The best piece of advice I recently received was in the form of four magical words: “It’s not my problem.” I received these quiet words, with the overly-crowded, tourist-laden Leicester Square as backdrop, from a friend on his ten minute smoking break. I regard this friend as the complete opposite of me: male, business-oriented, emotionless, and logical. I had never before considered this boundary-placing phrase, but since receiving the words, I’ve evoked them on more than one occasion, finding the phrase surprisingly handy.

It all started earlier this year, when, through some twisted trickle down effect, I was being stalked…by virtue of association. The stalker was a disgruntled, 6’3″, muscle-bound business client of a friend’s Germany- based company, misguidedly seeking amends for work from the only contacts he had access to: me (who had introduced him to the company), and my partner (who had freelanced for said project). After several threatening voice messages, the stalker, a none-too-rational small business owner, found our flat, sat outside in his car for fifteen minutes, before getting out and somehow getting through the front door, making his way to our inner entrance and pounding loudly. I happened to not be in at the time, happily massaging a client on a house call. My partner, however, was, and, concerned, called the police straight after the irrational man drove off. Harassment continued in the form of text messages and voice mail. These incidences caused us to look outside of our front entrance and down the length of our street cautiously each time we had to leave the house, the feeling a sense of imprisonment and fearful anticipation taking over where once there had been none. The joy of coming home was reduced to noting how shadows that were once innocuous seemed intent with menace. Though the local police had taken my partner’s written statement, I started dialing ‘999’ on my mobile, my finger ready to hit the dial button, just in case that stalker sprang out of nowhere. He knew where I lived, and that felt violating in itself. All this, just because the individual was upset and had not been handled with the correct business client aplomb by my friends.

Afer regaling my dramatic life events to my other friend, I surprisingly found him completely serene. He merely, calmly, smoked his cigarette, the smoke curling upwards and hanging in the air, much like the bad aftertaste of being stalked. He said, “So let me get this right: this guy’s stalking you for work that you were not paid for, and your name is not on any contract? And your partner’s just a contractor on the project? His name’s not on the papers either, right?” I nodded. He went on to say, “Well then there is no legal link between either of you and him.” I waited for the other shoe to drop, but all he said was, “So it’s not your problem.”

I stared at him, and even stupidly blurted out, “Huh?”

My friend patiently repeated, “I said: It’s. Not. Your. Problem.”

Had a breeze blown through the trees of Leicester Square, I would have been swept along, like the rest of the fallen winter leaves. Instead, I nodded, and turned, rolling over his words, like one sucks a piece of hard-boiled sweet in the mouth. It was so simple, and straight-forward. No frills. The confusion and emotions associated with the stalking-by-association disappeared. I marched back home, no longer suspicious of dark cars and barking dogs. In fact, I felt emboldened, and in my mind, even dared the stalker to appear so that I could deliver a round scolding. Never mind that this man towered over me, easily outweighing me by one hundred pounds, and could easily smash me to the ground with one fist. Who the hell was he to threaten me for no good reason?

And so my life has changed, irrevocably, due to those four little words. This understanding of personal responsibility and parameters, of not needing to take on others’ shit, is perhaps a late lesson for me, but as an over-extending care-taker type, I needed to hear those words. Drawing up boundaries was never my forte, but in the Olympics of “shouldering the burden” — mine and others — I excel.

These days, however, before rushing headlong into emotional tumult, I carefully measure what is and what isn’t my problem.

Erica, 34, London UK

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