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The Possibilities of No

I’m notoriously bad at saying no. The SO teases me about it quite a lot, but I…

How I feel when I say no.

I’m notoriously bad at saying no. The SO teases me about it quite a lot, but I feel it bears pointing out that the only reason we went out on that first date 7 years ago was because I didn’t know how to say no. I mean, obviously, I knew how to say no, but what if I hurt his feelings? What if he thought I was a truly horrible person, and our mutual friends thought the same thing? And was it a terribly impolite thing to do? Or… You get my point.

Part of my no-allergy is due to the fact that I made the decision a while ago to say yes to a lot of things I don’t necessarily want to say yes to – party invitations and get-togethers, usually. I do this because if I said no to all the things I’d prefer to say no to, I’d only ever leave the house under the cover of darkness in order to buy cat food and chocolate.

And while this yes-strategy has enabled me to retain the ability to interact socially (awkwardly, yes, but still – I can hold a conversation under duress), it also means that the line has gradually become a little blurred for me between what I want to say no to, and what I actually need to say no to.

He just can’t bear any more. Snigger.

Okay, some things are are easy:

Do I want to go to a four-day electronic music festival, living in tents and using porta-potties? Oh, dear god, no.

Do I want to go to a hunting exhibition, where we will learn to butcher animals and turn their skin into hats? That’s a really big no.

Do I want to go on an all-day wine tasting tour, where we will share our innermost stories with complete (and tispy) strangers? D’you know, no.

Only one of these is an actual invitation. I’ll leave you to guess which one.

Other occasions I’m more ambivalent about, and these are where I run into problems. I love my friends – they’re wonderful people, and they’re quite indulgent of the fact that I’m not a very social little animal. But, obviously, they only know what I tell them, so sometimes I accept invitations I shouldn’t, and only find out later that they run my reserves of socialness dry. Honestly, I’m still learning this stuff. In my drinking days, I just used alcohol to power through social events, with predictably dire consequences. These days, I make sure I have my own transport, and leave when things get too much. It works, and if some days are harder than others, it’s usually just because my socialness supply was a little low going in.

No list of ‘no’ would be complete without Grumpy Cat

And then there’s the fact that some strange little quirk of mine assures me that if I say no even once, no one will like me anymore, and they’ll never invite me to anything ever again, largely because a main activity at all social events from then on will involve throwing darts at an image of my face.

Which is a), probably not the case, because who prints photos these days; and b), weirdly egocentric.

However, the other day I did have to say no to at least part of some plans, because I knew it would wear me out entirely, and I’d go from being quietly socially awkward to grumpily socially awkward, which is an unpleasant combo for everyone involved. I felt awful, and kept apologising for messing everything up (and checking to make sure no one was carrying darts), but in the end we came up with another idea. Which, as it turned out, was an even better plan than the original for everyone involved. And my friend said, “If you hadn’t said no we’d never have come up with this. Sometimes someone has to say no so new possibilities can be explored.”


Which was quite beautiful and profound, and went a long way to making me feel better.

It’s a lovely thought, that not all possibilities arise from ‘yes’. That ‘no’ has its own way of opening doors and changing paths. I mean, we all read the articles, right?

“Say ‘Yes!’ to Everything and Change Your Life!”

“Empower Yourself! Say Yes!”

“Embrace Positivity! Embrace ‘Yes’!”

Etc, etc. Always with exclamation marks and a picture of some improbably happy person, usually dressed in white and jumping on a beach somewhere. ‘No’, on the other hand, tends to conjure up images of either a tamtrumming toddler or a sulky teenager.

But, in my experience, saying yes isn’t a problem. It’s easy. It’s saying no that feels like stomping on someone’s ideas and feelings. Yet sometimes we have to, both for our own sake and for others. And maybe if we stopped being so scared of saying no, we’d find all the wonderful possibilities that arise from exploring other options, all the opportunities that can develop when we decide the current situation isn’t right for us.

Unless it’s a hunting exhibition. That’s a hard no, I’m afraid.

What about you? Are you a no-er or a yes-er?

Just say no to carving up trees. How would you like it?

adulting, fear, happiness, health, humour, introverts, mental health, writer's life

  1. Anna Kaling says:

    Is the festival the real invitation? I think anybody who enjoys living in a field and sharing a toilet with 4,000 hippies for a long weekend should probably be butchered and turned into a hat. For their own good as much as the rest of humanity’s.

    Like you, I try to make myself say yes to social things when I want to say no, but the older I get the more content I am to say no. Interacting with 3D humans every day at work is about my limit. I get everything I need from the 2D people who live in my laptop and don’t make small talk or expect me to come up with replies right away or compliment my hair. Peppercat and Charliecat provide 3D affection.

    I wish I’d learned to say no sooner!

    1. kimwatt says:

      It was indeed! Although, to be fair, I think it was a joke invitation – as in, “I’m going to ask you because it would be rude not to, but I know you’re not going to say yes.” The tent and mountains sounded good, the rest…

      I think you’re well ahead of me in learning to say no – I have quite a knee-jerk reaction and still almost always say yes to things. I’m learning that I can change my mind though, and that it’s perfectly fine to leave things early if they get too much. I’m very lucky in that my 3D friends understand that, and as far as I know no one’s set up a dartboard with my face on it…

      And I love my 2D friends – I don’t even have to get out of my PJs to talk to them!

      1. Anna Kaling says:

        …hang on, are we supposed to get out of PJs for 3D friends?

        1. kimwatt says:

          So I’ve been told. I think as long as they’re clean PJs, though, with no tea stains or cake crumbs, they should be acceptable.

