One of the biggest lessons I’ve been learning about post divorce is the lesson on boundaries. I guess I’ve still got lots to learn because the Universe keeps presenting me with opportunities to enforce them over and over again.
First off, let me preface this article by acknowledging that previous to my divorce, I had zero boundaries. Growing up in a Korean household, there was no such thing. Parents/elders were in control and had access to my time, energy, and space whenever they wanted or thought necessary. I was the child and they were the grown ups so they had final say. Even things like where I wanted to go to college were decided for me. When I got married, I transferred this mindset to my marriage. My husband had all the decision-making authority and I played the good wife role. It’s a wonder why our marriage didn’t last, right? And I chose to play that part. I chose it because it’s what I grew up in, even watching it in my own parents’ relationship. It was only through my divorce that I learned about boundaries within the family dynamic and in any human interaction, really.
The most recent lesson occurred about a month ago when I went to go visit some family in Texas. My sister and aunt live out there. Concurrently, my sister had her sister-in-law and family (which includes herself, her husband and son) also visiting while we were there. This meant that my girls and I ended up spending a lot of time with them too, which was not a problem…except the fact that her SIL’s husband, we’ll call him Bob, was overly friendly towards me, to say the least. In the beginning, he seemed like a perfect gentleman. But even then, I had a funny feeling when I met him. Something in me told me I didn’t trust him. But of course, I didn’t want to pass judgement and be rude and so I pushed those feelings aside. The more and more we spent time with him, Bob would slowly start making small inappropriate gestures and comments, which I would laugh away and disregard…because I didn’t want to be rude to my sister’s brother-in-law. It became more evident however, not only to myself, but also to my sister and my aunt. They would come up to me and tell me how inappropriate Bob was. I agreed and made a point to stay away from him as much as possible when we would get together. However, NOT ONCE did it ever cross my mind to actually physically TELL HIM to STOP.
The most blatantly obvious inappropriate behavior occurred when we were all having a BBQ at my aunt’s house. His wife was telling us all how ticklish she is and that sometimes Bob would hold her feet and have their son tickle them. Bob then proceeded to hold my feet in his arms and asked my girls to tickle them. I fake laughed, kicked my way out, said how much I hated being tickled, and removed myself to “get a glass of water.” Again, it didn’t even occur to me that I could have vocalized my discomfort and tell him to stop. It was only when I got back home and a friend asked me why hadn’t I said anything, that I thought to myself, “oh yeah…I could have SAID something!”
When we got back home to LA, my daughter London asked me about the incident. “Remember the time Bob tickled you?” I answered something along the lines of, “yes, and you know what? I didn’t like it at all. Now that I think about it, I really should have said something, but I guess I was in shock at the moment and it didn’t occur to me.” She seemed to be OK with that answer. Except she kept bringing it up again and again. One day, I asked her, “yes, baby, I remember that time. How did that make you feel?” And oh boy…everything she had been holding in about that event all came out: “It made me feel so uncomfortable. Why didn’t you say anything? Why did you laugh? You know, we barely even met Bob. Actually, we was just a random guy; a stranger. He can’t be touching your body without even asking you! That’s wrong! I never want to see him again.”
Needless to say, we had a long conversation about it. She was absolutely right!! I was astonished to hear the words come out of her 6 year-old mouth. Proud and yet disappointed at the same time. Proud that she had been absorbing all the things I’ve been teaching her. Disappointed that I had allowed this to happen to me in front of my girls. All these years, I’d been teaching them about how they should never let anyone touch them if it made them feel uncomfortable in any way and here I was, not putting my preaching into practice.
Here’s the thing. I could have gone down that rabbit hole of negative self talk and self criticism for all the things I could have done and said. OK fine, I did that for a couple of days. But then I realized that this whole series of events taught me so many lessons. And the conversations I had with my daughters, the repairing after the damage, was just as useful and good. I didn’t say anything because it wasn’t something I was taught to do, plain and simple. Here’s how this story ends. The last question London asked me was, “What are you going to do the next time somebody does that to you?” I answered, “I will say, ‘Please stop touching me. This is my body and you are making me feel very uncomfortable. You are not allowed to touch me without my permission.’ But you know what? You probably won’t ever see that because I promise that I will never put you girls or myself in that kind of situation again.” And that is a promise I intend to keep.