Boundaries have been a BIG topic in the Aerial Dance Book Club the past few months. As my 40th birthday rolls around and I am, begrudgingly, throwing myself a party I have been thinking of how different respecting boundaries makes the situation. In the past when someone wouldn’t attend an event I invited them to I would have hurt feelings and a little resentment; this go around I am endeavoring to remember that someone’s choices are their own and to “not take it personally” as we learned reading “The Four Agreements.” That if someone is choosing not to attend, it is their boundary and I have to respect that. But I get boundaries too and I have set the boundary that I don’t need to validate yours in relation to my event. And let me tell you, it is tricky.
In my life, I realize now, that I have asked people to validate my boundaries ALL THE TIME. What does that look like? “I can’t come to your event because (insert a valid excuse in my mind). I’m so sorry. I really want to be there.” By stating this, I wanted to hear from the person “oh, it’s ok” in some form. I am making an excuse, knowing I am not doing what the person wants and hoping they will make ME feel better. By stating versions of this I am asking the person I am rejecting to absolve me of guilt or negative feelings about my choice to reject them. I have done this all my life. And now as I am getting a lot of this in regards to my own shindig and with all the talk about boundaries I realize, it isn’t ok. You are doing you. You don’t need me to say it is ok. Because to me, your choice isn’t the one I want you to make; I want you there or I wouldn’t have invited you. So we are agreeing to disagree on the topic. And it isn’t my job to tell you it’s ok and it isn’t your job to feel guilty or need my approval for your choice. You do you. I do me.
The other thing I’ve done all my life when turning down an event is “we’ll get together another time”. Again, I would say this as a way to “make-up” for rejecting the event they wanted me to attend because I felt bad for rejecting them. I would say I’ve followed through maybe 50% of the time on these “raincheck” events. And in the crazy busy world we live in now, that percentage is going down because it takes months of planning to see my friends most of the time now. So if I don’t prioritize their event when they have scheduled it, it is unlikely I will have the energy and time later to create one on my own to honor them. That’s just the reality. And is it even fair for me to ask them to take more time out for the event they have already celebrated? I’m thinking on this currently and not sure. It feels almost more painful somehow because you weren’t first choice but now you’ll throw some scraps to ease your own guilt? I’m not sure on this one yet, something to ponder…
But….Why all the guilt?!?!?!?! That’s what these fake conversations stem from. Why can’t we own our choice. I am choosing to attend X over Y. I am choosing X event over Y event on that particular day. Why when we make a choice do we feel the need to feel bad about it? This is something else I’m contemplating. How can I let go of the guilt I feel when I have to make decisions about where to spend my time and how do I encourage those around me to not feel guilt when rejecting me? I don’t have a solution, but feel strongly we need to let go of guilt when making decisions, that are at the end of the day, are our choice.
So my boundary for my own party has been to not tell the people not attending “it’s ok” and instead to say things like “I understand you have different priorities that day” because that is honest. I do understand that I am not their priority that day and they are choosing to go elsewhere. But it IS their choice. We all have choices of where and how we spend our time and your choice is yours, you need to own it. Boundaries are about making choices and enjoying those decisions. Don’t make a choice and carry guilt or sadness. Make your choice and own it.
It’s been a struggle. It is so much easier to say “it’s ok” because I have been doing it for 39 years and 360ish odd days. But I feel like I am being more truthful to myself by instead acknowledging their decision for what it is, a choice, and not taking it personal. Interestingly, some of my friends have really struggled with this. Every time I talk to a dear friend, she brings up how bad she feels that she can’t come to my party and I say a version of my boundary comment. And she, I can tell, is upset with me. She is looking for me to validate her choice. She keeps bringing it up daily because she is looking for me to absolve her in some way. Part of my own journey is knowing I don’t have the power to make anyone feel anything, what you feel is on you, my job is to stay true to myself.
My challenge to all of you is to throw out the rubbish when turning down invitations. Don’t give a reason you’re turning it down. Don’t try to validate your rejection of someone. Don’t look to the person you’re rejecting with your choice to absolve it and make you feel better. Set your boundary, do you. It is easier for everyone involved if we don’t pretend that anything you do isn’t a choice. Saying things like “I wish I could be there” isn’t accurate, you are choosing not to be. So call it like it is. If we all communicate with directness we can all leave behind fake and be closer. We can leave behind guilt and resentment and own our choices. Boundaries are ways to have healthier relationships both with ourselves and with the people in our lives.