At long last, we have made it to Rule #10!
Now, the very cynical part of my brain is basically shouting: Molly, no one wants to read a post about the power of friendship! Go sing Kumbaya elsewhere.
And I can’t say I blame anyone who feels that way. Because you’d think that after the better part of 30 years, I would have figured out how friendship works…rendering the topic of this post largely unnecessary.
But this blog isn’t about catering to the whims of my cynicism. So, I’m ignoring that part of me, in an effort to stop prolonging this exposition.
What Molly-Today feels like discussing isn’t just the idea of having friends. Rather, I want to discuss how lovely it is that friendship is a powerful ally in our journeys.
And I want to go into this conversation being perfectly honest with myself, and with anyone out there reading this blog: I am not good at being a friend.
Or at least, Molly-Over-The-Past-Ten-Years has not been good at being a friend.
Historically, these are the tendencies I’ve had in maintaining my relationships:
- I hide my feelings. Or convince myself that I’m wrong for feeling a certain way.
- I fall out of touch. For seemingly no reason at all.
- I cover up my needs. Or figure out a way to work around a need I may have.
- I make myself as small as possible, so that I’m not inconvenient or a nuisance.
- I seek out someone else to give me identity. After all, why would someone want to know Me?
This list could go on forever. (Seriously.) For the sake of time, I will leave it at that.
Does this sound familiar to a previous post? Because it should: these are excellent examples of Codependency!
I talked about codependency being a large issue in relationships back in Rule #3. And just like our behaviors in any romantic relationship, the same behaviors can be tracked into our platonic ones, too.
So, let’s revisit the central theme of Rule #3:
Two individuals honoring each other through their independence, and trusting one another in time spent apart.
Okay, well, that’s great, Molly. But it sounds like this rule is just telling me to ditch my best friend for other friends?
To which I will say: Sort of, yes. Though, in my personal quest to become a better friend, I have come to realize that I technically don’t subscribe to the term “best friend.”
In my humble opinion, we go through too many phases and growth spurts in our lives to assign such a title to any one person. Our lives bring us to so many new people who become influential and meaningful to us, and none of them should be ranked higher or lower than others.
In theory, the people we trust with our thoughts and feelings are those we hold dear. No matter how frequently we interact or talk.
And each person in our sentinel brings their own perspective to our world, and ours to theirs.
There are friends I have known since childhood, and friends I have known for a few months that have impacted me profoundly, in similar yet different ways.
Alternatively, there are people I have known for years who I don’t share that connection with.
So, where does that leave this discussion?
Well, recently, a friend of mine and I were discussing our pasts, and we both realized that throughout our lives we had prioritized what we called “friendships” with others, that were actually pretty shallow and baseless.
And when we needed to lean on these friends, we discovered, to our individual dismays, that they fell through.
How could this be? I had devoted so much time with this person, or these people!
Well, my friends, here’s a little math fact for you (as a treat):
Distance = Rate x Time
How does this apply here?
The distance that our relationships will grow does not solely depend on the amount of time you spend doing things with the people around you.
It also depends on your rate of travel.
And with many of Past-Molly’s relationships, I was spending the time, but I was particularly guarded, and actively avoided letting anyone get to know Me.
And guess what! That level of vulnerability was reciprocated.
The rate of travel was basically zero. And when you multiply by nothing, you get Nothing.
I’m sure we’ve all heard the term “fake friend” at some point or another, but I suppose a better term for this concept would be “performative friendship.”
And let me tell you: Molly-Over-The-Past-Ten-Years was doing a great song and dance.
This manifested itself almost cyclically.
In each chapter of my life, there was always one person that I spent heavy amounts of time with, above the rest. Perhaps I treated this “friend” as a security blanket of sorts: they would be the person I did everything with.
I wouldn’t make plans without consulting this person first, and probably wouldn’t attend social outings if that person wasn’t in attendance as well.
To the outside world, I could be labeled this person’s “Best Friend.”
