My Girlfriend Changed the Way I Interact with People
and Taught Me About Setting Healthy Boundaries
I love the goddess (the term I use to describe my girlfriend. To understand the reasoning behind this, catch my Instagram post) for many reasons. But there’s one reason I love her in particular, and it has to do with the fact of how, like the title suggests, she changed the way I interact with others, specifically in terms of how much of my energy, presence and attention I do give versus how much I should give to others.
In order to understand how the conversation came about in the first place between us, I need to set the scene a little. I believe I briefly mentioned something about these environments in my first blog post.
The goddess and I were in the midst of a wanderlust that had filled our hearts for two years, working at a farm or two. We’re millennials, so traveling around and working at farms isn’t something out of the norm for us. We’re weirdos, like most millennials.
However, this specific point in our traveling adventures was beginning to feel repetitive and exhausting. You see, prior to this situation, the goddess and I had bounced from Indiana. Our previous work exchange program saw us leave after we found ourselves emotionally drained due to the drinking problem of an emotionally unstable husband and his bewildered wife, who often had no qualms sharing way too many details of their toxic relationship while essentially having us be the surrogate parents for their children.
So, fast-forward a year, and imagine the frustration and fatigue the two of us were feeling upon leaving (in the middle of the night) another emotionally exhausting help exchange/karmic yoga and farm experience in Northern New Mexico. Part of what spurred our hasty exit was the fact that several of the cool, chill out friends we made were asked to leave by our temperamental hosts, mostly because of either unsubstantiated claims or the fact our hosts just didn’t like our cool cat friends for some reason.
At some point, I do want to get into the story of our hostile hostel experience and all the intricacies that followed the, at times, morally ambivalent owners along with the cadre of creative, lost souls carousing through this beautiful (some say cursed) land (some say black hole). However, due to several potential legal reasons, not to mention the fact that this 6 month stay created enough memories to fill several books; I’d rather wait to reveal details at a more appropriate time.
Suffice to say, despite the fact we lived in a supposed conscious community, we often found ourselves at or in close proximity to the epicenter of several hydrogen drama bombs despite our best efforts to seek shelter in our assigned trailer. We weren’t the only “volunteers” in a trailer, but we were the only ones in a trailer nestled between the homes of our temperamental hosts and the pitch black woods. It also wasn’t encouraging when our temperamental hosts would express their desires that the other volunteers be more like worms and just serve their purpose by working all day (some would say even serving their emotional whims).
So naturally, the door to our trailer became something of a suggestion. Whether we liked it or not, our door was often opened and knocked on at many hours throughout the day or night. Sometimes, when we attempted not answering, that’s when one (or both) of our phones would buzz or ring with an anxious voice on the other end. Sometimes, their faces would pop-up on our phones thanks to Facebook messenger’s chat heads.
To this day, the two of us are still unsure why this specifically kept happening, much less why we potentially allowed it to go on for so long. At the time, several of the hip-cat beatnik gypsies also volunteering with us made mention that our auras, together or separate, created a very copacetic space for folks to unload their heavy hearts and garbled thoughts.
But, much to the chagrin of others, my girlfriend and I did in fact leave this place, moving nearly 10 miles away into downtown, renting a room at an inexpensive hotel/motel on a month to month basis. We started working for (and getting paid by) a condominium up in the nearby ski valley. That’s probably where the crux of this idea was inspired.
I remember the day; the goddess and I were coming home from another day’s work, on the bus that was complimentary for ski valley employees. I remember sulking slightly, wondering if there was a way we could still find friendship with many of these misfit gypsies despite their lack of boundaries (both emotional and physical). I was feeling like a bad person, wondering why I couldn’t immediately forgive these people who I appreciated for not living a conventional lifestyle. But the goddess was having none of that due to the fact that both of us had, in the past as well, been burned by friends (and family) that didn’t respect our boundaries, and for her this was the last straw. It was the time to make a change. That’s when she dropped this knowledge bomb into my brain that continues to influence how I interact with people to this day.
“Think of it this way; when we make friends, it’s like we’re giving out an imaginary punch card. And there are only so many times our friends can punch in the card until either the card is full of holes or completely disintegrated!”
