All my life, I have nurtured a terrible habit of saying “yes” when what I really mean to say is “no”. Through fear of disappointing and of being disliked – and also because I’m not, it’s been found, a very successful rebel – I am married to the “yes” word. I am Yes Man. I am sure that we have all fallen victim to this on occasion – agreeing to hang out with your “couple” friends thus subjecting yourself to horrendous third-wheel syndrome, ordering the waiter’s enthusiastic suggestion (when you really HATE chicken salad) and saying that you agree with the hairdresser’s opinion from fear that if you didn’t they’d all go and bitch about you in the mysterious Hair Dye Closet and bleach your eyebrows when you’re not looking, or something.
But you don’t understand. I know we all have this “yes” problem to a certain extent but… I have had a problem. A certified, probably diagnosable problem. Yestatrickaphobia, or something. A “yes” disease.
So many times I have found myself saying “yes” immediately followed by thinking “you are fucking stupid” (cue comic head-slap like they do in cartoons). I find it hard to assess situations sometimes due to the nature of my anxiety making me question every single tiny decision every-which-way before, ultimately, giving in in a puff of frustration and just saying “yes” to make my life simpler (though, as I have discovered time and time again, this “simpleness” rarely follows-through. “No”, in fact, is the simple word. Who’d have thought?)
Truly – and I really mean this – there is no obligation to say “yes”. You are honestly only making your life harder if you say “yes” when you mean “no”. In fact, it might be more helpful to make “no” your go-to word in snap-decisions, because there’s a lot less guilt and trouble in retracting a “no” to a “yes” than vice-versa (of course that is only applicable to some situations – you couldn’t really retract a “no” if you’d rejected a job offer, for instance. “Oh, actually, I know I’m a month late but I’ve decided I would like your company, and I don’t think you’re a group of ‘boring stiff tit-heads’. Any chance you’d take me on?”) Ideally you should feel, in your own right, that you can say “no” just as freely as you can say “yes”, that “no” and “yes” are non-scary words on equal counters which can be flitted between with a sound mind. Of course, if everyone were like that we would probably be living in a perfect world. Alas, our real world appears to be saturated with those who are indecisive and also often a bit mad. In which case, here’s a simple rule for you confused, antagonistically-agreeable people – STOP SAYING “YES”. Just STOP. Think, woman (and man), think! Otherwise you will set off anxious or regretful reels of thought in your mind such as “Oh GOD, WHY did I agree to go skydiving?! I hate skydiving! And in a bear suit? I’m allergic to dust! And to bear costumes! And I have a fear of bears and heights!”
In particular (and here I am striking out chiefly to teenage girls/young girls/all girls/homosexuals, in fact anybody who comes into contact with men) there is no obligation to say “yes” to mean boys, something that I have had reinforced on recently reading Mindy Kaling’s biography (I feel no shame. She is brilliant. Anyone who thinks she isn’t is lying.) Of course, this works both ways – boys, you have no obligation to say “yes” to mean girls. I know that girls can be bitches, too. I’m simply focusing on the girls-to-mean-boys angle because that is where I have had the most experience, so can speak – hopefully – with a semblance of wisdom. Along with saying “yes” to mean boys I have also had a particular penchant for saying “sorry” every other word to them and/or laughing at their mean or unfunny jokes, when THEY have most certainly been in the wrong, or when nobody has been in the wrong but I still feel the need to apologise or laugh for goodness-knows-what.
I remember very distinctly being called “chubby” by a boy in college (on looking back, perhaps I was teetering on chubby – and I’m not one of those voluptuous goddesses who can pull it off, either, like Nigella Lawson or the pretty gold fish in Fantasia – but still, there’s an unspoken rule that you should never point it out) and just laughed it off, when in fact I was a bit mortified. This is proven by the fact that I still remember that comment, to this day. Weight is a very conflicting topic for me because on one hand, I know logically that if I eat a brownie, I can burn it off – weight is one of the things that we can actually control in our lives if we choose to, so why are we so scared of it? On the other hand I want to embrace the best physical shape I can whilst in the prime of my life and be somewhat healthy, so am afraid of becoming chubby and of falling short of my goals in that respect (ideally I would be able to rock a voluptuous figure, like Nigella Lawson or the pretty gold fish in Fantasia. However when I’ve tried to I’ve morphed into a humanoid gerbil, not Aphrodite. It is a very sad state of affairs.)
