Yesterday as I was perusing the interweb, I stumbled upon a site called The Good Women Project. Their mission? “We exist to restore a woman’s identity as God created her to be.” That sounds beautiful and simple, right? But then their mission says this, “We are adamant believers that good women have the most fun, the best sex, and most fulfilling lives.”
Okay, now you’re listening.
So they allow guest submissions and post their topics ahead of time for people to write their thoughts and submit them in, with the hopes (but no promise) of being published to their site. That quickly appealed to me, so I wrote this for April’s upcoming topic: Boundaries. I’m testing it here. I wrote a while back a reactive response to this, but here are some more formulated thoughts.
Sitting across the table from my friend, Pam, I heard it for the first time.
“I think you need to set some boundaries.”
I had just moved to a new city for an internship and found Pam, a friend from home, was living about an hour from me. I asked her to mentor me and she gladly accepted. So, we met once a month at Starbucks halfway between my home and hers and got to talking, growing, and laughing.
One Thursday morning, she asked how work was going when I casually mentioned that I had just been to a one-day conference with my co-worker, who happened to be a man. She got a bit of a nervous look and said,
“Did you drive together?”
To which I casually and confusingly replied, “Well, yes, it was over an hour away, so it would’ve been silly to drive by ourselves.”
“Were you the only ones in the car?”
“Is he married?”
“Yes, why?” At this point I began to clue in that, I, unknowingly and naïvely, had crossed a boundary.
She looked at me sympathetically and then launched into the speech: the one about boundaries in dating, work relationships, and marriage. I would’ve liked to think that I was privy to boundaries. I didn’t hang out with married men or ask them personal questions about their lives. I had no desire for any of the men I worked with, nor did I seek their interest. The very thought of a romantic relationship with any of them made me feel nauseous. So why was I getting a speech like I’m the other woman? Because although I my intentions were pure, no one wakes up to an affair. It is a slow process of boundary-less decisions.
And so, with the help of Pam, here are some boundaries I adopted as a single woman. Some of these may seem obvious, and some extreme, but here they are:
- Never ride alone in the car with a married man. Even though it’s innocent, car rides can be long and isolated. Inside jokes are created and a deeper form of friendship comes through being alone together. If he’s married, there’s no need for him to have that kind of relationship with any woman except his wife.
- Don’t be in the office alone with a married man. If there’s only two of us left in the office, one of us needs to leave. Or ask another co-worker to stay. I know this creates an awkward dynamic at first, but once it’s the standard, it becomes second-nature. Even if it’s only because of the pretense of what could be happening and definitely isn’t, it doesn’t matter. It’s worth the safety-net.
- If someone who is married begins to complain to me about their spouse, check out of the conversation and end it immediately. Say it’s inappropriate and that it makes me uncomfortable. If I were to tell my 18-year-old self one thing, it would’ve been that. I listened to far too many wife-bashing stories that I now, as a wife, really regret listening to. They have plenty of male friends they can talk with, and if they don’t, they can find some.
- Don’t text, instant message, or communicate with a married man unless his wife is present, or I know she could read everything I saying without questioning my integrity or intentions.
- Because my job lends me to work with more men than women, one of my “boundaries” is to intentionally befriend the wives of men I work with. Not in manipulation, but as a way of reassuring them and allowing them to feel safe and comfortable with me. This actually quickly became a requirement when looking for a potential job. One of my internal “required” questions was, “Could I be friends with his wife? Is she welcoming of me, or threatened by a female’s presence?” If the answer to the last question was yes, I committed to say no to the job. My reason? It’s not worth becoming the target of someone else’s insecurity, if I can help it.
When my husband and I got married, the boundaries changed more. As someone who grew up in the home of divorce, it’s entirely worth it. I know neither of my parents said “I do,” thinking someday they would live separately and drop their kids off at each other’s houses.
