On Not Taking “No” For an Answer, and Why It Isn’t Jolly Good Fun

(Content note: I’m mostly not talking about sexual consent and the violation of it — but I do mention it. I also talk at greater length about alcohol abuse, food issues, social anxiety, and refusal of non-sexual consent.)

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“Oh, come on. Have another drink. It’s a party!”

“Have another brownie. Life is short!”

“The game really isn’t that hard. I’m sure you’ll love it! I’ll pull you up a chair. Here’s how you play…”

“Come on — dance with us! Everyone’s dancing! No, really — you’ll have fun!”

There’s an idea that’s very prevalent in our culture. (Well, my culture, anyway.) It’s the idea that not taking “No” for an answer, that pressing people to do things they’ve said “No” to, is jolly good fun.

I’m not talking here about sexual consent, and pressing people to do sexual things they’ve said “No” to. I do think that can be part of this pattern: there’s a very similar idea when it comes to sex, that pressing people sexually is part of a fun cat-and-mouse game of coyness and seduction. (It can be in consensual, negotiated situations — but that’s not what I’m talking about here.) And I think that the general, non-sexual trope of pressuring people in the name of jolly fun does affect our shitty culture of sexual consent. But it isn’t what I’m talking about here.

I’m talking about general, non-sexual or not-particularly-sexual social situations. I’m talking about the idea that the key to a lively event is pressing people into having fun. I’m talking about the idea that when you invite someone to do something you think they’d enjoy, and they say “No,” the cheerful, jovial, sociable response is to brush off their objections, and persuade them to do it anyway.

And it’s an idea that needs to die in a fire.

We need to understand five things here.

One: Adults can make their own decisions about what they do and don’t enjoy.

Two: Adults often have very good reasons for the decisions they make.

Three: Adults often have very private reasons for the decisions they make.

Four: Resisting social pressure can be extremely difficult, and it’s almost always unpleasant.

Five: Adults’ reasons for doing or not doing things are none of your damn business.

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Here’s just one example from my own life. Because of medication I’m on, I have to be very careful with alcohol. If I’m on a lower dose of the meds, I can have one drink in an evening: if I’m on a higher dose, I can’t drink at all. And having people press me to drink when I can’t, or press me to drink more than I can, is not in the least bit fun. Not drinking, or drinking very lightly, can already make me feel like I’m on the sidelines of everyone else’s good times. Having someone press me with “Oh, come on, have a drink, be jolly” doesn’t make me feel like part of the party — it’s just another reminder of how I feel left out.

I can think of a zillion other examples, just off the top of my head. Someone may be battling alcohol dependency, and may be trying to limit their intake or avoid it altogether. Someone may have serious issues with food — health issues, eating disorders, dietary restrictions — which mean they have to be careful about what they eat and when. Someone may have physical limitations that make it impossible to dance, or play charades, or sit in a chair playing a board game for two hours. Someone may have social anxieties that make certain social activities difficult. (Other examples are welcomed in the comments.) If anything like this is true, being pressured to do the exact thing you really can’t do is the exact opposite of jolly fun.

But there are plenty of other, less serious reasons for saying “No” to an invitation. “I’m battling alcohol dependency” is certainly a good reason for not drinking, as is “I’m driving,” “I can’t drink with the medication I’m on,” “There’s alcoholism in my family so I’m really careful about how much I drink.” But other perfectly good reasons include “I’m having great conversations with good friends and fascinating new people, and I’d rather do that with a clear head.” “I just found out that a high-powered literary agent is here, and I want to meet them with a clear head.” “You’re offering me a martini, and I hate gin.” “I’m already tipsy, and that’s fun, but I really don’t enjoy getting hammered.” “This is a work event for me, and I don’t drink at work.” “I’m counting calories, and I can’t fit both dessert and a cocktail into my calorie budget, and I am bloody well not missing Sheila’s homemade fudge.” “I’m party-hopping, and the next party will have seventeen-year-old Scotch, and I’d really rather get schnozzled on that.” “I just don’t feel like it.”

brownie
Ditto for all the other things. A good reason to say “No” to brownies is “I have diabetes” — and so is “I don’t like sweets.” A good reason to say “No” to dancing is “I have physical limitations or disabilities” — and so is “I don’t like to dance.” A good reason to say “No” to a long board game is “I can’t sit for that long without pain” — and so is “Sitting for hours thinking about strategy is what I do at work all day, it’s the last thing I want to do for fun.” A good reason to say “No” to weed is “I have serious problems with substance abuse” — and so is “Weed makes my brain feel like a bus station toilet.” (Again — other examples are welcomed in the comments.)

