Lessons From My Sister: Say No Without Apologies


Me and my sisters. Youngest to oldest, left to right.
Me and my sisters. Youngest to oldest, left to right.

My oldest sister is the shit. We nicknamed her street lawyer back in the day because she is hardly without an opinion and is typically blunt in her delivery of said opinions. But, she is also one of the wisest people I know. I call her when I need advice and encouragement about the important things. You know, writing and men. Those are really the only important things. She will do her best to cut out my crying nieces in the background of the phone receiver and dish out the best that her brain cells have to offer.

Last week, I spent a total of eighteen hours in New York where she lives. She picked my other sister and I up from an obscure street corner also known as Megabus’ official drop-off location. It was late and we were only spending the night at her place before heading into the city to clap and yell “Woo!” 100 times over at a daytime talk show taping. She bought us McDonald’s and took us back to her apartment where the three of us sat at the kitchen table until 1 a.m. talking about everything from boys to Basketball Wives. It was the kind of moment we rarely get as a sisterhood. We are three adult women nursing three completely different adult lives in three different locations. We maintain our relationships through phone conversations and Facebook comments, but face-to-face time with all three of us is infrequent and coveted.

As we chatted, she eventually hit her oldest-and-wisest-sister stride. We started discussing relationships and how young is too young to get married. We all had an opinion on this, but I’ll spare you the details. As she relayed her experiences, she said, “When you get older, you learn how to say no. And, you don’t give excuses. You don’t say sorry. You just say no.”

“Just say no” is the kind of phrase that has gotten watered down from too many D.A.R.E programs and after-school specials. But, when you strip away the anti-drug campaigns, those words still carry meaning. I’ve gotten better at saying no, but have not reached the point I’d like to be at. I am not good at doing shit that I simply do not want to do, so I’ve found myself saying “no” more, but usually not without an excuse. I can’t decline an RSVP to an Evite without feeling compelled to at least type “Sorry, doing something else that weekend!” in the comment box.

Or, is that just common courtesy? If you decline an invitation, are you required to give a reason other than “Bitch, because I don’t feel like it?” And, isn’t saying “no” even more frowned upon in today’s world where you are supposed to be open and coming from a place of yes? Where do you draw the line between being open to new experiences but not doing the things you simply have zero desire to do?

Perhaps to my oldest sister’s point, you grow into being able to say “no” comfortably and confidently. I am beginning to use the word more in my personal life, but am not even close in my professional life (however, that’s a different story not meant for this blog.) “No” is not a word many of us are conditioned to spit out beyond the era of our terrible twos, at least not without excessive apology or explanation. Maybe we should get ourselves more accustomed to saying it if we want people to take us, our time and our priorities more seriously. Or, maybe we should just start saying it so we can avoid doing the shit that we simply do not want to do.



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