the difference between ‘healthy boundaries’ and disposable friendships
On the one hand, I understand. I’ve done it. I’ve ended friendships and romances because I was turning into someone I didn’t want to be. Because I was hurting. Because they were hurting. Because we weren’t doing anything good for each other. Because we were, in fact, making each other worse.
On the other hand, I worry about this trend towards disposable friendships, relationships, and marriages.
I have such mixed feelings about marriage. I liked being married. I hope my kids get married some day. I want to get married some day. EVERYONE should have the right to get married if they want to.
And I am totally fucking terrified both by the prospect of getting married again and at the thought that I might not marry again.
And, so given my fraught relationship with marriage, I don’t do weddings. I make excuses. I schedule vacations that conflict with the date. My gift arrives but I do not.
I don’t go, because marriage is sacred and I threw my own marriage away. I can’t shake off that shame.
I’m not alone.
A friend of mine is separated and working his way through his grief to a divorce, and he doesn’t think he’ll marry again. Not because he is afraid to, but because even if he divorces, he’s still married. He made a commitment. He’ll be married forever because marriage is forever.
Obviously, this is going to be a problem for him and anyone who one day entertains thoughts of marrying him.
But…I understand what he’s thinking. I respect it. I wish I understood this exact point when I was on the precipice of leaving. I wish I understood this before I got to the point where the only escape was to leap off the married cliff into…
not the abyss. Being single isn’t a curse – but divorce is a nightmare. It is a tearing asunder of that which has been joined together.
And although I would tear apart with my own prettily-polished nails all of those ‘thinkers’ *ahem* who blame rising divorce rates (are they still rising? or do we just like to run around screaming “the sky is falling! the sky is falling! oh my god those feminists are raining divorces down on the innocents! the sky is falling!) on that pesky women’s liberation, I do wonder if as a culture we’re now taking marriage less seriously.
I wish, when I married, that I had grasped the magnitude of the commitment I was making. I wish, when I was divorcing, that I hadn’t collapsed my world into a binary choice of leaving/saving self and staying/sacrificing self. I wish I had realized that in every marriage there is a conversation between space and intimacy. That you can have space and intimacy in a marriage. That you don’t have to marry the perfect person. That there is no perfect person. That leaving can indeed save your soul but so can staying. That even though leaving seems easier, it is probably much, much harder.
Which, of course, is not to say I would go back. You can never go back.
What I am trying to say is that I have treated people, relationships and marriages as consumable goods. I go shopping for the thing I think I want or need, and then when I get it home and find it didn’t fill the gap, hit the spot, or look as good at the kitchen table as I had expected, I return it or get rid of it.
That’s treating people and relationships as disposable goods. That’s using people to meet my needs rather than appreciating them as they are, for who they are.
And that’s obviously not okay.
So I get a little icked out when I read that you can change your life by changing your friendships, or that your weight or your income can be predicted/determined by the five people you spend the most time with blah blah blah.
(My six year old and four year old own my time and their cumulative weights and incomes are skewing the averages down, down, down. Ought I get rid of them? Or just embrace my future impoverished but slim self?)
And, at the same time, sometimes the people in your life are terrible for you, and you do need to develop new boundaries. And maybe new friends. Or a different lover. Or no lover at all.
But where is the line that tells us when we’re establishing boundaries or disposals?
Because I’m having trouble telling the difference. When am I wisely dumping a friend or a lover because they’re bad for me and when am I casually disposing of a relationship because it doesn’t match the wallpaper?
Is the line between disposable relationships and healthy boundaries a fixed or moving frontier?
I wonder this, when I’m hurting, and when I want and need and deserve something that someone in my life won’t give me. Do I walk away from this person because she’s not serving up what I want for breakfast? Or do I find ways to satisfy my own needs so I am able to love him unconditionally?
Are the people in my life here to meet my needs, which means they can be disposed of when they don’t?
I am repulsed by a consumer approach to relationships.
But am I so porous and my boundaries so permeable that I’ll stay committed to someone or something that can’t or won’t help me get what I want and need?
Wondering about these questions wears me out. I am tired.
I don’t have the answers even though they are the subject of many a 4am freak-out. And so I am tired.
I stay up late or wake up early thinking about these questions and so I am tired.
I pack around these questions on my back and that backpack is already heavy with the responsibilities. I’m almost always entirely responsible for the care and feeding of Love and my loved ones. And so I am tired.
My questioning heart, head and shoulders are tired.
Which makes this exactly and urgently the right time to determine what things to let go of and what things to carry.
And, I suspect, this is when we damsels, fair maidens and princesses have been trained to look for a dude on a white horse to carry us, too.