On Boundaries

I struggle with boundaries. Most abuse survivors do.

Which is why it might not be surprising that I haven’t spoken to my best friend in three months.

We had a conflict that could have been a normal conflict, but I am not good at conflict so I first lashed out, then retreated, thus making it worse. But as I was stewing on this conflict, I remembered the past conflicts that we’ve had. I remembered how I never felt that any of those conflicts were fully resolved, or that she had taken any responsibility for anything, though many, many times during the course of our very long friendship, she had not been a good friend to me.

And then, it occurred to me suddenly that, as I was seeing our friendship in a new light, I didn’t know that I could ever again see it in the old light.

My boundaries had changed.

My other best friend, Megan, who is a therapist said, “When you change the rules of a friendship, it’s painful. She will have to decide if she is okay with the new rules.”

My actual therapist said, “I like Megan. Megan is right.”

All I know is that I don’t want to lose my best friend who has been as close to me as any sister could have been, but I am not a stubborn person.

Quite the opposite.

So if I have not spoken to her or made overtures for that to happen in three months, then something very fundamental in me has shifted.

I am not the same person I was twenty years ago when this woman and I became friends.

The rules have changed.

A friend came to visit me this weekend. She is young, and her husband died less than a year ago. We were talking about dating, and being vulnerable, and I told her that I feel like I’ve put myself out there, that I’ve been vulnerable, but as I was articulating that, I realized that I haven’t.

Not really.

I have put myself out there, but I don’t know that I have been vulnerable. Vulnerability would have involved putting myself out there for men who might have been actual dating material.

With the exception of River Guide, I have only put myself out there for men who I knew were never going to be what I wanted long-term.

I also told my friend today that I’m inherently monogamous, and I loved being married, but I cannot conceive of ever again being happy with the thought of only having sex with one person.

What it comes down to is that I cannot conceive of ever again trusting someone enough to pledge my entire life to them.

Maybe I have consigned myself to a lifetime of being alone.

I put myself out there for a few guys in the past year. None of them took the bait. Meanwhile, there were other guys putting themselves out there for me, but I was not taking their bait.

All of us were just shooting fireworks off into the darkness.

Recently, I let a friendship cross into territory that I shouldn’t have. This guy and I have a very slight history together, and his crush on me was obvious. I have had a few guys in my lifetime who have had hopeless crushes on me, but, outside of trying to be kind, I have never encouraged them. I do not need the attention of men and am actually usually made uncomfortable by it.

But this guy was different. He and I had hooked up before becoming friends, so I already knew that we were compatible. I couldn’t and wouldn’t have dated him because of life circumstances, but I enjoyed his flirtation.

But here’s the catch: he is in a long-term relationship.

I have never cheated on or with someone. I have pretty black and white ethics about that stuff. I don’t think that monogamy is a foregone conclusion, but if that’s where a relationship is at, then I respect that.

But we ended up crossing some boundaries (nothing in person). He told me that he was going to break up with his girlfriend, but he didn’t, so I ended our friendship.

And then, he assumed that I had wanted a relationship with him (that’s not what I had said, but in my efforts to be kind, it might have appeared that way).

And I was like, “Hell, naw.”

Why would I want to be in a relationship with a dude who treated the relationship that he was already in with such disregard?

But then I questioned myself. I felt I was being too harsh. After all, I wasn’t speaking to my best friend either.

Maybe the problem was with me?

I texted the dude I had been flirting with and asked him if we could be friends but without the flirting. He didn’t respond.

I guess that friends without flirting was not what he wanted.

I have made this new friend at the gym. He’s 63 and very kind. I feel a kinship with him. He’s a faculty member in another department, and he’s not a creep (like so many male faculty members are). He read my essay a while ago, and then, the other day, we ran into each other at the bakery where we both tend to work. We ended up having a really long conversation about my writing, and abuse, and #metoo, and the job market. He expressed that he could understand how disorienting abuse must be, that there must be so many voices in a survivor’s head, and I said that it took me two years after the marriage’s end to fully come to reality.

I said, “I still loved him.”

And my new friend said, “I know. That was obvious from the essay.” He said it with such kindness and sadness that my eyes started to water because the compassion of other people is almost always the thing that brings my suffering into the most acute focus.

You see, I still don’t trust myself enough to believe that my suffering is ever warranted.

I spent too many years with people who told me that I was overreacting, that I had it so good, or, at its worst, that I was the problem.

Is it any surprise now that I have a difficult time recognizing my own worth?

Is it any surprise now that I have a difficult time establishing boundaries?

I was interviewed for a magazine yesterday, and she brought up how I’d written about how much Caleb and I had connected sexually. I told her, quite honestly, that I don’t think I’ll ever repeat that kind of connection.

I told her of how, when Caleb and I were at the end of our relationship, I was telling him that I thought I needed to leave, and he said so sadly, “You’ll find someone else.”

I responded with complete honesty and utter heartbreak, “I’ll never love anyone but you, but I still think that I’m better off on my own.”

I was right about one thing. I’m better off on my own.

I hope that I was wrong about the rest, but in my experience, hope is too often like shooting fireworks off into the darkness.