In the movie Yes Man, Jim Carrey, based on the exhortations of a self-help guru, decides to say yes to absolutely everything -- with predictably disastrous results. While "lean in" and "keep an open mind" can be great bits of advice in many walks of life, where relationships are concerned sometimes a bit of negativity is the more positive choice. Here are ten times the power-call answer is often a strong, uncompromising "no."
1. "Want to hang out?" This question isn't always asked outright, but it can be. More often it's implied in casual last-minute requests to get together, nebulous offers to join a guy among a group of other friends, and late-night booty calls.
"Want to hang out?" isn't asking someone on a date, but women often interpret it that way, because we want to believe we're being pursued, even when it's the most lackadaisical of courtships.
It may sound old-fashioned, but a guy who wants to see you will make plans to do it -- in advance, and more formally than an amorphous offer to orbit each other's persons.
2. "Can I take you out?" Whether it's out of lust, pity, guilt, boredom, or loneliness, most women have said yes to dates with men that they knew weren't good matches. I once wound up in a two-year relationship with one of those, my instincts overridden by my attraction to the man.
But when we finally broke up, after two painful, heartbreaking years, it was for all the reasons I'd been reluctant to go out with him in the first place: We had major lifestyle, personality, and ideological differences. If I'd paid more attention to my gut instincts at the very beginning, I could have saved myself what turned out to be two years of spinning my wheels.
If your lizard-brain impulses are telling you you're better off not going out with someone, pay attention! It's a lot easier to say "no" to the first date than it is after months or years of a relationship.
3. "Is this good enough?" This is an implicit question, rarely asked directly -- but it comes up early and often in dating in how someone treats you. I once waited nearly an hour for a date to show up. Embarrassing now -- although he did call around 10 minutes late and say he'd overslept.
Overslept. For our first date.
I should have left and let him reschedule, but I didn't -- and the entire rest of our short-lived relationship was marked by this same lassitude. We generally lead with the best stuff in our bag of tricks when we're trying to impress someone. So what you get out of the starting gate is either the most someone is capable of, or they aren't trying that hard. Either way, it tells you what you need to know to decide whether they're worth the investment of your time and emotions.
4. "He hasn't called. Should I call/text/stalk him?" The short answer here is no. No, please, I beg you.
The long answer is this: If a guy isn't contacting you, it's probably not because he's shy, insecure, or waiting for you to give him the green light. Not only do you not have to chase someone who's really into you, but it chisels away at your self-esteem to do it. You're also working against biology -- men are hunter-gatherers. If a man wants you, he'll go get you; he won't take the risk you'll slip away. If he's willing to, he's showing you how much he values you -- which isn't much.
According to Dr. Duana Welch, author Love, Factually: 10 Proven Steps from "I Wish" to "I Do," research reveals that although men and women have similarly high standards for a life mate, men's standards for a hookup are pretty much baseline: "In research, men have admitted that they're open to having sex with women who are low-IQ, drunk, unconscious, and/or unattractive," Welch explains. "So if you call a man who wasn't interested enough to call you first, he will probably say he'd like to get together. But factually speaking, it's for casual sex, not anything long-term."
If that's what you're looking for you're almost certain to succeed, but if you're hoping for something more, why chase after it with someone who can't be troubled to lift his fingers to his phone and call you?
5. "Can you do that for me?" I have a friend who does absolutely everything for whatever partner is in her life -- she immediately anticipates and tends to his every need, goes over and above to make his life easier, thinking to make herself indispensable.
Invariably he doesn't reciprocate to her level. And invariably she gets furious, hurt, and ultimately brokenhearted when the resulting tension breaks the relationship up. My friend does too much -- she takes on more than she can comfortably maintain without getting overstressed and burning herself out -- and without coming to resent the fact that her beaus aren't giving the same overly attentive effort to her.
Women are notorious helpers -- we're genetically wired for caretaking. But we have to maintain sight of how much we can take on -- and how much we should take on for someone else, without losing sight of ourselves. Nurturing our loved ones is a wonderful way to show them we care about them, but a candle burning at both ends and from the middle eventually leaves nothing but a used-up puddle of wax.