And that’s the point. It doesn’t matter what the reasons are. We shouldn’t have to give a reason for saying “No.” Even if our reasons for saying “No” are less than dire, it’s still no fun to be pressured into doing things we’d really rather not do. Again, I refer you to #4 above: Resisting social pressure can be extremely difficult, and it’s almost always unpleasant. It puts people in the position of either letting their boundaries be trampled, or repeating their “No” a dozen times and being treated like a party-pooping sourpuss. If people’s reasons for declining are private, it puts them in the position of either lying, disclosing things they didn’t want to disclose, or saying a simple “No” a dozen times in the face of relentless coaxing and having their refusal treated like a tantalizing mystery. It can be deeply upsetting or even triggering, if the thing they’re being pressed to do, or the simple fact of being pressured, is traumatic for them. And in the worst case scenario, it can push people over the edge into doing something that’s actually really freaking dangerous for them.

Not taking “No” for an answer probably is more socially jolly, in the sense that it can get people drinking more, eating more, dancing more, playing more games, singing more bad ’80s pop songs, smoking more weed, setting off more firecrackers, breaking into more abandoned amusement parks. But it’s a whole lot less jolly, in the sense that it gets people spending an entire social event with their guard up. It’s a whole lot less jolly, in the sense that it gets people having other people’s idea of fun instead of their own. It’s a whole lot less jolly, in the sense that it gets people doing things that, for whatever reason, serious or frivolous or entirely inexplicable, they’ve decided they don’t want to do. It’s a whole lot less jolly, in the sense that it creates a social atmosphere where consent is trivialized.

Now, are there people who say “No” to these invitations when they really want to say “Yes,” because they feel shy or reticent? Sure. That’s a thing. And I think this is often why people in festive social situations don’t take “No” for an answer. I don’t think all of them, or even most of them, are trying to be assholes (although some of them certainly are). I think many of them are sincerely trying to coax people out of their shyness, and into things they’d enjoy.

But it’s entirely possible to convey the genuinely inviting, genuinely jolly part of this message — the “I think this is a fun activity, I think you might enjoy it” part of the message — while still accepting “No” for an answer.

We can say things like, “If you change your mind, let me know.” “Is there something else I can get you?” “If you’d like to dance later, come find me, I’ll be around all evening.” “I know the game seems complicated, but most people pick it up easily — but if you don’t want to play, that’s totally fine.”

If I know that people will respect my limits, I’m more likely to overcome whatever shyness or reticence I might have had. I’m more likely to think that doing things with them will be fun. I’m more likely to relax, to let down my guard, to take a chance on something new. And I’m a whole lot more likely to join in the reindeer games.

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Greta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

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On Not Taking “No” For an Answer, and Why It Isn’t Jolly Good Fun
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23 thoughts on “On Not Taking “No” For an Answer, and Why It Isn’t Jolly Good Fun

  1. 1

    This autumn, I went to a neighboring city with another cyclist. We got stuck there, and I asked to stop at a McD’s to use the facilities and restock provisions at a store (guarding each other’s bikes — they’re too expensive for locks). Instead, he skipped the McD’s and parked at a restaurant — even though he knew full well I was (and still am) broke.
    At the restaurant, I ordered tea and some food (racking up more credit) and he asked for
    “Champagne!”
    [waiter] “One glass?”
    “One bottle!”
    — knowing full well I don’t drink (alcohol is generally disgusting and gives me instant headaches), then forced me to drink half of it else he drinks the whole bottle and crashes. (My bike is okay for riding while drunk, his should be ridden sober or not at all.)
    Then we proceed to look for accommodation along the highway, which turns out to be unaffordable. I ask to return to the city, he speeds away, leaving me alone at night, on a highway, 8 miles away from an unfamiliar city, with obviously expensive property, a crippling headache, loss of vision, and alcohol on my breath. So, practically begging to be robbed by locals or law enforcement.
    (I’d had a run-in with cops before — they threatened to arrest me, test me for drugs/alcohol and confiscate my bike for no reason, and only me being crystal sober had let me get away with a loss of only 15 minutes and nothing else besides.)
    So I returned to the city and camped at the station until morning with other unfortunates, hugging my bike, then took the earliest suburban train home.
    And for two days after that, I was receiving threatening text messages from the guy. Seriously, I don’t even.

