B is for Boundaries… and Bands (like the rubber ones, not like… Metallica)

Earlier this week, over fries and beer, a friend and I were talking about relationships (our rendezvous did not pass the Bechdel test…) and boundaries were one of the lead actors. Boundaries seem to always come up as one of the most complex concepts in relationships and the most advised upon as well. “Set your boundaries hard and fast. They’re the walls that protect you and show that your partner respects you.” Versus, “Be fluid and understanding. If you focus on your boundaries, all of your attention will go to them and you’ll just be waiting for someone to stumble upon them unawares.”

How can the advice on something as fundamental as boundaries be so polarizing? Clearly it isn’t clear cut. So maybe your boundaries shouldn’t be either.

Thanks to Brene Brown’s acronym BRAVING in her appropriately named book, Braving the Wilderness, the B (as in Boundaries) is something we talk about on the reg at Wildernest. So naturally, I thought this would be a great place for me to work through my thoughts on the matter, to see if I could come up with my own perspective that’s a little less rigid and stark than what I’ve heard in the past.

Here’s what I think: Boundaries should be elastic. Not walls and not water, but somewhere in between.

Needs are the absolute base level of what you require from a relationship (be it in work, love, family, or otherwise). I picture Needs like a peg in a board – stationary, static. Boundaries, on the other hand, are like a rubber band being held in place by the peg. If the needs are not met, the boundaries are moot, having nothing to hold on to and just moving all over the place. The key is that when your boundary is pushed, it does not stay there. Instead, it snaps back to where it is comfortable, but it does not break under the slightest pressure. Sure, if you push the rubber band too many times in the same spot, it will snap. And often you might find that when your boundaries are pushed in one place, it causes tension and a closing-in on other places.

Now remember, your partner, friend, colleague, or whoever else doesn’t inherently know where your boundaries lie, and frankly you might not even know yourself until they’re tested. This is why it’s so important to remain elastic. Think of this, how many potentially beautiful relationships would fail or be cut off at the knees if your boundaries were rigid from the get-go? If the other person shattered to pieces from blindly crashing into a wall they didn’t know existed? Of course you want to protect yourself, but if you build hard and fast walls, maybe even some with spikes, you’re making it impossible for anyone to even enter the ring.

Plus, would you really want to coexist with someone who never challenges you and always plays it safe? Or do you want someone who actually cares enough to figure out where your boundaries are, not push them until you break, but just test them enough so that both of you intimately understand every little space within bounds, all the way up to the very edge? To understand why your boundaries are where they are? To know that they won’t shatter if they do hit your boundary? That they will be received and sent back within bounds, with no damage done? Isn’t that the basis of trust?

Everyone’s elastic will be different – some will be super thin little bands like the kind that hold little girls’ braids; some will have those super stretched out ones that have been in a rubber band ball for like 10 years and are covered with pencil marks and residual dye from neighboring bands; some will have those thicker ones that go around bunches of asparagus; and some will have the SUPER thick ones that go around lobster claws. That’s for you to decide. They’re your boundaries to set. And maybe you can even be brave and test your own now and then. But be gentle with those who come into your circle and genuinely want to get to know your rubber band and all the spaces within it. And be gentle with yourself if you decide to reevaluate, make exceptions, snap back – that decision is yours and yours alone.


gabi defosse

Copy Director

Bali, Indonesia

After several years working in film packaging and comedy talent management in Los Angeles, then somehow transitioning into a role as a Client Executive at IBM, Gabi took over a year off, met the love of her life, traveled the world, and moved to Bali. There she met a woman who liked her extensive vocabulary and bizarre sense of humor. Now she’s a writer. Building Wildernest has given her a platform to help other women who may have taken a similarly circuitous route to figure out their true callings.

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