If you asked my child what my favorite word was, without hesitation, he would respond: no.
No has been my go-to word for a while now.
I felt a certain sense of pride in saying no when asked to do things I didn’t want to do, things I felt infringed on my personal time and space.
Being raised by two independent women taught me to speak my truth long before it was some kind of personal development rally cry.
And my truth was usually “No.”
Did I want to get together?
Did I want to volunteer for something?
Um, not really.
Would I like to watch someone’s kids while they ran errands?
Absolutely not – my house was not childproof. Yes, I knew I had a child. However, my house was not childproofed for other people’s kids.
No was my favorite response and reaction.
I heard my friends getting sucked into things they didn’t want to do, and they were miserable.
“If you didn’t want to do it, why did you say yes?” I asked once.
I knew the answer before they said it.
They didn’t want to disappoint someone or let them down. A lot of women are raised to be accommodating and to put everyone else first, even if it causes them to neglect themselves. A lot of women, except for those raised by Helen and Jean, feel that way, that is.
I have joked to my girlfriends that any time they needed me to say no on their behalf, I would be happy to. Delighted, thrilled, ecstatic even.
My child knows no is my initial response, yet, he still tries.
“Can I –?”
He sighs, knowing not to press the issue because I can dig my heels down in a no and make it stick.
In professional settings, my variation is a softer “no, no.”
I don’t want to seem quite as unyielding, so I put the extra one in as a gentle decline.
It had worked so well, of a number of years, this whole no thing.
Until one day, I heard some friends talking about an outing they had over the weekend.
I was kind of hurt; why hadn’t they
asked me to go?
“You always say no,” I was told.
True. I do love my no. And being an introvert makes me also avoid most social gatherings like the plague.
But what they did sounded fun. I may have actually said yes this time.
My no wasn’t set in stone – was it?
Did it seem like it was?
“You would have said it was too far, or we’d
get back too late,” my friend said.
That did sound like something I would say.
Or, I had too much to do, or I had plans.
Plans that involved putting on yoga pants and watching Hallmark Movies & Mysteries while looking at cat videos on social media.
“We figured you couldn’t go so we just went without mentioning it.”
Had my no become so standard and common that people were pre-emptively using it on my behalf?
I did not like this.
Sure, I liked saying no, but I wanted it to be my no, my choice.
It was my no to use, gosh darnit.
“If we go back, we’ll ask you,” my friend promised. “But you will probably just say no.”
“No, I won’t,” I said. See – I found a way to work in a no.
“Yes, you will.”
“No, I won’t.”
Perhaps I needed to change my default in some way. A slight tweak.
I had missed out on a great afternoon; what else had I missed on by saying no all these years?
Had my love for the no caused me to stop saying yes to everything that was potentially good?
“So, you will go if we go back?”
“Maybe?” My friend groaned.
It wasn’t as harsh as no; didn’t feel as locked in as yes.
It had so much open-ended potential that could give me the opportunity to decide if I really wanted to do something or not.
Maybe is my new favorite word.