The Meaning of “No”

[Warning: If anything triggers you–anything at all, you probably don’t want to read this. This post isn’t for you, anyway.]

So, two events happened this week, (the week that I’m writing this, not the week this is posted.)  One of them happened to a friend, the other happened to me.  They both involved men who “couldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer” and wreaked a lot of damage thereby.  Since writing is one of the main tools I have, I thought I might as well use it to try to make sure this sort of thing never happens again.  However, I did wait a few days to cool down enough so that this doesn’t turn into a rant.   I don’t want to rant and lose you all because I’m spilling anger blindly onto the page.  I know how off-turning that can be.

However, I do still wish to be blunt, because this sort of thing has happened to me more times than I can count, and not just in America. It’s happened to me in France and Armenia, too.   The majority of the offenders have been men, but sometimes there have been women who can’t take my “no” for an answer either, so I don’t want this to turn into a diatribe against men.

And yet, due to the sexual nature of the vast majority of the offenses committed, I am aiming my remarks towards them, since they don’t seem to understand what it is they are doing.

What people mean when they ignore your “No”:

  1. Your wishes, your desires, your past experiences–none of that matters to me, the only thing that matters to me right now is what I want.
  2. I know better than you what you want.
  3. I am better than you, because I know better than you.
  4. What I want is more important than whatever you want.
  5. You only matter so long as I can take what I want from you.

Scary, right?  Yeah, that’s why it causes so much damage.

There is no respect. There is no trust. There is only selfishness.  You become a tool in their hands, to fulfill whatever their desire is in that moment.  It’s awful.

To demonstrate the seriousness of this matter, but to try not to go into triggering territory, I’m going to come up with some fake scenarios, all aimed towards a male readership. (If alcoholism is a sensitive subject to you, however, I’d advise skipping to number Two.)

– – –

Scenario One.

Bob Smith.  His parents are divorced. His father was an alcoholic who beat his mother. His mother was brave enough to get out and take her children with her, but not before a lot of damage was done.   For some reason that he can’t even explain to himself, Bob found himself following in his father’s footsteps.  He thought  he’d know win to quit and the drinks wouldn’t control his life because he knew what out-of-control looked like…and yet, they did.  Eventually, he realized what was happening and sought help.  The good news is that Bob is recovering from his alcoholism and he’s doing well, going strong.   But he knows better than to test his luck, now. He’s made himself a 100% hands-off policy.

Sue Melon.  Bob’s new girlfriend. She loves to have fun, loves to party, and always tries to find the good side of every situation.  She’s rather naive, but sees no problem in it, for she’s an excellent conversationalist and can generally get people to relax and have fun even when they’re complete strangers.


[Bob & Sue are driving in the car. It’s his birthday and she wants to surprise him, so she’s driving.]

Bob: Where are we going?

Sue: [Turning onto a downtown street] You’ll see! We’re almost there. [After a few more turns, she pulls up in front of a bar.]

Bob:  Wait–you’re joking, right? You know I don’t drink. Let’s go find a good restaurant, there’s a–

Sue: Oh, Bob. It will be okay! [She turns off the car, reaches for her purse] My friend owns this bar and he’s allowed me to have it for the day. I’ve invited all of your friends. Look, Brad’s car is parked two down, he’s already here.  You don’t have to have a drink if you don’t want to.  No one will care.  But I couldn’t think of any place big enough to invite everyone.  Oh–and when we go in, pretend like you’re surprised.

Bob: No–wait, Sue.  I’d rather not–

Sue: It will be fine! [And she gets out of the car.]

– – –

Was she concerned? Oh, sure, she thought she cared about what he wanted or about doing something special for him. But did she really?  Did she stop to consider what he wanted as he protested? No.  It wasn’t just about him “drinking or not”. It was about the scent, the sight, the behavior.  The memories.  The mistakes he’s made that he’s trying not to make again.   Does Bob really mind what his friends do or don’t do, what choice of drinks they make in general? Probably not, but he does mind what he does and what environment he’s in and whether or not his girlfriend can respect that.  Clearly, she can’t.   She doesn’t respect him. All she’s caring about at this moment is the party she’s planned and all the work she’s put into making something she wanted to do.

Happy birthday, Bob.

– – –

Brad Rad.  His life is pretty hunky dory. He loves movies, he loves sports. He has a lot of friends. He’s got both parents who adore each other.  The pesky flea in his life is his allergies. He’s highly allergic to nuts and if he has any–any at all, or anything they’ve touched–he will swell up like a balloon and need to be sent to the nearest hospital pronto.

