Love as the Boundary

'FENCE' photo (c) 2010, marc falardeau - license:

Yesterday at the Good Women Project, Anne Wilson wrote a piece entitled Boundaries: No One Is Above An Affair. To close the piece, she wrote the following:

Love sets us free. Free to laugh, cry, dream, give, and receive. In a paranoid, nervous relationship, you are placed in a hopeless cage of anxiety and guilt. Boundaries set you free to love your spouse in a way you can never love anyone else. Trust, loyalty, and promise win out over the flesh. . . and that is something to be celebrated. (emphasis hers)

I see what she’s saying here, and to some degree, I agree with her. Boundaries keep us safe and give us a framework that allows us to know where we stand. It’s unlikely that there are very many successful relationships that don’t have some kind of boundaries or rules.

Boundaries are good for keeping negative things out and keeping good things in. However, even when they are necessary, they are built on fear. Fear that something will be taken or lost. No question about it, there are things out there that seek to harm relationships. I don’t want to dismiss that.

But something that I’ve noticed in my interactions with people over the years is that the more I love someone, deeply and truly love them, the fewer boundaries I need. In those relationships, love acts as the ultimate boundary. I don’t want to do anything to violate the love that I have for them or that they have for me and that helps me to make better choices about my interactions with them.

Because I love Jason, I will always try to consider how he feels when I spend time with Rich. Because I love Rich, I will always try to consider how our friendship affects his marriage. Our boundaries are more fluid because they are based on our love for one another.

We could have rules in place that keep everything safe. Rules where we can absolutely make sure that we never do anything that no one ever gets hurt. And these would be good, loving, safe relationships. That’s not an all bad thing.

But I can’t help but think of my favorite scene in Finding Nemo. On their way to Sydney, trying to find Nemo, Marlin and Dory are swallowed by a whale. Marlin is trying desperately to escape their prison because he wants so much to find his son, to keep him safe. He has seen the dangers of the ocean that killed his wife, and he wants nothing more than to protect his son from those same dangers. There is never any question in the movie that Marlin deeply loves his son.

In this scene, he tells Dory that he has to protect his son because of a promise that he made.

Marlin: I promised I’d never let anything happen to him!

Dory: Hmmm. That’s a funny thing to promise.

Marlin: What?

Dory: Well, you can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo.

And there it is. There is room for love to grow within boundaries, no question about it. It will also have limits because fear will always have limits. When we choose love as our boundary, yes, the potential for hurt does increase. But the potential for love to expand also increases.

In those relationships, where love is the boundary, I find true freedom.


What are your thoughts about boundaries? Do you have any relationships where your primary boundary is love? How does it differ from relationships where you have more concrete rules set up?

  • Cam B

    I read the article on Good Women Project – and I have to say it made me a little rage-y. My husband and I both have lots of friends of both genders. Not only do these people enrich our lives as individuals, they enrich our lives as a couple. To set up boundaries to minimize these (possible) friendships because you are terrified of that an affair might happen only serves to diminish the joyful experience of friendship. Affairs don’t “just happen” they are intentional acts of deceit.

    Truthful, honest, love is the best boundary. It is open, freeing, and more than capable of overcoming anything negative that could come your way.

    Sorry for the tangent there at the beginning…just…ARGH!

    • Alise Wright

      Yeah, obviously since my best friend is male, I disagreed pretty strongly with the piece. I understand the prevailing wisdom, but I just can’t get behind it. It certainly sounds very noble to say that you’re protecting your marriage, but I can’t help but think of the line in The Lion, the Witch, & the Wardrobe where they are talking about Aslan and it’s said that he’s not tame, but he’s good. Boundaries in relationships keep things tame and safe, but love allows it to be GOOD. And that’s what I want.

