I had a dysfunctional relationship with my late mother. Being the only child, she had an unreasonably high expectation of me. At 10 years old, she forced me to read an encyclopaedia of outer space. These weren’t children’s books either – they were meant for high school/ college students.

Naturally, it was confusing as hell. It didn’t help that she would quiz me after each chapter, and when I couldn’t answer, she’d put me down and yell at me.

She was fierce in all other aspects of my life too. Forgot your change of pants in school? Wear these ridiculous shorts and be laughed at for the entire day. Accidentally break a plate while having breakfast at a hotel? Watch how I treat your friends really nicely while I snap at you and put you down. Spent too much money on lunch? I’ll punch the glasses off your face while I yell at you in the car with your friend watching in the back seat.

Consequently, I grew up with a lot of fear, shame and anxiety. I’d suppress my own personality and judgement, and would think of things from her perspective.  Questions like “Would she like me doing that?” and “Will she be mad if I did this?”  and “Is this good enough for her?” constantly haunted me. My life became a constant struggle of trying to earn her validation.

At some point, I snapped. I shut myself off from her, and gave her the silent treatment. It came to a point where the only thing I would say to her was ‘yes’ and ‘no’ whenever she asked me something. Eventually my dad got on the bandwagon and started comparing me to other kids too, so I shut him out as well. I wanted to be independent, without feeling anxious or accountable to them.

Still, by that time it was too late; the damage had been done. The validation I never received from my mother, I started looking for in other girls. I’d be romantically interested in them, and then be extra nice to them hoping for their affection and approval. Up until my early adult life, I genuinely thought that this was the way to get girls (Disney and teen movies didn’t help much with this). I was oblivious to the fact that my lack of personal development and self-respect was a complete turn-off for them.

It wasn’t until my break-up that I started self-analysing and finding ways of working on it. I started being honest with myself, and setting clear personal boundaries with other people. From then on, even if there was a girl I liked or was romantically interested in, I made sure to respect my own boundaries. I didn’t meet up with her if it was inconvenient for me. I didn’t insist on asking her out if she wasn’t interested.  I didn’t try to change into someone I thought she might like.

Doing that forced me to be honest with myself and with them, and I’m a lot happier than I was before.

See, I believe that when two people interact, it’s a trade-off. In a healthy interaction, there’s mutual respect and love – both of you add value and enrich each other’s lives.

When you don’t set healthy boundaries, this relationship is actually still in effect; only now, the parameters have changed.  Your value to her changes from one of mutual love and respect, to one of convenience. To her eyes, you’re still valuable but only as someone who would do shit for her. To you, her value is that she’s  someone who might someday have sex with you.

Of course, she doesn’t feel the same way, and when the relationship inevitably crashes and burns, the ‘nice guys’ turn bitter, feeling like they were manipulated, and start moaning about the friendzone.  The truth is they’ve set themselves up for failure from the very beginning.

Girls, this goes for you too. If you allow guys to order you around, tell you what to do, or let them use you for sex, you’re setting the kind of value you offer them. If you don’t want to be known as just a booty call, then don’t. Walk away from guys who can’t appreciate your values. Practice some self-respect.

Be honest with yourself, find out who you are, and be that person to everyone, including the person you’re interested in. Set the kind of value you want to offer to people. Don’t want to be a pushover? Start standing up for yourself. Don’t want to be a driver? Stop driving her around. Don’t want to be just a friend? Then don’t. Make a move. Ask her out on a date. Tell her how you feel. Then live with the consequences, whatever they may be. At least you can say that you didn’t live a lie.

It all boils down to being honest with yourself, and setting healthy boundaries. Try it. I promise you, it’s tremendously liberating.