Socializing and college life are inseparable, but there’s one essential part of interacting with other people that we often forget: boundaries. As Assistant Title IX Coordinator Desmond Daniels said, “One thing as a culture we have failed to do is talk to each other about the things we want and need,” but it’s never too late to do so. In fact, college is a prime time to figure out those things for yourself, and if you’re not so sure how to get started, just read on.
It can be hard to really define what you want — platonically, romantically, familially or otherwise. Daniels advises students to start investigating their boundaries by thinking about what they need, what they want and what they value. All of that can vary from person to person and setting to setting, but looking inside yourself for those things is likely to be a rewarding venture in self-exploration. In all honesty, if you don’t know what you want or need, it’s difficult for the people you bond with to help you get what you want and respect what you need.
In terms of identifying and then enforcing your boundaries, Daniels suggests that you “internally articulate what those boundaries are so you can share them with others.” Similarly, it could help to sit down with pencil and paper and brainstorm all your wants and needs, whether that’s in general or in a particular relationship.
Once you have that down, Daniels said, “Have a conversation in advance about things that matter to you — before letting them become an issue. Find an organic way to bring [your boundaries] up, and be assertive without feeling guilty. When it comes down to [enforcing established boundaries,] you don’t owe anyone an explanation.”
Furthermore, articulating your boundaries is a huge help in clarifying whether your relationships are healthy or whether they need some work. Once you communicate your boundaries, you can expect people who respect you to make a serious effort to respect them. If they don’t, you might realize that you are not compatible with people.
As Daniels mentioned, boundaries really relate to self-care. They are “the things you need to feel good, safe and happy.” Given that, it’s a good idea to direct your energy towards people who are willing to give you those things.
Moreover, understanding other people’s boundaries can feel a little tricky, so it’s best to just ask. When you’re entering into a new relationship — platonic, romantic or professional — you can always ask about boundaries that typically vary amongst people such as personal space, physical affection, nicknames/titles and humor. When relationships get more intimate, people tend to have more complex, less obvious boundaries, so you and the people you become close to have a responsibility to communicate boundaries on both sides.
Daniels shared a great example of evaluating boundaries that also involved paying attention to social cues like darting eyes, no eye contact, disinterested responses or a blocked off stance. Say you want to give someone a hug, and you notice them back away or see their eyes dart off. Instead of remaining unsure and risking crossing a boundary of theirs, simply say, “I noticed that when I go in for a hug, you tend to shy away. Are you not a big hugger?” If the person says they aren’t, then you know to respect that, and you learned a little more about how to express yourself to them.
That said, boundaries are still sometimes challenging to navigate. People view the world differently, and sometimes other factors complicate things, but that’s not a reason to shy away from them. As Daniels said, “The university experience is meant to be a place to explore. I encourage each and every member of the NSU community to identify where boundaries exist, what they look like and how you go about communicating them.”
If you want to maximize the respect in your relationships, be sure to check out resources such as NSU’s Title IX office, Henderson Student Counseling Services or other community resources.