When you ask a question and the answer is no, that means the conversation is over.
“No” is not an invitation to push back, argue, convince, emote, cajole, or complain your way to a different outcome.
The time you spend fussing about doing a thing is often how long it would’ve taken to get said thing done.
You can accept not getting your way without a meltdown.
“No” does not mean, “I don’t love you.”
“No” does not mean, “You are unlovable.”
“No” does not mean, “I’m angry at you.”
“I’m angry at you” does not mean, “I don’t love you.”
“I’m angry at you” does not mean, “You are unlovable.”
* * *
Interpersonal conflict is part of life. It is absolutely unavoidable. It is something many of us are terrified of, unskilled at, and reactive to.
Making mistakes is also an absolutely unavoidable part of life. No matter how conscientious, thoughtful, mindful, caring, and considerate you are, you will have blindspots. You will misjudge. You will say a thing or ask a question or make a request and later think, what was I thinking?
That is the moment when learning begins.
That is the moment when a voice in your head is very likely to start up, likely with something harsh and berating, such as, “You idiot!”
That is the moment when your heart may start racing, when your bowels will loosen, when your hands will get sweaty. Fight, flight, freeze, fawn — one or more of these will appear in a nanosecond and your body will go into a system of red alert.
* * *
I recently made a mistake. In the moment, it didn’t seem like a big deal, though I could feel an undercurrent of pressure and rushing that should’ve been signals if I’d been paying closer attention.
Person A wanted to join Persons B and C for an outing. (My role: Intermediary between these parties.) Persons B and C had preexisting plans, that weren’t 100% ideal for Person A. Person A pushed on me to ask Persons B and C if they could change their plan to accommodate this.
Had I been more in tune with my values at this moment — such as respect, connection, trust, and honesty — I would have told Person A, either you can change YOUR plans in order to join Persons B and C, or you can let it go.
Instead, I caved and asked Persons B and C if they could change THEIR plans.
Why did I make this decision? Because this is real life: Messy, stumbling, incurably imperfect. If only we could see the whole picture in each and every moment.
Then came later. Because of going to an event 45 minutes later than planned, all the involved persons missed the highlights of the event, which Person C in particular had been looking forward to for months, perhaps even longer. Person C was hysterically sad. (It may be noted that Person C is a very young person, whose sadness was not unreasonable.)
And so it was that Friday night, I received a text from Person D, telling me how hurt she was by my asking Persons B and C to change their plans to accommodate Person A.
In a word, it sucked.
In another word: I made a mistake.
And there was no way to undo that, no way to go back and change it, no way to fix it. All I could do was take responsibility, notice what I wished I had done and said instead, and apologize six ways to Sunday for my poor judgment call.
Would the relationships all be ok?
Of course, that was the fear.
In a word: Loss.
Person A wrote a card with a very sweet drawing and put it in Persons B, C, and D’s mailbox.
I invited Person D to go for a run the next day. We met up in the driveway and gave each other a hug. We talked about how much we mean to each other. We talked about our families of origin and how we learned (or didn’t learn) to meet conflict, anger, and hurt feelings.
Persons B, C, and D forgave Person A and me. We all learned some things.
* * *
“No” means no.
“Yes, this is how that will work for us” is not an invitation to negotiating alternatives.
Boundaries are healthy.
Relationships worth keeping can withstand some conflict.
You cannot control another person’s reaction. We all bring whole lives to our responses to things, and there is almost guaranteed to be other stuff going on that may not be visible to the naked eye.
You are allowed to be angry.
You are allowed to feel hurt.
You are allowed to be scared.
You are allowed to make mistakes.
You are allowed to apologize. But it is not up to you whether or how your apology will be received. Not every song has a nice major chord of resolution at the end.
* * *
You are not required to learn form these experiences, but your world will be richer and your relationships stronger if you do. And there is no avoiding them, lest we live in a fragile, entitled state of needing everything to go our way.
Friends can become family. Family is not a guarantee of closeness.
Anger and hurt are inevitable and normal parts of being a human.
Forgiveness is a choice, not a duty.
Communication takes effort.
It’s worth it.
* * *