Each iteration of this cycle ultimately involved me allowing someone into my gravitational field for show. I would engage in fun activities or meals or work with them, and have dialogues that went back and forth, but were never substantial enough to really tie me to said person.
A thrilling concept I like to call “Toxicity in Friendship!”
Certainly, Molly-Over-The-Past-Ten-Years didn’t set out to have empty connections. And I have built beautiful friendships with many people over my lifetime (mostly because those people are incredible, and innately knew how to navigate the obstacles my anxiety built).
But Past-Molly very simply believed that the people who spent time with her didn’t actually want to be doing that, and were just bored. I saw myself as a last resort for others.
I allowed my social anxiety to override the confidence I should have had in myself. I know that I am capable of great friendships, but I believed, to my core, that no one could actually want me around.
So the idea that another person (not to mention several people) would want to participate in my life was fantastical to me. And when one person showed that they were willing to keep me around, I latched on and held tight, ignoring all others.
I wasn’t willing to risk losing a “best friend,” in favor of developing “true friends.”
Because here’s the real kicker: I was using my “best friend” as someone who could be my identity. And if I wasn’t spending every last one of my waking moments with this person, then who was I???
Further, if I wasn’t spending time with them, then what if they forgot about me? What if they replaced me? And then I really was up a creek without a paddle? Without a singular clue as to who I was?
The ultimate Red Flag of these friendships sprouted from the fact that I did not know myself at all.
By implementing Rule #10, we remove our ability to hide behind someone else. Instead, we learn how to connect and thrive, by growing with many. And like we learned in Rules #5 & #6, your sentinel becomes a powerful boundary in cultivating You.
This rule is so important because it actually trains us either to correct or eradicate performative friendships that do not help us to grow.
Because when we limit our sphere of influence to one individual, we actually cut ourselves off at the knees.
We don’t get to learn about the world or about ourselves. And by doing so, we end up drawing our fulfillment from someone else. A danger we talked about in Rule #1.
So, this rule is about how we should surround ourselves with the emotional safety true friendships naturally bring, while we chase our dreams and build lives we don’t have to escape from.
Surround yourself with people who love and support You, even while you are still figuring out who that is. Surround yourself with people you trust. Tell them about your life, and your heart, and your goals, and let them tell you about theirs!
Surround yourself with people who will help you face your fears. Surround yourself with people who challenge you in a loving way. Surround yourself with people who hold you accountable to yourself.
Rule #10 is about how healthy our lives become when our sentinel is filled with quality and sincerity.
This rule is about painting the beautiful and diverse story of your life, by looking to the people you cherish and love.
So, let’s wrap this up:
How do you honor each of your friendships?
How have you seen codependency manifest itself in your relationships?
What are the toxic tendencies you have, which may be undermining your friendships?
Do these tendencies reveal an opportunity for personal reflection and growth?
If standards are the gatekeepers for the castle grounds of our lives, then boundaries are the variety of protections that fortify this castle, and safeguard those within (read: You).
Like moats filled with alligators, or skyward towers made with thousands of bricks, the boundaries we set in place for ourselves are not for the faint of heart.
What’s important to understand is that your walls and defenses do not make you difficult to be around, and certainly do not make you hard to love. Not by your partner. Not by your family. Not by your friends.
Your walls do, however, make you hard for abusers to love.
Your walls do make it difficult for someone only interested in a Get-Love-Quick scheme to stick around.
Your walls demand bravery and discipline to overcome, and force cowards to call their own bluffs.
And the ones who are worthy of you will not only work within the boundaries you set, they will hold you accountable to them. Earnestly and compassionately.
The best part about this concept is this:
Each person who respects your standards and your boundaries, in essence, becomes a sentinel on your team. The people we surround ourselves with create a powerful boundary protecting our boundaries!
So, Rule #5 discussed standards, which are the initial litmus tests for whether or not someone should have access to certain levels of our lives.
In this way, boundaries are guidelines which inform others how they may interact with us. I see them as the red and green lights we use when engaging with each other.
