I’m often surprised at the vastness of human interaction: in other words, it’s amazing what boundaries people will cross when relating with one another. Specifically, my boundaries, which some may say are a little more narrow than others. And in the face of having my boundaries crossed, what’s even more surprising is how often I find myself completely stunned, immobile and utterly incapable of thinking on my feet…
I remember when I’d go clubbing with my girlfriends in my late teens. Back then it was pretty easy to get your hands on a fake ID…in fact, with a little creativity one could easily create their own. In any case, there were three of us and we were inseparable. All week long we would talk about which clubs we’d go to and with whom, plan outfits and so on and so forth. We were a lot more daring then… And while the first was the pretty one and the second was the sweetheart, I always liked playing the part of, for lack of a better term, smart ass.
Random beefcake: “Hey. Howzit goin’? Can I get you a drink?”
Me: “No thanks.” Ugh. I’m onto this guy…he’s just after one thing!
Random beefcake: Puffing chest like a peacock. “So, uh, you and your friends come here often?”
Me: “Ya.” Lame. Please go away.
Random beefcake: “You know honey, we didn’t wait in line. I know some guys.” Getting very full of himself. “I could get you in whenever you like.”
Me: “Hmmm…thanks. That’s ok.” Oh. My. God. Gross. Feeling like I’ve been drenched in slime. Turning to leave…
Random beefcake: Crosses boundary! Grabs my arm and getting a little feisty. “So it looks like my friends are hooking up with your friends so how about…”
Me: Looks that would shoot daggers and kill in an instant. Grab beefcake’s hand, remove from my person. “How about what? Look, I’m sure you’re a really nice guy. But here’s the thing. I’m studying international relations and politics. I’m planning on being a diplomat or a lawyer, ok? I don’t think there’s a match here. So how about you just move on?” Oooooh…harsh…walk away.
Now that’s thinking on your feet. But somewhere along the way, that very self-assured girl took a bit of a back seat. Call it having babies, call it changed priorities, call it growing up and being immersed in environments where the rules perhaps aren’t as clear…
In my thirty-X years, situations seem more complicated, the stakes are higher and thinking on your feet means keeping your head in the game… a game that knows no boundaries…
Like that certain person (we all know one) who, no matter what, will point out just how tired I look every single time I see them. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. Monday morning? Tired. Friday afternoon? Tired. Dressed to kill? Tired. Always tired, tired, TIRED! Appalling. And though this is a regular occurrence, it’s still surprising.
Is there no nicer way to greet someone? Now, I’m not saying that one shouldn’t show care or empathy, or even concern at my once-in-a-while or more-times-than-usual haggard state. But since when did that kind of small talk replace the inconsequential talk about the weather?! I wish I could just reply, “Ya, what of it?! I have this chronic condition, perhaps you’ve heard of it, it’s called: LACK OF WORK LIFE BALANCE-ITIS. You know, like PULLED IN A MILLION DIFFERENT DIRECTIONS-EMIA…” But relationships in your thirty-X years are complicated… So instead, I do what I always do – I half whimper and smile.
Why be surprised? Why assume that everyone respects boundaries? Sadly, I’m often most caught off guard when I’m at work. And I think this has more to do with the fact that thinking fast and being on my toes just doesn’t seem akin to looking at financial models and writing presentations or reports…not terribly life or death situations, right? Wrong.
For example, the other day I was told by someone that if I made a mistake, just one mistake, at something that I was responsible for, that they would “kill” someone… nay (and here it comes) – with slit eyes, dark face and bony finger pointing towards me – that they would “kill” me!
Now THAT’S harsh. Despite the (hopefully probable) fact that it was an obvious turn of phrase and common colloquialism, my boundaries had not only been crossed, but pulverized, like after a nuclear attack. The situation was also just a little bit ridiculous. As soon as the words were out, I think I just stood there, mouth agape, and the only thing that I did or said again (DAMMIT!!) was half whimper and smile. Seriously. Like why couldn’t I have responded with any of the following:
- Wow, that seems kind of violent.
- Whoah. You know that’s against the law, right?
- I think the last time I threatened to kill someone (obviously as a turn of phrase) I was highly hormonal, 16 and in high school.
- Now that’s not being much of a team player. Hey man, if I go down…you go down.
- Aha. I get that you would like for me to be like a robot or some kind of droid that is incapable of human error. I shall endeavor to rise to this impossible challenge.
- @#$% YOU.
Is it that I need more of a backbone? Is it that I just shouldn’t care? Or is it the fact that perhaps I need to remember that boundaries, for some, are meant for crossing. So what if I just crossed my own first? What if, I put aside sweetness, politesse, empathy and consideration? Sounds like too big of a price to pay for not being me. Though I am all for some witty repartee…time to get back in the game and master the art of thinking on one’s feet!