So I’m forty-two now. When I turned forty, I didn’t suffer from any extra insight into life or anything; I certainly didn’t have a mid-life crisis, unless you want to count having some random thoughts that I hadn’t accomplished much for my age. Then I remembered how much time I spent trying to be the ideal wife and mother and “female,” and had to laugh.
I have wasted time.
It isn’t just that I spent all that time doing stuff that I was supposed to do for free, it’s that I internalized the logic of it and applied it to the rest of my life.
I believed I had no right to say no.
I could tell my daughter no, but only if she was going to hurt herself, short-term or long-term. Everything else, I was supposed to be supportive and understanding of.
I could tell my husband no, but only if it conflicted with another duty that I had or was going to be physically detrimental (and even then, I was supposed to drug up and get over it).
I could tell other men no, but only because I was a wife and mother.
Everything else, I was supposed to bend over backward for.
Imagine how well that worked for me as a freelance writer and editor.
RULE OF THUMB: No means no.
You only get the one chance. As soon as I say no, and you don’t take that as an answer, you’re out of my life. I do try to separate whining from trying to get around my boundaries, but only for so long–and then I know it’s not just whining.
Last October I had a stalker client that wouldn’t take no for an answer–fortunately he was overseas. He harassed me over multiple emails, sending other clients of his to beg me to take him back, and still shows up in my spam from time to time.
I walked after the first time he wouldn’t take no for an answer–and it was January before he let things slow down. Imagine what it would have been like if I had once said yes. He never would have given up: some people are addicted to the possibility that they might get what they want if they try just one more time. Just ask anyone at a casino.
This was the easiest one to understand, but almost impossible to implement at first.
RULE OF THUMB: Politeness counts.
Two chances here; it’s not as immediate a threat. If you are rude to me once, then I challenge you to make sure the rudeness was intentional. If so, it’s open season, although I generally tend to give people the boot. They’re always so shocked that their behavior could possibly be considered unacceptable.
The root of politeness is treating other people as if their free will matters. When you try to control people–or when you run over them because they’re in your way–that’s rude. You don’t have the right to do what you’re doing. You don’t have the right to be in my way. You don’t have the right to feel differently on this issue than I do. You don’t have the right to exist.
Now, some people like to take the issue of politeness and claim that people who insist on being treated politely are intolerant, because they aren’t tolerating other people’s actions and feelings.
Which is bullshit; “politeness” isn’t about putting up with other people’s behavior, no matter what. It’s an agreement. If someone refuses to, for example, stop calling me names, then there’s no reason to continue with the agreement and I am perfectly within bounds to be rude. Politeness is the social embodiment of a game strategy for winning the Prisoner’s Dilemma–tit for tat.
If you are not censuring the people who are rude to you–you’re not being polite, just passive.
That one took a long time to learn but has been lots more fun.
RULE OF THUMB: Equal standing
Here’s the new one.
If I have to tell someone to stop doing something twice, or if they try to make me “prove” that they need to stop before they’ll stop, then I gotta walk. People who see you as their equals stop first and look for reasons after.
This seems to be what I’m working on this year. Not only have I had to use it in my personal life and business life this year, but I’ve used it as advice for someone else. It always seems to make more immediate, direct sense if I put it like this, though:
If you were having sex with someone and they hurt you, and you told them to stop multiple times and they didn’t or if they told you that you had to prove that you were significantly hurt (by their judgment, not yours) before they’d stop–you wouldn’t make excuses for them. Why would you make excuses for the same kind of behavior in “real” life?
People who are interested in working with you rather than using you will work on keeping you happy and interested in the relationship, whether it’s personal or otherwise. If you aren’t happy, they aren’t happy, and their priority when you express hurt or discomfort is to stop and find out what’s going on–whether it’s something that’s an issue on your end that’s not really their problem (like stress or overwork) or something on theirs (say, for example, a bad contract).
People who are interested in using you will work on controlling you. Any behavior of yours that interferes with their control will be punished, regardless of whose “fault” it is. Examples: “Just suck it up, you big baby,” “Life isn’t fair, get over it,” “You were asking for it,” “If you didn’t want to get burned, don’t go into the kitchen.”
But that’s not how this works.
Sucking up, in this case, means that you accept that you’re not the equal of the person who is hurting you, making your life harder, making you uncomfortable, etc.
There is no situation in which you are not the fundamental equal of another human being. There are situations in which you give up some of your standing for one reason or another–but those are, or should be, voluntary, an agreement to be terminated at will, and which should be equitably recompensed.
When someone treats you as less of a human being, and it happens a lot, then you aren’t required to cooperate.*
For example, I just walked away from a client who wouldn’t stop doing something that was preventing me from doing my job, and who otherwise showed a pattern of taking advantage of me without providing equitable recompense. I told him to rethink what he was doing twice; I gave him options.
He didn’t take them and tried to push me into accepting the same kind of treatment all over again. To him, I was being irrational and he was being generous.
Every time I put up with that kind of bullshit, it’s a waste of my time.
I gotta wonder how much of my life was sucked down the drain over that one thing, the belief that I wasn’t worth as much as the people who were telling me what to do.
*And yes, I get that I’m saying this from a position of privilege, and that people are killed all the time for not cooperating with someone who thinks they’re better than they are. Sometimes you do what you have to, in order to survive, and it sucks, and I’m sorry, and it shouldn’t be this way.