For instance, with regards to dating, the initial boundaries we create at the outset of a courtship might look like this:
No, you may not contact me past midnight and expect a response.
No, I will not prioritize a date at the last minute over plans I’ve made with friends.
No, I will not play Caretaker to fill the office of Mother in your life.
No, I will not engage in sexual activity until a level of trust has been proven and verified.
No, you may not use subversive tones and/or derogatory terms in conversation with me.
No, I will not participate in a relationship with you while you are in a relationship with someone else.
No, I will not read between lines for your implications.
These are all basic examples of boundaries in romantic relationships, and there are plenty more that I am certain each of us can add.
We can simplify this list even more, based on what we are or are not comfortable with, in general. In doing so, this list can be adapted for your dating life, for your friendships, and even for your work life:
No, my boss may not email or call me after-hours and expect action to be taken.
No, I will not accept the tasks my coworker wants to pass on to me, simply because he or she lacks the discipline to do it themselves.
No, I will not sacrifice a mental health day, even if it means missing out on my friends’ last second plans.
No, these people around me may not use words or actions that undermine my spirit.
Can you already tell what Molly-Today is going to say Rule #6 means, at its core?
Rule #6 is all about the importance of implementing the word “No” in our lives. Because by lacking boundaries, we allow ourselves to become desensitized and derailed.
By lacking boundaries, we allow ourselves to become overextended, overworked, and spread thin, to the point of breaking.
Molly-Over-The-Past-Ten-Years did not like to say “No.” Even at the risk of her own health and sanity. She never said “No,” but she actually never said “Yes.” She led something of a “Sure?” lifestyle.
A “Sure?” lifestyle is dangerous because it allows others into the driver’s seats of our lives. In my life, this is what that looked like:
Sure, I will work overtime in my position, while covering my boss’s position and working overtime there, and not be compensated or recognized in any way for either?
Sure, I will push the limits of what I am physically comfortable with in our relationship, even though I absolutely know this could be a slippery slope leading to something I definitely do not want?
Sure, I will join my friends for a night of an activity in which I have no interest, even though I haven’t slept well in days and should probably use tonight for a quiet night in?
But, Molly, your “Sure?” lifestyle was allowing you to spend time with your friends and dive into your career? Aren’t those good things?
To which I will say:
Of course, it is important to spend time with those you love and care about; and of course, it is important to invest in your career path.
But not at the expense of your peace.
When we “Sure?” our way through life, we burn out by using our energy on things that do not serve us. Worse, we allow ourselves to miss the opportunities to engage in what will truly fulfill us, as we use our time and efforts on the extraneous tasks that belong to others. We use our bandwidths accepting burdens that dull our edges, instead of taking on projects and engagements that polish our finish.
But, Molly, if it’s good to spend time with friends and work hard in my career, how can I tell when I have crossed my own boundaries?
Well, I am so glad you asked!
The great news is that your body is your first, and most powerful, ally. Our bodies can tell us when we’re not honoring our boundaries. Here are some physiological responses we might experience when we allow our lines to be crossed:
When we are in a relationship with the wrong person, our hearts will feel anxious. When we are working the wrong job, it will be hard to get out of bed in the morning. When we want to do something new, our minds will be restless.
The sheer volume of signals our bodies provide us is innumerable! But as easy as it was for me to type those examples, they aren’t easy lines to draw. Because they take a lot of time to discover in the first place!
Most of the boundaries I have developed have come from A LOT of sleepless nights (much like the ones I described in Rule #4), pondering what is within my control that I am letting out of my control.
Predictably, after any amount of time burning the Proverbial Candle all over, Molly-Over-The-Past-Ten-Years used up her physical, mental, and emotional capacities.
She became tired and worn down, and she found that her only solution was to stop reacting at all. The energy it took to emote on a daily basis just wasn’t there.
This is what a life without boundaries led me to! I was very much, and very simply, a walking and talking skeleton, who moved through life as dictated by her schedule.
