Saying No

Copyright ©1997, Ben Weiss

When we love one another, we want to become more intimate. We want a partner to validate our feelings - to say "Yes"; "I understand"; "I feel that too." We want to give them all the comfort and joy they give us. When any of us get together and meet in the middle - you with your thoughts, fears, feelings, warmth, strength, wisdom; me with mine - How wonderful to see life through each other's eyes, each other's thoughts.

We were made for this; to share and celebrate life's fondest pleasures. How natural it is to fall into each other's arms, eyes. How easy it is to open hearts, arms, minds, legs to the breathtaking beauty of another.

Nina's many-tentacled-date cartoon

But that which makes us so beautiful, so unique - alas - also makes us different; separate. We are not one. We struggle for one-ness. We work hard to survive and then we must work even harder to live and to love. To meet strangers, be vulnerable, get hurt, meet more strangers, be shy, open up, become intimate -- or perhaps be hurt again. It's almost a wonder any of us ever can say "Yes", and yet we all yearn to so much that we say "Yes" and gamble and often get hurt. Because we're all so desperate for intimacy - for connection. Listen when you hear yourself saying things like:

"It's okay - I'll manage."
"She's just shy"
"I can change him"
"It's only a phase"
"But I need him - I'll do anything to keep him"
"But isn't this what I'm supposed to do?"
"S/he'll be so disappointed if I don't..."
...and so on...

These things we tell ourselves instead of saying "No" - denying intimacy - stopping the flow. We invalidate the whole experience. Rejection, sadness, insecurity, anger, pain.

Yet where there is pain, there is also power. I invite you to consider that saying NO, keeping your boundaries - BEING HONEST - respecting yourself is also a form of intimacy because it shows respect for the person you are rejecting. To honestly look someone in the eyes and tell them that you don't want to participate in that particular behavior is direct, respectful, honest and allows both of you to find other options for togetherness. Instead of trying to lie or - worse - going along with something not right for you, I invite you to consider learning how to say "no" without rejection.

NO is such a final word; it stops us in our tracks; no ifs, ands or buts; no way out; no possibility.. We've made it such a powerful word, that it is difficult to say to real people who are soft, easily hurt, easily damaged. How can you say "no" gently; respectfully; kindly?

Fortunately, the real world is NOT black and white; it's many shades of gray; fuzzy. "No" is so definite, so final by itself - sometimes, what you really want is "Well no, not that - but how about this?" Often times, NO can be replaced with Negotiations - you want some intimacy, he wants some intimacy - maybe you don't want what's been offered, but perhaps you can think of something else that you both might also like to share? That way, more of those infinite possibilities are still available to you both.

Sometimes, though, you really mean No, but it still sounds too harsh.

Having had the unfortunate opportunity to experience rejection from both perspectives - as a rejector as well as a rejectee - I must report that although being rejected was somewhat less than satisfactory, rejecting another's interest in me has proven to be even less comfortable.

Small solace it is to the rejectee, to have my respect when what they were really after was something else, but at least, it makes me feel better. Depending on how painful it is to the other person, I can feel that I haven't "rejected" them and perhaps - after a time - that respect can blossom into another form of relationship between us whose form neither of us can currently imagine.

When you do have to say No, say it. To the degree that what we all want is to become closer to each other, it doesn't do any good to become closer to someone else at the expense of being close to yourself. Although there are times when we are loved enough that someone else will take care of us, you must respect that love by taking care of yourself as well and that means having boundaries and respecting them.

Bounderies here mean the place where you decide how much energy to give yourself verses how much energy (and time and love and attention) you give to someone else. Your boundries are your priorities; the internal map you use for deciding when is enough; how much to give and how much is your comfort worth compared to theirs.

You know what your boundaries are. If you don't, experiment. Experimentation can be lots of fun for everyone as long as you can say YES and NO at any time. Every moment of every minute of every hour you're with someone, each of you must be free to choose to continue or to do something else. Every moment, you can decide if this is right for you. If you go along and along and along and at some point you want to stop- then STOP. You're on this planet for such a short few years- life is much too short to waste doing something that makes you uncomfortable. There are so many opportunities for fulfilling all of your dreams, you decide when you do and when you don't.

Some years ago, my friend, Sally organized a weekend workshop entitled "Sex and Spirituality for Women". Friday night when everyone arrived, she explained to them that there was a test that each of them must pass in order to participate in the rest of the workshop; the exercise worked like this: Each individual must walk up to her, look her square in the eyes and say clearly and distinctly, "No.". Only one person couldn't do this and was asked to leave. Sally didn't feel safe interacting with this woman if she could not say "no" to her. It is only when we know that each of us is self-confident enough to be able to say "No" that we feel safe risking intimacy. Rejection we can handle - risking a violation of someone who doesn't take care of their own feelings is much more dangerous than mere rejection.

The next exercise was much more fun- they each got to say, "Yes.".

Being pagan has taught me pantheism; the idea that there are many gods, many ideas, many views and each one is right. Each of you is a goddess or god and what you want matters. The best person to let me know what's best for you is you. Please respect yourself and tell me what I need to know to treat you as the goddess or god that you are. To do less, diminishes us both. These days, we all need all the self-respect we can muster. And when you respect me and my ideas and I respect you and your ideas, the beginnings of intimacy are born.

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