Everyone tells you that having walls is a bad thing. In conversation, it’s always presented as though walls are this terrible flaw. And you hear advice like “you need to let your guard down” or “you can’t keep everything out” or “I feel like you have walls up”.
I didn’t use to. In fact, I think that I’ve walked through the majority of this life without walls, and so the idea that I present externally to others as someone who has walls is rather curious. If you know me, really know me like only the closest people in my life do, then you know that my walls are made out of moistened rice paper at best. You can always see through me, and the barrier between the outside world and my inner heart and soul is kind of there just to keep the guts in. It does little to filter what comes at me, and it does nothing to protect me from feeling easily overwhelmed. I’d say “ask my husband” for reference, but he’s one of those dudes who mastered his brick wall, and there is no seeing through what he’s built (unless he wants you to).
He is the Jedi master of the “right kind” of walls in my opinion.
It’s easy to misunderstand someone who has a strong streak of empathy. You know when someone comes at you with drama, or discord, or an unending shit storm of crap that, if you dig down deep enough, is the result of consistent bad judgement, lack of focus or really bad decisions? When that type of person enters my world, my instinct is to help. I’ve been told by a professional that the inclination is not a “fatal flaw” in my construction (my Dad always made me feel like being sensitive was a weakness, or something I could choose not to be). I see, hear, understand deeply, and want to fix anyone’s problems with a level of commitment that’s not healthy for me.
Your problems, when you come to me for guidance, strength or advice, become mine. Not for the hour we talk about them, but for weeks and months afterward. Mine to fix. I understand that now as seeking to connect, or have the deep meaningful relationships that my heart wants. I roll with this crazy concept that if you are there for people when they need you, that they will be there for you too. Reciprocation is rare though in adult life, much to my disappointment. And the exchange feels more like a racket, that runs like this.
- You are having problems.
- You tell me your problems.
- I empathize, advise and shoulder those problems with you, convinced I can help you resolve them.
- You don’t resolve them.
- I try harder.
- You don’t resolve them, and make new decisions that complicate the existing problem.
- I try harder.
- You begin to resent me for seeming to be “the person with all the answers”.
- I see that change is a low probability for you. Not because you can’t, but because you don’t want to.
- I step back.
- You make a bigger mess.
- You tell me your problems.
- I get frustrated by your self-fulfilling actions that fuel the problems that are bringing you down.
- I step back. You’ve burned me out.
- You feel awkward when I make myself unavailable as your “negative dumping ground.”
- I make a decision to distance myself further because your shit is taking me down, and making me literally sick with worry.
- You move on to other people who are willing to listen to your victim story, without expecting you to actually rise up, and make the changes that will impact your life, make that 180 degree turn, and be happy.
- You agree that the “better friend” is the one that doesn’t challenge your “victim” routine.
- I quietly decide to stay away, until you have something more to offer our exchange than seeking free psychotherapy and advice that you aren’t going to follow through with anyway.
- You think I hate you.
- I think YOU hate you.
- I work more and play Xbox with Kevin, and try to cleanse my mental palette.
- I still LOVE you… but I love my sanity and peace of mind more.
I am working on positive walls, what most people call “healthy boundaries”. You are always allowed back in, because you are never really gone from my heart, if I give a shit about you. To be clear, I’m pretty picky about the people I invite into my little wannabe Zen world.
Can you answer ‘yes’ to these three questions?
- Have you done something kind and loving to or for me without being asked lately?
- Have you invited me to do something lighthearted, fun or meaningful together with you?
- Was our last conversation interesting, and two-way? Did you ask any questions about my life, or was the story all about you?
I believe in breaks. Remember Ross and Rachel on friends? I think that family relationships benefit from little breaks, and space. I believe that friendships benefit from it, and even romantic relationships are strengthened by allowing our partners “me time”. Deprive me of my “me time” and it becomes really apparent how important that solitude is to me. I’m a writer dude. I’ll lose my shit if I’m not allowed the time and space to just think, and be creative on my own.
The break isn’t from a lack of love. It’s a line in the sand that I have to draw from time to time, to make people understand where a relationship is one-sided and not mutually beneficial and rewarding. The ones that figure it out, my M.O., they cross over the line and understand that our friendship has boundaries. That I am not a trough to simply dump ones problems and frustrations, and then walk away. If I lose sleep over your problems, but you don’t? Yeah, it’s time for a break.
There is nothing that impedes my ability to love anymore. Forgive? Perhaps… that remains my Moby, and something I’m working on. I don’t have to be in your face to love you fiercely, pray for you and pull for you in my heart and mind. But I have to exist, be important to you, and be worthy of being your friend in “good times” and not just a shelter to run to, when everything has gone ape shit. If I feel like our entire relationship is based on me counseling you in crises, it’s not a friendship. It is something I should be billing you $120.00 per hour for. My couch isn’t Freudian… it has cat scratches and Sketchers scuff marks on it. Possibly an M&M or a Sour Kid under the cushion.
Make memories with me. Have fun with me, even if it’s a walk on the beach and a bottle of water. Paint with me. Go see a movie with me. Let’s fuck up some cool craft we saw on Pinterest together on my kitchen table.
But stop siphoning my patience, affection, positive energy and taking advantage of my need to connect, to dump your shit constantly on me. I love myself enough to say that’s “not okay” with me anymore.
I’m not your therapist. My time on this planet is worth more than perpetual crisis intervention. I have a happy life that exists only when I master the ability to filter. And if you are on the other side of the wall right now, look for the door. It’s the one with the sign that say’s “Love me back”. I promise you, it’s really that simple. And if this post makes you feel angry, it was love that wrote it.