  2. 2

    There are cultures where this kind of thing is affected by a delicate game of face-saving and social graces. When people who are used to different rules, assumptions and levels of politeness get together, it can be quite awkward. For example, I remember one occasion when I was at university. My (English) housemates had put on a meal, and also in attendance were a Canadian and my brother’s Japanese wife. Now, in middle-class English culture there is generally a social expectation that one does not appear too forthright, eager and keen. Ostentatious displays of enthusiasm are considered somewhat gauche, and symptomatic of greed, intemperance and disrespect for others. That makes it sound harsher than it usually is, but we grow up with these kinds of social expectations and perform to them almost without thinking. As such one often finds people refusing things they would actually like as a matter of politeness, then accepting on the second offer once politeness has been demonstrated. When everyone knows the drill it is simply a matter of custom.

    However, the Canadian came from a much more forthright and demonstrative culture, and found it very weird that we English people were refusing once, accepting on the second go. We found him to embody the negative stereotypes of New World bravado and brashness in his acceptance on the first offer of anything and everything proffered. Contrawise, our Japanese guest came from a culture where this display of politeness and face-saving was far more complex and nuanced, and often two or three refusals before accepting would be considered polite. She refused twice and then wasn’t offered any more (because we English people serving felt that pressing further would be rude). It was fine in the end as the subject came up in conversation, and we realised that we were all working to different customs without thinking, but one wonders how often it doesn’t get brought up explicitly, and people feel hard done by simply because they are the victims of a clash of cultures.

  3. 3

    I think the difference between making it easy for someone to say yes, and hard for someone to say no is the difference between being a good host and an asshole. A good host works to create an environment where people are happy and comfortable. If that means they are comfortable pushing their own envelope, great. If that means they know that they won’t be pressured to drink, sing, dance, socialis, or whatever and then can relax and have a good time, also great.

  4. 4

    Yeah, as a non-drinker, I can definitely relate to this. I’ve indeed had a few evenings soured by people trying to push me to drink, or interrogating me as to why I wasn’t having any alcohol. Quite a few people seem to think you owe them an explanation simply for not drinking alcohol, and “I just don’t want to” isn’t always sufficient.

    The way some of these conversations go, I feel that often, the purpose isn’t so much to nudge you into something you might enjoy, but to be reassured that by abstaining from drinking, you aren’t condemning or criticizing their own drinking habits.

    Nowadays it’s easier: now that I have a driving license and a car, I can often just say “I’m driving”, and be done with it. Luckily social norms have also changed enough that usually people won’t challenge you on that anymore either (as in “Come on, one beer wouldn’t hurt”).

  5. 5

    Shorter version of this article:

    “That Sam-I-Am. That Sam-I-Am. I do not like that Sam-I-Am.”

    What complicates the story is that probably every adult probably has a story of something they were reluctant to try, but eventually became a favorite activity. Obviously one shouldn’t pressure if the activity has health consequences, though. (We now know that the green eggs are ok, but the ham is a known carcinogen.)

  6. 6

    “Come on — dance with us! Everyone’s dancing! No, really — you’ll have fun!”

    Yep, painfully familiar with this one. Thankfully more people are having nontraditional weddings that don’t include the usual reception with a big dance floor, because I’ve had some annoying evenings where people just would not leave me alone about this. And it wasn’t like I was sulking in a corner by myself: I was chatting with other people who weren’t (at least at that moment) dancing, and enjoying myself just fine except when the Dance Police would come by to try to conscript me into their version of fun. It just seems like for a certain type of person, Dancing = Fun, and Not Dancing = Not Fun.

    As someone who likes to drink, I try to avoid being a pest to people about their drinking or lack thereof. The line I try to draw is, asking someone if they want a(nother) drink, or what they’re drinking, is fine, but “no thanks” or “club soda” are complete answers to those questions that do not require follow-up or explanation.

