Boundaries and The Guilt

Kicking bad habits. Why it’s time to make yourself a priority.

A few years ago over one of those never-ending Skype conversations I said to a friend, “ I hate scheduling in these Skype chats on a Sunday night.” This must have sounded quite odd and anti-social. I wasn’t sure where it had come from, but I felt like I had made a major life revelation. 

For me scheduling in long chats over video on a sunday afternoon is just so depressing. You are already slothing around in pajama bottoms (very nice ones from Anthropologie but still) with your hair up in a scrunchie. The Sunday blues washed over you with the last of the red wine at your pub lunch but you manage to ignore them by being organised. Food prep, face masks and sarcastic sunday columns occupy your time. So a long winded catch up only serves to confirm that the weekend is over. Mentally I’m already in that Monday morning meeting. Physically I just want to veg just that little bit more while watching the new Fyre documentary on Netflix.

Mentally I’m already in that Monday morning meeting. Physically I just want to veg just that little bit more while watching the new Fyre documentary on Netflix.

Well my comment went down an absolute treat. She heard my apathy as, “I just hate talking to you for long periods of time,” and went silent. So my ever present friend Guilt jumped into action, speedily correcting this hurt by trying to wangle me out of the situation. Reassurances that I loooooove chatting to her on a Sunday came pouring out (not true). I added that it’s just other people that I don’t like talking to at that time (definitely not true). Guilt then also started smothering me with mental reminders to schedule in calls with her…for an hour on a Sunday. 

Looking back I realise that I should have told Guilt to jump off a balcony. I wasn’t trying to be mean, I was (albeit quite badly) trying to set a boundary, something that clearly isn’t my strong suit. Now I’m generally quite a strong willed person but at the same time a terrible people pleaser. These two hugely contradictory personality traits play an exhausting tug of war in my brain. Statements like the following flow out of me on a regular basis –  

“Sure I want to go watch world cub rugby for £95 in Scotland in November “
(she says dreading the cold, bad accommodation and hangover that won’t be worth it) 

“I’d love another bottle of red,” (while feeling her liver squirm at the thought of the third day of binge drinking.)

“Oh yes I am totally free on the 19th for that Christmas party” (with that agency where she knows no one, mentally wishing she had a diary conflict) 

I’ve been told I’m a good communicator. So it strikes me as odd and even disconcerting to admit that saying no doesn’t come very easily. And this is across all aspects of my life. Until recently I couldn’t even admit that actually no, I don’t like hummus. HUMMUS! Ridiculous I know. But I would just eat it at friends dinner parties without a thought because I didn’t want to be rude.

Looking back I realise that I should have told Guilt to jump off a balcony.

In the January issue of Red Magazine Fearne Cotton also talks about the old Guilt. In her Six Things I Learnt in 2018 column, number one was her decision to not take guilt into the new year with her. Hang on one cotton picking minute (see what I did there?). If Fearne Cotton, a doyenne of the modern woman archetype, is still trying to close the door on guilt then I am in very good company. With her shiny hair commercials, cracking wit and general bad ass demeanour she out of any of us should be on top of this. And she’s not? Whew!

And actually NO is okay. No thanks, No. It’s a tiny word. Surely it can’t be that hard?…I won’t lie writing it so many times one after another has made me break out in a rash.

But enough, it’s time to be strong! No I won’t have another drink, no I don’t feel like going out, no I don’t want to spend money on the new girl in HR’s birthday gift because I met her half a year ago and haven’t spoken to her since. No I don’t like hummus for goodness sake!

And yes one must make compromises in life – be a good friend or partner; happy to do certain things for the happiness of others. We can’t just strut around being otherwise all the time. Only Russel Brand can get away with that. But if the boundary serves YOU at no cost to others then why not make yourself a priority? Why not listen to that little voice that whispers, “Because I don’t want to.”

This doesn’t mean that The Guilt disappears. Oh no that backseat passenger hangs around like a bad smell. But it’s a little bit more manageable. You send a gift rather than actually waste 5 hours of a Saturday ooohing and ahhhhhing over baby gifts. You text a cat meme to your friend who you haven’t spoken to for ages, to let her know you are thinking of her. She ends up calling on her lunch break and you have a 10 minute conversation that leaves you both fulfilled. You don’t go to that rugby game and remain happily ensconced on your couch watching Mrs Maisel while everyone else freezes at the stadium and has to deal with train delays on a hangover.

I do feel that since the Skype debacle I am not less awkward about setting boundaries. There is definitely a tipping point to FOMO and even perhaps The Guilt. Life is busy and you start becoming a little more important to yourself. And the more you do it the more you realise that ‘no’ is not the enemy. Politely but firmly declining does not a bad person make. Your time is precious and you are wise enough to know that this won’t be the last dress up party or holiday or bottle of wine, or crème brûlée or date you ever go on. If you want to miss out for whatever reason that really is okay. JOMO (the joy of missing out) is part of the new wave of self-meditation so you will be in good company.

And Guilt? Guilt packs its overweight bags and goes to harass someone else…Be it just for a little while…

image credits: pinterest / they all hate us / fashion editorials / style and minimalism / chloe le drezen / carissa gallo / the atlas magazine

Author: Maja Havemann

I'm a freelance producer and writer living in London.

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