Prue Drew.  She has a major crush on Brad.  Something about his athletic build and mismatched eyes makes her want to swoon–or throw him against the lockers and kiss him. She hasn’t decided which yet.  So instead of deciding she’s set to woo him through her culinary arts.

[Somehow, no one is quite sure how, Prue has cornered Brad with a plate of nutty chocolate-covered wafer bars.]

Prue: Brad!

Brad: [turns around, sees Prue standing with the plate of wafers] Uh, yeah?

Prue: I made you–I mean, I made the team some desserts! Want one?

Brad: [Eying them] No, it looks like they’ve got nuts on them. Sorry, I’m allergic.

Prue: Awe, that’s too bad. [Sliding closer to him] My cousin’s allergic, too. She gets a bit of a rash, but that’s okay–these still taste good without the nuts.

Brad: No, uh, actually I don’t–

Prue: Here, I’ll pick off the nuts for you. [Already picking them off] See?  All better.  Here, have this one.

Brad: No, I don’t want one. Thank you, though.

Prue: Why? You don’t like chocolate? [Sad]

Brad: I do, but I still shouldn’t have one. I–

Prue: You won’t get fat, I promise.

[Brad opens his mouth to protest and she pops one in, grinning at her own cleverness]

Brad: [Splutters, but there’s no way some of that gooey chocolate isn’t going down his throat]

Prue: See? Delicious, isn’t it? I made it, myself.

Brad: [Insert expletives here]

– – –

Okay, so this one was sillier than the first, but taken as a metaphor rather than an actual event, it happens all the time.  Forced physical contact, for example, forced anything is unwelcome when it is unwelcome.  That fact should be painfully obvious, just as it was painfully obvious how unwelcome it was for Prue to shove a chocolate wafer in Brad’s mouth.

– – –

To make the reality of this problem hit home,  I will confess that I’ve committed something very similar to Scenario One. In my defense, I was grieving at the time and was hardly aware of what I was doing; (motive #4 “What I want is more important than whatever you want.”)  But still, it was wrong–very wrong–of me to so thoughtlessly hurt him with my careless behavior.  Thankfully, as soon as I realized what I was doing, I stopped, I apologized, I explained, and he forgave me.

But I have not once, not once, had someone apologize to me for walking all over me or catch themselves in the act, and stop.  They generally keep doing it, no matter how many times I say “No” and no matter how many different ways I’m forced to say it.  As for my friend this week, the guy only apologized after she just flat-out left, and he still didn’t seem to understand why his actions were inappropriate.   I don’t know why “No” isn’t a clear marker of a person’s intent.

No means no, and that’s that.

(By the way, I’m not looking for guilty consciences or apologies in the comments. I’m just looking for increased awareness of the people around you, the words they say, and what they mean by them. I’m also looking for increased respect and reverence towards the wishes of others. Pay attention to the “No”s, not just the “Yes”s.)

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2 responses to “The Meaning of “No”

  • Joe Vasicek

    Interesting. I agree, it shows a lot more respect to take people at their word, whether they’re female or not. All of my really close friends know that I would rather them be bluntly honest than beat around the bush or try to hide things from me for my own benefit. The truth sets you free and all that.

    From a guy’s perspective, though, the flip side of this is when a girl doesn’t know how to say “no” and holds it against you when you can’t read her mind. That’s one reason why I hated dating so much in college: girls would often cancel a date at the last minute, and it was impossible for me to tell which ones had legitimate excuses and which ones were just trying to “not hurt my feelings.” Eventually, I decided to drop every one of them, since 1) if she had a legitimate reason and failed to reschedue, that just meant she was rude and immature, and 2) if she didn’t know how to say “no,” I didn’t want to have anything to do with her.

    One time, a girl turned down a second date by teling me “I’m just not interested in you.” That was actually a huge relief, because it cut through all the ambiguity and told me it was time to move on. If every girl had given me such a direct answer like that, it would have made things SO MUCH easier. I doubt it would have hurt my feelings much, and I definitely would have gone on a lot more dates with a lot more people.

    • Laura

      To that I’d give Mary’s answer which is–anyone who says “no” but means “yes” or says “yes” but means “no” is lying, and you don’t want them around anyway. They’re not worth the trouble.

      I totally agree. Such passive aggressiveness is hurtful and wrong. If more women would just open up and communicate better, the world would be a better, less painful place. I actually addressed this in my next post, since it annoys me to no end, too. *amused*

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