Published on September 17th, 2020 | by Candace Simpson0
Go OFF: Setting Boundaries When Our Whole Lives Are Online
On March 15, I left church and came home. I remember the date because I was scheduled to preach, and I did. But I did not realize it would be the last unrestricted day I’d be there.
It has been five months. The world is absolutely disorienting to me. If you feel this way, you’re not alone. If you don’t feel this way, you’re not alone either. People are experiencing a wide range of emotions—on an hourly basis. What even is time?
When I think about the last five months, I think about the people I’ve lost first. I’m scared to start calling names because I know I’ll miss one. That’s how many. I think about the things I’ve lost, too. The routines, the norms, the habits, the rituals… These elements are harder to grieve because they happen over and over. No longer is Friday night a time for coming home after work, taking a quick power nap (because I’m not 20 anymore), and preening in front of the mirror before we go for a girls’ night out. No longer can I host people for Tacos and Bey’s Homecoming and say “Sure, bring whoever.” No longer is Sunday morning for watching children run from the corner store into the church building with a fistful of candy.
Instead, my work is online. My social life is online. My communal worship is online (though my prayer closet has always been private). In the middle of posting something personal, I can expect someone will comment on my status to say, “Call me.” Which will inevitably send me into a spiral. If I have no clue what you want to talk about—whether for work or leisure—I’ll just ignore it. (I’m getting better about this, but I am very much #Millennial in this regard. I don’t listen to messages, and I will watch unscheduled phone calls go to voicemail. I’m not always in the place to be on the phone.)
I prayed for my computer because I wasn’t sure how much more it could take. Then I realized, why didn’t I pray for me in this same way? If you are like me, you may be struggling with boundaries in this season. Just because we’re all “working from home” doesn’t mean we all have the same schedule or energy level. It is getting pretty strange these days, but you’re not by yourself. Here are a few ways I try to keep some of myself to myself
Set up a schedule with a buffer. Pretend it’s travel time.
One way to fall into slippery boundaries is to have an unstructured day. That doesn’t mean every minute needs to be accounted for. But if you know you have a virtual date at 5 PM, don’t pressure yourself to sign up for a webinar at 6. You might think you’re “knocking out all your things at once”, but you’re really setting yourself up to be disoriented. You need time to transition out of the date-space and into work-space. This is coming from me, the one who made the bad decision to schedule therapy right before she had to teach. I was so distracted and full and tender that I couldn’t focus. In “the real world” I’d never assign myself to be on a date at 5 and at a teach-in at 6 PM. I would still need to make it across town!
Rehearse your “no, thank you” speech.
People will assume—because we’re all just borrowing each other’s time anyway—that you’re free or interested. Sometimes you’ll get pressured into saying yes.
“I figured you did that, so you’d want to do this.”
“I really need your input here.”
“We haven’t seen you in forever.”
You get to be tired, uninterested, Zoomed-out. You get to say, “I’m actually really drained from a day of looking at devices with blue light. Can we try again later this week? I want to savor our time together.” I sometimes practice my “no, thank you” speech in the mirror. It’s easy to get guilted into watching things, participating in things, showing up for things. Just because it’s “online” that doesn’t make it less demanding on your spirit. And as a facilitator, let me just say, I’d rather talk to four people on video who want to be around than 200 people who aren’t actively listening.
Make use of curated lists. Or Finstas.
It’s okay to be IncogNegro. Every idea isn’t for everybody. Your email, Facebook, and IG stories have functions that allow you to target who sees what you say. If you feel like you can’t say certain things in a given space, make a curated list so only certain folks can see and engage. I love the Close Friends function on Instagram. I’m still adding people to it, but there are some things I want to share that I don’t want everyone commenting on. Take a tip from our Gen-Z siblings who have Finstas. Or make a newsletter that people can subscribe to (and opt out of). Live your life. A word of caution, however: Curated Lists and Finstas may offer a false sense of security. My big sister Shahara always says, “If you want something repeated, write it down.” Screenshots are still functional. So, a paper-and-pen journal is always your best bet.
Schedule your free time.
A few years ago, a friend of mine was trying to get me to take a weekend off. I kept dancing around it, saying, “Well, if I can’t accomplish XYZ by Friday, I’ll just finish it Saturday.” To which they responded, “So you’re going to pencil yourself in…to your own schedule?” I’d never penciled myself in to work; I’d made it a priority. I’d never penciled in a kickback at someone’s house. I made it a feature of my night. I had been prioritizing other events and commitments. Why did I make serving and attending to others more important than serving and attending to myself? I learned to trick myself. I put naps in my calendar, but I schedule them as “Consultation with B.O.E.L.” Back. Of. Eye. Lids.
Ultimately, people are absolutely going to cross lines. And you’re going to feel pressured to let them. As long as we live under capitalism, there will always be material rewards (some real, some imagined) for being busy. But we can perforate the logic of this system. We can turn meetings into email threads when appropriate, we can have grace for peers who are drained, and we can postpone. We can create new norms.
Candace Simpson is an educator, minister and writer. She believes that Heaven is a Revolution that can happen right here on Earth. She invites others into that philosophy at www.fishsandwichheaven.com