In our culture of social media, all it takes to make a “friend” is the click of a button. On social media, we have constant “community,” but it is also full of boundaries that limit friendship. The extent to which each friend is part of your life is determined by your security settings and posts. On social media, we each create and display what we want others to know and see. Boundaries define our friendships on social media sites, and boundaries define friendships in the real world too. Some boundaries are inherent; others must be discovered. Both are a gift to friendship when we allow them to guide us into love for our self and the ones we call friend. But, boundaries don’t always feel like a gift when someone is intent on violating your boundaries or gets angry when you set them. Here are four reasons to remember that boundaries are absolutely essential in friendships.
We can’t all be friends.
Some people are never going to be friends. It is a fact. Acquaintances, sure. Fellow church members, yes. You see each other regularly. You enjoy the business lunch meeting or the moment on the soccer sideline. Friendship often begins in such places, but everyone cannot be friends with everyone because friendship takes time and the gift of yourself; and there is only so much time and self to go around. On your social media accounts, you may have 400 friends. In real life, however, it will be far less, because we can only have so many true friends. This boundary seems so obvious, but it leaves many feeling guilty or insecure.
A friend of mine told me about a fascinating woman she met, and then explained, “This may sound awful, but I don’t think I have any room in my life for any more friends.” She wanted to get to know a woman she had met, but she knew that she could not be in an intentional, meaningful relationship with this woman. With all of the relationships she already had, she did not have enough of herself to give to anyone else. So what did she do? She did not pursue a friendship with this woman. Her boundary of time and space set her free to enjoy a new acquaintance and continue to thrive in the friendships she already had.
Boundaries can provide strength and security.
Boundaries remind us that we need defined space to give ourselves to another. We have limits. I love being with friends. I want to spend time with friends, but I do not have lots of time give. So what do I do? When I am with a friend, I tell them in advance how long I have for a visit, I ask how long they have to visit. Then, I set a timer and we are free to simply be together. The seeming limit of time becomes the gift of time together for us to enjoy. The clear boundary the timer creates provides strength and security to the friendship. No one is asked to give more than they have to give, and both know time has been set apart because we want to be together. This kind of boundary can only be practiced through communication.
Boundaries place value on communication.
Just like any good relationship, friendship thrives when communication is valued and practiced. When needs are expressed and circumstances are known, expectations can be addressed and people can be loved. Boundaries set the limits of what is acceptable, expected, and needed in friendship. Communication allows these matters to be known and addressed, so that the boundaries can be set. It sounds technical. In actuality, it is the opportunity for clarity and intentional acts of honor for one another. It can be as simple as, “I prefer text over voicemail.” It can be as involved as the difficulty distance can put on a friendship.
A dear friend told me for months before she moved that she was awful as a long distance friend. I told her we would make a go at it. We talked about it, we expressed expectations, and two years later our friendship stands strong despite the distance. If she had said nothing, we would have likely lost touch or waded through the transition with undo hurt and misunderstanding. Her expressed concern allowed us to know the boundaries of our friendship and to grow as friends. It spared us both awkwardness, confusion, and potential loss.
Boundaries are a gift.
Real life is beautiful and messy, and friendship embraces it all. An 800 word article cannot touch the fullness of the value boundaries have in friendship. You have a friend your spouse does not enjoy. Another friendship wanes because your kids never connected with one another. All of your friends married and you struggle to find your place with them as a single person. In time, we all live through these realities and circumstances, but boundaries help us find our way. With boundaries, we become responsible for our own feelings, reactions, and responses in friendship. Responsible for ourselves, we become free to fulfill the great commandment to love the Lord our God, love our neighbor, and love ourselves. May we each examine our hearts before the Lord regarding our friendships. May we all grow in the reality and use of boundaries in friendship. Come Lord Jesus, our dear Friend, and make us friends who love well, for we need each other in this adventure called life.
Ellen Martin is a regular contributor to the Soul Care Collective blog.