Last week, I was getting pizza with my bestie Arden Leigh after another amazing night at Cloak and Dagger, the members-only Hollywood club we attend on Tuesday nights. It was almost 3 am and we were tired and a little stoned in a late-night brick oven pizza place off Melrose. As we sat down after placing our order, some guy sat down at the table right next to ours and inserted himself into our conversation. We both hate it when this happens, and it happens frequently. She looked at him, told him that this was a private conversation, which he was not invited, and turned to me to continue our conversation. He wasn’t getting the hint. He tried to jump into the conversation two more times. The second time, we ignored him. The third time she told him in no uncertain terms that if he continued, she would pour her bottle of water on him. He turned away and whined loudly to his friends that she was “being mean.”
I am baffled that someone setting a boundary could be considered mean.
No matter how much you think you want to date someone, sleep with someone or even just talk to someone—there is nothing more important than the sanctity of “no.” It’s a gift. Many folks I’ve encountered don’t see it that way. They have anxiety around rejection, so there’s a pervasive pattern of not asking and assuming that the other person will say no if they’re uncomfortable. This is problematic for a number of reasons, but especially because it can be hard to say “no” when people historically ignore them. In the case of the guy at the pizza place, not only did he not ask first, he ignored the boundary Arden set. Here are some things to know about “no:”
- “No” is a complete sentence: You don’t have to justify, rationalize or explain it. I can empathize with the inclination to ask “why not?” when someone refuses a request. You want to understand. You want to feel better about it—feel like it’s not personal. You might be looking for a point you can argue or some way to convince the person. I strongly encourage you to resist this urge. The best response you could give is simply, “thank you for taking care of yourself.” This response first appeared in the Cuddle Party rules, created by Reid Mihalko and Marcia Baczynski. It acknowledges that the “no” isn’t about you, it’s about them and their comfort.
- “No” is a gift: When someone tells you “no,” you are able to trust them when they say “yes.” I love it when people tell me no. I don’t see it as rejection anymore. I’ve learned to see it as one of the most generous things a person can do. It means that when they do say “yes” to a request, it’s because they really truly want to say yes, not because they feel obligated. Obligatory acquiescence is not the same as consent.
- Assume a “no” is their final answer: People do change their minds sometimes. However, it’s up to the person who has set the boundary to decide if they are open to negotiating an alternative scenario or revisiting later. If someone gives you a “no,” take them at their word and move on to someone who is a “yes” to your request. After all, why would you want to waste your time/effort/talents/services/products on someone who doesn’t really want them?
This applies to every possible aspect of life. If you’re a budtender giving out samples at an event, if you’re a person looking for a partner, if you’re in a relationship, if you’re a parent raising a child, if you’re an employer…the list goes on.
It can be challenging to say “no.” Some people are naturally gifted at this. Arden is spectacular at boundaries. She never does anything she is not a “hell yes” to. She moves through life with integrity and discernment. For her, and those like her, this article may feel self-evident. For the rest of us? Saying “no” can be one of the most difficult aspects of adulthood. Yet getting comfortable with both giving and receiving “no” gracefully can be one of the most important skills in your toolbox. I encourage you to practice saying “no” so you can create space for instances where you are a “hell yes!” After all, if you fill up your time agreeing to things you’re not actually excited about, will you have time to do the things you want? I’ll leave you with the wisdom of my friend Monique Darling: “saying ‘no’ to someone means saying ‘yes’ to yourself!”
So do that. Say “yes” to yourself. I promise you’ll be glad you did.