Monday, January 18, 2010

Me, Rigid?

A thin line separates self-care from selfishness, and I wonder if sometimes I have unwittingly crossed it by digging in my heals over things that no longer serve me.

Such as where to sit on an airplane.

I don't remember when I concluded, “I must sit in an aisle seat”. Maybe it was when I started drinking two liters of water everyday. Or when I decided I wanted to be able to exit an airplane as quickly as possible when we landed--or if we crashed. That's the optimist in me. Or pessimist. I'm not sure which.

I hadn't thought about it until a friend told me about something that happened on her honeymoon. It got her wondering if her own heel digging might be self-care gone petrified.

Or, as she calls it, rigidity.

“I thought it might be a good topic for your column,” she said. But I had a feeling it was her way of saying we might have this affliction in common.

My friend confessed that her do-not-cross boundary when it comes to air travel happens to be the window seat, and when she and her new husband boarded the airplane on their honeymoon a 12-year-old boy was sitting in her seat—until she told him otherwise.

“Did you just make that little boy move?” her groom said.

Of course my friend, who's really a softie, felt like an ogre. So as soon as the “fasten seat belt” sign went off, she asked the boy if he wanted the window seat, and he said he did, so she gave it to him. Now, she says, she's working on loosening her clinch on her boundaries.

But we have to be aware of our boundaries to know if we are being too rigid with them, and it wasn't so long ago that I was oblivious to many of mine until somebody stumbled over one, at which point I realized, Ouch!

Or Ick. As in the case of my first blind date. I was a freshman in college and he was a famous Big 10 football player. He wasn't typically my type but he was attractive in a big, strong guy sort of way—and he wore a jacket and tie and took me to an expensive restaurant with candlelight and white tablecloths and matching napkins.

But he did something I would have never thought to put on my “do not cross this line” list until I had actually experienced it. A waiter brought a telephone to our table with what must have been a 30-foot cord—it was pre-cell phone 1978. And as the diamond chunk in his left earlobe sparkled like the shining star I thought he was, my date dipped his napkin into his water glass, wiped the sides of his nostrils, and proceeded to make bets with his bookie.

So that's how I learned about boundaries initially—by experiencing someone doing something I found disrespectful and respecting myself enough not to put myself in the situation again. But there were other boundaries I set then erased for fear of disappointing others. Until I began this column, I had difficulty telling people I was unavailable during the times I reserved for writing. Because I wasn't yet published, I thought they wouldn't understand why I chose writing over being with them.

And then someone said, “If you don't take your writing seriously why would anyone else?”

It was a needed reality check: I teach others how to treat me by how I treat myself.

Sometimes I still feel guilty over some boundaries I set, but I'm working on that—on shaking off the untruth that says love requires giving even when I bleed. It's okay to say no if I believe the giving will hurt.

Thanks to my friend, I now know I also need to re-evaluate my boundaries once in a while. Instead of setting them globally or for a lifetime, it's better to be open and flexible. I am growing and changing, so it's only natural that my boundaries should, too.

As for the next time I fly, I plan to request an aisle seat but I won't be as rigid about it, in case someone else needs it more.

Like a 12-year-old boy.

Or somebody who drinks more water than me.

QUESTION: What, if any, boundaries are you holding onto that no longer serve you?

(Not sure how to leave your name or pseudonym with your comment?  See the post above left.)