  7. 7

    As a drink slinger at the Skeptchickcon party room, I have to be very, VERY careful about this. I encourage people to take the single serve drinks, because tipsy people tip more, and remember to tone it down if someone is unsure or outright refuses. Note to self: tell volunteers not to be pushy. It hasn’t been a problem, but it’s good to reinforce this.

    And of course, if someone comes in and says they don’t drink, I immediately offer a virgin version of one of our drinks, because I don’t want to be a jerk.

  8. 8

    Another reason to say no to a long board game: I need to leave soon, because the bus doesn’t run that late, or I don’t want to inconvenience the person I’m riding with, or I’m at the party with someone who isn’t up for staying much longer.

    Sometimes “no thanks” for a snack is the alternative to a chunk of conversation that can go something like “Did you bring these?…I need to ask about what’s in them” and then the person being offered the brownies has to hope that the enthusiastic sharer didn’t forget about a flavoring that their housemate who actually did the baking used, and also that they aren’t about to be pressured about why they can’t just take a lactaid pill to deal with the butter in the recipe, or that there’s only a little coffee in the chocolate cake….

  9. 9

    And that’s the point. It doesn’t matter what the reasons are. We shouldn’t have to give a reason for saying “No.” Even if our reasons for saying “No” are less than dire, it’s still no fun to be pressured into doing things we’d really rather not do.

    Thank you! I get so irritated when people act like you owe them some sort of explanation. The biggest one I deal with is people wanting me to stay somewhere when I’m over it. I’m not a hermit or an introvert by any means (far from it) but after a few hours of socializing I often hit a wall and I just suddenly don’t feel like making small talk anymore. Especially if I know I have a long drive home or something to do the next morning or I’m just tired. I hate being put on the spot “but we’re having so much fun!!” and sometimes we are, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m ready to go, I have my reasons (or no reason at all) and that’s that. I’m a musician so many nights I’m gigging and a friend will come out to see my band but won’t get there until near the end of the night. I’m always torn because I know they went to trouble driving across town to support me and that they want to chat/catch-up etc., but it’s also getting really late, I have a bunch of gear I need to pack up, a long drive home and I just wanna get outta there asap. Another time it was especially bad was when I was mourning the loss of my Mom. It would just hit me out of nowhere and I just wanted to bail from whatever I was doing.

  10. 10

    Something I’d add to your five points (and this piece touches on it): although the context is a bit different, your rules about adults and consent also apply to non-adults.

    Children, of course, aren’t able to consent to major things in the same way, and can’t always make their own decisions about what they do and don’t need—but when it comes to ‘fun’ things and social niceties, children can make their own decisions about what they do and don’t enjoyl they often have good and private reasons for the decisions they make, and resisting social pressure is especially hard when it’s coming from adults with power over you. (And as long as it isn’t a decision that raises a question of wellbeing, the reasons are none of their business.)

    When I was a kid and a teenager—and, I think, when my mum was—’Have another biscuit! Go on!’ was something that accompanied a lot of food-based emotional abuse I observed, and not wanting to take part in the same highly extrovert social activities as peers was something that always invited a lot of unwelcome pressure when I was growing up.

  11. 11

    What complicates the story is that probably every adult probably has a story of something they were reluctant to try, but eventually became a favorite activity.

    brucegee1962 @ #5: How many adults have a story of something they were reluctant to try but eventually became a favorite activity — because they were relentlessly badgered into it?

    Yes, people are often reluctant to try new things that they then enjoy. That’s why I wrote this:

    But it’s entirely possible to convey the genuinely inviting, genuinely jolly part of this message — the “I think this is a fun activity, I think you might enjoy it” part of the message — while still accepting “No” for an answer.

    We can say things like, “If you change your mind, let me know.” “Is there something else I can get you?” “If you’d like to dance later, come find me, I’ll be around all evening.” “I know the game seems complicated, but most people pick it up easily — but if you don’t want to play, that’s totally fine.”

    As for this:

    Obviously one shouldn’t pressure if the activity has health consequences, though.

    But the whole point of the article is that the reasons don’t matter, and the reasons are none of our business. We shouldn’t make people explain why they don’t want to do the thing. “No, thank you” is reason enough.

