‘Are you driving Ben to the airport?’
One of my mates asked me and I replied ‘Nope’.
The reason? I hate driving people to or picking people up from Melbourne airport. It always takes at least twice as long as you thought it would, the plane is almost always late, you have to circle so you don’t get in trouble for hogging a short term pick up spot, all the while messaging the person you’re supposed to be picking up because for some reason it seems okay to use a phone while driving when you’re at the airport (hot tip – it’s still illegal, even at the airport).
It’s a nightmare. Especially for someone who likes to plan everything, there are far too many variables at the airport to ever make me comfortable with going there. Also on a more practical and fiscal level, I’m a business owner so one to three hours of my time represents a significant amount of money. It would save me both time and money to just pay for an Uber. Ben is the same. He’s also a business owner so it makes no financial or time-saving sense to do airport runs for each other. We Uber or leave our cars at the airport in long term parking. And yes, it’s very romantic and lovely to greet each other like long-distance lovers at the gate when we’ve been apart but I’d much rather him stay at home and prepare food/wine/snacks/episodes of whatever show we’re currently binge-watching than waste his time driving to get me.
I’ll help my friends move house, set up parties, clean up parties, grab anything they need from Ikea, sell things on Gumtree for them, make chicken soup when they’re sick, watch their kids while they go get a hair cut or have them stay over and cook them dinner. I’m a very, very good friend. I will, however, always be busy if anyone needs picking up from the airport. With the exception of my parents and the exception of Canberra Airport because that place is heaven. For real, I’m deeply in love with Canberra Airport. It’s clean, it’s organised, you can always get a carpark and there’s a Costco right next door. It’s the new Changi Airport. Mark my words.
The point is an airport pick up (from Melbourne – Canberra and Albury are fine) is extremely stressful for me and it’s not worth disrupting my usually very calm temperament to do this. Just get yourself an Uber (I’ll even pay for it!) and I’ll have a beverage of your choice, a delicious meal and sparkling company waiting for you when you get here. We no longer live in Melbourne but that was my stance for the decade we lived there and I imagine it will be firmly reinstated should we ever move back there.
A lot of people struggle with setting boundaries. I get it, it makes you feel like a jerk. However, without boundaries, we can get ourselves in a right old mess.
This interview with boundaries expert Chad Buck, a clinical psychologist at Vanderbilt University’s Work/Life Employee Assistance Program shows some astounding research about people who have strong boundaries. They’re often more compassionate, more respectful, better partners, better friends and probably better at sex because they have the balls/lady balls to say ‘Can you NOT lick my eyeballs?’. People with firm boundaries also have higher life satisfaction because they didn’t let themselves get bullied into managing their kid’s basketball team for the 7th year in a row.
How ace does that sound?
Here are a few simple boundary setting tips to get you used to saying ‘No’ when you might not say it all that often…
1. Never commit to something when you’ve been put on the spot
Do you have a friend who always says, ‘Let me check with my partner first!’ before committing to something? I’ll bet you a hundred bucks that friend is just stalling to come up with an excuse as to why they can’t go. Which is fine. It’s an easy, not at all harsh way of getting out of something you don’t want to do.
Here are some other excellent things you can say.
‘Let me check my diary when I get home!’
‘Oh I might be away that weekend, but watch this space.’
‘Damn! My Bell Ringer of Australia/Renaissance Reenactment/GEO Tagging convention is on that weekend.’
Boom. Home free.
2. Ask yourself who is paying the price of your poor boundary setting?
Spoiler alert: It’s probably your family. When you don’t say ‘no’ enough you become overstretched, overstressed and that affects the people closest to you. If you say yes to that extra project at work knowing you don’t want to do it and it will force you to work late several times a week that’s a problem. It will most likely make you grumpy, overworked and resentful. Same with having your sister’s kids come to stay for 2 weeks while she’s on holiday. If you WANT to do these things and you’re HAPPY to do them, that’s ace. If it’s going to cause you more anxiety and stress than you can cope with, saying no is okay.
3. Give yourself permission
A lot of the time, it’s the people pleasers who struggle to set good boundaries. And that’s because they’re worried if they do, people will think they’re an asshole. Honestly, that says more about them than it does about you. And does it matter if they think that? And also, maybe they’re not thinking that at all? Maybe they admire you for being able to say no or being clear about what will and won’t work for you? I’m like a dog. I really appreciate it when people are super clear and honest about what they do and don’t want from me. ‘Nah I’m not too keen to hang out tonight.’, ‘I don’t like Cher so I don’t want to go to her concert with you.’, ‘Please stop humping my leg.’ All of this information is extremely useful in my pursuit to not be a shit person.
Ultimately though you are not responsible for the other person’s reaction to the boundary you are setting. You are only responsible for communicating your boundary in a respectful manner. Like maybe refraining from telling them to eat a dick. Start there. There have been a few self-help gurus in the past few years who have adopted the saying ‘No is a complete sentence’, but unless we’re talking about bodily consent, I don’t dig that concept. Being friendly doesn’t cost anything and sugar coating your ‘no’ is a good way to put up a boundary without coming across as a jerk.
4. Decide what your boundaries are
This sounds obvious but in areas of our lives where our boundaries are poor, we’ve probably never even considered what proper boundaries look like. If I frequently reply to one of my client’s emails at 9 pm, that sets up an expectation that I will always answer emails at that time. So if I want to stop doing that, I need to put boundaries in place.
5. Frame your boundary setting around your own needs, not that of the other person
I mentioned before that you’re not responsible for someone’s reaction, so long as you’ve politely communicated your boundary. And the way to do that is to communicate your boundary in a way that speaks to your own needs as opposed to speaking to the other person’s behaviour or expectations.
So for work boundaries, I could have said: ‘It’s unreasonable for clients to think they can contact me outside work hours so I’m not doing it anymore.’ Which would have spoken to the clients’ behaviour – the behaviour I trained them into. And would have left them feeling a bit annoyed. Instead, I could try –
‘I don’t answer emails outside of work hours as the time outside work hours is my family time.’
If there’s a family member who you feel always asks more of you than they’re willing to do for you, for example, they might ask you to pick something up for them. While it might be tempting to say: ‘You always ask me, why don’t you ask someone else for a change?’
A better way to say it is, ‘I won’t be able to do it unfortunately as my schedule that day doesn’t allow for it.’
It’s possible to be both apologetic in tone, but also firm. And a major key to communicating strong boundaries is to only give as many details as is necessary. And to be firm.
Also, friendliness goes a long way.
6. Surround yourself with people who set strong boundaries
And take note when other people set boundaries with you. Note your response. I know if someone says no to me, I quite admire them for being able to do it. And I also try to learn from them. How did they say no? Can I use that technique in the future?
Ultimately though, people who set strong boundaries are generally also people who respect boundaries that other people set. And those are the kind of people you want to surround yourself with.
Of course, we all have to do things we don’t want to do sometimes. Like, go to a baby shower when you’d rather just sit on the couch all afternoon or help a colleague with a project even though it’s not your responsibility. Putting up boundaries isn’t a free pass to tap out of our responsibilities, it’s an opportunity to figure out what boundaries are really important for you and which ones are flexible.
And yes, I do sometimes pick people up from the airport in Melbourne. If it’s 11 pm and there’s no traffic.
Also this week’s Straight & Curly episode is all about boundary setting – get it in your ears!