My Year of Living Unpleasingly

How I learned to finally say and love the word “no”

Photograph by Getty Images

People pleasing can be extremely exhausting. Not only does it run a poor girl ragged, but it often seeps into and destroys the foundation of any relationship it enters.

2012 was my big year to stop with the people pleasing. My plan was to curtail doing things for other people when I knew, in my gut, that I didn’t want to – to say nothing of the overall lack of appreciation. I was also going to say “no” when that’s what I wanted to say, and not say “yes” just because I was afraid of the consequences.

By the end of the year, I carried out much of my mission. Along the way, however, I lost three close friends.

The year started off well. I continued my Olympian Pleaser activity as if nothing had changed, as if I had not made a pact with lil’ ol’ worn out resentful me. "This is easy!" I thought as I ran to the store to get more candles for a dinner party I didn’t really want to give.

Soon after, opportunities began to arise that challenged my people pleasing reflex and that’s when things got interesting.

The first experience involved an important conflict of schedules. My friend asked me to babysit on short notice because his wife was in the hospital at the same time I was dealing with my own health issue and a once-in-a-lifetime event my husband and his family had been planning for months involving my mother-in-law. The compromise I proposed (after apologizing profusely) involved saying no to the short notice babysitting, but offering up alternate times I could help.

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The response I got from this friend I’d known for ten years knocked me off my feet. He was so pissed off that I didn’t drop everything when he needed me to, that he told me in a profanity-filled text message to Bugger Off. I also received a string of emails from his wife asking me how I could be such an awful person.

That, in a nutshell, is the essence of the people pleasing relationship. The problem is that everything goes along swimmingly between The Pleaser and The Pleased until The Pleaser veers off the You-Got-It-No-Problem course. When that happens, the wheels come off the relationship and what you’re left with is one big pile up.

This particular pile up, like most people pleasing friendships, was headed for disaster early on. The pleaser meets the takers and poof, it’s a match made in heaven, with the pleaser doing everything she can and the takers feeling thrilled with all that’s being done for them. Most of this circus is orchestrated by the pleaser because that’s the way we operate. If I do for you, you will like/love me and all will be well is the pleaser’s motto.

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Which was beginning to annoy the hell out of me. The next scenario in My Year Of Living Unpleasingly involved a friend who took issue with how my husband and I were organizing our vacation when we stopped to visit her in the midst of a road trip. The things we were doing and the places we were seeing were not acceptable to her, and she let me know it in a way that made it clear to me that, on some level, I was invisible to her. And just like that, the friendship was over.

Three down. How many more to go? Luckily, I haven’t lost any more loved ones along my "Just Say No" journey, but I have lost most of my illusions about friendship. I could look at the three friends who dumped me when I didn’t do what they wanted as bullies who I’m better off without. In reality, though, the blueprint for our relationships was drawn by me the moment I met them – the moment I said, “Yeah, sure” when I meant “Oh, god no.”

Now when I look at the full landscape of my closest relationships, I can safely say that all of them are with people who understand compromise, reciprocity and the word “no.” I’ve exorcized my I’m-a-Doormat demons and frankly, I don't care what anybody thinks about that.

Tags: memoirs