The delightfully terrible rom-com 27 Dresses begins with Katherine Heigl’s character Jane acting as a bridesmaid in two of her friends’ weddings simultaneously, rushing between the two, changing dresses, accessories etc. in a cab en route to each venue. She is the crazy busy, overachieving woman who tries to do everything and can’t say no to anyone.
In one particular scene in the movie, Kevin, a cynical wedding writer (played by James Marsden), sits at a bar with Jane who begins to rant about all the things she’s going to have to do as Maid of Honor to her sister.
Kevin nonchalantly responds, “So, why don’t you just say no?” When met with a confused and shocked face from Jane, he probes, “You have said no to people haven’t you?” They then sit in the bar and practice saying no in a somewhat cringey, somewhat cute scene.
The other day I had a kind of mini-revelation, spurred on by a kind of awkward interaction with some friends of mine.
As an English major, and the token literate friend for many people I know, I often read my friends’ essays before they submit them to their obligatory writing intensive classes or help them with internship applications etc. Last week one of my friends asked if I would read an application he was submitting, and I of course said yes without thinking about the amount of work I had to do that night (literally 1000 pages of reading, and that’s not an exaggeration).
When one of my other friends found out she actually got angry on my behalf and said that of course I shouldn’t be helping him and that I needed to focus on my own work. She proceeded to lovingly explain to him why I would not be helping him that evening because I had to prioritize my own work and my own needs before his.
While of course I realized she was totally right, I had already told my friend I would help him and also knew that I would feel so guilty if I didn’t.
Sorry Laura, I did end up helping him and (shocker) I did not finish my reading. I justified this to myself by saying that I probably wouldn’t have finished it anyway, and, based on what I read, he really needed my help (no offense Andrew). And it’s nice to do things for your friends.
All of this is true. However, I’ve come to the realization that, like Jane, a lot of the time I really struggle to say no to people.
Whether that means I end up walking with you to UniMini at 2 a.m. three nights in a row just because you want to get mozz sticks, or that I proofread your essay when really, I should be writing mine, or just generally inconveniencing myself for the benefit of others.
I really don’t regret doing any of these things, and I’m not calling out my friends by any means. None of my friends ever force me to do anything — I agree, and in some cases even volunteer, to do all of these things.
And trust me, I’m not saying this to try and sound like some selfless saint who’s always doing other things for other people. I’m just saying that I’ve realized that sometimes (read: a lot of the time), I struggle to say no to people when they ask me to do something. I think there are two probable reasons for this.
Reason no. 1 If I were in the situation of asking for help, I would want the other person to say yes.
I would want someone to randomly sit on freshman quad with me at midnight or to get late night with me or bring me food when I don’t have any time in my day to go get it myself.
Maybe you see this as a selfish reason, but it’s not like I think that every time I do something nice for someone, the universe is going to reward me.
Rather, I want to be the sort of friend that I would want, and part of that is being there for people when they need me. What I need to realize is that sometimes I need to be there for myself before I can be there for anyone else.
Reason no. 2 In an attempt to force myself into the new and exciting world of college and all that, I tried to say yes to every new opportunity that I came across. If someone asked me if I wanted to study with them, I would say yes. If someone asked me if I wanted to try out a new restaurant for dinner, I would say yes. While that was a good decision at the beginning of the year, the effects of that mindset still linger.
However, now I don’t want to say no to people, not because I’m worried about missed opportunities but rather because I’m worried I’ll let people down. I think. I’m still trying to figure it out, and, at least for this week, that’s what this column has been for me — a way to figure things out.