an edited you, acting in place of you.
I think this is lonelier. I think it is lonelier being an idea of yourself in a relationship, than it is not being in a relationship at all.