But that’s not what we are made for! Though we are technically skeletons that can walk and talk, we are made to be so much more.
Without proper boundaries, I left no time to get to know myself. I left no time to enjoy my own passions. I left no time to process how I was doing. I left no time to develop the life I wanted for myself!
Physically, I was across the world from my loved ones. Mentally, I was exhausted and going through each day in a fog. And emotionally, I felt nothing. Except paralyzed.
My body was communicating. My alarm systems were blaring. I knew I wanted to make a change, but it seemed like everything needed to change. And that thought was daunting.
The first thing I had to do was eliminate my knee jerk reaction to accept everyone else’s demands and requests. As soon as I did this, I was shocked at how much time and mental space opened up for me!
As soon as I started saying No, I was actually able to say Yes.
Making this small change to what we know is negatively impacting us, amounts to honoring our own borders. And the feeling of relief that comes with this simple action is immense.
As long as we ignore these signals, and honor the whims and preferences of others, we will find ourselves in discomfort. And once we start defending ourselves, by making small but noticeable changes to our lives, we give ourselves room to grow.
Rule #6 is so important, because if there is one thing this world needs less of, it’s individuals who are so jaded from overextending themselves that they no longer feel passion.
Or worse: they no longer feel compassion.
So, Rule #6 is about saying No, when you want to say No.
Rule #6 is about saying Yes, when you want to say yes.
Rule #6 is about excising the impulse to accept what is not required of you, in an effort to accept more.
So, let’s wrap this up:
What are some examples of boundaries you have instituted in your own life?
How often do you find yourself accepting the requests and responsibilities of others, that you should refuse?
When your boundaries have not been honored in the past, what signs has your body given you?
How can you honor the boundaries you have created for yourself?
Molly-Ten-Years-Ago loved this rule. Molly-Today loves this rule. Molly-Over-The-Past-Ten-Years wanted to live by this rule…but of course, that’s not how this story goes.
Mostly because she didn’t understand Rule #5. As I’ve said before, Molly-Ten-Years-Ago was a strict lady, but she didn’t always know her target and what lies beyond. Truthfully, I only recently began to understand what the rule means and how to institute it now.
Arguably, the hardest part about having legitimate standards, that Young Molly never could have warned her future selves about, is that you cannot help the acute disappointment you endure when someone walks away because of them.
Did I overestimate my own worth?
Am I not good enough for my own standards?
Did this person not believe my value was worth the rules I set in place?
The next hardest part is that you want to bend your rules to convince the person who walked away that you are in fact worthy of said rules. I have done this so many times, in order to give someone the time and space to see what I knew to be true about my own worth.
But therein lies the danger! This is the trick that has taken me years to catch on to!
When we allow someone into our lives who does not meet our standards, we have actually taught this person that they can have unfettered access to our peace. Even though they may not want it.
And, regrettably, they absolutely will treat us as such.
Which brings us to Rule #5. It has been incredibly tempting for me to write this as a what-to-look-for-in-others type of post. And once again, that causes me to endure days of writer’s block…which probably means that it is not in fact what my heart feels called to discuss.
What my heart does feel called to discuss is somewhat counterintuitive, at first glance, which is what took me so long to figure out! Rule #5 is so lovely because at its core is the truth that having standards actually allows you to accept others as they are.
How can that be, Molly? It feels mean (dare I say, un-lovely?) to say that someone doesn’t meet my standards. Isn’t that a cruel way to interact with others?
To which I will say: No, my friend.
First, I want to say the reason we might feel mean instituting our own standards, is because we know how hard it was for us to meet them ourselves! That being said, ideally, the standards you create are standards to which you hold yourself (read: they are humanly possible).
Next, I’d like for us to look at it this way: when I bring someone into my life who, at present, does not clear the bar I have set for myself, what I am actually doing is deciding for them that they will change later, while enabling the behaviors they exhibit which do not meet my standards.
