What Happens When You Start Saying ‘No’

I was on a date and it wasn’t going well. The guy, a self-proclaimed “revolutionary,” was rude to our waiter, didn’t ask me anything about myself and only referred to me as “doll.”

About an hour in I’d had enough. I immediately started brainstorming excuses as to why I would need to leave. I could say I didn’t feel good, or that my friend just texted me and was really upset and needed me. or I could just start profusely crying. My ideas got crazier and crazier, and then it dawned on me: I don’t owe this guy a reason. I feel disrespected, uncomfortable, and I just want to go home and watch Forensic Files, and that is just as valid of a reason as any. So I handed him $20 and thanked him for showing me a new part of town and walked home. I never heard from him again and I no longer go on dates with people who call me “doll.”

As women, we are often judged for saying no to things. There is a societal pressure to be accommodating and agreeable, or at the very least, not profoundly offended by extremely offensive things. And it isn’t just about things like sexual consent, it’s in the way we have conversations, the way we act at work and how we have friendships.

Learning to say no to things that make us uncomfortable is an extremely important part of forming our identity and laying the basic ground-rules for how we want to be treated. Really, learning to say no has plenty of rewards. Here’s what happens when you stop dreading, and start embracing, that one little word.

1. You start being more honest in your relationships

By letting people close to you know how you are really feeling, you are giving your relationship an honest chance to be healthy and happy. When our friends or partners think we might not say something that is on our minds, assumptions start to creep up and the next thing you know, we’re all arguing and listening to Alanis Morissette alone in our bedrooms. Be calm and confident, and speak up when you’re not comfortable with something. Wouldn’t you want the same from them?

2. Your time becomes more meaningful

If you feel obligated to say yes to too many things, your time begins to feel hazy and stressful. You become cranky over small things and you lose sight of the things that make being a human on planet Earth really freaking cool and magical. Being able to politely decline certain invitations will make you much more engaged and excited about the invitations you do accept.

3. You stomp out passive-aggression

While I universally love people and think we are all composed of impossible miracles, I also lose my mind over passive-aggression. It’s just a crooked social and emotional mess. Be brave and create an environment that encourages honesty and respect. Don’t waste your time playing the passive-aggressive game, it only distances you from the people you love and the things you truly want.

4. You get to know yourself better

When we stop trying to please everyone else, we get the chance to really listen to our own brains. That contemplative freedom helps us ultimately understand what we want—and expect—from ourselves. We become our biggest advocate and we aren’t as vulnerable when someone is treating us poorly. Saying no helps us learn from mistakes and refines our understanding of what we do and don’t like, what we do and don’t want, and how to manage everything in between.

Now I know it’s scary, but next time you find yourself wanting to say NO, give it a try. You’ll stumble a little, and that’s okay. Not everyone is going to be happy with you all the time, no matter what. Relationships are diverse and textured, and we all need different things at different times. Help people know what you need so that you will have the energy to give them what they need when the time comes.

Just remember: nobody is the boss of you!

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