The single most surprising way to get close to people
We'll cut to the chase. It’s boundaries, or more specifically, setting boundaries liberally and respecting them consistently.
Surprised? Think about it this way. Boundaries come on a spectrum, which looks different for each person-- there are smaller boundaries, which might look like, “Please lower your voice; my roommates are sleeping” and bigger boundaries, which might be more like, “Please don’t come to my house again.”
What a lot of folks don’t realize is that setting and respecting smaller boundaries are the single best way to avoid the big boundaries.
Imagine situation 1: I go to your house and belt “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid while your roommates are sleeping. If you feel uncomfortable setting a boundary with me and decide not to do so, you will likely be at least a little uncomfortable for the rest of our hangout as I continue singing Disney tunes. At the end of the night, you’ll probably be less likely to invite me over late at night again. So by not telling me what bothered you, we just became more distant (you’re now withholding from information from me that you wish I knew, you’re withholding some feelings toward me that at least a part of you probably wishes I knew, and we now have access to fewer hangout opportunities than we did before) and I have no idea why. Of course, there are plenty of very valid reasons you may choose not to set a small boundary with me, but it means that you are likelier to feel distant from me, and you will likely have to resort to setting bigger boundaries, like not inviting me to your house at night. Or, if you don’t set boundaries often, you may just continue to hang out with me and resent me for it over time, probably leading you to feel pretty distant.
Let’s take situation 2: I go to your house and croon merperson melodies past midnight. You ask me to stop singing Disney songs because your roommates are sleeping, and I say, “Sure!” After some time, I start Warbling “Once Upon a December” from Anastasia because Anastasia wasn’t actually made by Disney (it’s 20th Century Fox, in case you’re curious), and you only asked me to quit it with Disney songs. Sure, I’m technically respecting your boundary, but I probably don’t understand where you’re coming from when you set that boundary, or else I would have known that any song at loud volume would be problematic. So even if I’m respecting your boundary on paper, I’ve shown you that I either don’t fully understand your needs, or that I understand your needs but am going to act in ways that don’t fulfill them. If this sort of incident becomes a pattern, you may not be as interested in hanging out with me, and you may limit your interactions with me in some way-- even if you decide to still spend time with me, maybe you only hang out with me at times when you know you’ll be “on” enough to be able to set a lot of very specific and carefully-phrased boundaries with me, or maybe you choose to keep conversation light with me because if you let your guard down, I might break more of your boundaries. There’s also still the possibility in this situation where you just don’t tell me, continue hanging out with me, and grow to dislike my company.
And then there’s situation 3: I sing you songs of the sea while your roommates are snoozing. The words feel uncomfortable coming out of your mouth because you think it’ll make me feel weird, but you ask me to stop singing Disney songs because your roommates are asleep. I feel super embarrassed, but I manage to say, “Oops! Thanks for telling me-- I’ll keep my voice down!” And then I do. Even though the actual interaction was a little uncomfortable for both of us, we ultimately felt more comfortable and even closer because of it; you won’t go the rest of the evening feeling as annoyed at me, and now, we have an experience under our belts where a small boundary-setting was successful, meaning that we don’t have to resort to setting big boundaries (like not inviting me over ever again, or only inviting me over when you’re feeling like you can manage setting more boundaries than you’re used to). Over time, if we keep setting and respecting each other’s small boundaries, we’ll get used to it and we’ll feel less uncomfortable, and we’ll be able to get much closer to each other much more quickly.
So even if it’s counterintuitive, if you’re trying to get closer to someone, set boundaries and respect theirs. Even if it feels uncomfortable in the short-term, it’ll bring you much closer and will get easier with time.
Tell us in the comments if you can remember a time when setting a boundary brought you closer to someone! BONUS: Check out the related music video by musical artist Joshua Fialkoff! It's adorable and the loose plot is a solid example of how to respect small boundaries.