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“I’m sorry, I’m at full capacity right now”...let’s chat boundaries in a friendship




If, like me, you love a bit of the good old Twitter you’ve probably noticed a screenshot floating around of a message exchange between two friends, asking if they had the emotional capacity for a vent. Innocent enough to be honest. This tweet, however, has caused a massive onslaught of divided opinion on whether friends should be available 24/7 for a vent or if we should be more considerate about what else could be going on in other people’s lives.

The tweet originated from US-based activist and writer, Melissa A Fabello. I’ve been a massive fan of Melissa’s work for many years, so much so that I support her on Patreon and have recently signed-up (and paid) for her Writing Course. I still remember stumbling across her old YouTube videos five years ago and falling down a massive rabbit hole. In fact, a lot of her online content has helped me become the person I am - so if you’re a fan of who I am, then you’ve got to give some credit to Melissa.

To see her ripped apart across the internet has felt weird as someone who credits her work as a major influence in my life. I do not know Melissa personally and can’t give a real-world account of what she is like to be around, but I can certainly say that her work has changed me for the better. Personal feelings aside, I’m going to give my fair and balanced opinion on the meme itself, setting boundaries in relationships (both romantic and platonic) and respecting people’s mental capacity to provide emotional support.

Melissa has spoken before about asking permission from people before dropping heavy shit on them (and understanding the difference between a friend and a therapist) so to me, this tweet didn’t seem particularly out of place. It’s a little formal and dry, yes, but the point is made, and if it’s an exchange between two friends they will likely customise it.

For just under a year, I have been making a conscious effort to ask someone “hey is it okay if I rant about my body image issues/a bad date/work to you right”. I understand that people have bad days, might be in the middle of a family gathering, or might be having a mental health flair up. Sometimes things happen where people can’t be there for you emotionally, just like people can’t always show up physically for you.

I do have friends with more emotional energy to give than others. That doesn’t mean that the friends with lower levels of emotional energy are worse friends than those who have a high tolerance. I personally do have a high tolerance for emotional stuff, and it’s very rare that I feel overwhelmed by emotional topics. Saying that though, I do get under the weather sometimes and just last weekend I did find myself having one of those days where I just lay in bed and aimlessly scrolled Facebook because I hadn’t had the best week.

Despite having a high threshold for emotionally-driven conversations, my threshold for in-person chat is very low. I am very introverted and can feel socially drained extremely easily (if you know me in real life you have probably noticed that my Tweets are much more invigorating than the awkward murmurs that come out of my mouth in person). This does mean that I might not be the most socially-available friend, even if I am quite quick at responding on Messenger. I would never, however, use this as an excuse to miss an important event such as a friend’s wedding or birthday party. I’d always suck those up. But as anyone who knows me quite well cab attest to, being around people too much can bring out the cranky side of me and it’s best for the health of my relationships that I’m given physical and social space when needed.


The importance of a support network

One thing that has really helped me manage my own emotions over the years and be there for other people, has been building a support network of people rather than expecting one or two people to fulfil every social and emotional need I have. Growing up we’re usually sold the idea of having a Best Friend who will be glued to our side, and then as we get older we will find a spouse (of a romantic and sexual nature) who will then become our everything.

I threw that idea out the window a long time ago and I am much happier because of it.

Having a support network means that I have different people who can show up for me in different ways. If someone isn’t feeling okay I have other people I can turn to. For example, just last weekend I was in a bit of a state because I received a few emotional hits that week - and different friends showed up for me in different ways. I also tweeted about one of the things that happened and received some Twitter support. Support can show up in numerous ways.

When I go on dates (I know I’m not the best person to dish out relationship advice) something I look out for is “does this person have a lot going on on?” or in other words: will this person expect me to be their everything because, to be frank, they have fuck all else going on? Couples who spend every waking and breathing moment together are welcome to do so - I’m not saying that relationship style is necessarily wrong - but it does confuse me how they...cope. I know from personal experience that having a partner who is constantly there with only the odd break for work commitments brings out a less pleasant side of me.

People are not bad friends or partners if they have boundaries

A lot of responses that Melissa received were telling her that she was a bad friend. I don’t know Melissa personally so cannot comment on what it’s like to be her friend. However, I have been following her online for years and she certainly appears to have a solid group of friends and acquaintances. She also has two romantic partners who come across as high calibre (tell me your dating secrets, Melissa!). I can also say that applying the practical advice from her educational content on forming healthy friendships has improved my own friendships for the better...so I’m inclined to say that she's not an awful friend.

Here’s the thing: if you want a relationship of any kind (platonic, romantic or familial) to survive long term then you have to respect the boundaries and limitations of that person. That person is not superhuman, and they have a breaking point. Sometimes you need to check in with them to know where their emotional capacity is currently at.

It’s happened a few times where I’ve been so close to my social capacity that I need alone time for the sake of my own emotional wellbeing (and the emotional wellbeing of the people around me). I’m a fairly mild-mannered person who doesn’t have a quick temper, but anyone who has decided to ignore my requests for privacy and alone time will know what it’s like to be on the wrong side of me. I’m not kidding: when someone pushes past my social boundaries - especially when I’ve explicitly stated them and we’re not in a social situation that I need to suck up e.g. an emergency or a family wedding - it will not be greeted well and, yes, I have been known to split open emotionally and let the irritation and anger spill out.

