Here’s an all too common scenario: Person A goes on a date with Person B. Person A thinks they came across well and that they both had a good time. Despite seemingly positive signals on the date(s), Person B says they’re not interested in further dates. Or maybe they say they aren’t ready for or don’t want a relationship. Or perhaps they disappear and you never hear from them again.
Person A internalises Person B’s behaviour as rejection and wonders, What did I do wrong? They play the date and the messages exchanged beforehand over and over in their mind trying to isolate where they made they made a fatal error. Did I say something wrong? Was it something I did? They seemed really keen and even talked about meeting up again. It doesn’t make sense; I don’t deserve this.
Here’s another also common scenario: You ask someone if they can do something, and they say no.
Then you feel away about it. After everything I’ve done for them, they can’t even do this one thing. Or, Are they annoyed with me? Did I do or say something wrong the other day?
If this sounds at all familiar to you, you’re so very far from being alone. Whether we want to admit it or not, we’ve all felt some kind of way about somebody saying no.
But for the sake of your emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual well-being, as well as your relationships, check yourself.
“Yes” isn’t a reward for “good” and “compliant” behaviour.
When we feel affronted, bent out of shape, wounded and whatnot when we receive no, it speaks to our collective societal misconception that “yes” is a reward, the expected, almost obligatory response to “good” and “compliant” behaviour. Incidentally, this mentality feeds another unhealthy societal belief that “no” is a dirty word.
This idea that being “good” and “compliant” can not only Jedi mind trick people into being and doing what you want but that it’s a fast track pass into the You Get Everything You Want lane is the undoing of us as humans. We’re so focused on being our idea of “well-behaved” and “not bad” that we forget to be ourselves. Instead, we consciously and unconsciously perform at our idea of being a Good (read: worthy and deserving) Person and don’t take account of reality. We base our expectations of what can and should happen on how “good” we think we’ve been.
“Yes” is not a reward for “good” and “compliant” behaviour. It isn’t. “Yes” doesn’t mean you’ve done all the right things or even that the person is being that honest with you. It also doesn’t mean that, because they said yes to what you believe was “desirable” and “right” behaviour on this occasion, if you repeat it with this person or someone else, they couldn’t or wouldn’t say no.
Also, even if the person said yes honestly and authentically, it doesn’t mean that it means something good about you. It’s their yes.
If somebody isn’t interested in more dates or they “ghost”, that’s called information.
Wondering what you “did wrong” means you’re asking the wrong question. This thinking also reveals a problematic underlying belief that plagues dating. It’s this notion that it’s your job to perform at being as attractive as possible on a date. You believe that if you’ve done All The Right Things and there are no obvious signs of discontent or wrongness, you should get another date. You might even believe that good behaviour should lead to a relationship or even marriage. Like all you’ve got to do is show up and be whoever you think they want to be to get picked. Um, no.
If you ask somebody if they can do something and they say no, that’s not a rejection of you; it’s just no.
You haven’t done something, and they haven’t done anything wrong.
All the things you’ve done before or all the ways you think you’re “good” are not the credits to buy other people’s compliance.
A person’s no is an expression of their awareness of their boundaries and bandwidth at that time. It doesn’t mean that they say always say no when they need, want to and should. It doesn’t even mean that the way they go about saying no is always boundaried. But people, including you, are allowed to say no, whether it’s authentically or clumsily. If more of us were honest with our yeses and nos, we’d live in an entirely different, boundaried, happier world.
Can we please stop asking ourselves what we “did wrong” when people don’t respond as we hoped and expected? Same goes for telling ourselves that we didn’t “deserve it”.
The Joy of Saying No: A Simple Plan to Stop People Pleasing, Reclaim Boundaries, and Say Yes to the Life You Want (Harper Horizon/HarperCollins) is out now and available in bookshops on and offline. Listen to the first chapter.