You Can’t Judge Someone Else’s Boundaries – Or Whether They Will Pay Your Price of Admission

You can’t judge someone else’s boundaries or the price of admission they set.


You can disagree with those boundaries. You can say they are boundaries you would not use. You might think that the price of admission is too high. You might even question if the boundaries are actually having the effect that person thinks they are.

But you can’t judge them. You can’t apply emotional weight to them.

At the same time, if you’re the one instituting the boundary, you don’t get to judge the other person’s reaction either. You do not get to insist that they must pay the price of admission you set.

This is where it gets tricky.

People who are taking advantage of you – or trying to – will usually react badly when you institute or enforce a boundary. [1]

But when your new (or newly enforced) boundary violates theirs, it’s still going to be painful or lead to difficult consequences.

I’m going to run through some real world [2] scenarios.

* Billy is asexual but romantic. She starts dating Katie, but he breaks up with her when he discovers that there will never be a sexual component to their sexual relationship.

* Wesley is unemployed. Sam offers him a job doing manual labor in his warehouse for minimum wage. Wesley turns it down because he has a history of back injuries.

* Ray is HIV+, but is well medicated and has an undetectable viral load, so he cannot pass the virus on to partners. He reveals this to Kristine, and she won’t go out on a date with him because she still has concerns about his HIV status.

* Jamie is struggling with illness – either mental or physical. Living with a person with that illness is more than Jodi can deal with, and they move out and break up with Jamie.

All of these follow the same pattern. PERSON 1 has/sets a boundary, A . PERSON 2 also has a need or boundary, B, that boundary A will violate or leave unfulfilled. PERSON 1 has raised the price of admission. PERSON 1 & 2 then go in different ways.

When there’s an existing relationship, it’s even more difficult. It can feel like a betrayal to have an employer suddenly start selectively enforcing rules, or a romantic partner change the price of admission, and so on. It can be really painful and traumatic. Some attempt at negotiation – not NEGATION, but negotiation – is perfectly natural. That said, ultimately boundaries must be respected.

When you’re talking about different “power levels”, it can even look a lot like punching down. I’ve seen [3] where someone in a minority group – doesn’t matter if I mean race, gender presentation, religion, or sexual orientation – accused another of bigotry because PERSON 2 would not date them. The last two examples I used up there – regarding illness – is often used to condemn PERSON 2, because there are so many existing (stupid) stigmas around STIs and health, particularly mental health.

But looking at the actions of PERSON 2 through that lens is just wrong.

That’s why abstracting the principle out is so important.

PERSON 1 has/sets a boundary, A . PERSON 2 also has a need or boundary, B, that boundary A will violate or leave unfulfilled. PERSON 1 has raised the price of admission. PERSON 1 & 2 then go in different ways.

Because those same people would be horrified if I insisted that a woman had to date or sleep with a straight white man. They would – rightly – accuse that man of acting like the rapist Brock Turner.

Abstracting the principle out also lets us see how it applies to the workplace. All those “we don’t have enough workers” complaints are exactly the same thing. A local business to me is reportedly desperate for workers. They need to have knowledgeable public-facing workers to help customers who are unfamiliar with their specialized product. Their employees need to have extensive, specialized, and non-transferable knowledge about their product. They also pay minimum wage. That’s their boundary – and as a result, potential employees are walking away because that business’ boundary means their needs cannot be met.

I repeat: I am not saying any of this is easy. Especially when the other’s boundary radically changes during the course of your interaction with them. It can hurt and cause a lot of strife and pain.

But we have to be able to respect other’s boundaries. They have the right to set their price of admission wherever they want to.

And we have to respect that we can’t force someone else to pay the price of admission that we set.

Featured Photo by Visual Stories || Micheile on Unsplash

[1] After this point in this post, I am assuming that there are not bad actors, that all involved have taken the time to interrogate their feelings, and are being as thoughtful as possible.
[2] Artistic license. Yes, this example does not just apply to your situation; all of these I’ve heard or experienced (or both) multiple times. So I’m not just talking about you.
[3] I promise you this has actually happened (I was two degrees of separation away), though extremely rare.