Boundaries are important.
Even when you are Jessica Drew (a.k.a. Spider-Woman) and your best friend is Carol Danvers (a.k.a. Captain Marvel).
Perhaps especially if you are Jessica Drew and your best friend is Carol Danvers.
As some of you may already know, the Marvel Comics Universe is deep in the throes of a second Civil War, this time over the use of young Inhuman, Ulysses’, predictive powers. Captain Marvel thinks Ulysses’ powers should be used to head off disasters before they happen. Iron Man believes that Ulysses is essentially a biological supercomputer who isn’t seeing absolutes but, rather, running mental algorithms based on advanced statistical calculations, culminating in the most likely, but certainly not absolute, scenario.
Carol asks Jessica for assistance with her side of the war. At one time, Jessica may immediately have said yes, or at least heard Carol out, then decided to back either her or Stark. As it stands, however, Jessica isn’t interested in being dragged into a cosmic-level conflict in any capacity, not for the she time being (she does end up changing her mind to a certain degree, but that’s at the very end of the issue and has no bearing on the conversation we’re having here). She tells Carol this in very clear, concrete terms she doesn’t want to play. She is concise and absolute.
Carol refuses to let up.
Jess takes a paying detective job wendigo-hunting in Canada. Carol calls, interrupting her investigation. Distracting her. Jess tells Carol to back off, first politely and lovingly and then, as Carol continues talking, more abruptly. Carol keeps talking. Jessica hangs up. Carol calls back. Jessica gets distracted and Roger, her partner, ends up trapped in a freezer with one of said wendingo due to the distraction. Jess chases the monster and does have a bit of trouble with him but does have matters in hand and certainly doesn’t call Carol for help. Carol shows up anyway. Not to help Jessica in her mission, which she does very much incidentally, but because she absolutely refuses to take no for an answer from her purported bestie.
Now. I love Captain Marvel. She is one of my favorite characters. But if she pulled with me the crap she’s pulling with Jessica in Spider-Woman #9, I’d be making this face too:
Boundaries are something I’ve never been good at. Actually, scratch that; I’m good at respecting other people’s but I’m terrible at establishing and maintaining my own. From a young age I was told that, “Not every sentence has to have the letter ‘I’ in it,” and that putting myself first was “selfish,” and selfish was just about the worst thing a person could be. This resulted in a Shiri who, while assertive in the moment, always backtracked because, ultimately, she was too worried about hurting someone’s feelings or denying someone something they needed or being “selfish” to stand her ground and maintain her boundaries. I have thus spent a very good percentage of my life playing doormat to various individuals.
Having kids changed things a little. My father is a high-risk obstetrician and has worked with many women experiencing substance abuse disorders; he says it’s always amazed him that women, in particular, will do something for their children (in this case, kick years’ long habits) they would never do for themselves. This applies to a lot of us ladies in different ways. For me, it meant finally taking a stand and when someone tried to shove me out of the way, folding my arms and locking my knees so as not to be pushed down and have shoes wiped on me. When people want me to let the kids stay up later than I know was reasonable (forget ideal), I decline their invitations to parties and dinner. When people want to feed the monsters things I’m uncomfortable with, I say no, and when asked why, am pretty confident, “Because I’m the mom,” is sufficient explanation; if that boundary was not respected, privileges for other adults in their lives are revoked. My kids choose their haircuts; no one else gets to have an opinion other than me, their dad, and the child in question, and all others can keep their comments to themselves. I could go on, but I’m sure you get the point by now. I did something for my kids I would never have done for myself because they are the most important things in my life. More important that hurt feelings or avoiding conflict, or appeasing people who are louder or meaner than I am.
For the kids.
I turn thirty-eight this week and I’m only just, just, starting to believe that I’m worth fighting for. That establishing boundaries and demanding they be respected isn’t selfish, it’s integral to surviving adulthood. That there is value in what I think about my own life, in the way I do things. There is value in my needs and in there person I am when they’re met. That my demands are reasonable. That I deserve to have them met. That I deserve respect and compassion as much as anyone else.
Do I still feel guilty when my standing firm upsets someone else? Yup, whether or not they have the actual right to be upset. But the anxiety and the exhaustion are starting to overrule the guilt. Guilt isn’t as useless as some people think: it reminds you that there are times to think of others first, cue you in to when, perhaps, you may have overreacted to something for whatever reason, or when you needed someone to blame and picked the wrong person because the target was available. But I’m learning to hold my guilt up, examine it, see it for what it is much of the time: buggy programming. An error in the code, inserted, likely unintentionally, at a vulnerable time in my neurological development. Stuck there due to F41.1 and F42.2 (those would be the diagnostic codes for generalized anxiety disorder and OCD, mixed obsessive thoughts and actions for the curious). Terrier, or maybe even squid-like in their tenacity because of an unpredictable stew of chemicals, electrical impulses, and memories.
It’s a process. And a process that will likely never be complete for me because of that stew because, even with medication, it’s only partially regulated or regulate-able. I’ve done the therapy thing; I highly recommend it if you find yourself in a certain situation because you can’t fix the program if you don’t know what sort of error you’re looking for and/or never learned to code in the first place, but the person who has to make the actual corrections? That’s me. It’s you. And it’s damn hard.
You may find there are fewer people who like you and you’ll have to be okay with that. I decided I’d rather be honest than beloved. You may find yourself in conflict with people and you have to be willing to fight. You may find yourself toe to toe, face to face with your best friend, in an epic shouting match while your sidekick gets wailed on by wendigos. In the end, you may have to walk away from someone or something precious. And that sucks. It will never get easier.
It may, however, be what you need to survive. It may be what you need to get through today or tomorrow. It may be what you need stay on an even keel, to get a task done. It may be what you need to do to be happy.
Do the thing.
You deserve all of that and more.
Do the thing. Demand others respect it.
You deserve that too.