The Boundaries We (Don’t) Set

Do you know why I love books? For a few reading hours, they allow me to be brave through the psyche of another person and not care about consequences.

Books have taught me that I have a massive character flaw: I am a coward. In a million tiny ways, most of them insignificant and shrug-worthy to others, I am a coward. I don’t always say no when I should. Resulting from a desire to solve problems and be helpful, I do that first, and think about whether I should have done it later, after it’s come back to bite me on the ass. It’s partly my own nature, and partly the nature of my day job, which dictates, “You do what is asked, you do it with a smile. You go the extra mile, do more with less, lead by example, and smile.”

As I read that back to myself, all I can think¬† of is the creepy guy on the street corner, always saying, “Gimme a smile, baby.” It’s the same thing, really. Except the former pays you to do it and the latter calls you a bitch if you don’t.

What would you do if you had the freedom to do or say anything? Would you tell that coworker who called 5 minutes before end of day to request 2-hours’ worth of work to take it somewhere else? Would you wear that outfit people call “inappropriate” with pride? Would you go to that club or bar people whisper about, but never admit to visiting?

What would you do if you no longer cared about what people thought of you?

I think about this a lot–about the boundaries we set, or don’t set in different ways and situations. I think most of us have pretty solid boundaries when it comes to the big stuff, and we’re more than willing to enforce those boundaries by any means necessary. Some people draw the line at having sex on a first date–some people draw it at having sex, period. Some people won’t lend money (or books). Some people refuse to step foot on a suspension bridge. Maybe you don’t want to give up your child’s recital to help a neighbor move. Maybe you refuse to go to that crazy rave party your friends are pushing you to go to. Maybe you don’t want to emigrate to a foreign country and leave your entire life behind so your spouse can take that great job offer. We draw lines in the sand, and we refuse to let them be crossed.

But what about the million and one little things we have to do every day and not even notice? You ask that the toilet seat be put down, yet every time you go to the bathroom, it’s always up. You say you don’t want to watch that horror flick late at night but, “Come on, babe, it’s only an hour and a half. It’s no big deal.” You tell your weekly lunch crowd you don’t want a certain type of food, but, “Oh, come on, just try it! What’s wrong with you? You never want to try new things.”

I am at an age where every unpleasant choice comes down to one question: Is the outcome so important to me that I am willing to risk temporarily or permanently damaging my relationship with this person? Most of the time, the answer is no, so I go along the path of least resistance. I won’t stubbornly argue a point of view that won’t make a difference in the long run. I will give in and do that thing, or go to that place, and grin and bear it for a few hours.

The problem is, after a while, people start taking advantage of that, and I get resentful, and it’s as much my fault as it is theirs, because I don’t say anything to let them know this is not okay with me. Until the proverbial straw breaks the camel’s back and causes an epic meltdown.

A big (and controversial) part of The Beast Series is that very concept of freedom from consequence. What would you do if you didn’t have to care about what people thought of you? That kind of freedom comes from one of two places: money and privilege, or apathy and the recklessness of having nothing to lose. My (anti)hero, Prince Bastien, lives in the former. He is untouchable, and he knows it. He does the things he does because there is no one to make him stop. There is no one to tell him, “No, this is wrong.” He is surrounded by people whose purpose in life is to do his bidding, and friends who revel in the immunity he bestows upon them through association. He doesn’t care, so why should they?

Bastien is what happens to a person when they stop giving a shit–about anything or anyone. And his friends are what happens when people gravitate toward that kind of assholery because it excuses their own bad behavior. People don’t like “bad” people, I don’t think. What they like is being able to be a little bit bad themselves, because whatever they say or do, they can always console themselves by remembering they’re still not as bad as the other guy. It’s the allowance of freedom from conventional rules of etiquette we crave; the “permission” to be mean under the guise of standing up for ourselves; to indulge those aspects of ourselves polite society deems unacceptable. Or maybe just to forcefully rebuild the boundaries we have allowed others to breach far too many times.

Boundaries are a funny thing. The word itself feels so firm and absolute. “Pushing the boundaries” is a phrase always associated with something nearly impossible–great feats of effort to overcome that ethereal border between what is possible and what is not. In contrast, our personal boundaries are sometimes so flimsy they feel more like a wish. They move and evolve constantly over the span of a lifetime, or even the span of a day. What felt like such an important principle yesterday becomes irrelevant today. The things we could demand last week are no longer an option come Monday morning.

We ourselves treat boundaries as if they were suggestions. We sacrifice the integrity of our own for the sake of other people and undermine other people’s for the sake of ourselves. If we put our foot down, someone is always on hand to accuse us of being selfish, having an attitude, not being a team player. So we pick it back up again, and play along–and smile. And then we take back our due from someone else, do to them what’d been done to us because, damn it, we deserve recompense! And so it goes…

I started this post this morning with the intention of making a new resolution: to be braver, stand up for myself more often, and set proper boundaries. It’s been hours since then, and in the time between me setting aside an unfinished post and coming back to complete it, I actually got the opportunity to do all of that. And I’m happy to report that I did. Maybe not as forcefully as I would have liked, but I took a step. I made progress, and I didn’t let myself get stomped into the ground by a temperamental hothead in a bad mood.

Today, I feel brave(r).

Tomorrow is Friday, so I’ll just focus on the positives. LOL

Until next time!

The Beast Series is available at your favorite online store as an eBook and paperback:

Smashwords
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
iBooks
Kobo
Books-a-Million

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