I remember hearing this and just feeling a buzz vacillate around my brain. The words were tying together so many lessons and experiences from my haunted past. But, I must have had a blank, or perhaps stunned look on my face, because my girlfriend decided to modify the explanation a little,
“Think of it this way; whether we realize it or not, all of us are like a hotel. We can only accommodate people for so long until either their departure date arrives or they have to be kicked out because they’re not respecting the rules of the property! We can only accommodate people to a certain degree until it starts becoming unreasonable and bad for business.”
On the rest of our 45 minute bus ride we talked about this metaphor and how we can apply it to ourselves as a way to set healthy boundaries that work for both of us. We finally crystallized this metaphor in our minds when we arrived at the hotel/motel at which we were staying.
We are like a hotel. We can be any kind of hotel we wish, but, like all hotels, there are certain rules & regs in place that need to be followed. However, we’re all different hotels, so some of these regs can vary a little, like hours of operation, if alcoholic beverages are available and whether or not we provide a free breakfast. Our friends are the patrons, and it’s up to them to follow the rules and regulations. Meanwhile, it’s up to us to understand the limits of and also enforce the rules and regs.
My brain was buzzing with an electric fire of such inspirational magnitude. I was floored. It was so simple! The two of us were also grateful that this revelation came during a time when we were working an actual, paying 9 to five (more like 7 to 5:15 but you get the idea) job. In the past, this was something both of us had resisted, as evidence by our proclivity for work exchange/karma yoga; mostly due to being burned by work-life imbalances from our work histories. But, I supposed in order to fully learn this lesson, we also had to see that these imbalances exist in alternative options as well.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that the goddess and I were not the only ones with this mindset of wanting to achieve a proper work-life balance. For the majority of millennials, a proper work-life balance is one of the major factors in how those of us born between 1982–1995 choose jobs, even if it means less job security or money in the bank.
Having said all of this, it’s important to make another point abundantly clear. The goddess and I are and will always be grateful to our past hosts that allowed us to stay with them in their homes and places of work, not to mention the fact we were able to share meals and even help with their livelihoods. We cannot thank them enough because their hospitality was incredibly welcome as opposed to several, much less desirable alternatives.
However, it cannot be overstated that part of the reason this epiphany occurred in the first place is due to the fact that hosts of both help exchanges created an environment that was unhealthy in a variety of emotional ways. I recognize that both of us could and should have voiced more of our uneasiness within certain situations. The problem was, these moments were often muddled by the fact that (we felt) the power dynamic was unequal because the hosts were allowing us in their homes/places of occupation to stay and eat. We didn’t feel completely comfortable bringing up some of our misgivings due to either the emotional instability of the hosts in Indiana or the temperamental whims of the hosts in New Mexico. It honestly felt like, should we attempt to set up any boundaries, we could have been unceremoniously kicked out.
So, goddess and I did our best to search for other options while we were still with these hosts, then later making a move when it felt like the time was right. Also, as this entire essay attempts to illustrate, both of us had yet to fully realize our boundaries and how we wished for those boundaries to be implemented in our daily lives.
Having friends and interacting with people can sometimes feel like a complicated business, but it doesn’t have to when all of us learn our own boundaries and how to set them. There are many ways in which one can learn to set boundaries with family, not to mention with friends and other relationships as well. A quick search on your search engine of choice will reveal many tips and helpful ways to assert boundaries in a plethora of situations. But, regardless of your situation, anyone learning to assert their boundaries and personal spaces need to remind themselves (often in my case) that setting boundaries is a healthy and reasonable action to take.
4 Ways to Set Boundaries
Prosocial behavior-helping, giving, and cooperating-is humans' saving grace. It counters our selfishness…
To this day, because of the conversation the goddess and I had on a bus coming back from working at a condo in a ski valley in New Mexico, I am watching how I interact with everyone. I’m doing my best to make sure I’m not giving up too much of myself in the process and setting appropriate boundaries which were severely lacking in my life for a variety of reasons, some of which were touched on in a post detailing why I’m a weirdo, but more of which will be explained in future article.
If these words have resonated with you in some way, consider checking out some of my other past thoughts mentioned throughout the article or below. Sharing or clapping is also appreciated, but not expected.