What a concept huh? For those of you who grew up in collectivist cultures as I did, lived with siblings, or in multi-generational homes (or even had roommates,) you know how important yet difficult it is to set personal boundaries with others. Not only can it be awkward and frustrating to set them without being passive-aggressive, but it can hurt feelings and offend others if not done with a ninja-level of discretion and finesse (depending on how chill your friends and family are on being told that they’re overstepping).
I have spent the last few years offline and in graduate school, learning the art of couples and family therapy, as well as discovering that boundary-setting is a place in my own life that I am oftentimes lacking. Growing up in a Singaporean-Chinese-British home, and abiding by said cultures’ rules, I have learned to lean on extremely polite etiquette while initially interacting with others, as walls or at the very least, decorum, are almost inherent in these cultures so one knows what NOT to do at an early age lest one receives a thorough caning. The problem with having been brought up to expect this level of decorum is that it leaves one very unsure as to what to do when it is broken.
Whilst living in America these past 10 years, my eyes have been opened to a whole new experience of friendliness, and in my opinion, lowered general expectations of boundaries/decorum. For example, when you go to the grocery store, the checker will often ask you about your day or yourself, which is kind of nice albeit a bit meaningless because you assume they don’t actually care, it’s just customer service. But customer service doesn’t really exist where I am from, in fact you would be lucky if the cashier makes eye-contact with you before grabbing your dollars and shoving them in the till. So the whole verbal interaction thing is kind of sweet as you are reminded that you are both human beings, and they are not just some faceless staff at some store who are just there to take your money and check to see if you stole anything.
It has been a wonderful as well as awkward experience for me, as I have been lucky enough to have made many diverse friends more easily here and in more random settings than I did while living in Singapore because of the West Coast’s culture of friendliness. But at the same time, navigating what feels comfortable to me in these friendships has been a little more challenging. I have a hard time speaking up for myself and defending myself when it comes to little friendship infractions that leave a bitter taste in my mouth but are not “deal-breakers”. You know, the times when you have to pause to ask yourself if it is actually you who is being petty, or if this is a worthy thing to address in a friendship. Sometimes I think that these infractions wouldn’t happen as often back home as people generally know not to “go there” as it is “common sense”.
The thing about common sense though, is that it is very much cultural and is thus socially constructed according to who and where you are. It varies from neighborhood to neighborhood, region to region, country to country, religion to religion, and family to family. In my family, I was taught to brush nasty interactions aside and to do my best to strive forward and move on from them. This worked pretty well for most of the challenging scenarios in my life, except for friendships.
Sometimes, a friend may have the tendency to overstep but you don’t necessarily want to dump them, you just want to create space and boundaries between yourselves so you can breathe. This is the hardest thing for me to do because it involves confrontation regarding something that clearly isn’t obviously offensive to the offending party…very awkward…
In my most recent experiences, I have encountered this scenario with people who are perfectly lovely most of the time but are incredibly emotionally needy in a selfish way. In their defense, I don’t think they realize how much attachment they require and how it impacts others as they are primarily emotional “takers” and not “givers”. But how do you say that to a friend without things getting weird?
I have not found an easy answer to that yet, but as with most things, honest conversation over dinner is usually the best solution. Perhaps either (or both!) of you will get tipsy enough on that Chianti that the truth will roll out and nobody will take offense. If they’re prickly the next day, you can always blame it on the wine!
Sausage Mushroom Orecchiette
1.5 Cups Orecchiette Pasta (uncooked)
1 lb Cremini Mushrooms, sliced
1/4 Cup Onion, finely chopped
1 Tablespoon Garlic, minced
2 Teaspoons Rosemary, finely chopped
1 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Pepper
1 Cup Heavy Cream
1 Cup Milk
3/4 Cup Parmesan, grated
2-3 Sweet Italian Sausages
– Boil pasta until al dente according to box directions.
– In a deep pan with a lid, fry sausages in olive oil until cooked through. Remove and set aside; slice into coins.
– Deglaze pan with a splash of white wine. Add onions and garlic; fry until fragrant. Add rosemary, salt and pepper, and mushrooms, and fry until soft.
– Add cream and milk. Bring to boil, then simmer until thickened and liquid has reduced.
– Add parmesan and stir in until melted and smooth. Add cooked orecchiette, and toss in sausages.
– If you would like a more decadent dish, use 2 cups of cream instead of cream & milk.
– Use any kind of unflavored milk and/or coconut cream to make this vegetarian friendly (obviously, replace sausages with a vegetarian option).
– Rosemary can be switched out. Thyme works well, and I imagine pretty much any other aromatic herb would be just as good.
– Serve the sausages whole or in coins. Use any kinds of sausage you like.