My mom, daughter and I were exhausted from the first leg of our back-to-school shop-a-thon so we decided to recharge at one or our favorite restaurants.
It’s a sweet place that sort of feels like you’re in someone’s home. The food is delightful, the service is thoughtful, and the ambiance bends time and space as it imaginatively transports you to Provence. With a name like Green Gateau, you start to believe it.
Because my mother lives an airplane ride away; because she is being treated for liver cancer; because she is the most adorable sparkle in the universe, I wanted every moment together to feel enchanted.
We relaxed into our seats, sighed over the menu, ordered our iced teas and started chitty chatting about the cute things we had on hold at several stores.
Then I felt a prick to my nervous system.
I noticed two women diagonal from us had voices that started to overtake our space.
Simply put, they were loud.
Annoyingly, rudely, excessively, obtusely… LOUD.
They were older and presumably (from the decibels they were cranking out) hard of hearing.
They were completely enraptured with:
+ swapping ailment stories like it was a competition
+ talking about their weak bladders
+ sharing notes about their toilet seats and where they purchased them
+ vividly describing infections and sores (I kid you not)
they called their friend. On speaker. And screamed and cackled at one another across the table, into the phone.
Seriously, none of the above has been embellished. I promise.
My heart is picking up speed recounting this to you.
I’ll be honest, in the moment – when my blood was boiling – I did not use my tools (the personal life guidance practices I teach my clients).
I was so upset, I couldn’t think straight.
My mom was unhinged too. One of the symptoms she navigates is called flushing. Basically, when her body releases stress hormones, everything about her turns red and hot. Even her eyes. It’s uncomfortable.
Mom was glowing and fanning. I was glaring and giving the stink eye. My daughter kept saying things like, “Let’s just focus on our refreshing iced teas.”
Our dreamy lunch had quickly spiraled into a tense power struggle. The only thing is, it was a one-sided war because the other two women were absolutely oblivious to our discomfort.
I was convinced if they didn’t shut up about their bowels and bacterial issues FAST, our whole afternoon would deflate.
I flagged down the waiter.
“I have to tell you, it’s extremely unpleasant to sit next to people talking loudly on their cell phones.” (hint, hint).
“I know,” he replied. “But what can ya do?”
WHAT CAN YA DO?! WHAT CAN YA FUCKING DO?! I’LL TELL "YA" WHAT YOU CAN DO! YOU CAN MANAGE YOUR DINING ROOM AND TELL THOSE OLD BROADS TO TAKE THEIR GOD DAMN BIG-ASS JITTERBUG CELL PHONE OUT-FUCKING-SIDE TO TALK ABOUT THEIR SHIT HOLES! THAT’S WHAT YA CAN DO YOU, YOU IDIOT!
I didn’t really say that.
But, make no mistake, that was the intensity level of every cell in my body.
By this time, none of us were hungry anymore. We picked at our food, declined to-go boxes, said ‘no thanks’ to the magnificent crème brûlée we had been fantasizing about, and hot-footed it out of there…seething.
When I got home later that afternoon I began to whip myself into another frenzy as I recounted the story to my husband.
“Can you believe THAT?!”
“I mean, it should be ILLEGAL to talk on speaker phone in restaurants! Don’t you think?”
“I am NEVER going there again!”
He listened and watched as I re-enacted, re-lived, and re-hashed every little detail.
And then he said, “Why didn’t you just ask to be moved to a new table?”
“Why did you sit there and suffer when you could’ve simply moved to a new table? You could’ve bypassed a lot of your anguish.”
I got it.
The situation had not actually been about the loud-talkers. It was about boundaries – and the fact that I relinquished control of mine (and my happiness) to people who were completely disinterested in the job.
You see, if we don’t have boundary flexing situations in our lives, we’re unable to practice everything we think we know (all the stuff we adore learning in self-help books, Super Soul Sunday episodes, and ahem…life coach school). And if you can't pin-point and honor boundaries in your personal life, you won't be able to practice them in your business; and your business ABSOLUTELY needs the structure of healthy boundaries to thrive.
Here’s what I hope you take away from my story:
1. Our boundaries are simply our values. I envision my boundaries as a bubble around me. Everything within the bubble is what I hold dearest to me in terms of how I want to live my life.
2. Honoring our boundaries doesn’t require a messy confrontation or the manipulation of others (as in, YOU must change what you’re doing so I can feel happy).
3. Others have free will and will do what they do, but you ALWAYS have the choice to own your behavior and make decisions that align with your how you want to live.
4. We can bypass a lot of our suffering by taking responsibility for our actions.
5. When you’re in a boundary infringement situation, you’ll know it because you’ll feel upsetting emotions. Your feelings are alert messages beeping at you “Activate boundary reinforcement. Activate boundary reinforcement.”
6. Good people sometimes forget everything they know about boundaries when the energy of a situation is at maximum intensity. The main thing is...do an excavation later - with curiosity and compassion – to look for where you didn’t take full ownership of your values and behavior.
Later that evening I was soaking in a hot bath. The waiter’s words were echoing in my brain, “What can ya’ do?”
I wasn’t angry anymore. I was at peace because the situation had been a lesson and reminder for me and I got it. Really got it. And this acknowledgement infused me with deep, joyful gratitude. What I can do is take care of myself. Honor myself. And live my values without requiring others to bend to my will to make it possible.
About The Author:
Website designer, writer, and life coach Deana Ward creates simple and soulful design and personal transformation experiences for introverted people who tend to get lost in the overwhelm of their ideas. Get her free book The Introvert’s Guide To Growing Your New Business and learn the exact things she did to get her dream business off the ground in less than a year so she can spend her days doing what what she loves, earning a meaningful income, and hanging out with her kids!