Don’t apologise if you can’t come to the phone right now: Why boundary setting in friendships is important

paper cut-outs of friends with notification symbols around them
Ciara Phelan

2nd June 2021

Many of our social norms pre-pandemic have been flipped on their heads, as we continue to adapt to the ever-changing lockdown restrictions. It is a given that some people take the restrictions more seriously than others, and this has caused a lot of us to have potentially uncomfortable conversations with our friends and families. Conversations regarding meeting up outdoors, wearing a mask or not, and compliance with social distancing guidelines has opened a previously neglected can of worms concerning healthy boundaries amongst friends. 


After over a year of not seeing many of our friends and family, we dream of poignant, teary reunions. However, even within my own extended friend circle, I see both extremes of rule-following and rule-breaking with regard to restrictions. I have some friends willing to party every night; I have some friends who refuse to meet indoors and who follow restrictions to the letter. Both choices are okay – they are all adults who are allowed to do what they want – but these personal choices lead to potentially complex and awkward encounters with those closest to us. It is vital that boundaries are set to ensure that everyone feels comfortable and safe.  


“Respecting the boundaries of your peers is possibly the most basic level of dignity that we can give to those closest to us. This pandemic has brought to light a fundamental issue within many of our relationships, and has almost exaggerated pre-existing issues regarding the give-and-take of friendships.”

It is very evident that the last year of lockdowns and restrictions has taken a serious toll on our mental health, and although it is nice to confide in others, and similarly be there for your friends to confide in, this must be done in moderation and in balance. In normal times, it was seen as okay for a friend to unload their emotions onto you, as they struggle through a tough time. However, when both of your struggles are heightened in isolation, it is vital to the friendship that boundaries are maintained and that the feelings of others are taken into consideration before they are overwhelmed. 


In an age of constant contact and updates, setting boundaries can be seen as a daunting task. The immediate nature of social media has put pressure on young people nowadays to always be on and accessible, and we as human beings are not built for these demands. Actions as simple as turning off your location on on Snapchat maps, turning off your activity status on Instagram and WhatsApp, and even turning off some push notifications can give you the time and space to recharge when needed. This is an adjustment that both you and your friends will navigate together but personal experience shows that most people will eventually respect these decisions.  


Boundaries are not something to worry about – instead, they should merely be seen as simple guidelines to follow. For example, boundaries could be as simple as how much you tell each other, what you do together, how you treat each other’s values and time, how you support each other, and when it is okay to say no. Boundaries are not a taboo conversation, but should be taken seriously if they are overstepped. Boundaries are put in place to create a healthier friendship; but if nothing changes, and if boundaries are consistently violated, it may be time to draw a line and let them go. 


If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that our values were previously out of line, and that we need to put our health – both physical and mental – to the forefront of our list of priorities. The implementation of physical and emotional boundaries is something that I never really considered in the past, but has vastly improved all my relationships since I enforced them.





Featured photo created using Canva

This article was supported by: STAND Opinion Editor + Programme Assistant Rachel


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