Houseguests Without Borders

After five days of leaving my home to visit relatives in Central Florida, my houseguests returned to my home with a vengeance on New Year’s Day.

Their first visit in December lasted only one night. This time they were staying for a full week. And the anticipation of what was to come, cranked up my anxiety level.

I kept reminding myself to just take it one moment at a time.

But despite my best efforts to put to use the lessons of patience and acceptance they’d taught me a week earlier, I found myself reverting to my passive-aggressive ways 24 hours into their visit.

As the eternal optimist, however, I look at the bright side. At the very least, they’ve given me enough material to write about at least for the next twelve months.

The morning after they arrived, they had completely taken over the entire house. Now, my house is quite comfortable. It has two floors, three bedrooms, an office, cozy family room, modern kitchen, spacious living room, two and a half bathrooms, two-car garage and a large deck with a pool.

By the end of the first day, my partner, our dog and I were cowering in the master bedroom, fearful of what had happened throughout the rest of our humble abode.

That’s when in a moment of clarity, brought on by the terror of clutter, it dawned on me … the real reason I found these people so annoying:

That is … They have absolutely no sense of boundaries whatsoever! If there’s a border, they’ll trample on it without permission or apology.

In addition to the guest bedroom and upstairs bathroom which I’d reserved for them, they had parked themselves in front of the entertainment center in the family room and had sprawled themselves out on the couch as if it was part of their 2,500 square foot hotel suite.

The throw pillows on the living room couch were well … thrown … everywhere.

The garage looked like the lost luggage room at Miami International Airport.

There were tiny bits of white paper residue scattered throughout the staircase leading to the second floor.

The kitchen was their own private Idaho as they wolfed down an average of one loaf of bread per day.

The fact that food was frozen-solid in the freezer was no deterrent for their ravenous appetites. Somehow they found ways to enjoy hot dog popsicles.

It’s no wonder they keep coming back to visit, I thought.

By the second day, they had taken over my office … my sanctuary … the place I retreat for peace, quiet and inspiration. I approached the office slowly after seeing light seeping out from under the door and spilling onto the upstairs landing.

When I opened the door, I was horrified to find the father was sitting on my chair, feet propped on my desk, watching television. One of his grown sons slept on the floor, while the other one sat at my computer and was having a lively chat room conversation with several hundred of his close friends back home.

Somebody please wake me from this nightmare.

Despite the look of terror on my face, they smiled and said, “Helloooo.” I slammed the door and bounded back down the stairs to retreat to my bedroom.

About 30 minutes later, the exact scene replayed itself.

One hour later I went back up to the same response. “Helloooo.” These people did not know how to take a hint. But by then my patience, hospitality and politeness were shred to pieces.

“OK, boys, I have to do some work,” I said. “Everybody out… now!”

The father and the son on the floor looked confused, but complied with my request.

The one on the computer (I swear I’m not making this up) stood up but kept writing to his buddies.

Then I did a very grownup thing. I pulled the plug on his broadband connection and rebuilt the boundary these people had shattered.

Boundaries keep people together.

It may sound like a contradiction, but it’s the space between people that builds closeness.

Space creates respect. It gives people room to grow and explore. By respecting people’s boundaries, you are actually creating an invitation into their space. But if you barge in without invitation, people become defensive and push you away.

No matter what you do, they will keep pushing you away until you come across as cold and rude. (I’m sure by now dozens of kids throughout cyberspace have heard the story of the broadband connection terminating witch that pulled the plug on their chat room.)

But some people, like my houseguests, just don’t get it. In fact, the more I retreat, the closer they want to get. They give me gifts, they look for conversation, they depend on me for all their needs. They think that by doing this I am going to let my defenses down.

But it’s just the contrary. The more they invade my space, the more stifled I become. Then I get even more annoyed at their attempts to get close to me.

It’s like the butterfly of love. The more you attempt to force it to land on your shoulder, the more it eludes you. The minute you relax and let it go, it finds you.

And so the lessons from my houseguests continue … respect boundaries, don’t force yourself on people, and when you go on vacation, stay in a hotel!

Coming Up Next Time: Travelling Light.

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