I struggle with saying “no.” This is true with everyone, but one friend in particular pops to mind when I think about boundaries. This has been a thread throughout our relationship, basically since the moment we met in eighth grade theater camp. She is a smart, gorgeous, loving, funny, kind, and capable person with internet on her phone, but I’ve found myself in this position where I am constantly figuring things out for her. In high school she once almost got me to call her doctor for her to ask them about a very personal medical issue. I didn’t because I couldn’t, you know, legally. There have been countless appointments I’ve made for her, and I’ve Googled a million-and-one things she asked for help with. This has been totally perplexing to me, because she graduated magna cum ladue from a prestigious university and can ostensibly take care of herself.
So, where does my marriage come in, you might ask? Until I was married I would fall deep into being this friend’s gofer. I mean, once you agree to one thing you get asked for another, right? But now I can’t just drag my husband down into that rabbit hole with me. When she texts, he invariably asks what she wants, and helps me suss out whether or not I’m “being too nice.” Recently I was lamenting having agreed to do something foolish for this friend, and his exact words were, “I’m so sorry you stuck your hand in that hornet’s nest.” He pointed out to me that I might be offering too much, and could clearly articulate where I might have wanted to have said “no.” His are the eyes I need to see when I’ve crossed a line and offered too much.
My relationship with him also helped me clarify for the first time why something might be crossing a line. I can turn to her and say, “You know, I really only apartment search with my partner. I am totally down to help you move your stuff, but I can’t choose an apartment for you. Isn’t that kinda intimate?” By contrasting my friendship with my marriage (because my partner is not my best friend), I am able to clearly communicate how I need all my relationships to work in order to keep things healthy. I can talk about things being too personal in terms of “things I only share with my partner” and not feel guilty anymore. I can say things like, “I love you, but are you sure you want me to help you with that? Wouldn’t there be someone else better suited to this than me?”
I am finally effective because actively forming the boundaries that support my marriage means also actively shaping the boundaries around my friendships. Being intentional about forming close friendships that support my marriage came with examining what it means to have close friendships that do not support my marriage. And reflection on my marriage facilitated some reflection on how aspects of my other relationships may or may not be functional. My marriage is a guidepost for my friendships. And my friendships are way better now that I’m married.
The work I do to improve my marriage is very similar to the work I do to improve my friendships, because I want to show all these people as much love and care as possible without hurting myself. I need my friends in my marriage for all the reasons Meg described in her letter at the beginning of the month, but I also need my marriage to have better friendships. Without my husband, I would be picking out the furniture for my friend’s new apartment right this minute. I’d be angry at myself for agreeing, and angry at her for asking. Now no one is angry! We can celebrate her most recent move with some real, genuine connection. And champagne!
Despite the imbalance, my friend is really wonderful to spend time with and I want to hold onto her. She has been there for me at some really key moments. So I’ll keep practicing saying no, and my husband will keep helping me see when I’m approaching (or have crossed) a boundary. I will keep supporting him by trying my best to draw bright lines, and I’ll be a better friend (with fewer fights and more happiness), because I’ve got his support.