This is another way we do a disservice to ourselves and to the other person in the scenario. Just like with Rule #4, we have chosen to make the decision for the other party.
What decision is that, Molly?
Well, I am so glad you asked.
The decision the new party must make is whether or not they are willing to accept the terms and conditions of a relationship (romantic or platonic) with you. And when you ingratiate someone into your life who very clearly does not meet your standards, you have made the decision for them, that they must change what they might actually not be willing to change.
When it comes to allowing others into our lives, we get to assess what they bring to the table (and they should be doing the same of us!).
A great set of basic standards might look something like this:
- Must have a job, contribute to their place of living, and be able to support themselves
- Demonstrates integrity
- No criminal record or drug use
- Emotionally, physically, and financially responsible
- Knows how to mitigate conflict
- Wants to improve themselves to be their best
- Is conscious of and working through their issues
Notice that each of these points depicts a person who will not only build themselves up, but is on a trajectory that could grow upward with yours, instead of detracting from your momentum.
Notice also that each point on this list does NOT dictate to someone’s appearances, personal preferences, viewpoints, religious beliefs, passions, et cetera, et cetera. If these are items that you feel inclined to add, you may do so, in a compassionate manner.
As we come to know ourselves, and who we want to be, and how we want to be, Rule #5 becomes crucial. Our growth and development does not occur in a vacuum. We do not exist in a world devoid of the human condition.
And remaining true to the changes we want to see in ourselves can become challenging in the face of those we choose to spend time with, especially when they do not wish to meet these basic requirements.
So we must be selective and careful about who we choose to engage. Romantically. And platonically.
Because the people we surround ourselves with ultimately become representatives for us. Our friends and significants teach the world how to view us as individuals.
Even more importantly, our chosen circle shows others how they are permitted to treat us. Or behave around us.
Our standards beget our treatment.
Molly-Over-The-Past-Ten-Years allowed people into her life that affected her more than she wanted to see. Because Molly-Over-The-Past-Ten-Years didn’t like to disappoint others by walking away or guarding her self.
She spent a lot of time with a variety of people. Some good; many not-so-good.
She grew close with the people who have built her up. She spent too much time with others that tore her down. And she entertained some who exhausted her spirit entirely.
And what’s important to note is that each of these people is entitled to their own path, their own decisions, and their own behaviors. Without pressure from me to exist in a particular manner.
But so was I.
And the meaning of this rule is that I am also entitled to hold people as close to, or as far from, me as I deem fit. And doing so is not a cruelty, rather an acceptance of what may or may not come.
Because not everyone deserves the same access to you, your heart, and-or your time. And those who choose to walk away from you in the face of your standards, are showing you that they would indeed take you for granted, either as a friend or a partner.
We’ll talk about boundaries in my next post. But there is a quote I love about boundaries, that applies here, as well:
“The only people who get upset about you setting boundaries are the ones who were benefiting from you having none.”
Your standards should not feel like a standoff, where the person who caves first has to cater to the other’s whims. They are your guards. And they help you to discern when someone does or does not make the cut to certain levels of your life.
Your standards should be systems that you set in place to help you achieve your goals. And anyone who stands in the way of your doing so (whether by the way they treat you, their lifestyle, their habits, or their intentions) should not enjoy the privilege of You.
From now on, I will only allow someone into my world that can match my enthusiasm and zeal for life. Because this rule is about being so focused on meeting your standards and achieving your goals that you simply cannot undersell yourself.
This rule is about standing firm in your worth, and believing in the quality, not the quantity, of individuals who will choose to meet your expectations.
This rule is about knowing how hard it is to meet your standards, because you endured the challenge of them yourself!
This rule is about accepting that some individuals may want access to your life, but will not be granted such access until they make the choice to shape up.
So, let’s wrap this up:
What are systems you have set in place to help you live your best life?
How do these systems translate to the standards you hold yourself to?
When have you allowed someone into your life that may not have honored your standards?
How do you help the people in your life to honor their own standards?