I Want to Get Good at Rejection
And better and better at hearing and saying no
I am deeply in love with consent culture. It gives voice, instructions, and a methodology for a process I have engaged in innately yet without adequate language my entire life. For as long as I can remember, I have been minutely tuned into those around me and have sought to be inclusive of them when taking action.
One of the most sacred pacts I make when entering into the consent culture paradigm is to honor my own no. I strive to get good at hearing my own small voice, to feel it in my body, and to say no clearly, cleanly, and with heart whenever I feel it.
Once I can learn to hear and honor my own no, I begin, by extension, to honor and encourage other peoples’ no’s. I’ve gotten to the point where, when someone tells me no with clarity and full responsibility, I am delighted. It means so many things to me. It means they can stand up for themselves, they are making decisions from their core, and they are trustworthy when they say yes. It means they are breaking out of the pattern of pleasing others, or feeling coerced by others, and tuning into their own divine guidance system. They are now steering their own ship.
Part of my deeper celebration of each person’s no is the understanding that each time they say no to one thing they are saying yes to something else. It’s not at all a rejection of me or my offers, it is a yes to themselves. For instance, by saying no to an external commitment, they are saying yes to their own self-care. By saying no to a project, they are opening the door to another creative endeavor. By saying no to a relationship with me, they are saying yes to other kinds of relating.
After a lifetime of fear around both saying and hearing no, this is beyond liberating. It’s downright revolutionary and culture-changing. The excitement I feel when I can celebrate my own and others’ clarity borders on elation.
As you can tell, I am a full and unequivocal champion of the no!
So trust me, I can handle your no. Not only can I handle your no, but I will ultimately encourage, celebrate, and defend your no.
Yet here are some tricky missteps I watch out for as I learn to have confidence in my fully authentic response. In these instances, I can get stuck between the old paradigm of tap dancing around other peoples’ needs and finding my true north. I’m specifically speaking here to social and emotional interactions. When it comes to sexual interactions, things get a bit muddier. Some of these things apply but not across the board. I’ve seen all of these stumbles in myself and in others on the wobbly road to building trust in ourselves:
Pretending to say yes while actually saying no.
Sometimes even when I prefer to say no to something, I say yes anyway in order not to hurt or upset another person. This is common in our culture. And it’s not helpful. It’s not helpful because I end up being locked into a thing I don’t want. And it’s not helpful for others because now they have to contend with my ambivalence when they could have been engaging with certainty and creativity if they had other options. If I had said no right up front, it would have allowed them to go elsewhere with their request or there could have been an ongoing negotiation to find a yes for both of us.
By way of example, I recently had a trip planned with a dear friend, who called with misgivings and a desire to cancel. This friend suggested that we could make the decision together but proceeded to negate every alternative that I offered. It didn’t take me long to realize that they had already made this decision and my input was not going to change the outcome. It would have been much more honest, not to mention kinder and easier, if he had actually said no rather than pretending he was open to a yes.
My trick to get over this is to practice with the small things. Would I like the air conditioning on or the windows open? Would I like red or blue? Would I like to watch this or that? Practicing what I really want paves the way for finding my true voice when things get more complex.
Setting up a situation to try to get someone else to say no.
Sometimes when I want to say no I have the fear of disappointing others, so my strategy is to paint a picture so unappealing that the other person will take the initiative to say no. On a simple level, it might be for example, “It’s raining today and the park will be muddy,” instead of saying “I’d prefer not to walk in the park today but reschedule for a different day.” On a more heart-rending level, it could be canceling dates, cheating on a partner, or just behaving badly in order for them to draw a line with us. This behavior wastes everyone’s time and gives mixed messages. Note to self: Just say no.
Skirting around the no.
When I hem and haw and beat around the bush about my no for minutes or days or weeks, I drag people along on an unpleasant ride. Being authentically uncertain is a whole different matter. But if I really am a no, I’ve found that it’s best to say it in a clean, clear, and direct way. At the very least I find it’s respectful to let the other person know, so they can move on to other things.
Not giving any advance notice that no is a possibility.
The opposite side of skirting around a no is dropping a no on someone like a bomb. It’s perfectly ok to change my mind, especially in the context of a sexual encounter, but in an ongoing and otherwise enthusiastic partnership, whether business or personal, pivoting drastically can be shocking for people who depend on me. As I practice with consent, I try to express my diverse feelings soon and often. That means mentioning misgivings along the way, which helps others adjust, adapt, and modify their lives to respond to our changes.
Saying yes and no at the same time.
When my words say yes and my actions say no, it’s very confusing for others to interpret and know how to engage. It’s far better to say I’m not sure or I’m holding both perspectives or I feel both ways. When I infuse my uncertainty with awareness and acknowledgment, it lands as perfectly human and relatable. When I give slippery and mixed messages without naming the contradiction, others don’t know whether to trust my words or my actions. This can result in unhealthy relating all around.
Saying no because I think it’s the correct answer.
This is the same thing as saying yes because I think it’s the right answer. Thankfully I have grown out of this habit. I’ve learned that for my no to be an authentic part of me, I need for it to organically arise from my lived experience and desire. Second-guessing someone else’s desire is not consent culture.
Because I am a fallible and imperfect human, it’s unlikely, even at my best moments, that I will be free from these kinds of consent culture missteps. I, like all humans, am a social animal and very much want to please the people around me. However, I very much want to have mature adult relationships, which means I must stand firmly in my truest desire, communicating clearly and also balancing the desires of others.
Likewise, as good as I am at honoring consent, when things get cloudy for others, as in some of the points mentioned above, I can fall into the trap of feeling rejected. Feelings of rejection can surface when I experience a combination of disappointment and powerlessness. This is understandable and generally reveals either a gap in the other person’s capacity and skill at saying no or a lack of neutrality on my part.
In either case, I want to continue to get better at it. I want to really experience my own feelings of disappointment yet not collapse into rejection. I want to continue to honor the no of the other person and then carry myself forward to find my own fabulous next yes.
Difficult experiences are opportunities to remind me that I am also absolutely at choice in every moment. Feelings of disappointment and powerlessness may alert me to larger structural changes that I need to make. For example, I may want to step away from a person who isn’t mindful of their own truth, or I may choose to negotiate better ground rules in our relational dynamics.
As I have these kinds of stumbles in my all-too-human relating, I have ongoing opportunities to remind myself of my larger commitment to the values of consent culture, which teach me that each person’s choice is sovereign. Whatever disappointment I might feel in the moment will be ultimately outweighed by my delight in making sure I’m contributing to a world where everyone is a choice. When enough of us practice and get good at this paradigm, there will be more and more of us experimenting with mature relating. And that’s the world I want to live in.