“Healthy boundaries”. Everyone talks about them. We know what they are. We know we should have them. We know that if we make them, we will be honouring our needs, letting people know we deserve respect, and therefore they will help us feel better. Except that sometimes, they don’t. Sometimes, we actually aren’t creating boundaries, but building walls. Big, stone, immovable walls. To keep us SAFE and make us feel RIGHT.
That’s understandable, and as a reaction, it is SUPER common. I’ll give you an example of some FINE wall building. My first husband wanted an open marriage. I wasn’t sure BUT because my programming told me to be NICE and give him, the man, what he needed so he would stay with me, I agreed. Did I reflect on my feelings or needs? Did I ask questions? No, I didn’t. I just quickly said, “Okay” and never dealt with the self-esteem issues behind the immense pain and fear I experienced. Honestly, I hadn’t really thought my needs mattered in that moment, but that’s another story for another day. Ironically, I would hold that request against him for a very long time. Why is that ironic? I was the one to step outside the marriage FIRST. Despite that, I would later come to build a very BIG wall around monogamy as the only viable option for a marriage. Let me explain how my wall-building project began.
I enjoyed a polyamorous V relationship for 18 months with my husband and lover, and then, when my lover gave me an ultimatum, I did what I had learned from “The Flintstones”, and I moved home to mother. I told them both I needed three months by myself – without contact from either of them- so I could sort out what I wanted to do. My husband, who had been a good friend to my lover, had stood by his belief that our love would last and who believed wholeheartedly that we are capable of loving more than one person, honoured my boundary and left me alone. My lover seized the opportunity to send me letters and music and to show up wherever I was, essentially stalking me. In my young, naive 23 year old mind, CLEARLY my lover loved me MORE. It really did feel that way.
Context: It was the early 90’s and I had been taught all my life to believe that stalking was romantic. Movies like “The Graduate”, “Flashdance”, the iconic “Say Anything” and pretty much any TV show in the 70’s and 80’s taught me that as a woman I could EXPECT someone who really loves me to NEVER give up no matter what I said. I had bought in to the idea that sure I can set boundaries, but all’s fair in love and war, and if he truly LOVED me, he would show up and cross right over them, because he can’t CONTROL himself and frankly I don’t know that what I REALLY want is him. Yep, it is the tipping point right into rape culture. Scary stuff, but true. To be fair to my lover, he was taught the same thing.
So, I followed the path of our shared, idealized trope that stalking = love and I left my husband and married my lover. In fact, when we married a few years later, my first husband was a groom in our wedding party. I now have a great deal of respect for hubby #1 and how he handled his desires (by being vulnerable and sharing them and proposing a solution) and honouring my boundaries. Still, I was 100%, immersed, entranced and fully in love with my second husband. Absolutely. I just didn’t see what was happening to ME in all this because I was too busy wall-building.
The wall I fashioned was very tall and rough to the touch and the foundation of it was that polyamory wasn’t possible or right or even real. That it had killed my marriage. That I hadn’t been “enough” for my first husband, and that HE was some kind of degenerate monster for wanting THAT. I know the truth though. I had loved them both, and for those 18 months, while I was sometimes conflicted, I was pretty darn happy. But that part didn’t fit into my victim story, so I buried it in the base of the wall. And probably that’s where the crack in the foundation came from…as it always does…from the truth.
I wove a tragic tale about how I had been duped into marriage only to discover my new husband wanted more than one woman! I was clearly the victim in my head. When it ended, it was definitely because HIS desires were WRONG (judgmental much?). I ONLY had a lover out of self-defense because I didn’t want to be left behind. I couldn’t help that I fell in love, and NATURALLY, I couldn’t continue to enjoy two relationships. I HAD to choose. It was the only RIGHT thing to do. So when my lover MADE me choose, I chose him. Notice how I escape any ownership? Then I put up these huge walls to protect my victim story comfortably supported by the belief that monogamy was the only RIGHT way to be married and hid behind those walls for the next 11 years. When my second marriage ended, it was because I felt devalued, disconnected, therapy wasn’t an option for him, and ultimately I was unfaithful. Me. I knocked the hell out of my own “safe” walls – easier when the truth created a faulty foundation to begin with – crawled out from under the rubble and found myself a lover.
Was that ETHICAL? No. Did those walls keep me SAFE? Nope, they didn’t. Was I HURTING in a monogamous relationship? Yes, I was. Did I hurt my husband? Yes, I did. A year or so later, I made amends to my second husband for the way I behaved, and though he did not accept my apology at the time, I do believe he forgave me on some level.
If we make WALLS, we keep people, conversations and growth OUT. We might stay where we think we’re comfy, but WE are also CONFINED. If we make BOUNDARIES, we can have a dialogue with someone who is on the other side of it, we can SHIFT our boundaries if we want to, we can learn something new and remain OPEN to possibilities.
People are not stagnant. We are migratory and exploratory and we CHANGE and evolve. In fact, we are BUILT for change and adaptability and stress and growth. Our brains are wired for new input and ideas and CREATIVITY. Walls do nothing for us except to keep us in, and everything else out. Boundaries allow us to stand upon the solid foundation of our TRUTH, honour ourselves and remain open to what might come next. I choose learning over comfort now, every time.