  • Dan Bode

    I like your thoughts, and actually agree with both sides of the issue, but I’m finding that the reality of the boundaries we practice is much more individualized than I ever thought. 
    I was married for 30 years and now I’m single.  When I was married I had several female friends who were pretty close and we could talk pretty freely about just about anything.  I think the fact that I was married offered us a boundary that we knew we could all honor.  Now that I’m single that boundary is gone and it feels as though (to me at least) that I need to watch everything I say because a lot of things that we would talk about before take on a whole new interpretation. 
    Anyway, my two cents.  Thanks, it was a good read.
    Dan Bode

    • Alise Wright

      I agree. Which is another reason I don’t really care for people laying out their boundaries. No matter how much you don’t mean it to, it looks like rules for other people. As I said, I think there are ALWAYS going to be boundaries in relationships. I can’t do whatever I want, whenever I want. But when we make rigid rules, like no driving with a man or no front hugs or no close opposite-gender friends, I think we limit ourselves in ways that might not be healthy either. Boundaries are very individual with people and also with relationships. I think black and white views hurt more than they help.

    • BethanyKeeley-Jonker

       As someone who was recently married, I see what you’re saying from the opposite side. I feel like I have a lot more freedom in my relationships with men, because to me romance is off the table with anybody but my husband. That means in interactions when single me would be constantly wondering if this was friendship or romance, married me knows it is friendship and can enjoy it as that.

  • rich_chaffins

    As the bestie in question, I am astounded at the level of deep friendship I’ve found with Alise. It’s unsurpassed in my experience, and I am SO thankful for it.   The reason I’ve felt freedom in this friendship is that I trust Alise, in respect both to the love she has for Jason, and how she knows how much I love Misty. I know that she wouldn’t do anything to hurt those bonds, and neither would I. That mutual trust allows us to be as real as we can with each other. Sans a bunch of boundaries, which, in my opinion, tend to put relationships in a box. 

    • Alise Wright

      I think you raise an important point here re: trust. With that in place, we are free to love more recklessly. Which is a blessing, my friend.

      • Dan Brennan

        Rich, love, love what you shared. Alise, on “love more recklessly,” it raises eyebrows and provokes conversation and fear among the outsiders, but I have used recklessly on intention. I believe it. It’s part of the liberating, soul-expansive language of wildness and glorious beauty that respects boundaries and yet shifts boundaries and crosses them for a greater good. 

  • Erika Morrison

    Uh-oh. Maybe I shouldn’t have jumped over and read that article . . . Now my chi is all off balance. My neck might be getting a little hot too. And I may or may not be exercising deep breathing techniques to calm down. 

    • Alise Wright

      Hehehehe! Believe me, I get where she’s coming from. But I’m tired of all relationships between men and women being suspect. No! We are more than just genitals.

  • bekka

    I absolutely love the Finding Nemo quote – I always get shivers when I see/hear it.  At first I wasn’t sure where you were going when you said that boundaries are built on fear.

    But I follow you, now.  I agree that love can provide the appropriate “boundaries” without setting anything in stone.

    I was going to argue a bit on that, but I framed my example a little differently and now it actually supports your point, hehe.

    • Alise Wright

      Ha! I win!

      Maybe fear isn’t exactly the right word, but it’s the closest I can think of. Maybe discomfort is better? Regardless, I don’t think that’s even a bad thing. But I think we need to be honest about it. 

      • bekka

        I think fear works because it is often at the root of other possible reasons, like worry or anxiety.  If there’s a better word, I can’t think of it either! lol!

  • Amber Wackford

    I really love this piece, Alise, I think probably because I understand so much about having a best friend who’s a guy – which you know because I shared the story here just a couple of weeks ago.  But the part of this that strikes me as most important (if there is just one “part” that is “most important”) is the issue of respect that you highlight as you talk about your love for Jason and Rich and also for Rich’s wife.  I cannot, in my mind, separate respect from love: you love Jason, so you respect your own marriage; you love Rich, so you respect his marriage.  It’s a pretty easy “boundary” to navigate, actually. I certainly experience that with my friend and his wife. And it’s a boundary that precipitates and gifts to all us a whole lot of trust.  And we’d all be lost without each other.

