dear hilary: building the gates

Dear Hilary,

You seem to be pretty guarded online, while your husband isn’t. This has me asking questions of what I, newly married myself, think about putting my life on the Internet. How do you or you and your husband think about those boundaries? So much of your own relationship, from what I have witnessed, is thanks to the Internet. So, yay Internet! But what about the danger zones or the places where you have to set boundaries?

Sincerely, Newly married and lost in the borderlands

Dear Newlywed,

I was nine years old. I was walking through fields in the south of England, by myself for the first time, on the lanes immediately surrounding my grandparents’ house. In England, when you come to a break in the path and it continues onto someone’s pasture, there is a high gate that you usually have to climb up a few steps, unhook the gate from the other side, climb over and then rehook the gate after you.

I thought I could scale the fence.

In my purple (probably stolen) sweater and boots that were a little too big for me and these polka dot leggings and let me tell you there were also ruffles on my socks. It was a complete outfit – there I was, trying to clamber up over the fence without any pretense.

It didn’t go that well. I got caught on part of the fence and I came dangerously close to ripping said sweater and came very near to losing my balance into a ripe pile of mud and cow pie. I finally gave in and pushed up the heavy iron ring that keeps one post of the fence closed against the other, and proceeded down the other side and on my way to the playground.

What is it about fences?

We try so hard to scale them, Newlywed. We try to be the confidant, the one who is in the know, the person with the most in-depth analysis and interpretation and information. And in a world where so much information is available, is possible to find and have and be the possessor of, I think we take to scaling fences.

It’s not all bad. It’s not all out of malice or wrong intent. Often I think we find something we love and so, in our eagerness, seek to know everything we can about it. And we usually don’t stop long enough to think about whether or not it’s something we ought to know.

And in the world of the internet, where a Google search can find you someone’s high school photos, it’s so easy to start wandering through the middle of the field without thinking too much about where we are walking.

And so my husband and I have worked on our fences. We sat down on car rides or lazy afternoons on the porch while the fall wind ruffled the trees and hammered out where the gates would be. Our blogs – what kind of path of our life did they open to the general public? What kind of personal details do we include in our storytelling along the way? What about Facebook, or Instagram or Twitter?

And we built them slow, and we build them still in the midst of learning about each other, because marriages are living things and so when we meet something new, we ask ourselves: what should go through the gate? What shouldn’t? What can shed light and laughter along someone’s walk in the woods and what is just ours?

We met because we are writers, because we love the way words sound and feel on a page, because of the ache and promise of them. But for every word that’s in the public binary code turned HTML turned text you read on your iPhone screen, there is more to it. There are the thousand things unspoken between us, there are the things spoken only in the whispers across the couch or the front seats of the car, there are the things we remember with and for each other that we keep to ourselves.

The beautiful thing about building fences and gates is that the gate is the gesture of welcome, the fence the gesture of protection, and those two things – welcome, and protection – live together in harmony. Building one doesn’t mean that you need to abandon the other.

We need each other’s stories along this long and winding road. And we need each other’s fences to protect for each other the things that should belong only to a few.

So, Newlywedded, I don’t think you’re lost in the borderlands: I think you’re right where you are, in your plot of land, and you’ve got some timber and some time with your spouse. Start to build.

We’ll love the paths you make for us to walk around in.



2 thoughts on “dear hilary: building the gates

  1. I often revisit these exact thoughts of how much is okay to share and what should be kept secret and sacred. The fence and gate imagery is a great way to think about it.

  2. How sweet your words are. The choice of what to type is so similar as what to tell. I really enjoyed the fence analogy (?) and your positive view of one. Boundaries keep us safe together.

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