This breaking point could have been easily avoided if the person in question had just, you know, respected my (very basic) social boundaries. Healthy relationships with minimal arguments need an element of boundaries to stay healthy. 


You’re not entitled to anyone

The conversation around feeling entitled to a romantic and sexual partner has increased over the past year or so - and that’s great! Though we’re not seeing much chat surrounding feeling entitled to a platonic partner.

Bottom line: you’re not entitled to anyone's time. Being in a relationship with someone (platonic, romantic, sexual, business or whatever) doesn’t entitle you to potentially push them towards their breaking point (which could be the reality of springing heavy chat on someone without warning, or showing up uninvited). Unless you’re a newborn baby who literally needs the adults to do everything for you, then ask permission now and then.

We, as a society, have a problem with the word no. I love the word no now but it took me years to learn to use it and to respect it when it came out of other people’s mouths. I might be all BOUNDARIES now but I also had to work on respecting boundaries over the years and meeting people in the middle. People have the right to say no to things. Including those closest to you.

Though you do need to suck it up sometimes

I never use my introverted personality to get out of social situations that are important to my closest people. Of course, I will always attend family weddings and birthdays unless there’s a very good reason to miss it (and by important, I mean an emergency, pre-booked holiday or health-related issue). But I will say no to non-important things. For example, I skipped my work’s company-wide Christmas party because, truthfully, I just didn’t fancy it. This did get a few negative reactions but I’m entitled to spend my time the way I wish and it’s not an important event that is important to someone I love.

While people are entitled to spend their time how they like, people are also allowed to decide how available they need their friends to be in order for them to feel loved. There is no right or wrong here. Personally, despite my introverted energy, I still think friendships need to have regular mate dates to last. Friendships where someone is having health or monetary problems, someone has children or care responsibilities and/or there’s a geographical difference are the exception. However, in a friendship where none of these issues apply I would expect there to be regular mate-dates.

That’s not to say every friendship needs regular mate dates or that I have some stringent Google Calendar where everyone has a regular appointment slot. Some people are happy to have digital friendships with people they rarely see (again: I do have friendships like this but it’s where there is a boundary that prevents us hanging out in real life).

As I mentioned earlier, I get second-hand stress from couples who are glued together. That’s not to say however that those relationships are wrong. For some people, a very present partner might be important. For me, it’s important that a romantic partner has a life outside the relationship.

I don’t see romantic relationships are exceptionally more important than a platonic relationship. Imagine dating someone who only communicated with your digitally and never made the effort to take you on a date? Every guide on the internet would be telling you to leave. I’m not entirely sure why friendships are different (unless of course, there’s a boundary in the way). I have a friendship where we have so much in common that we regularly see each other more than once a week, and I’ve been asked a few times if she’s my girlfriend! I think that’s a little sad that people jump to the idea that we’re a romantic couple for no other reason than we spend a lot of time in each other’s company!

But anxiety

There has been one argument against the original tweet that I think does have some weight. And that’s the argument that people with anxiety (or even just anxious personalities) might panic when they receive a message that warns them of potentially triggering content and their minds might begin racing in a thousand different directions.

Here’s my advice: talk to your friends about the way in which they like to be communicated with. You might have some friends who would prefer you straight up dish out your problem immediately with no warning, while others might prefer a warning (I prefer a warning). No one is right or wrong here; different people just have different ways in which they like to be communicated with. I, for one, am not particularly comfortable with phone calls unless it is 1) scheduled and 2) with someone I am close to. I also don’t answer phone numbers that I don’t recognise.

(On a serious note - content warning for creepy and stalker behaviour - I don’t answer my door if I’m not expecting anyone because of some creepy behaviour in my past from people who know where I live)

I also have some friends that I’m more huggy with than others. Some friends attend concerts with me while others can’t think of anywhere else. It’s called boundaries and it’s worth having a chat with your closest people about where their boundaries on certain situations and communication channels lie. And, tbh, if you’re having to drag people to events that aren’t up their street...maybe you and your friends don’t really have all that much in common.

Some people are just not well-suited to each other

It took me until my mid-twenties to really understand this, but ...sometimes it’s not that people are shit friends, selfish, or cranky bastards with no love to give….it’s that maybe...you’re just not well-suited.

There’s nothing wrong with a low-key life, but I’ve learned over the years that I struggle with building long-term relationships with people like that because I keep a busy schedule and we just don’t understand each other. I also don’t gel very well with people who are extremely loud; but being loud isn’t a character flaw, it’s just not what I naturally feel at home with. The same way that some people won’t like my quiet energy and think that I “lock myself away”. I do have to meet people in the middle on “how often should we spend time together” question but then other times friendships fall through we’re just too incompatible. We all have different needs and sometimes two people aren’t built in a compatible way. That’s okay


Different people have different needs


Some of us need trigger warnings. Some of us don’t. Some of us like relationships where we are glued together. Some people like their space. No one is right or wrong.

That goes for the now infamous tweet. Was that person wrong to ask if someone had the emotionally capacity for a vent? No, they weren’t. But is it for everyone? Also, no.

Have a chat with your friends and find out where their boundaries are. Believe me, your friendships will be better when you learn to love people in the way that need to be loved. 
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