6. "Are you comfortable with this?" I know a woman whose husband suggested that they turn their marriage into an open one. Despite initial resistance, she let him make his case and tried it, and years later they both still happily embrace that lifestyle, swearing that it's done wonders for their relationship. This woman was willing to step outside her usual comfort zone and try something that turned out to be enjoyable and beneficial for her.
But often we say yes to this question even when we know that we're deeply, fundamentally uncomfortable with what's being suggested -- whether it's going on vacation with his ex, base-jumping into the Amazon, or acting out every scene from 50 Shades of Gray.
Women are often raised and societally conditioned to be accommodating, pleasant, easygoing. (If we're not, we're labeled harpies, viragos, ball busters.) But saying yes to something our whole being shies away from for the sake of not making waves is only going to yield resentment, fear, lowered self-esteem, and possibly even worse.
Take some chances, yes. Step outside your comfort zone once in a while -- that's one of the best things about relationships: that the other person can push you and help you grow in directions you never expected. But honor your own personal boundaries, and don't say you're comfortable with something if you truly aren't.
7. "Don't you trust me?" This question is sometimes asked outright, but more often it's implied in statements that push boundaries you may not be ready to cross yet, like, "We'll just snuggle," "I promise I'm clean," "Just the tip." It might be an effort to convince you to do something you aren't comfortable with if you do have the temerity to state your discomfort, like, "Come on, just send me one little naked selfie?" Or it might be in response to your questioning, doubt, or mistrust: "I swear that was my sister -- we're just really close."
Trust is the foundation of a healthy relationship, it's true -- but if your gut is telling you that you shouldn't place yours in the person you're with, honor that primal wisdom.
8. "Will you marry me?" Years ago friends of mine got engaged despite frequent fighting. When the woman and I talked about their relationship issues one evening, she told me she wasn't too worried, because if things didn't work out it wasn't forever.
Uh, yeah, actually. It is -- or it's supposed to be. That's why they say "till death do us part." Granted, a hefty chunk of marriages don't work out, but the whole point of the institution is to approach it as a lifetime partnership, not a test drive. No relationship is sunshine and roses 24/7, but if you aren't 100 percent certain that this is the person you want beside you come rain or come shine, don't say yes to a proposal, no matter how long you've been together, or how romantic the moment.
9. "Can't we try again?" This one is on a case-by-case basis, but most often the right answer here is no. There's a reason you broke up in the first place -- whether it was one party's transgression, fundamental differences, or simple disinterest. But if your relationship went awry enough that one or both of you was willing to end it, chances are they won't be magically fixed by starting things up again. In the wise words of Greg Behrendt and Amiira Ruotola-Behrendt, It's Called a Breakup Because It's Broken.
Remember the definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Unless whatever element of the relationship that broke you up in the first place has been identified, addressed, and dealt with, then you're just doing what a friend of mine calls "tipping the Coke machine" -- once it gets rocking, sooner or later that sucker's going over.
10. "Is everything okay?" "I'm fine" is my mantra. It should be blazoned on my forehead, monogrammed on my towels, etched into the foam of my cappuccino. It's my answer whether I am, in fact, fine or not. And I'm not alone in that -- ask most men their biggest pet peeve with women, and it's usually this: that we say everything is okay when it isn't. Acting as if it is doesn't solve the problem or make us feel any better -- in fact, it does just the opposite, making us feel worse and worse, unheard and unexpressed, until we blow like a powder keg.
Stating what's bothering us doesn't make us "high-maintenance" or naggy or shrewish. It relieves the pressure of suppressed feelings, and it honors your partner by trusting that he will hear it and not run away.
But that doesn't mean you have a license to vomit up a litany of your partner's wrongdoings -- we can respect our own feelings and still respect someone else's.
In the right context, "no" can be every bit as powerful as yes--and not always a negative answer. When have you said yes that you wish you'd said no? What made you do it? Did you realize it at the time?
Phoebe Fox is the author of The Breakup Doctor and Bedside Manners, part of the Breakup Doctor series (from Henery Press). You can find her at www.phoebefoxauthor.com, and have news and relationship advice delivered right to your in-box here. You can also find her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.