Monday, October 28, 2013

La Frontera: A Cultural Comparison of Boundaries (and bulls#it)

I attended an insightful presentation once at The Colorado College. It described the differences in perception of borders and boundaries based on linguistic criteria. To simplify, we talk about the geographical limits of countries as "borders" while in Spanish they refer to this as La Frontera or "the frontier."

One sure seems a lot friendlier than the other.

Or at least, that's what I used to think. I used to think that borders and boundaries were about keeping certain things IN and other things OUT and that the "frontier" was the undiscovered country. I got very ethno-un-centric and romanticized a culture that thinks that strangers are just friends they haven't met yet. But I'm not entirely certain that this is what is meant by the frontier. And I'm not so sure it is unromantic to define certain things as in and others as out.

Case in point: my first lesson in boundaries. When I was about three or four, my progressive if not hopelessly fearful parents decided to tell me about where and when it was appropriate to be touched and by whom. Bathing suit area: totally off limits to everyone, kisses limited to parents, grandparents, and siblings, and hugs only if I wanted to hug the person and never if I didn't.

Fast forward a few decades and I read a number of self-help books, most of which described how this same bathing suit rule applies in emotional circumstances: you get to decide who hurts you. This was novel. I sort of assumed that there were evil people out there, lurking, hoping to inflict emotional harm and sadness. And the suggestion that other people emotionally damaging me was somehow my fault? That didn't sit well.

The idea that I had any role in my own emotional suffering was infuriating. In part, because it was true. Those people who said they were my friends, but only came around when they needed something? They were just suffering, they weren't trying to hurt me. I was rescuing! Because I was a good girl, a good friend, and a HERO!

Or, possibly, I was just yelling across the frontera and into the abyss. I was casting ropes and launching search parties only to learn that those I was trying to save didn't want to be saved. They wanted to suffer, to stew, and to offload their pain onto me. But they had no intention of offering support in return because they couldn't. When you're on the bad side of life, you can be the best person in the world and yet you are utterly useless to others. You simply cannot rescue a drowning man when you are drowning yourself. That's the first lesson I learned in lifeguard training.

And so I have built walls around myself (don't worry, you're invited to the "inside" club)! The walls are short and easy to reach over. But if you continue to jump ship I cannot continue to reach for you. All I can do is send you my love. Whisper my blessings for your journey. Allow you the space to traverse the lesser-known places, the outside, the frontier.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

And I'm too old for shame.

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