None of these are 11th Commandments, or necessary for every couple on the planet, but for us, they are agreements we made for the sake of protecting and nurturing our marriage. A wise person told me once that no one is above an affair. And I think they are right. When we become invincible in our minds, we let lies seep in, ignore our intuition that quietly says, “mayday!” and excuse it for self-consciousness. If my heart skips a couple of negative beats before making a decision, that’s the Divine telling me to run. Or the Word becoming flesh in my subconscious. Or the Holy Spirit. All of those are viable options.
And so, as a married person, here are some of our boundaries:
- No communication with exes, from any stage of life. The heart can be an absolute fool. What happens when you and your spouse are in an argument that goes on for days, you feel under-appreciated and an ex tells you how beautiful and wonderful you are? Only a few more steps into an affair. How many stories have you heard/seen about people who reconnected via Facebook and left their spouse? I’ve heard too many. And I doubt that any of them were planning to end up in affairs on their wedding day.
- Never ride alone in the car with someone of the opposite sex. This is about the spirit of the Law more than the letter of the it. Again, this can be the starting place for an isolated relationship with a man other than my husband. I don’t think driving in the car is the danger, but the togetherness a car ride can bring. For that matter, the same principle applies–don’t be at work alone with a male co-worker, or vice versa. Scratch that–if you are married, just don’t hang out by yourself with someone of the opposite sex.
- When it comes to friendships, if you’re a woman, be friends with women. That’s not to say you cannot have male friends. But please do not be one of the girls that say, “I just can’t get along with women.” Do you know that means you are probably the problem in that equation? I have no doubts that women have hurt you and been cruel. But I also know a lot of great women who encourage and strengthen. So don’t stop at the “I don’t like women,” door; push beyond it and seek out deep, meaningful friendships with other women.
- This may seem like, “duh,” but we try very hard not to put down (even in a joking way) each other around other people, not knowing how they would receive it. My friend says it this way–when she was pregnant, one of her husband’s co-workers asked, “So, is your wife getting really moody and hard to deal with as her pregnancy ticks on?” Even though in other settings they could all laugh and poke fun at the ridiculousness, her husband gave a short, “Nope, we’re just thankful she’s been able to carry her this long.” I really respect that.
- Don’t go to bed without saying I’m sorry and/or I love you. In our 2 and 1/2 years of marriage, we’ve had our minor blow-outs. Anyone can tell you–I’m a difficult person (and I’m guessing you are, too!) and so I have my fair share of life to apologize for. Humility and forgiveness has paved such an open dialogue and space for apology.
- Love each other like crazy. Don’t withhold love, apology, or grace.
If you’re thinking by now that I have surely lost my mind, that I wear jeans up to my bra, and that I haven’t had my hair styled since 1996, you’re wrong. I’m actually kind of cool. I teeter on the edge of hip (can you be hip and use the word “teeter?”). And would you know it? I want a healthy marriage. I wish healthy marriages were written about, talked about, filmed around… but I know why they’re not. They’re boring! Who wants to read a novel about my boundary-filled, healthy life? About a couple making a meal together at night in their home, planning the month’s budget, investing their lives in their jobs, friends, Church, and community…? You’re already falling asleep. But that’s because it’s only boring to the outsider. On the inside, it’s freeing and incredible. Mumford & Sons sings it like this (told you I’m cool):
Love, it will not betray you, dismay or enslave you, it will set you free
Be more like the man you were made to be
There is a design, an alignment, a cry
At my heart you see
The beauty of love as it was made to be
(Sigh No More, Mumford & Sons)
Love sets us free. Free to laugh, cry, dream, give, and receive. In a paranoid, nervous relationship, you are placed in a hopeless cage of anxiety and guilt. Boundaries set you free to love your spouse in a way you can never love anyone else. Trust, loyalty, and promise win out over the flesh. . . and that is something to be celebrated.
What’s your opinion on boundaries in marriage, dating, work relationships, friendship? Do you have any you try to keep? Which boundaries seem too extreme? Why?