Socializing Is Back—And Setting Boundaries With Friends Is About To Get Harder

Photo: Getty Imags/Jose Luis Pelaez
When the shelter-in-place orders descended upon us last year, we were required to hibernate, no questions asked. Now, as restrictions are lifting, the lifestyle pendulum is swinging in the other direction, making brunch plans, bachelorette parties, and trips to Tulum (or wherever) feel like just as much of a requirement. After all, there’s lots of “lost” time to make up for, and the doors have been flung open for us to live our biggest, best lives. But here’s an important reminder: This renewed sense of freedom is very much not a social mandate. Just because you can fill your calendar with plans doesn’t mean you must (or even that you should). Everyone has different social preferences and comfort zones, and both of those things may very well have shifted for you since the onset of quarantine. So, as we re-enter quasi-normal social dynamics, it’s essential that we also re-learn how to set boundaries with friends.

Experts In This Article

But whether you’re feeling anxious about the post-lockdown planning frenzy or even just awkward, or you’ve fully realigned your priorities after sitting with your thoughts this year, it can be tough to say ‘no’ to friends and loved ones who are eager to get in on the action. Just remember that you do have the freedom to keep certain elements of your quarantine life in place, even if that decision doesn’t align with the choices of those around you.

"Given this last year, in which we didn’t have a lot to say ‘yes’ to, there’s even more intentionality behind saying ‘no.’ I’m now learning the weight and the beauty of giving myself this permission to rest." —Arielle Estoria

Learning how to set boundaries with friends was a big topic of conversation during a recent Well+Good TALK focused on recharging our mental well-being, featuring spoken-word poet, author, and speaker Arielle Estoria; mental-health educator and psychotherapist Minaa B., LMSW; and CEO and founder of Black Girl in Om Lauren Ash. “I’ve been practicing saying ‘no’ to myself in the mirror,” said Estoria, “because no, it’s not selfish and it’s not bad to say it. And given this last year, in which we didn’t have a lot to say ‘yes’ to, there’s even more intentionality behind saying ‘no.’ I’m now learning the weight and the beauty of giving myself this permission to rest.”

Minaa agrees, and in a recent episode of The Well+Good Podcast, she emphasizes the importance of detaching negative associations from the word 'no:' “It brings up anxiety, it brings up guilt. It brings up so many issues," she says. "Learning to say ‘no’ is one fundamental part of erecting boundaries.”

But how, in practice, can you do right by those boundaries? Keep reading for expert tips and actionable strategies.

Here are 5 tips for how to set boundaries with friends in the return-to-socializing era

1. Keep a good thing going.

Let’s say you uncovered a whole new appreciation for alone time during quarantine, or perhaps you started a solo ritual—like, going for a run on Friday nights, or taking a bath on Mondays—and you grew to love it. Just because other options exist now doesn’t mean you should feel pressured to upend something great.

“Remember the mantra, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’,” Minaa said during the TALKS event. “We are not powerless people, and we are not choice-less people. We have the ability to make choices specifically for ourselves and our well-being.”

2. Take your available energy into account.

Even if you are ready to get out and about once more, you can still say ‘yes’ to some things and ‘no’ to others. This is, Minaa said, all about honoring your energetic boundaries and being able to identify what you can and cannot give your energy to at any given moment. We’re all internalizing a swirl of ideologies out there right now about what life post-quarantine should look like, but that answer for you can change on a daily basis.

3. Pre-plan your responses to invitations.

If the texts for happy-hour plans and dinners and trips are flowing in—or you anticipate a slew of new ones in the coming weeks—make a game plan now for how you’ll respond. “Ask yourself, what are my non-negotiables, what are the things I’m flexible with doing, and what are the things that depend on the circumstances?” said Minaa. This way, you’ll be prepared to communicate these expectations clearly when the time comes.

“Sometimes, when we walk blindly into situations, we can freeze up, and depending on our in-the-moment responses, we might later feel as though our boundaries have been violated,” she added. Assessing what you’re comfortable with now will make it easier to honor your guidelines once the plans start materializing in full force.

4. Remember that your desires are valid, in and of themselves.

Take a deep breath, and let go of the need to uncover a grand justification for how you feel. “I view my desires as just important as my needs,” said Ash. “I consider them as the same thing. In making decisions, I want to affirm my worthiness to live the most delicious life possible.”

5. Acknowledge that some of your friendships may shift.

In the same way that others can’t define our boundaries, we can’t define those for others. “We have to get comfortable with allowing people to choose what is right for them, even if we think it’s wrong,” said Minaa. And if you find yourself making different choices from your friends more frequently, that’s okay, too. Friendships change naturally with time, and part of the balancing act of negotiating and compromising is being respectful of the other person’s boundaries—again, even if they look different from how they did pre-quarantine.

Watch the full TALKS event here:


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