The Space Between: Boundaries and Why I Appreciate Them
Boundaries are important. Trust me, my family had none.
How I’ve Lived
Before I was born, this was the situation: my mom, my dad, my dad’s mother, and my dad’s grandfather lived in what was left of a small house in rural north-central Florida. The total usable area was about 800 square feet, or about the size of the one-bedroom apartment I now share with my partner.
It’s hardly enough room for the two of us, let alone for four people. And yet my parents decided to have children. My mom miscarried before she had me, and I was planned. I think my brother was more of an oops. But it hardly matters. We, the four of us, shared a single bedroom until I was seven years old. My great-grandfather died when I was about two, and grandma moved into the room he had occupied.
Then we moved to a trailer. Let me tell you: it was positively swanky compared to what I was used to.
When the trailer burned down, about a year after we moved in, it was devastating, because I had gotten accustomed to having a bedroom of my own, having privacy, and living in a place that was usually clean and with very little clutter. Now I had to go back to my grandmother’s house. My parents moved into the bedroom that had been grandma’s, my brother and I shared the living room with grandma now, and the bedroom we all occupied before the trailer? That was storage space.
At some point around the time I turned 15, I realized how silly this was. My brother, who was in Boy Scouts, was away on a camping trip or something. I took it upon myself to essentially carve out a space for myself. A room of one’s own, if you will.
This did not go over well. But I had realized not only how silly it was to have a room full of crap collecting dust; I realized that no one was going to change it for me. It was June, and being Florida, quite warm. The boxes I moved and the bags I carried were heavy. In other words, it was not easy work. But it was necessary.
It was the same year I went vegetarian, and about a year after that, I went vegan. In some ways, this was another attempt at being independent, at setting myself apart from others. Once again: no one would do it for me.
At 18, I moved into my first dorm, sharing a tiny room with another person, a stranger to me. Everyone complained about the dorms, even the newer ones on campus, but to me? To me, it was like being back in the trailer: it was a palace, relatively speaking.
My favorite one was probably the one I occupied in fall 2011 and spring 2012: exposed brick, queen-sized bed, mini fridge with a freezer and microwave, a decent desk, a chair, plenty of closet space, and all mine. Even when the heat was on the blink, making the place unbearably warm, it was better than what I’d been accustomed to back home.
But, after several years jumping from dorm to dorm, and after a few more at my parents’ house, I was finally able to move out. And after jumping from apartment to apartment a few times, I’m now in a one-bedroom, one-bathroom situation again. The difference? I’m with a partner who loves me, who’s encouraging and supportive and who believes in me genuinely.
What I’ve Learned
People Need Space and Privacy
I was manipulated into believing that desiring my own space and privacy could mean only one thing: I had to have a reason, a nefarious one. I must be hiding something. Or maybe I thought I was better than other people, particularly my immediate family.
It didn’t have anything to do with needing to hide things or an attitude of superiority. I was vegan, so in that way, maybe I did think I was living in a way that could be considered ethically better. But that had nothing to do with why I wanted to leave the Ancestral Home.
For one thing, it was small, and dirty, and by the time I left, it was held together by dust and mold. Spiders took up residence in the toaster. There were ways in and out of the house that could not be closed, so critters would come in, including possums, mice, snakes, and raccoons. In other words, it was a dump, and it wasn’t big enough. Also, for a while, my dad had a habit of playing very loud music until the wee hours of the morning, which is how I understood for the first time that, yes, noise and sensory overload can be used as a form of torture.
Also, there was no central air conditioner. Remember: this is Florida.
Boundaries Are Not Selfish
I’m a stickler for boundaries. If somebody tells me they don’t want me to do something because it makes them uncomfortable, I respect that. It isn’t hard to do, and it doesn’t happen very often.
That’s one reason why I don’t understand it when people balk at mask mandates. There are situations where a mask is not a viable option for a person, either because they have sensory processing issues, or because they have breathing issues, for example. But for the average person, it’s a minor inconvenience, at worst. A physical boundary, to protect the space between us, is sometimes necessary. To protect all of us.
Some People Shouldn’t Live Together
Even if they are family members who love each other, there are people who are not compatible as roommates. This was the case with my family. There was love, and there still is love, but we were four people who had been put together by circumstance and genetics. I love my brother, but I don’t trust him, and I don’t want to live with him. I don’t even really want him living with my dad, but that’s happening, and I can’t do anything about it. I simply have to accept it and be satisfied that he’s no longer dealing weed out of the living room.
Needing space is often treated as selfish, but just as we have a strong need as humans to be social and have contact, we also have a drive to carve out and create a space of our own. It isn’t selfish so much as it is natural. Fighting this natural inclination is like fighting the urge to breathe or eat: it won’t work. (Believe me, I’ve tried.)