Magazine

Miss Conduct

What to do when an unwanted visitor just stops by

Is there a tactful way to turn them away?

Need advice? Submit questions for Miss Conduct here.

How do you get others to respect personal boundaries? I met someone who wanted to get together and talk. I really have no interest but have allowed it and made it clear that we can determine a time through e-mail. That worked twice and then he just started stopping by. It seems whenever I try to establish a boundary with people, they end up not honoring it and getting snippy about it.

— Anonymous

Boston

You know whom you need to convince to respect your personal boundaries?

Yourself.

Fortunately you’re the only person whose behavior you can actually control, so this is doable! Let’s practice. You don’t have to get together with people if you are not interested in being their friend. When someone comes to your house, you don’t have to let that person in. “This isn’t a good time! E-mail next time, all right? Hope you’re well!” as you close the door.

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Does that seem selfish to you? Think of it this way: Do you have all the time and energy you need for family and the friends you already have? For your job, for doing good deeds and volunteer work, for taking care of your body and mind? Probably not. Spend your precious time and energy on loved ones or recharging your batteries; don’t squander those resources on people who don’t value you.

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Because people who violate your boundaries, and who then get angry when you assert them, do not value you. A person who cared would not show up at your door after being told your preference — or would react to your refusal by saying something along the lines of “Whoops, my bad, you did indeed tell me to e-mail first!” and not do it again. People who get snippy prove you were entirely correct to draw that line in the first place.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.