When I was a kid, I was fascinated with my friend Lizzie’s special talent. When you asked Lizzie if she wanted to do something, she would sometimes answer “no.” When you asked her why, she’d shrug her shoulders and say, “’don’t feel like it.”
I briefly was able to emulate Lizzie’s talent in that way that kids can absorb and perfectly mimic everything they see like the world’s tiniest method actors. However, after some time passed and my mom grew tired of me saying it, the talent faded away and I was right back where I started: ruining clothes on the playground because someone else told me to kneel in the mud to assist with mud pie making, and what other possible option did I have?
“Carmen Can’t-Say-No-Pez,” is the moniker that some mean, slut-shaming girls spray paint on Carmen Lopez’s locker on the episode of the George Lopez Show entitled “Girl Fight.” While sexually, “no,” doesn’t seem to be a problem for me, just as it actually wasn’t for Carmen, that name lodged itself in my memory from the day I first saw the re-run of that episode as a preteen. It seemed to fit me perfectly in every other regard. Ever since I was a child, it broke my heart to refuse anything from food to silly requests or demands there was no way to fulfill.
The consequences of refusing what people wanted or requested seemed many and severe. “No,” makes people feel bad, “no,” can lead to missing out on a great experience, “no,” leaves room for someone else to say “yes,” and then everyone will like the “yes,” person more and the “yes,” person will replace you and everyone will dislike and forget about you. They’ll replace you because, now that you’ve refused them, what need reason would they possibly have to continue to include you. Serves you right, you fearful, negative, rigid Piece of Garbage.
Or so says my inner monologue.
To me, saying “no,” to someone after we’ve gotten to know one another feels like I’ve misrepresented myself. If I refuse to give a ride to the airport or to buy a ticket to a concert I don’t want to go to, then I’ll reveal that I’m not the likeable, agreeable, fun person I’d hoped they’d know I was when they became friends with me.
Of course, when the simple word “no,” evades you, your tactics to avoid things you simply don’t want to do have to become many and varied. Over the years, I have attributed my lack of desire to perform certain activities to past traumatic experiences (that I truly had, but that I am now over), illnesses that I may have but that are fully controlled, allergies that I truly have but are only secondary to my overall desire not to try X food item that looks hideous and disgusting, etc. Slightly dishonest, yes, but I often felt I had no other choice.
As I’ve gotten older, though, and perhaps less sure of myself, I usually end up saying “yes,” even to things I don’t want to do. Don’t want to go to that party where the person you don’t like is going to be? Take half of a melatonin and sit there in a happy daze. Don’t feel particularly interested by the movie all your friends want to see? Too bad, you’re lucky to be invited, which means that now you are interested. You love that genre you haven’t been able to stand since you first understood what a movie was. You adore it. You fall asleep to it every night.
This worked for me, for the most part. I had so conflated my desire to be liked and say “yes,” with my desire to do what others asked that I didn’t even notice I was doing things I didn’t like until summer of 2016. I was invited to a theme park. Before my ever-so-tempted fingers launch into a tirade of excuses about my blood pressure and a bad experience I had as a child, let me stop myself. I like certain theme parks. I more-than-mildly dislike other theme parks. I think the rides can feel like a car accident. I think I’m in no position financially to give money to any business that puts me in an unpleasant situation.
However, in the summer of 2016, when I was invited to a theme park, I said, “jeez, okay, I’m gonna have to take a muscle relaxant.”
“So you don’t like it there,” my friend David cut in. “If you have to take medication to go somewhere, you don’t like it there.” I paused. He was right. He was right, and my desire to never turn anybody down for anything had gotten out of control, but I still knew that other people might come along and replace me if I didn’t buck up and go. Fortunately, the opportunity never arose to really execute this plan, so I never had to face unpleasant-hot-feels like a car accident-land. Until, this previous summer, another invitation to the same theme park came my way.
“Here we go,” I thought. Here we go. Here was another opportunity for everyone else to appear more fun than I was. For the friend who invited me to think it was selfish of me to not go. For her to look around at all her other friends’ smiling faces, and feel like her circle was complete without me, maybe superior to how it had been with me in it.
However, this time I just couldn’t, or maybe wouldn’t, agree to go. See, if you don’t like to do something, there are only so many ways for you to be convinced to do it anyway—most of them involve drugs, coercion, or a strong sense of certainty that your perceived worth as a person hinges on your acquiescence to others’ requests. If you take the “Can’t-say-no-pez,” family pledge, you’ll continue living this way. At first, you’re feeling like a champion, an Olympic-level people pleaser.
But then, perhaps, being Carmen Can’t-Say-No-pez becomes too taxing. It starts to wear on your soul to say, “yes,” to everyone and everything. While you know you need others to like you, your quality of life is degrading beyond a point of acceptability. Then, through your emotional exhaustion, you can wipe the affirmative, polite smile off your face, and grant yourself enough worth in your own eyes to realize there was nothing wrong with just being Carmen Lopez in the first place. You’re a valuable person worth getting to know, regardless of your preferences. On that day, you know that the next time someone wants you to try fried banana slug, you can confidently shrug your shoulders and say: “’don’t feel like it.”