Friday, July 31, 2009


I've always been a person who likes to get close to people both physically and emotionally. I love to hug. I've been described by several people as "nurturing" because I'm always willing to lend a friendly ear and emotional support to anyone who needs it; when I do, I tend to get very emotionally involved with the person whom I'm listening to. At times, I tend to almost "lose myself" in the life of the other person. I call it being an "open person."

"Open people" have a lot of difficulty learning the concept of "boundaries." We tend to view boundaries as barriers people put up because they're afraid, if others knew certain things about them, they'd think they were strange or bad people and no one would like them. So, "open people" often seek to break down boundaries. Our logic? "You don't have to hide your true self from me; I'll understand. I have weird things about myself, too, you know."

Because of that, the lesson that boundaries are more often about a person's sense of self and privacy rather than shame is a difficult lesson for "open people" to learn. Most of us take years to learn this lesson; some never learn it. Unfortunately, this lack of respect for boundaries, though it's with all the best intentions, has some rather nasty side effects.

When we get really close to someone, "open people" tend to get a sense of "entitlement" regarding a person's life. That is to say we start to get the idea that we have a "right" to know everything about a person; if a person tries to hide anything from us, we look upon it as an insult. "You don't trust me," we think. Unfortunately, this attitude opens up the door to abuse; feeling one has a "right to know" makes one feel justified in invading the other person's privacy.

The thing that blindly eludes us about this is that no matter how much someone may trust and love us, there are just some things we all want to keep to ourselves. One of my favorite Captain Kirk quotes is, "[We all have] ugly, savage things we all keep buried, that none of us dare expose." When we try to expose them in another person, from our perspective we're just trying to forge a closer relationship but, from the other person's point of view, we're intruding.

This ends up creating a dichotomy. We feel we're getting closer to someone by trying to pry into their private thoughts and feelings but they feel repelled by us. "Who the hell is this guy, thinking he has a right to know this stuff about me?" they think. Of course, our defense to that is, "Well, I don't hide anything from you," which is often true; "open people" tend to lower their boundaries in the hope of encouraging others to lower theirs.

It doesn't work that way, though; just because you tell someone your deepest, darkest secrets does not in any way obligate them to tell you anything. So what you end up with is one person expecting the other to tell them everything and, when they don't, trust breaks down. You start assuming, if the other person isn't telling you everything that, "Oh, they must be hiding something." Trust breaks down and, with it, the relationship.

For "open people," it's just hard to understand that someone can love and trust us yet still not want to tell us every single thing in their lives or every single thought that goes through their heads.

Several times of late, I've mentioned on this blog a friend I love deeply. Thinking about her tonight, and thinking about the concept of boundaries, I began to realize that one of the biggest reasons I love her so very much is the simple fact that she taught me this lesson where others, up to now, had failed.

She is one of the most private people I've ever met. The only reason I've been even mentioning her here in public lately, sans name, is because of the abuse "The Wolf" subjects her to; abuse must be be forced into the light if it is to be stopped. Ironically, one of the issues she has with "The Wolf" is this very idea of lack of boundary respect; he doesn't trust her so he also expects her to tell him everything about her and this runs in diametric opposition to her nature.

He, however, because he lacks trust, seems unable to learn the lesson that I have fought so hard to learn about her: just because she doesn't tell you everything does not mean she doesn't trust you or that she's trying to deceive you; she just prefers to play her cards close to the vest. She keeps the details of her personal business to herself mostly for the sake of simplicity; oftentimes, problems are easier to deal with when the fewest people possible are involved.

That, of course, isn't always true, either. There's always the old saying, "no person is an island;" every now and then, you need to tell people your problems in order to get help with them (like with abuse). However, again a lesson that's hard for us "open people," is that decision must be theirs even if it's unwise. In other words, if she chooses to handle something on her own that she shouldn't be, it's not mine nor anyone else's place to come charging in to "help" uninvited.

That being said, in my previous posting I described the hypothetical situation of someone preparing to jump off a bridge to drown themselves. Only situations like that, immediately life threatening, should one disregard a person's boundaries in order to save their life. Aside from that, however, we must accept that sometimes those we love will make choices in life that, from time to time, will hurt them and they have a right to make those choices.

