The Epic Rewards of “No”

There was a time for me when saying “No” was nearly impossible! I recall an old friend asking me almost daily to drive her places, out for the night, over to her lover’s, back to her home, the store, anywhere and everywhere. And I would. Since I was afraid of her, and she must have known this on some level.

But after I became a teacher, my students would take advantage of my kindness (which was really just fear) and chaos would rule my days. Learning to say “no” to younger people was great practice for me because the one thing I needed more than their love was their respect. Eventually, I learned to say no to my peers, and family members, even occasionally beautiful and selfish men as well.

I didn’t have to be mean about it. I could say warmly and confidently, “I am sorry, but no.”

It became almost amusing to practice saying no without apology, to simply own the power vested in me and declare a simple Nope. Sometimes I’d soften it for those I truly liked. “No….(soft warm smile…wince)…sorry.”

Sometimes I was willing to give my reason calmly, but it was important to not give a tone of deference. It was important that the explanation was an act of compassion and not an obligation. It took me a long time to see that people do not always require an explanation.

My students occasionally suggested that I would be the coolest teacher ever should I grant their wish. I learned to reply that I was already entirely cool without their approval. I would even help them to understand that whining repeatedly was a form of manipulation I did not appreciate. This left them puzzled and melancholy, having grown used to their lifetime success at begging.

Saying no takes hutzpah, and that means one must conquer one’s fears in order to do it. Fear of another’s wrath. Fear of going to hell. Fear of being blamed. Fear of retaliation. Fear of causing someone discomfort, and of course fear that people will condemn you and leave you behind. Let’s face it. It happens.

People really do not like hearing “no.”

However, setting boundaries with a clear “no” is fruitful too. People learn that you will not be submissive at the expense of your own needs.

People are less likely to take advantage of you, period.

People will come to know that you are capable of saying Yes, just not every time.

People begin to respect you. People also think twice before pushing too far.

Life becomes fair. Less stressful.

The greatest gift of saying No is that you come to learn who your true friends are. Loyal people don’t go away just because you say no. Even you will like yourself a bit more.

In the social circles of addiction recovery, there is an unwritten code that one should never say no when they are asked to be of service. Addicts are by nature selfish, thus we encourage selflessness as a new behavior.

But in the fellowship of recovering codependents, this rule cannot apply. For codependents spend their lives serving relentless sponges in order to feel needed; and codependents pay for it with their souls, becoming a mere husk, blowing hither and thither at the beck and call of the ones they love.

For saying yes indiscriminately and without regard for one’s own needs is the surest way to resent our loved ones. It creates bitterness and eventually a passive poisoning of any love that once existed.

Here is where the spiritual part comes in…

Because I am certain that my soul is divine, a natural result of intentional communion with the gods, because I recognize my own holy, mysterious and powerful essence, a Yes is often and simply not required. The beauty of this capacity to decline is that no one ever has to wonder if I am secretly feeling burdened, or if I am disrespectfully pretending to comply with feigned affection.

When I say Yes, it is because I wish to say Yes. You can trust me to say what I mean. You won’t need to repeat the annoying question, “Are you sure?”

Please, do not ever say yes to me unless you truly want to, for sayin yes when you want to say no is, according to divine law, a form of dishonesty and cowardice I could not abide.

Say No, and watch me cringe and squirm. I will love you for it.

Why Online Dating is a Spiritual Experience: Part Four – Take the apple, Eve.

I’m no saint, and I always resonated far more with the defiance of Adam’s first love, Lilith. But let’s face it, even Eve was tempted to know more, and plucking fruit from the tree of knowledge was inevitable. According to biblical wisdom, not everyone wants to be submissive, nor blissfully ignorant!

My pursuit of finding love via an online dating site was in many ways my bitter fruit. At night I would lay awake and consider the bones of the dead. I was sincerely sad that I was unable to really love so many men who wanted to love me. I too felt the burn of rejections, even though I understood that these things are rarely personal. Chemistry was a wicked beast. I would stare at the ceiling and imagine this very specific love that I hoped would transcend the electrical wires and universal airwaves and land smack dab on my profile, the absolute result of divine power and an extra kick from my own earnest intentions.

He would be in many ways my twin. There would be sentences we didn’t have to finish and serendipitous events that made me gasp and sigh. We would often be content to watch Netflix and eat our dinner on the couch. We would play hard in the outdoors and always talk about what we were reading. There would be an incredible sense of safety and a comfort I had never known. Oh to be held in my sleep! I would not worry about my aging body or morning breath or foul moods because he would be blinded by his love, and I would finally experience a mutual devotion. He would be unique and emit an entire world of splendor. He would be devilishly witty and he would have all the strength that comes only with a person who had truly suffered, endured and rose from the ashes like an immortal god!

I was always nervous though, since I had in fact had that sort of love twice before (once in college and once in my late 40’s) and then later came to see that it wasn’t real. It was an illusion, and it was deeply painful to be ripped back to reality. Thus, I was doing my best to have faith and yet not be fooled again.

Then in early February, I met him. His name was Samuel.

Samuel and I met for the usual 40-minute coffee date. Three hours later, he walked me to my car and unexpectedly kissed me in the middle of broad daylight. I was stunned. But as I drove home, I found myself slowly forming a smile on my weary little face.

Sam was very smart, educated, undeniably handsome and tall. He was responsible and reliable and deeply committed to his community. He was cultured, well-traveled and had an interesting past. He lived in the city where I was moving in just a month’s time. And he was a writer.

We emailed long and intense exchanges then for almost two weeks. Sparks were flying! We agreed to have our second date the night after Valentine’s Day, to take the pressure off the holiday angst. He made me dinner.

At first I felt like a stranger again, but we warmed up and eventually began sharing lots of stories and opinions and shedding the strains of …well the strains of dating! Two people agree to face each other and try to form something that will be ultimate and profound. That is a lot. And I think we felt it all. But I truly liked him, what he stood for, the way he lived, how he moved and what he wore. He was really amazing!

Until he wasn’t.

I think this is where I would like to turn back the clock and insist that he stop talking. I would like to control the things that he shared so I could remain in this bliss a bit longer. My spiritual core understands that there was no way we wouldn’t always end up in the same spot – in the truth. Because truth is all humans really want in the end. And Sam chose to tell me the truth right then and there on the second date in his darling apartment.

It was dark, disturbing, traumatic.

I cannot even go there. You must understand. When a person shares these things, the most spiritual reply is to honor it by keeping it safe. And he trusted me to do that. What I can tell you is that some people, like Sam, have experienced some very traumatic things and they have to walk the earth with it. They have to get up every day and make their way and find some tricky way to be okay and to manage and to live.

But the one thing that can really get in the way of that coping and survival is the harsh reality of a romantic intimacy, where someone will demand a part of your heart that is mangled and protected.

We stumbled for another month. We pushed and pulled on the phone and through emails, only securing one more brunch in person. But Sam was unwilling to do what I felt was an honest and thorough look at his past. Some part of him began to shut down the moment I suggested there was work to be done. He never really let me back in. I moved into the city and invited him to visit. He muttered something about how the pandemic was just too much. He had expected me to live with his gaping open emotional wounds, the same wounds that destroyed his marriage, or I could just move along.

I chose the latter.