  • Amber Wackford

     Um, duh. Which you friend Rich already addressed. If I had only read the comments first. :)

  • bonnie

    The boundaries from the original article are exactly what is acted out in fundamentalist churches.  I had the hardest time for the longest time actually making eye contact with other men because women were implicitly taught to keep away from men other than their husbands.  It was frustrating and awkward to retrain myself once we left the complimentarian and/or fundamentalist churches we were used to attending.  It makes me sad to see so many women “amen”-ing the boundaries suggested. 

  • amy

    I’m really glad you wrote this. A friend posted “the good woman project” article, and another friend reposted your article as the counterpoint. I felt a lot of pressure and frustration reading that I was not quite a Good Woman yet, until I read your article, and all these comments, and realized we may still have a chance to bring back the freedom of Christ to the church!! LOL. but not LOL. Love and fear do not co-exist, period. We pay homage to one or the other with our “strategies,” i.e. rules to protect us from remote, unfounded, uncharacteristic, unlikely possibilities that if they do rear their ugly head have multiple opportunities to stop cold along the way. The enemy tries to use Christians to get each other to give up our freedom, or peer pressure to be included as “Good Women,” or Christian mentors calling into question completely innocent, ordinary day to day circumstances. It is SO sad!! My husband also thought it was madness and we had an awesome conversation about it. What the enemy meant for evil gave us a nice bonding experience. :)

  • Tamara Lunardo

    “Love as the boundary” — what a refreshing view. Cross-gender friendship– in fact, friendship– is not always simple, but it’s a blessing when we do it right. And of course love has to be the right way. Of course it does. xo

  • Jessica Buttram

    YES. The boundary defined by LOVE is the way it was always intended to be. Freedom is not the right to be without regard for others, or to act all willy-nilly.

    Also, we should use the word “willy-nilly” more often.

  • Leanne Shirtliffe

    I love your approach to this, Alise. My husband and I have never had to set boundaries. You’re so right about love being a boundary.  We even joke about my male friendships – healthily. It might help to know we laugh about everything. My husband jokes that I have my “internet husbands with weird names”, I have close male friends at work (all of whom are married – and we know and are friends with their wives), and I have have what my husband calls my “gay husband” who I go to concerts with (“Gasp”, right?) that neither my husband nor my gay friend’s partner want to attend. 

    I love. It’s what I do best. With my female friends and my male friends, it’s wholehearted platonic love. 

    (Incidentally, my husband has some female friends too and even has had the occasional lunch date with them. Gasp again, right? ;)

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  • Travis Mamone

    Cool! I should send this to all of my hipster puritan blogger friends that anytime a man and a woman are in the same room together they’ll have sex.

  • Judybarrett

    Romans 16 has Paul hanging out with a whole bunch of ladies… 2 John shows that John had a close female friend. I don’t think the men in the NT followed these ‘boundaries’ either. My husband and my rule is: If it bothers the other person, don’t do it. He works in the ER with many female nurses. It’d be a shame if he couldn’t be friendly.

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  • Miles O’Neal

    I found you some time after this blog was written. BING! Love this! My wife and I have been saying similar things for years, and often getting flak for it.
    Most of these boundaries *are* out of fear. Fear we will fail, fear our spouse (or whomever) will fail us, fear that someone in the Church will do fail as someone else did, fear of how it will look, fear we might be tempted (for crying out loud, you *will* be tempted, no matter what!), fear, fear, fear. Fear of lawsuits (men must minister to men and women to women, and God help the guy youth pastor whom a teenaged girl desperate for love gives a real hug, especially if he hugs back rather than adding to her rejection). Fear of losing our church’s insurance.
    “Perfect love chases fear away”. We’ve kind of turned that one around. 8^/
    I have an awesome wife who is fine with me having close women friends, ministering to women, etc. I’m fine with her having close guy friends, ministering to guys, etc.
    A clue (this one came up in conversation just a few hours ago): If you never have close relationships with the opposite sex… you will never have close relationships with the opposite sex. Or even *a* close relationship with the opposite sex. 8^O
    We have found a church that (a) loves God like crazy, (b) believes the Bible, and (c) thinks it’s OK for men and women to be friends and minister to one another. After years of weirdness, it’s so awesome, but occasionally I have to remind myself this church isn’t the Twilight Zone. I left that behind when I found freedom.