  12. 12

    This post is excellent, and I agree wholeheartedly. I wouldn’t even restrict it to adults in the numbered list – children rarely have the agency they are able to exercise respected.

    I encounter this most often with food, from (more when I was a child) people insisting I try the food they worked so hard to prepare (without me asking for that work, especially true when being dragged along with my parents to visit other people for dinner when I had no desire to go) to people insisting I violate my food ethics around consuming farmed meat, dragnet-caught fish, etc.

    I think there’s an issue that may be a corollary to the above, which is that doing something “for somebody else” when that thing has not actually been established as something that person wants is not actually a kindness or gift. Surprises are only good in situations where one has previously established that the person being surprised likes to be surprised ever and also likes the particular kind of surprise in question. The same goes for gifts generally, which led me over a decade ago to detest events in which gift-giving is considered a social expectation, especially when social sanctions result from a disinclination to participate (especially relevant this time of year; I finally got my family to stop including me in Christmas – which I don’t even celebrate – gift exchanges by one year, after many years of telling people to not get me gifts and not getting gifts for anybody else, dumping every gift I was given into the trash can unopened – it took that degree of a direct social affront to get people to respect my stated, continually-repeated boundary).

    I now tend to rapidly escalate from, “No, thanks, have fun!” to, “Fuck off, asshole,” if someone insists on trying to violate my asserted boundaries. At the point where you’re ignoring my explicit, direct statements, you lose all right to politeness or the benefit of the doubt, because the way you’re treating me is the furthest thing from polite.

    This bit is especially important:

    But it’s entirely possible to convey the genuinely inviting, genuinely jolly part of this message — the “I think this is a fun activity, I think you might enjoy it” part of the message — while still accepting “No” for an answer.

    We can say things like, “If you change your mind, let me know.” “Is there something else I can get you?” “If you’d like to dance later, come find me, I’ll be around all evening.” “I know the game seems complicated, but most people pick it up easily — but if you don’t want to play, that’s totally fine.”

    One additional thing that taking people at their word does is to encourage them to say what they mean and mean what they say. As noted, in some situations, some people do say “no” when they actually mean “maybe” or “convince me” or even “yes” but there is something that makes immediate acquiescence uncomfortable, like a fear of judgement or a social norm that equates an initial refusal with politeness. Taking people at their word (even when we suspect they may mean something else) and respecting their stated boundaries (even when we suspect they’re asserting those boundaries in order to have someone push against them) is a way to encourage everyone to be honest and direct, which can help alleviate problems that result from miscommunications. Scripts like the ones Greta presents are great, becasue they acknowledge and respect the boundary (which is good in cases where the boundary is sincere and definite) while allowing an opening for the person to reconsider (which is good if the boundary was insincere or uncertain). And regarding differing cultural norms: “it’s our culture” is not actually a defense of problematic behavior.

  13. 13

    This is not relevant to the op, but some commenters have brough up thissocial pressure in regard to children and I think it is much more complicated than it was made out to be. I’m raising two children, one boy and one girl and I struggle with the disconnect between raising them to be the type of adults I want them to be and raising them to be effective in the world. As a specific example, my son has a rather bland palete, and there is nothing wrong with that. I am trying to teach him that he should eat when he’s hungry, and what he likes and not to eat what he dosen’t like and not to eat when he isn’t hungry. I’m also trying to teach him that we eat and drink for more than sustanance and enjoyment, that it is a social process and sometimes this means eating when we’re not hungry or things we don’t like. I don’t like it but that is the way the world works, and I feel it is my job to teach them to deal with the world as it is, not as I wish I would be. I’m sorry for the off topic, but the comments hit home.

  14. 14

    There do seem to be ‘traditional’ manners (I’ve heard it said of Arab etiquette) where polite refusal is considered obligatory. Offering an opportunity for every more demonstrative hospitality…

    Being both alcoholic and diabetic, I’m actually still surprised at how seldom I have to insist on declining things I have no business consuming.
    I’ve heard a few good lines for declining booze:
    ‘I’ve had enough.’
    and
    ‘I’ve had my share.’
    Are both pretty much to the point, and include the seeds of explanation should one be required.

    I suspect there is a gender factor that would make my experience different if I were a woman. I do think that coercion in these examples really isn’t that far off from the nastier sexual coercions. Or perhaps, like Mr Collins’ proposal, there is an assumption of Better Judgment that gets dumped on a woman far more often than on a man.

