Most black people are uncomfortable with setting boundaries because they were raised in a society that taught them to optimistically trust and respect everyone: from the drunken uncle to the nasty auntie who had a sense of entitlement, to the neighbourhood middle-aged man who was mentally unstable. Everybody, including strangers, could send us to the shops and be alone with us when we came back to give them what they had sent us to buy for them. There were virtually no boundaries except for the people’s consciences and the whole system mostly worked. Anyone who abused that trust used to get a mean beating from the community and that normalised our neighbourhoods. We could talk more about how our communities worked before there was abuse and when that system stopped, but I want to rather talk about a specific problem caused by the absence of boundaries even when society has moved away from those trust-based values.
Our women (and men) easily trust everyone, even the modern day drunken uncle and nasty aunties with a sense of entitlement. Those characters exist everywhere and they play those roles in their families and everywhere they are tolerated — every place where there are no boundaries. Today, communities don’t “interfere in people’s private matters” and it would be called mob justice/uncivilised if they beat up a child rapist or a woman abuser; yet nothing has effectively replaced mob justice in our communities. This is why our women and children find themselves alone with crazy, physically strong men behind closed doors.
We could also talk more about what we could replace mob justice with but I want to talk about setting boundaries to protect oneself from the physically strong drunken uncles and their types.
Firstly, setting boundaries does not mean becoming emotionally guarded. When people get hurt, they vow not to let themselves go through that pain ever again — and they ensure that by closing off emotionally — which makes them inaccessible to both genuine love advances and the drunken uncles.
What setting boundaries means is to stop relying on the community for your wellbeing. The community has become an unsafe place and the elders are no longer allowed to beat up the misbehaving uncles; so you have to love everyone from a safe distance until they have been proven safe to approach.
What’s loving from a safe distance and when is it safe to approach?
A safe distance means that you greet, smile genuinely, help when you can; but you not only expect nothing back, you accept nothing back until you’re satisfied that the apparent kindness you’re receiving does not come with undesired side effects. How do you know if a person’s kindness comes with undesired side effects or not? They give without expectation of payback. If they smile, offer to push your grocery trolley to your car because your child is being difficult, etc, they don’t immediately turn around and ask for your number. Even if you like them, it would be too soon to open up beyond just genuinely thanking them for the kindness. What if he’s “the one?” That’s a desperate question, right? You can’t walk around everywhere wondering if every guy isn’t “the one”, right? As a matter of principle, a simple “I can’t” turns a gentleman away and he’ll appreciate and respect it about you.
But seriously, what do you do about the chance that you can reject the one because of principles? Well, firstly, understand that life doesn’t owe you the one. Accept this gracefully and be content with being the one until you’ve met someone who “makes deposits with no desperation to make a withdrawal.” Like, he helped you but didn’t try to get something out of you for it. That would be the undesirable side effect of an apparent kindness — the first sign of the drunken uncle to avoid. It’s the blessing that’s followed by sorrow. Love is never interested in payback for kindness. If they ask for payback, they don’t love you, they love themselves, and you walk away in spite of your feelings of loneliness.
When is it safe to accept an act of kindness? When you’re sure it doesn’t come with an expectation of payback. This is how you create a circle of love around yourself: only allow people in when you know they don’t major in the getting as opposed to giving.
Lastly, does this mean a woman can’t approach a man she likes? No. We can talk about this another time. What was on my mind this time was that, for me, a woman’s grace/dignity is that posture of sufficiency without a man even when she longs to belong with a man. Just because she needs/wants a man doesn’t require her to be on high alert for potential. That only opens her up to impostors.