Boundaries. It can be a bit of an obsession in Christian circles, particularly with regard to men, women, friendships and relationships. Essentially, this post is part 6 of my Eternal Problem series – but I thought I’d give it a rather more interesting title.
A few weeks ago, current favourite sitcom New Girl featured a scene in which one male character outlined to another the things a guy could and could not do for a female friend. Not familiar with New Girl? (Why wouldn’t you be? It’s all kinds of awesome!) Three guys (Winston, Schmidt & Nick) and one girl (Jess) share an apartment; the guys learn all sorts of things from their quirky female flatmate; one guy (Nick) and the girl have something of a will they/won’t they friendship; and it’s very, very funny.
The scene in question takes place when Winston confronts Nick about his friendship with Jess, which appears to be rather more complicated than it ought to be. Winston basically creates a list of ok and not ok things to do with or for a friend who happens to be a girl:
It’s because you don’t have boundaries!
As a friend, you can lift a heavy object, but you cannot drive her to the airport.
You can hold the elevator, but only if you see her coming down the hall saying “hey man, can you hold the elevator?”.
No picnics. No mini muffins.
And never Adele. Never Adele.
Most importantly, you will not help her build that dresser. It’s furniture that implies that one day you will share it with her. And that’s not going to happen.
It sounds ridiculous, but are such rules necessary in our relationships with others? Is it reasonable to expect people to respect or initiate boundaries? Are Christians (especially) over-obsessed with the idea of boundaries, particularly in male/female friendships?
If boundaries help to prevent us from getting hurt, then they’re a good thing. If they stop us from ever drawing close to people we should be close too, they’re a bad thing. But I think that there can be a happy balance between the two.
Personally, I know that there are friendships in which I should have applied the picnic boundary early on – perhaps I wouldn’t then have found myself having to specify boundaries several years later, when trying to move on from a complicated friendship. (“You can laugh with me, but you’re not to laugh at me – or encourage others to do so…”) Then again, I think of the male friend who helped me build my bed a few years ago, and know that it didn’t mess with either of our heads!
Asking the question “is this helpful?” in a situation in which you know that there are feelings or complications is definitely sensible – on the part of both parties. Of course, it’s also hard to say no when you really want to be spending time with someone. Who wouldn’t want to have a picnic on a sunny day with a nice person? Or to help someone out with their newly purchased Ikea flatpacks? Or to listen to Adele… (Maybe not!)
Talking over the New Girl plot with a friend, we realised that this was possibly the only time we’ve seen the concept of boundaries feature in a TV show. There’s a long history of ‘will they/won’t they’ plots throughout TV history, but I’m virtually certain that this conversation has never happened before. A quick look at some of the obvious subjects would suggest this:
- Ross & Rachel in Friends – Joey warns Ross about the “Friends zone” but boundaries were invisible! (To everyone in that rather incestuous friendship group, actually.)
- Joey & Dawson in Dawson’s Creek – Much theorising about relationships and teenage angst takes place, but boundaries never crop up. Again, things might have worked out better for all concerned if they had.
- Lorelai & Luke in Gilmore Girls – Lorelai just doesn’t do boundaries!
There are many, many other examples, but these were the first that came to mind. In fact, as our conversation progressed, I pondered the fact that I always root for these relationships to work out. Just the other week, I was re-watching the end of Gilmore Girls season 4 – the episode in which Lorelai & Luke finally get together. I first watched it on a train and found myself clapping when they kissed. Commenting on Twitter that “Would you just stand still!” are the best words Amy Palladino ever wrote, I received several replies from people who felt the same as me. For four seasons we’d been rooting for that relationship to happen. In TV, will they/won’t they friendships always end positively, at least for a while – Rachel got off the plane; Dawson eventually slept with Joey; Luke kissed Lorelai – you never have a situation in which it doesn’t work and they have to come up with a set of boundaries in order to move on.
TV gives us unrealistic expectations that the same will be true of our own ‘will they/won’t they’ scenarios, which sucks.
It dawned on me that I always root for these TV relationships to work out because it hasn’t (yet?) worked out in my own will they/won’t they scenarios. Luke was always my favourite of Lorelai’s boyfriends, because they were just meant to be together. Ever since New Girl began, I’ve had a thing about Nick – yes, he’s a bit of a loser and rather depressed but there’s a part of me that finds those to be endearing qualities in a man. Plus, he clearly cares for Jess and was doing things that ticked all the boxes I’d want a man to tick in my life – picnics, furniture building, mini-muffins and heavy object lifting…
Then Winston dropped the boundaries bombshell. TV finally got real.
I’ve no idea what happens next with Nick and Jess (I know the second series is nearly over in the US, but I like to avoid spoilers). I suspect they’ll get together, at least for a while. I hope it doesn’t end badly because my romantic sensibilities couldn’t handle it.
Boundaries. They can be a total reality check, but I think that’s why we need them.