That's a hard thing to do. As I said before, she tends to put herself directly in the path of harm far too frequently. I try to advise her, I try to convince her to do what I feel is the right thing but, in the end, I always have to accept the choices she makes and their consequences. It's hard to watch her get hurt but, though it's often hard on me, I've learned to do it; it was necessary in order to earn her trust.

The thing is, I've never met anyone like this woman. It didn't take me long to realize she was something special; I'd never been more determined to get close to someone as I was with her. In the beginning, before I'd learned what she eventually taught me, I found her tendency to keep to herself frustrating. I was perceptive enough to realize she wanted, even needed, a friend and I was anxious to prove she could trust me; it was disheartening when she wouldn't.

However, I had observed other people trying to pry their way into her heart; those who pried all failed. There were only a handful of people who managed to scale the walls she surrounded herself with and they all had two things in common. One, they were persistent; those who didn't give up survived. Two, they did not pry; they waited for her to come to them.

That's when I realized, if I wanted to get close to this woman, that's what I had to do: be there for her, keep reminding her I'm there if she needs a friend but, if she didn't want to talk, stand back and give her the space she needs. I waited for over a year. I stayed in touch, called her regularly, let her know I was thinking about her but I'd avoid asking direct questions; I'd just ask how she was doing in general.

As I got to know her, I began to be able to read her mood solely by the tone of her voice. If I knew something was bothering her, I'd simply say, "You sound depressed/stressed/angry etc." Sometimes she'd talk about it; sometimes she wouldn't. If she didn't, I'd simply say some variation of, "Well, if you change your mind, call me any time, OK? I'm here." As time went on, she took me up on that offer more and more.

Eventually, she began to lower her boundaries voluntarily. She began to confide in me about aspects of herself I never, in my wildest dreams, thought she'd ever discuss with anyone. Before I knew it, we were talking every single day. Sometimes we'd be on the phone for many hours; the longest I remember so far I think was about five and a half (that's is rare, though; most of our conversations average between 15 minutes and an hour and a half).

Today, whenever she needs a friend, whether she needs a shoulder to cry on, someone to vent to, someone to share her joys with or just someone to relax and chat with for a while, I'm the first person she calls. I do the same; I tell her things I tell no one else.

Still, she doesn't tell me absolutely everything; I don't tell her everything about me, either. Before I met her, I used to feel offended when people would keep things from me; now, having gotten to know the heart of a person so private I understand: boundaries aren't about trust; they're about establishing identity. Keeping a few things to yourself helps keep you from losing yourself in another person and giving that person too much power over you.

That is one of the many reasons I love this woman so much; she taught me what is probably the most valuable lesson I've ever learned about what closeness really means. I feel far closer to her than I've ever felt to anyone because she showed me her heart willingly. Prying may have eventually yielded the same information but it wouldn't be nearly as special; it's so much more intimate when someone opens up to you solely on the strength of their trust in you.

Ironically, I know her 10 times better than "The Wolf" could ever hope to. It's not in his nature to respect boundaries but, even if he could learn that lesson right now it's too late for him; by trying to pry his way into her heart, he's irrevocably damaged even the slimmest chance she'd ever trust him to the level she trusts me. Given the danger he represents, I feel that's for the best; it'll make it easier for her to break away when she finally summons the strength to do so.

Sometimes I think it's unfortunate I couldn't have learned this lesson earlier; it might've saved the relationships I recently lost. However, my friend believes everything happens for a reason; I'm starting to agree. If I had learned this lesson earlier, if I had saved those relationships, I might be miserable now; both of those relationships needed to end. One, I just wasn't compatible with; the other was a pacifistic Annie Wilkes. I think it's best I'm free of them.

Honestly, though I have no "romantic" relationship right now, I feel far more fulfilled in my friend's love than I ever did with my girlfriends.

Between our lives, there are boundaries; between our hearts, there are none.

Maybe that is the ultimate definition of healthy love.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.