It’s one thing to set healthy boundaries with coworkers, casual friends, or someone you’re dating, but setting boundaries with your loved ones can be truly challenging.
Last weekend I had dinner with a longtime family friend that goes way back to infancy. It’s the kind of relationship where any amount of time apart can go by, and no matter what when we get back together, we pick up right where we left off. Currently she’s back in my life, and she invited me to have dinner with her Mother, and I agreed. But, I reluctantly agreed cause lately she has made judgmental comments about my weight.
She’ll say things like, “Your stomach looks like you’ve lost some weight, that’s good!” I think she thinks she is being nice, or encouraging or something, but she’s not. It’s rude, but at the time I didn’t respond to her comment cause I think she meant it as a compliment, when really it was hurtful and unnecessary. On top of that, she has another family member that would always discuss my weight at a very young age which was traumatizing. When you’re an adolescent you don’t always have the tools to stand up for yourself, and set a healthy boundary. Now I’m an adult, so I should have told her then and there how it made me feel to set a healthy boundary but I chose to let it go.
When I woke up on the day of the dinner I felt fat. I wasn’t having a skinny day and wanted to cancel, but I felt bad that I already made a commitment and she was excited to come Downtown with her Mom. I decided to push through my hesitation and reluctant feelings. Right there in that moment I ignored my feelings and didn’t set a boundary for myself.
I searched my closet for something that made me look skinny, and did my best to manage the stress of the situation. When I got to dinner I ordered a salad when really I wanted a carne asada taco plate, but felt like I was being watched. I didn’t want to be weight monitored by the food police. I assumed with her Mother being there she wouldn’t make any comments on my weight. I was wrong. Half way through dinner she started talking about my weight and said, “You’ll lose the weight when you’re ready.” Again, I think she thinks she is being encouraging but it’s not. It’s not tough love either, but often when you are dealing with loved ones setting a healthy boundary can be tricky. You might be accustomed to them speaking their mind, and just accept how they are but that’s not right. Thankfully, in that moment I wasn’t having it anymore and fired back, “I am not fat. I am not as skinny as I used to be. I am a life time Yo-Yo up and down with my weight so stop talking about it.” I shouldn’t even have to justify my current weight gain or even explain myself, but it was my attempt to set a much needed boundary. Then I turned to her Mother and said, “Do you know your sister used to try and put me on a diet as a child of strictly tuna fish with lemon?” At that point my friend chimed in, “Oh my gosh can you believe she did that? That’s horrible!” I was confused. Here I am being chastised for my weight, and she was acting just like her Aunt. The hypocrisy was so transparent, but apparently she didn’t see the parallel. She thought she was being a “good friend” and being “honest” but that is a trap that happens when you want to set a healthy boundary. Just cause something is true and comes from a “good place” doesn’t make it ok. Just because someone gets away with certain behavior for a lifetime, and you didn’t set a boundary early on in the relationship doesn’t make it right either. It’s never too late to start setting boundaries. That is one of the most crucial lessons I’ve learned in setting a healthy boundary with a loved one. Just cause they are like family, and you have a lifetime history of friendship and, “that’s just how they are,” doesn’t make it ok to step over the line.
Anyway, towards the end of the dinner she mentioned Thanksgiving, and invited me to spend it with her family in a couple of weeks. I didn’t want to be disrespectful or rude or even lie in front of her Mother that I really didn’t want to go so I said I would think about it. On my walk home, with my arm around my friends Mom, I thought to myself hell no. The last thing I want to do is attend a Thanksgiving dinner and be body shamed on the one day you’re supposed to enjoy food. I decided if she calls me to see if I want to go I’m just going to have to tell her how I feel which is setting a healthy boundary before being provoked. Do I think she might body shame me, again, in front of everyone? Maybe, but I’m not going to take that chance and will happily spend Thanksgiving in that same restaurant and get that plate of carne asada tacos!