You Can’t Say ‘Yes’ Until You Can Say ‘No’

Becoming true to yourself instead of conforming to others wishes is a fast path to real social freedom

Previously published in the December, 2006 Health Central News

Question:

My 15-year old daughter is being asked out by boys she’s not interested in dating. She doesn’t want to hurt their feelings and doesn’t know what to do. At 48, I’m not much better at handling these situations so I don’t know how to help her.

Answer:

You can never truly say yes to someone until you know you can say no. As women in this culture, you’re heavily programmed to please others, especially boys and men, at the expense of your own needs and desires. But the truth is, you’re only responsible for your feelings, for being true to yourself. If you please him by saying yes to his invitations when you really mean no, aren’t you setting yourself up for a more awkward time later? This is often called “having no boundaries”. And dishonesty doesn’t really do him a favor. When a man gets “yes’s” from a woman, but finds out later that she didn’t really want to be with him, it’s bewildering and hurtful.

As a man, I’d much prefer the women I’m interested in tell me no when she feels disinclined to my invitation. Otherwise, I’ll feel her resentment later on and that’s no fun! If she’s true to herself when she says no, then if she ever says yes to me, she means that too, and that’s exciting! Some men might like you to override your needs to meet theirs, but are those the ones you want to date?

It is possible for a woman to say no to a man in a way that respects the risk he took to show her his interest. “Thanks very much. I’m going to say no, but I really appreciate the invitation,” said with a warm smile leaves no doubt to the “no” and no room for argument while still being kind. You can practice getting comfortable with the “no’s”. Be kind and diplomatic if possible, but especially be true to yourself. Then, one day, some guy will come along to whom you want to say yes, and you’ll both know that yes really means something.

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Paul Chubbuck is a practicing psychotherapist in Fort Collins, CO, using Somatic Experiencingâ„¢ to help people release unresolved trauma. He may be reached at 970-493-2958 or through his website at www.releasingthepast.com.

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    • Milicent

      The thought comes to mind after reading your advice that woman may not quite know if she is liking the man, and same thing goes for a man, and isn’t it that that’s what dating is all about, a chance to learn more about yourself and the person you may be interested or even not interested but may develop interest in after knowing them better? Sorry for such a long convoluted sentence. I get it if a person is mature and confident in their abilities and preferences they should be foremost honest and not worry to hurt the other by declaring what they prefer.

      • Good point. It brings up the topic of how much people dating tend to make quick decisions based on the chemistry of attraction, having little more information about the “other”. And while the chemistry of attraction might guide us towards hot sex, it isn’t a great guide to the long-term viability of the relationship, as most have discovered by the time they are 30.

        But it usually takes a lot more years to begin to recognize that those powerful attractions are frequently driving us towards people who remind us (unconsciously) of our early caregivers and/or those who perpetrated abuse against us.

        Until a person has done a lot of healing work around that, however, trying to “override” that powerful tendency with reason doesn’t work very well. It might SEEM like a great idea to go out with the nice boy next door, but it doesn’t work if the feelings and attractions aren’t there. Maybe that’s why match-making works in some cultures.

        I think a person has to mature and heal into a wiser way of choosing a mate. And as you suggest, dating to find out more about the other person and how well you like them over time is a healthy and necessary part of that.