I’m in my early 30s and I’m only now learning to ask for what I want. This means saying yes sometimes to situations that I would have avoided in the past. And often times it means saying no, especially to people who are used to me saying yes. They don’t tend to like this. Neither do I, because I don’t like conflict (who does?). But I’d rather deal with that than continue to feel that people aren’t taking me seriously or respecting my rights or needs. We teach people how to treat us. There are some aspects of other people’s behaviour toward us that we can’t control, but we still have a role to play.
I get teased by family and friends. A lot. I’ve been told that it’s because people like me. I’m an easy target because I have a big problem with clowns, and they pop up EVERYWHERE. They are present in some form almost every single time I’m with one particular friend – and we hang out all the time. Why does this happen? I don’t know. I’ve even tried to face my fear and force myself through It. The reward for that was being even more scared of clowns and having references to the movie frequently peppered into conversations. As well as clown-related paraphernalia posted on my Facebook wall on a regular basis.
It has also been theorized, by the clown magnet of a friend I just mentioned, that I’m cute and short, like a gnome. Actually, her exact words were: “If somebody looks at you and wants to put a giant gnome hat and apron on you, that’s not conducive to people taking you seriously.” This did not make me feel any better. How often do you see a chick dress up as a sexy gnome for Halloween? But at least I like gnomes. Unlike clowns.
I’m a very easy-going person, so I don’t have rigid boundaries, nor do I insist that others have the same limits and desires as I do. I know the solution to commanding more respect is not to freak out or strike back – unless it would clearly be effective. For example, I have a ‘friend’ who, while sandwiched beside me in a car post pig-out, burped beef brisket into my face. My hair pretty much blew back. Now of course everyone but me thought it was ridiculously hilarious (and you probably do too), but looking back, I totally regret not having punched him in the gut. Because it really does cross the line from teasing to being downright disrespectful – and given other behaviour exhibited by this same person, it takes on a bit of an abusive tone. I love toilet humour and all the rest of it. But this is where I stop feeling cute and likeable and start feeling insulted.
Or I think of disagreements I’ve had with family over religion. Not because I want to impose my views on others – but because I just want to do my own thing and be, you know, me. I am by no means an exclusive victim of dogma. No matter who you are, you know what it’s like to encounter people who will just not accept that you disagree with them. I realize some members of my family think I should be Catholic because that’s what I was raised to be. But I refuse at this point in my life to accept the limitations that people try to place on me because they can’t rationally conceive that some people simply aren’t comfortable following a particular ideology. They don’t see that I’m not asking them not to be Catholic – I just don’t want them to expect me to be. Now, if you try to compromise with such people and attend just enough holiday masses to make people happy, it’s not going to work when you turn around one day and inform them that you don’t want to attend a First Communion, no matter how politely this is communicated. So I decided to set a clear boundary when my presence at such an event was
requested expected. That didn’t go over very well but it translated into one of those liberating fuck it moments. It’s not about rebellion. I’m a good person. I have my own theories about the sort of life I should live – which happen to be perfectly consistent with the teachings of Jesus, interestingly enough. Why should I spend the rest of my life making excuses for why I won’t bend over backwards for others just because they can’t accept difference? No thanks! I choose not to be a victim.
This extends to friends that you feel aren’t being flexible or considerate enough, or at least meeting you half-way. Maybe this person means a lot to you and you have a history together. But if you’re having to compromise your needs, then maybe it’s time to accept that the reality of who that person is doesn’t match the perception you’ve formed of them. So it’s not a matter of being right or wrong about someone – it’s about taking responsibility for the assumptions we inevitably make. Standing up to a friend can cause rifts in relationships – even end them – but there is really nothing worth us sacrificing our integrity. And maybe it’s worth going over those sorts of bumps to figure out who’s going to be there for us when things really get bad. Because they will. Life is tough, and we need to make the right investments to make sure we have satisfying relationships that will support us through it.
So lately I’ve been speaking up more about what I want and what I think is fair, and that has come with a price. Rejection, self-doubt, fear, sadness, disappointment, loneliness. This might someday translate into people having more respect for me, but that’s not the point. If asserting myself results in conflict or alienation, I’m okay with that because I know I’m reasonable, and we all have this in common: you’re stuck with you and I’m stuck with me. And when you’re being true to yourself, the idea of going it alone really isn’t all that bad.