But anyway – I was mortified. And I just let it be. Now if it had been one of my female friends who had said it, it probably would have turned into a Cold War. Females call females out on that bullshit. But because it was a mean boy who had said it, it was immediately construed to have only been meant “funnily”, as opposed to appallingly and insultingly, as I actually took it.
Once again – you don’t have to laugh at unfunny mean boys. And equally as importantly, you don’t have to say “yes” to them when you don’t want to. If you feel backed into a corner by a looming “yes”, punch a hole through the wall and flee.
But it is not only the mean boys who fall under my umbrella of anxiety-induced acquiescence. The nice boys do, too (withal, the rest of the world). I continue to intermittently spout snap “yes’s” with my existing boyfriend and he is an incredibly nice boy, and genuinely very respectful of me (though sometimes he pretends not to be but that’s only because he likes to see me get angry and rant about feminism more.) There is no need for me to refrain from saying “no” to him, when we are deciding what film to watch or restaurant to go to. But despite his loveliness, I still on occasion feel snap-decision “yes’s” wanting to burst out of my chest like a bit of unprecedented vomit, or like that alien baby from that scene in Alien. I am a die-hard people pleaser. So the root of the problem, then, comes from within me.
So you might be happy to hear (as this article is probably reading a bit negatively up until this point) that the “yes” problem can and is being dealt with (hoorah! There is hope for us chronic diplomats!) In fact, my boyfriend has really helped in that respect. He is a “not-taking-any-shit” kind of guy (a valuable quality to have). As such, I am learning more and more about our respect-inducing friend, “no”.
The first lesson in this that I can offer is that “no” is not only a negative word. In fact, “no” is of equal amounts of negativity as “yes” can be. Saying “no” and incurring a negative situation is just as bad as saying “yes” for things that you don’t mean to agree to. Say “no” more. Say “no” wisely. And say “yes” even more wisely.
Secondly, I have learned that I don’t need to keep my trap shut. Certain misogynists have commented that they think feminists just “rant on and on” or just “won’t shut up already” about their problems – well, GOOD. Who gets to tell me when to shut up, thank you very much? If things upset you, point them out. You don’t have to go on the Third-Wheeling Extravaganza Day, if you don’t want to. The consequences of not pointing stuff out can be that you end up tip-toeing around on eggshells never saying how you feel, until you get used to feeling a little shitty about things. You should never have to get used to feeling shitty. “Shitty” is not a biologically predisposed condition. We have nurtured the emotion of “shitty” ourselves. You don’t have to feel shitty.
Thirdly, I have learned that after not keeping your trap shut and learning how to say “no” it gets easier over time to expect respect for yourself. Largely because the aftermath of saying “no” is not at all as terrible as you might think it would be. There are no explosions or post-apocalyptic scenes of war. And if your hairdresser is going to crawl into the Hair Dye Closet and bitch about you, so fucking what? Who CARES what a stranger thinks of you – it speaks worse of them to take offence at your saying “no” than it does of you for saying it. And honestly – most of the time, your peers who proffer opinions and have them rejected by you probably don’t even care that they were rejected, or feel very mild offence at best. This is probably the only article in which the phrase “NOBODY CARES” should be heralded as opposed to taken as an insult.
And concerning the people that you value, saying “no” should become an easier practice, for the simple fact that if they respect you then they’ll:
- a) Not fall off the handle and demand that you throw yourself out of a plane in an allergy-inducing bear-suit
- b) Appreciate the fact that you could be honest
- c) Love you anyway because you’re so damn witty (or is that just me? Ho ho ho)
So please pause a moment before you say “yes”. Value yourself. It can be a tough world, and if you want any respect in it you have to value yourself before worrying about whether others do (I’m beginning to feel like I’m writing a yoga therapy manifesto – ‘Value yourself, value yourself, relaaaaaaax…’) Too many times I have trodden down on my self-worth and carried around “shitty” feels. But as time progresses, I understand more and more that this is just a plain old unhealthy attitude. We do not live in the sixteenth-century anymore. We can say “no” to buggering everything, if we want. If your boss is being a Grade A twat, you don’t have to say “yes” to overtime. If a mean boy calls you chubby, I say embrace their rude, chauvinistic assertion by physically PRETENDING TO BE A WHALE, singing WHALE SONGS in their face until they feel so awkward and embarrassed that they shuffle away, hopefully in fits of self-disgust.
Or you can just call them out on being an asshole. Whatever.
As self-respecting feminists, free-speech citizens and 21st century humans, it’s about bloody time that we learn about the positivity of “no”. Don’t you agree?