Boundaries

We all have them, and we all enforce them to varied degrees.  A few months ago, I ran across a blog/excerpt my study abroad roommate wrote.  It was about me, and it was quite the criticism of my character.   She was annoyed with how know-it-all-ish I am (my sister has told me that since she was born) and how I held onto my stuff (there was a concern over sunscreen).  And, it’s bothered me for some time… well since I read it actually.  Last night, the issue popped into my head again, but instead of thinking of it in terms of her being hurtful and spiteful, I thought of it in terms of boundaries.

We’ll call her Mallory, Mallory O’Toole.  Mallory seemed okay, although a bit eccentric for my tastes.  She didn’t seem snobby, and she seemed mostly normal and that she’d make an okay 2-week roommate.  I was relieved when I met her.  Sure, she had habits I didn’t care for like her tendency to drink more than I cared to associate with, but we were in Italy.  She also seemed to follow one love-triste after another, doing a sort of free-love European tour.  I’ve met a lot of people, and although I don’t agree with that method, to each his own.  Despite getting hot over somewhat trivial things, I thought she was reasonably level headed as a roommate.  Regarding the trivialities, I usually found her criticisms to be somewhat just.  She found herself, for example, doing the communal dishes everyday, instead of others taking turns.  It seemed a fair complaint at the time.  Now, when I think about it, she could have just stepped back, but she didn’t really mind the task.  Then, another woman in the study abroad criticized her dish doing.  Mallory couldn’t believe the audacity of this other – criticizing her (Mallory) when she (the other) wasn’t lifting a finger.  Passive aggressive I suppose is one way we could view Mallory’s personality.  I had no idea, for example, that she took issue to my methods until I saw the excerpt on a blog for the book she wrote.  Mallory never confronted the dish-criticizer, and she certainly never criticized me or asked me why I was being silly in her mind in a face-to-face conversation.

I had exactly enough money to get by in Italy.  I was pregnant, and a very nervous first-time pregnant woman.  I stopped hiking, stopped bike riding, and wore more sunscreen.  I was more cautious than I’d ever been, and I already take after my timid mother!  So, on our first day as roommates, Mallory asked if she could borrow my sunscreen since she lost most of her belongings to a thief in Amsterdam.  I hesitated – I had the tiniest sunscreen bottle and I was rationing to ensure it lasted the full 10 days I was away.  So, I said no.  This was a large point of contention in Mallory’s blog, she couldn’t believe I would be so selfish.  The funniest part of the sunscreen was that it lasted nearly 2 years after the trip! When I read her excerpt, I couldn’t believe that someone could be so angry with me over such trivial things – so angry to the point of hate.  That was the most hurtful.  I have never been hated before, disliked sure, but not hated.

The thought I had yesterday was regarding boundaries, how we build them, and when others try to take them down.  I had my sunscreen boundary – you will not get my sunscreen, I must be protected from those UV rays!  And, in a sense, it seemed Mallory was only interested in breaking down my boundary for a self-serving desire.  “I must get this sunscreen so that my skin will be protected and I will not have to spend any more money, money I too do not have!”  Mallory is a rule breaker, an envelope pusher.  After her things were stolen in Amsterdam, she sported the same outfit for our Study Abroad and the rest of her European tour – a black skirt matched with a red and black Che Gueverra tee, and a pair of David boxers, drawn anatomically correct, for undergarments.  Mallory had no restraint, of course, in showing off her prized possession, which was usually followed by a laugh from whomever she showed.  She was tattooed, maybe formerly pierced – do you know the type I’m describing?  The appearance of a rebel, but inside, maybe just a weak little girl.  And, I believe it was this guise that motivated her to try to break down other’s walls or boundaries.  As in, she couldn’t formulate a protective, appropriate boundary of her own, so in a psychological-payback she worked to break down other people’s boundaries.  She did this mostly in a passive aggressive manner by talking about the folks that bothered her to others, behind their backs.

To be aware of boundaries, when we have them, when they are appropriate, and when they should be torn down – that is a life lesson.