Recently, I explained to a neighbor who wanted to spend time with me that I needed some alone time on weekends. I thoughtfully reminded her of my multiple roles at the University of Waterloo and how much time, effort and care I put into them. I said I needed time on the weekends to reflect, read and re-energize.
She looked me straight in the eyes and called me a liar. She told me I did not need alone time as she knew I was an extrovert who constantly needed to be social. The clear boundary I thought I was respectfully setting was 100 per cent ignored.
I am used to my boundaries being pushed and people trying to get what they want but being called a liar and told what I needed shocked me. I walked away quickly, saying, “I’m sorry you feel that way” and wanting that alone time more than ever.
We live in a world that often does not take no for an answer. People push, pressure and manipulate others to get what they want, thinking primarily of themselves and their own needs, instead of being empathetic and recognizing others’ needs.
No one likes rejection, and many people try to avoid it at all costs. Rejection, however, is part of life and part of consensual interactions. Everyone has the right to say “no,” and everyone has the right for their no to be accepted the first time they say it. We may not like rejection, but if we want to be respectful, understanding and supportive—and get the same in return—we must acknowledge that it is a human right to make our own decisions.
I had the right to spend time alone, and I also had the right not to explain why I needed it. My explanation was my considerate way of saying no. I wanted her to know I was not rejecting her; I was protecting and respecting my own needs and time. I wonder if a clear no without an explanation would have worked better. That would have left less opportunity for her to try to convince me of my own needs. I will try that next time.
Setting boundaries is a continual process and something I am intentionally working on in my life. According to Nedra Glover Tawwab, the author of, Set Boundaries, Find Peace, boundaries are expectations and needs that help you feel safe and comfortable in your relationships. Boundary issues can manifest as poor self-care, feeling overwhelmed, resentment, avoidance and other mental health issues.
I have noticed that when I don’t set a firm boundary, I become irritated and resentful. Usually, it involves the use of my time or being convinced to do something socially I don’t want to do. It is not the fault of the people I am irritated with or feel resentment towards – they do not know how I feel.I It is my fault for not clearly stating what I want and what I need.
I have been intentionally trying to listen to my gut—that feeling inside my stomach that says, “you don’t want to do this”—and voice that feeling appropriately. Sometimes I tell people I will get back to them. This gives me an opportunity to think about how I really feel and what I want to say. I try to be assertive without being hurtful. I have found that trying to be nice often leads to me being unclear and my boundaries being ignored.
‘Nice’ is probably not the first word people would use to describe me, but I do try hard to be considerate and understanding of others. As a woman, my assertiveness is not always greeted with enthusiasm as we live in a sexist, capitalist and patriarchal world; however, I will continue to resist these problematic ways of thinking and acting by caring for myself and my community and by setting clear boundaries.
I have also learned that what I assume is common sense is not common sense to everyone and therefore needs to be communicated. For example, I thought it was common sense that if you borrowed a book from someone and dropped that book in a pool, you would replace that book, but apparently it is not. Communication is a skill. A skill we can learn and improve on. A skill I intend to build upon for the rest of my life.
Boundary setting is lifelong work because we change, as do our relationships, expectations and world.
The need to set boundaries may be a new idea to some. But thankfully there is lots to read and clear skills to learn. It is something you can talk to friends, family, co-workers and therapists about. Let your loved ones know you respect and care about their well-being, but you also respect and care about your own. There is only so much time and energy each of us has, and it remains true that we cannot care for others without caring for ourselves.
And on that note, I bid you farewell. It is time for me to say good-bye for now.
I am setting a new boundary—a boundary on my time, which is the most important commodity to me at this point in my life. This will be my last Sexplanations article.
I have enjoyed writing for the Community Edition for the last ten years, and I am grateful for the opportunity I received to share my thoughts and feelings on topics important to me. I do not take this privilege lightly.
I would like to thank everyone I worked with over the last decade—editors, photographers, fellow contributors – you have been and are an exceptional group of open-minded, curious and caring people, and I wish you all the best.
But most of all I would like to thank you, dear readers. I have written about some controversial topics and felt safe and comfortable doing so. I hope I educated and amused some of you while increasing your comfort with sexual health.
I hope you have the desire to act consensually and the courage to set your own boundaries, while respecting the boundaries of others.
Stacey Jacobs has been a Sex Educator for almost 2 decades. For 13 of those years she worked as a Sexual Health Educator at Planned Parenthood. She teaches in the Sexuality, Marriage and Family Studies Program at the University of Waterloo and when not educating, she enjoys reading, walking her dogs and eating good food. The life of a Sex Educator is usually not as interesting as people assume.