For me, one of the hardest things in life is learning how to navigate and set boundaries in relationships. Sometimes I wonder how two people can EVER be on the same page about what they want out of a relationship, or to really agree about what a relationship should be. I can’t believe I found someone like Chris in this crazy world of VERY diverse people.
But not all my relationships are with people as good, loyal, wise, and kind as Chris.
I’ve been struggling with one such relationship for years. The difficulty with this relationship comes in waves, and sometimes I think “Oh, this could be fine” and other times I am certain the only way through is out. But I always give up my intention to bail because this person is in my life, will continue to be in my life, and there are good reasons for me to choose to keep this person in my life.
That reality has been making me crazy trying to figure out what kind of boundaries I can set and keep in order to protect myself from the accompanying toxicity that comes with this person.
Then it hit me: I don’t have to accept the love. I can accept the person, can feel an abundance of compassion and pity for what pain this person is feeling and the wounds that are making them act out, and I can even accept that they feel what they experience as love for me. But I don’t have to accept and welcome that love into my life.
If someone loves me (with any kind of love), but that love only makes me feel like sh*t, or only brings with it burdens and toxicity and angst rather than the freedom that accompanies truth and care, I am under no obligation to receive it. To accept it as a consistent part of my life. Even to have it be part of our relationship.
For me, accepting someone’s love means I commit to reciprocating with my own love. If those loves are fundamentally different in their aims and consideration of the wellbeing of the other person, then offering my kind of love to someone offering a toxic kind of love, I will be broken more than lifted up and will struggle with guilt and shame for the life of that love-sharing.
Accepting someone’s love means accepting the treatment they give you as an expression of that love. Love is shown just as it is spoken. In addition, some love is not love. Or it is a broken, hurtful, damaging kind of love that, while felt and offered and shown by the offerer under the name of love, is received felt by the other person as hate, disrespect, and harm.
And I don’t have to accept that kind of love.
I have the freedom to put boundaries and requirements on the kind of love I accept, especially when that means entering into a relationship where I offer what I define as love. Even though two loves will never be the same, there are certain behaviors and intentions that need to be reciprocated for there to be a relationship at all.
I don’t know why, but this realization broke something open inside of me. I damn near wept when I realized it. Because my empathy is so strong that rejecting someone feels awful, like I am bringing pain into their life when all they are trying to do is offer love. What kind of monster would stiff-arm sincerely offered love, from someone that needs, for other reasons, to remain in their life?
So I remind myself that I am not obligated to accept whatever love is offered me. Not even if my rejecting a love hurts the love-r. Not even if it breaks their heart. Not even if others shame or judge me for my rejection. I do not owe anyone acceptance of the love they offer.
I think what was so freeing about that realization is that rejecting love means that my boundaries are, in some way, not about people. My boundaries are primarily about treatment, about the way I insist on being treated under the name of love. Yes, of course, the kind of love someone is able to and willing to offer is deeply related to the kind of person they are, but I don’t need to reject the person to reject the love. My boundaries are about treatment. They are about how others define and give what they call love and whether or not that is the kind of love I want to receive and respond to with what I call love. I can keep someone in my life without entering into the reciprocal relationship of love.
I can reject a love and not reject the person. I can’t express how much I love this realization. Putting that into practice will be messy and difficult, and I will certainly continue to struggle as to how I should do it and when, but good grief is the possibility of it freeing at the moment.