  15. 15

    This is not relevant to the op, but some commenters have brough up this social pressure in regard to children and I think it is much more complicated than it was made out to be. I’m raising two children, one boy and one girl and I struggle with the disconnect between raising them to be the type of adults I want them to be and raising them to be effective in the world. As a specific example, my son has a rather bland palete, and there is nothing wrong with that. I am trying to teach him that he should eat when he’s hungry, and what he likes and not to eat what he doesn’t like and not to eat when he isn’t hungry. I’m also trying to teach him that we eat and drink for more than sustanance and enjoyment, that it is a social process and sometimes this means eating when we’re not hungry or things we don’t like. I don’t like it but that is the way the world works, and I feel it is my job to teach them to deal with the world as it is, not as I wish I would be. I’m sorry for the off topic, but the comments hit home.

    I was a pretty picky eater when I was young, and it’s thanks to my parents teaching me that eating stuff I didn’t like now would let me enjoy eating it in the future that I am now able to eat all dishes without issue. This was done through various negotiating tactics. If I wanted seconds, I’d need to finish my first plate, which would contain at least a small dosage of whatever I didn’t want to eat. If I really didn’t like certain vegetables, I wouldn’t need to eat my plate’s share, but at least eat a few more just to train my palate. It really helps that they generally didn’t bullshit about things I needed to do, and respected my choices when I made them. (My father was always very strict to himself about that. If he posed something as a question, there had to be a fair choice, if he posed something as a demand, there had to be a good reason.)

    I had some bad experiences with group coercion convincing me to do stuff I didn’t want to do as a kid, and as a result I became very resistant to it being applied to me around the time high school rolled around (Not the other way around though, I’m sad to say). The moment someone starts pushing me to do a thing by using social or group coercion, that coercion itself becomes the reason I won’t do it. I’ve had more than one occasion where people responded badly to me not budging over boundaries being pushed, resulting in them getting angry because I just wasted this, or ruined that mood. As a white cis middle class male atheist in a predominantly non religious nation, I can almost always afford to dig in my heels, consequences be damned. The first comment shows just how insidious this practice becomes when privilege is added into the mix.

  16. 16

    Someone else brought up surprises, and I think that relates. I *abhor* surprises. If I’m getting a present, I like to be told what it is. I want to know how a magic trick works. I like being spoiled for movies and TV shows.

    As far as consent, I think this may be one of the reasons I have social anxiety; I don’t like saying no, but I don’t want to dance, or drink a lot, or talk to those strangers, or play that prank, or listen to this person talk about their bigoted, conservative worldview, or…

  17. 17

    I had a bit of a facepalm moment myself at work a few weeks back. I was serving a table of about ten and the first few people ordered carafes of sangria to be shared by the rest of the table. The other couples trickled in one by one and I brought them all glasses. When the last couple came in I automatically brought them some glasses just like everyone else, poured them and set them down, and immediately (but emphatically) said, “No, I’m not having any” and asked for water instead.

    I was pretty upset with myself for the rest of the evening. I should have known better! My mind kept racing through all the possibilities of why he didn’t want to drink that night. And as someone who spent this whole past spring and summer unable to drink (for legal reasons….) and foregoing social situations in which people might have pressured me to drink… ugh, I should have known better.

  18. 18

    First, YES, we should also respect children’s boundaries!

    Second, I agree with this post 100%. I’m selectively social, and I’m sensory — I get overstimulated, and sensory-freak-out-Kitty is no fun.

    There have been way too many times, even as an adult, that I’ve been forced to participate in “fun” activities that, yes, might well have been fun, if I had been free to enjoy it on my own terms and in “doses” I could handle. But the peer pressure just fucking kills the fun!

    And yes, sometimes you just have to suck it up, participate, and get it over with (family photos).

  19. 19

    Oh yes. I hate the idea that I have to give a reason and that my reason has to satisfy people or else they’re entitled to ignore it.
    My favourite example is carrot salad.
    Carrot salad?
    Well, I have some severe food allergies against raw stuff. Carrots, apples, nuts, all stone fruits… It’s so bad that I have to wear gloves when handling the stuff and my husband had to decide whether to eat those things or kiss me. So, yeah, the kind of food allergies that may land you in the ER.
    Carrot salad is a stock ingredient in mixed salads here. So when I order one, I want to make sure it doesn’t have carrots. If I simply say “no carrots, please” I get ignored. If I say “no carrots, please, I’m allergic” I come off as melodramatic or simply lying.

