Erynn Brook's Twitter thread about how her mom taught her it was okay to leave uncomfortable situations has been circling the internet and it reminded me of my own early lesson in setting boundaries.
The first time I went to a high school dance I was doing all the usual things: staring desperately at my wardrobe and fretting that none of my clothes were cool enough, fretting that I wouldn't know how to dance, fretting that everyone would be paired off like on TV shows and no one would ask me to dance, and generally fretting. Excited fretting though! I was going to a dance!!!
Before leaving, my sister gave me a piece of advice. She told me that it was okay to say no if a boy asked me to dance and I didn't want to dance with him. Of course, I couldn't fathom ever not wanting to dance with a boy (I was pretty into validation from the males of the species), but sure, okay, I'll listen to my sister's weird advice.
I got to the dance. My outfit was at least passable. My friends didn't know how to dance either. We figured it out. Everyone was in groups, not pairs. Things were going great!
Then (dum dum dummmm) a slow song came on. Suddenly I was surrounded by couples (how did it happen so fast???) and went over to the bleachers to wait for the love of my life to appear. Instead, a guy I didn't know appeared and asked me to dance. He could have been a very nice person, maybe even the love of my life, but I didn't know him and for whatever reason, I didn't feel comfortable.
Luckily, I had been primed for this situation! I knew I had options! I said no and he walked away. We both moved on with our lives. (I guess that's presumptuous of me. He may have been living in that moment for the rest of his life, desperately wondering what he did wrong. If so, well, perhaps see a therapist? You gotta move on, buddy.)
If my sister hadn't told me in advance it was okay to say no, I honestly don't think it would have occurred to me. I would have said yes no matter how badly I didn't want to, because there was no other option in my mind.
Then what would have happened?
Honestly, probably nothing. Probably we would have danced, it would have been awkward, and then it would have ended three minutes later. Maybe we would have become friends. Maybe we would have dated. Maybe it would have helped me be braver when it came to the whole dating thing and I would have had my first kiss before I was 19 years old.
Or maybe he would have tried to grab my butt, push me into a corner, or do something else and I wouldn't have known how to say no to that either. Those outcomes are less pleasant.
I'll never know what would have happened if I said yes. What I do know is that I suddenly had the ability to listen to my gut and say no, and all it took was one person telling me in advance that it was okay.
So let this be a reminder to us all: we always have the option to say no.
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