The Art of Saying No

(I slammed my elbow on a table this morning low-fiving a priest and it still tingles a little. Such is my life)

If you’ve ever subjected yourself to the James Marsden/Katherine Hiegel vehicle 27 Dresses, you know that a perfectly mediocre fluffy movie was ruined by the “oh no misunderstaaaaaanding to be resolved in the third act!” trope. You may also remember this scene:

To summarize, Katherine Hiegel is informed by our romantic interest that she has a problem saying no, so he sets up an exercise where he will make absurd requests and her only task is to say “no” to them. And she fails.

As much as I’d love to explore the nuances of rom-coms on modern views of womenhood and gender roles (not really, you can find a billion think-pieces through the power of Google). There are probably an equal number of think-pieces on what I’m about to discuss: No.

Despite my raging misanthropy and my intense desire to just. be. left. alone. I have a lot of extroverted friends (that I have friends, plural, is already pretty astounding) and I have a mother who directly equates “introversion” and “wanting alone time” with “being a serial killer.” I wish I were joking.

I was naive when I moved closer to them, thinking it would end up being one of those situations where you bump into each other and think “awwwwe we live so close how come we never see each other?” But I receive almost daily emails from her, listing the events and days she needs me to come up so we can “spend time together.” If I go a weekend without seeing her I get bombarded with emails about how much she misses me. If I’m lucky, I have preexisting plans that tie me up because if I have a weekend without anything planned and I try to say no to my mother she drowns me in passive aggression and guilt. She’s so lonely, she never gets to see me, I’m so mean, I’m so rude, I don’t care, I have a horrible attitude and shouldn’t have any friends, etc.

I just want to be alone.

My friends have been pretty demanding too, but it’s been a swarm of weddings, birthdays, graduations, these one time events that I can’t pass up. When things settle down and someone says “hey, want to grab a drink this weekend?” I can say, with great relief “Not this weekend, I need some down time.” My friends know me well enough to know it’s not personal, it’s not because I don’t like them, it’s because I get grumpy when I don’t have time to recharge. They give me my space and we reconvene later, better than ever.

I’ve learned to say “no” to my friends because they are respectful people who know that a polite rejection is nothing personal.

My mother does not seem to know that, and thus I feel trapped. Do I spend time with her, wanting to break down and sob the whole time because I’m so tired and so worn out? Do I say no and spend the weekend getting bombarded with emails? Will I have to move back across the country to get some peace?

This weekend she wanted me to come up and attend a local concert. It would have meant driving an hour immediately after getting off work. We would then be pressured to spend the night and stay most of the day. I have plans with a friend Saturday evening, which would be a two hour drive from my parents house, and then an hour back to our place. For people who are constantly criticizing how I manage my finances, my parents ask me to do a lot of driving for them… and they don’t reimburse for mileage.

To make a Mean Girls analogy: I am Gretchen Weiners, my mother is Regina George, and “no” is “fetch.”


My dad, I think, has realized that our relationship is at its best when we our face to face interactions are brief and infrequent. I feel the same way about my mother, but she seems to think that increased exposure is the cure for what ails us (mainly her passive aggression, hypercritical-ness, and over-bearing attitude). I think some prolonged distance will do more to heal these old wounds. But when it comes to saying “no” to her, I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t.

Some internet psychology:

Setting Boundaries

What’s the Problem with Saying No?

From the same author as above: You are Allowed to have Boundaries with Family

It could be a woman thing?

I feel like this song by The Kills really embodies my relationship with my mother:


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