Saturday, October 24, 2009

Fences Make Good Neighbors and Boundaries Make Better Friends

by Zinta Aistars

A rainy Friday morning getting in to the office, and I’ve sprinted from the parking lot, shaking off raindrops like a wet dog. It is pouring out there. And I am loving it. Every drop. From the moment I woke this morning, my mood has been bright and shiny. I heard that pitter patter on the roof turning into a steady splash, and I knew my brand new roof was going to keep me dry through the entire downpour. The crack opening in the living room ceiling has yet to be repaired—Joe, from the roofer company that, as it turns out, also does interior repair and renovation, is scheduled to come by on Monday—but at least I know I am not coming home from work tonight to a chunk of wet plaster on my living room floor. Safe!

Putting my mind to other concerns, I had made my commute to the office (a full hour and then some) through the rain, mentally ticking off errands and projects to complete during the day. The week had been satisfyingly productive; I had completed many projects already, most ahead of schedule and the rest right on time. I was feeling pleased and breathing easier.

Indeed, tight deadlines aside, it struck me just how much I really do enjoy my job. Oh, this is no revelation, mind you. I am struck by this very thought nearly every day. An hour to and from work is just enough time to count major blessings. My job as writer and editor for a large and deservedly successful health care organization is among those major blessings, especially in this time when Michigan ranks highest in unemployment in the entire country. (Ouch.) And it is steady employment that pays for things like new roofing and home renovations without much of a hiccup in my budget. Hurrah!

I’m not just tickled pink, though, because of a steady and comfortable paycheck. I’m in the pink because, among other factors, I’ve made some terrific new friends in my upward and onward life. Working among people I respect and whose company I enjoy makes a world of difference. One of these friends, in fact, pops her head around my door shortly after I settle in for the day.

“Hey, Z.”

I look up from my laptop.

“How are you today?”

I smiled. “Pretty good, actually. What’s up?”

She mirrored my smile, tipping her head to one side. “Oh, I just thought I’d come by and give you a hug. You seem to be carrying a lot of stress on your shoulders lately.”

I paused and studied her face. Sincerity. No agendas hanging out. I pushed my chair back from my desk, stood up and accepted the proffered hug. Nice. I’ve read a human being requires eight of these on a daily basis for good emotional health, and goodness knows, I am far behind quota.

Well hugged, and enjoying a quick morning chat about our kids and life in general, my friend went off to her world and I returned to mine. Even as I shuffled my to-do list for the work day, however, my mind lingered on the warmth of a just-because hug and the concept of friendship. I enjoy very much the many diverse friendships that have blessed my days: work friends, personal friends, writer friends, family friends, shared history friends, casual and best friends and those in evolution from one to the other. Over a lifetime, I’ve had many, and a few have faded away as bonds have weakened, while others have entered my life, reflecting my own evolving interests and needs (or lack of).

We love our families, most of us, and family members, except for our partners (who are, after all, our best friends first), are people we cannot choose. The challenge of family is that we must accept people as they are and make the best of it. And even then, if boundaries are crossed too far and too often, family can drift apart, too.

But friends—these are a special group of loved ones. Our friends are people we consciously choose to have in our lives. We choose each other when we take a special pleasure in each other’s company. We choose each other when we have built a trust over time. In deepening friendship, time has tested and proven that we can depend one on the other when we need a friend most. A friend shows affection and caring. A friend is loyal. A friend will take the time to nurture that friendship. A friend listens, a friend shares, is willing to give and take in balance, because we all need to give and we all need to take at different times in our lives. A really good friend respects us enough to tell us the truth—even when it stings. We can count on our best friends to tell us not what we want to hear, but what we need to hear. And then, offer a hug of reassurance.

Most of all, best friends have boundaries. Yes, friendships come wrapped in conditional love. As in any relationship based on whatever kind of love—and our romantic partners should always, without exception, be our best friends first—boundaries are the insurance that keep a relationship strong. Boundaries are the lines we draw in the sand that should never be crossed. Usually, these are lines concerning honesty, fidelity, respect. Boundaries are how we show ourselves respect as well as to each other.

This was a tough lesson I learned years ago when I found myself in a relationship in which my partner had absolutely no respect for boundaries. He did as he pleased and everyone else be damned. It took some real friends, including family, to sit me down and tell me the painful truth: without boundaries, I was putting myself at risk of ever increasing abuse. They were right. I walked. The lesson to me was that fences make good neighbors, boundaries make healthy relationships, and even God offers a conditional love. To be saved, to earn the privilege of hanging out with Him, He says, we must meet certain conditions. He lines them up into Ten Commandments, throwing in a Golden Rule for quick study: treat others as you would be treated. It’s all about respect. He may love you just the same, but you’ll be hanging out in a much warmer place if you refuse to meet His conditions.

Now I, too, have boundaries. Boundaries such as mutual respect—now, that is a boundary with no room for negotiation. Older and wiser, I’ve learned that anyone who tosses about platitudes about being accepted “as is”—is actually, in translation, asking to get away with treating you with disrespect. “I’ll treat you as I damn well please, and by golly, you’re going to like it.” It is the language of an abuser at his charming best. It is the language of someone who wants to do a lot more taking than giving and get away with it.

See my fence? It’s sturdy, hand-hewn, posts hammered solid into the ground. It won’t even falter in a long, hard rain. When I open my gate to welcome in a good friend today, it is because we both have respect for a clear boundary. Family I cannot choose, but my friends can know they are carefully chosen—not in spite of who they are, but because of who they are.

Worth hugging often, my friends stand by on rainy days as well as in sunshine. They bring their own light into my life. They are the solid roof over my head.


  1. It's interesting that I've gone back in time in reading this blog post...I had to check the date to see if it was something new...and I knew it couldn't possibly be...Don't you find it interesting to go back and see what you wrote a few years ago and then look at where you are today and say, "Wow! I've come quite a distance since that time!"...And yet much is still the same...just the location...and I don't see any fences on your Z Acres...a sign that you are more secure in who you are and where you are at this point in time. But some things never change..."Worth hugging often, my friends stand by on rainy days as well as in sunshine. They bring their own light into my life. They are the solid roof over my head." Yes, so thankful for friends like that. This was great...and a different perspective from your past. Glad I found it!

    1. You're right, this is a post from quite some time ago, but my thoughts on it have not changed at all. My perspective is the same today as it was then. This was a very important lesson in my life, learned through the harsh experience of an abusive relationship. Trust me, Pam, these kinds of boundaries and fences are very much up today and will be around me for the rest of my happy life. It was a turning point for me to learn how not to allow someone to disrespect me or take me for granted or to be abusive. For women especially, it is important to know how to draw that line in the sand, whether it is visible to the eye or not. I think abusive people DO see them on some level. Here, at Z Acres today, only people who are a blessing come to spend time with me, and I try to be a blessing likewise to them. This is my sacred place, and the good thing about that darker time in my life is that it brought me here, to this place, to this life today, with my boundaries secure.