This is one of those trick titles – click bait, of a sort – that bloggers come up with so they can pull an “ah-ha!” later. The truth is, way back in high school, reading too much Richard Bach and Leo Buscaglia and Alan Watts and late-era Robert Heinlein, I came up with the idea that love is boundless. Love is infinite. Love has no limits.
Nothing I’ve learned since then has disabused me of that notion. I love four (yes, four of my daughters with a compassion and care that is undiluted by the fact that they’ve given me (at last count) two grandsons, both of whom I also love just as much as the daughters. I also love my friends, I love my work, I love this blog, and I love my polyamorous partners in more ways than I can count.
Love? No limits at all.
And yes, I can also go on and talk about how there are other things that do have limits. Money, time, energy, resources, attention — those are all finite things that are often mistaken for love and end up being the subject of any number of dramatic stories, both true and fictional.
This isn’t about that.
No, this is about a particular way you can remember to express love: boundaries. A boundary is exactly that: a place where something is divided by something else. Sometimes these boundaries are simply for matters of preference, such as my boundary of too much broccoli on my plate. Other times they are out of necessity, such as the boundary I have about Indian food.
That latter one is a good example of a boundary that is unfortunate, because I really enjoy the taste, color, and smell of Indian food. Unfortunately, and without exception, every time I eat it my digestive system expresses it’s displeasure in very unpleasant ways.
That’s the thing about boundaries: they are always there for one reason or another. And one of the best ways to let someone know you love them is to treat them with respect.
Sounds easy, right? Sometimes it is, especially when it’s a boundary you share, or one you understand. But what if you don’t? What if the boundary makes no sense to you? What if it seems like no big deal?
Well, you can cross the boundary, and see what happens. Maybe something bad (sorry, I’ll be in the bathroom for the rest of the evening). Maybe nothing at all — except that the person whose boundary you ignored knows that you do not respect it.
That’s the thing about dividers: they are used, sometimes, to create a space that is private. It’s unfortunate that often we have this idea that the word is synonymous with “secret”, but I’d like to suggest that you replace that with the word “sacred”. As in: a boundary is a way that the one you love has set apart a sacred space, and the way you can show your love is by not only respecting it but protecting it — as Pablo Neruda put it, being “the guardians of each other’s solitude”.
Hearing the No
The thing is, we’re used to boundaries being trampled all the time, by everybody around us (the fact that I’m writing this on a crowded plane, trying to keep my elbows in as I type is a visceral example). With most boundaries, we become toughened to the experience; if we don’t, they manifest as a phobia or anxiety (what’s really nifty is when we don’t recognize this consciously, and our subconscious goes to extreme lengths to arrange life so that the boundary is kept).
This gives us all an opportunity to show our love for each other by not being one of the boundary crossers. For that matter, you can not even be one of the boundary pushers. You can be one of the people (all too rare, I’m afraid) who can hear the no.
It’s a difficult thing in a culture where there’s a bestselling sales book called “Getting to Yes”. Where phrases like “playing hard to get” give people the impression that “no” is a malleable thing.
Here’s a thought: how about pretending it’s not? How about, when someone says no, you simply say “OK.” It’s an unusual enough tactic that it may confuse people at first. But you’re giving the gift of love by respecting the boundaries and helping protect the sacred spaces of people you care about.
It’s a simple, but profound thing. Want to give it a try?