I’ve had to say no to a bunch of things recently, to a few people, and it hasn’t all been easy, so I wanted to give this a repost.
Original post is from August 24th 2013.
(Without the quotation marks, it’s a palindrome!)
Like all decent friends, sometimes I am a venting space. Sometimes friends, close ones and otherwise, will come to me with their problems and not expect me to solve them, just to be there and/or offer a sounding board.
I personally love that, most of the time. I like being trusted and having my opinions valued. It’s great for the ego, and occasionally I do have insight into a situation and can tactfully resolve some elements of it because I happen to have been vented to by both parties and therefore know more than either one does. That’s kind of awesome. And sometimes I have personal experience that I can draw parallels from and give rudimentary advice based on that.
An issue that keeps coming up again and again with one of my friends is one that I’m sure a lot of people struggle with, so I decided to write a note about it. Because that’s what I do.
It’s about drawing lines and saying “no,” because sometimes that is somehow really hard to do.
There is obviously no one-size-fits-all on what is too much to take on, what is too much to commit to, what is too much to put up with. We all have to figure that stuff out for ourselves.
But sometimes we are more susceptible than other times to feeling like saying “no” is a bad thing, that it will brand us as stubborn, or uncooperative, or un-fun. Nobody wants to be the un-fun inflexible loser, my gosh.
And of course, what if something turns out to be better than it sounds? Maybe swimming with piranhas IS actually fun, but I’ll never know because I said “no”? That, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out, for those of you who are behind on the acronym times), and it can get people to do some pretty stupid things.
I think boundaries are extremely important for everybody to have, in order not to get steamrollered and feel like they can’t say “no.” But everyone’s boundaries are different, and they should be, because no one has exactly the same comfort zone. For the most part, everyone should be allowed to be comfortable with every instance when they say “no,” and nobody should force their own “no”s onto anyone else.
“No” is about power. Withholding a part of yourself is an act of authority, not weakness. Saying “no” should be empowering, not disempowering and guilt-wracking — if it is what you’ve truly chosen to do.
No, I will not drink that, because maybe beer is an acquired taste but I haven’t acquired it and I don’t want to.
No, I will not wear pants instead of skirts unless it’s just way more practical for what I’m doing.
No, I will not eat food that isn’t kosher.
No, I won’t swear unless I want to make a point or it’s funny.
No, I will not slow down or turn my head even a centimeter when you and three of your buddies catcall me on the street and take turns going, “Hey, sweetheart” and “How you doing, beautiful?” and “Hey, I wanna get to know you!” (Although I’ll probably smile at your pathetic tactics once I’m out of sight.)
No, I won’t smoke.
No, I will not accept that friend request.
No, I will not laugh at that joke even though it would be more polite, because I just didn’t think it was funny.
No, I will not say “I love you” if I don’t mean it, even though I know how happy it would make you.
No, I won’t go away for the weekend with my family when I’d rather spend it some other way.
No, I won’t send that email.
No, I will not offer to hang out with that person, because I have better ways to spend my time.
No, I will not go to that party/event tonight.
No, I will not date that guy solely because I’m lonely and he’s interested and it would make my mom happy, because I know we’re incompatible/I don’t think he’s good enough/I don’t like him like that and I deserve better than another unworkable relationship.
The trick with saying “no,” I think, is to recognize that it’s a prerequisite for saying “yes.” That saying “no” means you have certain standards, and self-respect, and that becauseyou say “no” to things, your “yes”es mean so much more, to yourself and to others.
“Yes” is about vulnerability. Willingly exposing yourself to an experience and relinquishing your control over it. That should also be empowering — again, if it is what you’ve truly chosen to do.
Yes, I will taste that even though I’m 99% sure I won’t like it.
Yes, I will spend time with you.
Yes, I will ask that guy out.
Yes, I will send that email and live with the consequences.
Yes, I will put that in a facebook note.
Yes, I will be your amateur therapist even though you take me for granted.
Yes, I will go to that party.
Yes, I will go hang out with those friends even though it’s at a non-kosher restaurant and I will be reduced to eating the leaves on the garnish that came with the dessert, because everything tastes good when you’ve watched other people eat for an hour.
Yes, I will meet up with that dude I only know from the internet and see if we can tolerate each other in person.
Yes, I will crack that joke in my class presentation because getting a laugh is worth the risk.
Yes, I will block that person from my newsfeed because those posts add nothing to my quality of life.
Yes, I will help my mom out and cook and wash the dishes and refill the water cooler and take out the trash because someone has to.
Yes, I will stop distracting myself for a few minutes and let myself feel the pain I’ve been trying to ignore, and Yes, I will cry, and No, I won’t tell myself it’s the last time, because I know better.
Saying “yes” and “no” is about choice. And choice is about power and control. (I’ve never exactly made a secret of the fact that I am a control freak and a power junkie.) There are so many things in our lives that we have little or no control over, and that’s hard enough. “Yes” and “no” are the rare things that we control absolutely, so why give that up and be pushed around by societal conventions or expectations?
This is of course not to say that people who are more open or agreeable to more things are somehow lesser. Everyone’s “yes”es are different, just like everyone’s “no”s. But if you’re saying “yes” or “no” because you think you have to, not because you want to, think twice. You may conclude that it is in fact what you want to be saying, but you may conclude otherwise.
True, sometimes professional obligations or family politics or other stuff will force you to say “yes” to something you ordinarily would say “no” to, but often we have more power than we realize. Sometimes compromise is possible. And sometimes you can just draw a line, say “no,” put your foot down, and the world won’t end and your reputation won’t be irreparably tarnished. People might even respect you more for it. Not always, but more than you might think.
[Yes, I realize this can all easily be converted into sex therapy and ideas of consent. The principles are the same.]