  2. Cadi Calder says:

    Oh god, I used to have such a problem saying no. For me it also started as a way of doing things that I normally would say no to. Often they were things that I secretly wanted to do, but didn’t dare, so I decided to start saying yes and worrying later. For a while this worked great, but then it became a habit, and I ended up saying yes so much that I burned myself out. Good lesson to learn, I suppose – the world doesn’t stop turning even if you say no to some things. And that if you’re too tired to go somewhere, you’re not a terrible person for staying home.

    Part of my problem was that I had a job where most people did so many things in their lives that I felt like I was some sort of sub-human for not doing half the things they did. Church, politics, family projects, volunteer work several places… Then I found out that many of them were on the verge of collapse because of it, but you know, everyone else did this much, so… Really put it into perspective for me.

    1. kimwatt says:

      That sounds terribly familiar! Although I have to admit that most of mine were things I didn’t want to do, but thought I *should* want to do…

      That’s such an interesting one, that all these people who seem to be superhuman and happily doing 1001 things at once, are maybe not all as happy doing them as they seem. Imagine if all of us learned to say no to things that were too much!

      Actually, that might be a bad thing. No one would bring cupcakes to meetings…

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

      1. Jane Dughatir says:

        The one comment reminded me of Bleak House, maybe the woman who used to help Africans? Not sure uf thats even the same novel. Enjoyed the post. I have usually been a no person. As an introvert but bored at home w kids I started saying “yes” for a few yrs but then reverted back.I’m now a homebody for life.

        1. kimwatt says:

          Homebody for life sounds like a wonderful plan to me! And I think it’s a wonderful ability to be able to say no as and when you want – one of these days I’ll work out the balance…

          Very happy to hear you enjoyed the blog, and thanks so much for commenting!

  3. Anna Adler says:

    I have this problem, too! Or HAD. I’m better at saying no these days and it has really cut down the amount of stress in my life. As a result I have more energy for the things that I really want to do, and I can save my limited social capacity for the people that I genuinely want to see. I totally agree, saying yes is ridiculously easy. Saying no is hard…because people might get upset when you say no, and I’m the kind of person who avoids conflict to a fault. Maybe it’s the age (I love getting older!), but I’m getting the hang of saying no to things I don’t want to do, and it feels wonderful.

    1. kimwatt says:

      Getting older is fantastic! I never imagined how much fun it could actually be – not in a nasty, ‘I don’t care what you think, I’ll do what I want’ kind of way, just in the ‘looking out for me’ way.

      I think the conflict-avoidance is a huge part of why I tend to go along with plans I’m not always keen on, even though there probably wouldn’t be any conflict at all if I just said no.

      Well done you for learning how to say no – I really am still working on it, but I think it’s getting there slowly. 😉

  4. A.S. Akkalon says:

    Love this post, and I totally empathise. I can’t say no. What if I upset someone?!

    I’d do the hunting thing, because research and I wouldn’t expect to have to mix with many people. I’d probably do wine-tasting as well, because wine, but I’d spend the whole time trying to avoid talking to anyone. Though a lot of the reason I drink is to make talking to people easier.

    1. kimwatt says:

      Because upsetting someone is pretty much the worst thing ever. They’ll be thinking bad thoughts about you for the rest of your life. That’s how it works, right? 😉 One day I will eventually figure out it isn’t, but until then, saying no is hard!

      True, research is good, but I’m veggie because I won’t eat anything I couldn’t kill myself, so I’m not seeing that going well for me. I’d probably cry all over the carcass and end up brining it or something. And while wine used to be my go-to for surviving social situations, I don’t drink anymore, so I’d just have to be social with tipsy people. Nah.

      1. A.S. Akkalon says:

        Not drinking does make wine trickier, I’ll give you that. 😉

        1. kimwatt says:

          I have actually tried non-alcoholic wine, but other than the bubbly stuff (which is pretty good), it’s kind of pointless…

          1. kimwatt says:

            Tea is undoubtedly the best option!

  5. I’ve moved from being a people pleaser to be someone who has learnt to say no. I must admit I lapse into saying ‘yes’ without thinking sometimes!

    1. kimwatt says:

      Well done on learning to say no! I still find it terribly tricky, and so much easier to say ‘yes’. But I’m slowly learning that it’s worth it. 😉

  6. Lynda Dietz says:

    I can relate to Cadi, above. As a homeschooler, I’ve found that it can be a huge trap, trying to keep up with what “everyone” else is doing. There are families whose children take music and dance lessons, multiple foreign languages, are on sports teams and in academic co-ops. When our children were young, I tried to get them involved in so many things that they were the ones to say, “Can we please just stay home today?” I was all too happy to say a big fat YES to that one. I’ve now come to the conclusion that I can say no and the other person doesn’t necessarily need a reason why I did.

    1. kimwatt says:

      Well done to your children recognising when enough is enough! I admit, I look at all the activities most children have on these days and it just seems exhausting. It’s awesome that they have so many opportunities, but it’s a lot.

      And such a big YES to not having to give a reason for why you say no! I’m still struggling to come to grips with that one, but it’s so true. Neither excuses nor reasons are required.

      1. Lynda Dietz says:

        My husband has no guilt or hesitation giving the reason, “it simply doesn’t interest me,” or “no, I don’t want to go to that event.” My strength in that area has come a lot more slowly, but it really hit home with me when a friend said she tells people, “There are a lot of really, really good activities out there, but not every activity is good for my family at this time.”

        1. kimwatt says:

          Oh, I like that! That’s such a respectful way to put it. Some people are just really good at knowing their limits and knowing how to express themselves – both of these are a little challenging for me. Although, if I could communicate via writing instead…?

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