    Alex

    Children, of course, aren’t able to consent to major things in the same way, and can’t always make their own decisions about what they do and don’t need—but when it comes to ‘fun’ things and social niceties, children can make their own decisions about what they do and don’t enjoy

    I do follow the “one bite doesn’t kill you” rule. They cannot say they don’t like something they have never tried. Apart from that, I just let them be. I know that they eat everything at school/daycare but hardly anything at home*. But no child ever starved at a full table, so if they insist on bland rice while I munch rice with curry**, it’s them missing out on my delicious curry.

    Yes, sometimes you got to make decisions for children they don’t like. And yes, they need to learn that their like/dislike doesn’t get topmost priority all the time and everywhere. Because you can’T just do your favourite subject and ignore the rest and chores need doing. But for strictly fun stuff they should at least be allowed to have some input.

    *I refuse to restrict our diet to “pasta with tomatoe sauce, pizza, fish fingers with spinach, Kaiserschmarrn and wraps.

    ** No, I don’t make very hot curries. I know that nobody except me likes their food hot so I make a mild curry and serve lots of spices/condiments aside

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    This is so true. I think we should add to this observation the corollary that if something bad happens as a result of someone being pressured into an activity, it’s the person who gives into pressure who gets the blame, not the one piling on the pressure.

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    For me, honestly, I am against pressuring kids excessively on the food front (and my definition of “excessively” is a lot stricter than most people’s where kids are concerned), because of the fact that as a kids some things that would literally make me gag from texture were forced upon me or I’d go hungry – so at one point because a family friend thought she could out-stubborn my gag reflex, I didn’t eat aside from water and fruit snuck from the fruit basket when she wasn’t looking for a week.

    One bite, fine. But after the kid’s tried it and said they don’t like it accept that they don’t bloody well like it. Insisting on one bite every time you put it on the kids’ plate isn’t reasonable – you’d accept that you don’t like something after one try, so accept it with your kid. Especially if the kid has a severely negative response to the food. “One bite” of something that makes you throw up isn’t reasonable, it’s, frankly, abusive. “One bite” of something you’re not particularly fond of, maybe, but speaking from experience, it’s not going to make a kid any more adventurous on the food front if they quickly learn to associate trying new things with tears and getting bullied by an authority figure into doing something they don’t want to and don’t enjoy. I am more adventurous as an adult than I ever was as a kid, in large part because as an adult, I don’t have to justify my tastes changing to anyone, I don’t get guilted into eating things I hate, I don’t get bullied if I don’t like something, and if I don’t like something, I genuinely do not have to eat any more of it. As a kid, I didn’t have that power, so I was averse to trying new foods, because I knew for damn sure that all the parental assurances that it was okay to try it and I didn’t have to finish it if I didn’t like it were lies.

    And definitely kids’ boundaries should be respected. Cuz if you teach your kid they can’t ever have boundaries, you’ve done half the job of future abusers for them. Again, within reason: I had my boundaries violated for a few medically necessary procedures as a kid and I understand why and, as an adult, I agree with the decision. But there’s no reason to force a kid who sees Strange Relative X once a year to fake intimacy they don’t feel and give out hugs they don’t want to give. I have young relatives who see me once a year or so, and sometimes my folks will pressure them to hug me, and it pisses me off. It’s just, no. They will hug me if they want to, or not, and I’m not fussed either way – I’d much rather they learn that I’ll respect their no and that even if I’m a grown-up, I should respect their no, than get a socially-expected hug.

    I don’t think discussions of kids is off-topic at all on this subject, because kids is where it starts. I had a very hard time as a pre-teen turning down activities that I thought were bad ideas, because I had been socialized to not have boundaries, and definitely not enforce them. It made me vulnerable to a lot of terrible social bullying, which I as the socially-inept kid who didn’t enforce the boundary I should have was always blamed for (A lot of stuff comes to mind here, none of which I’m comfortable sharing so please don’t ask). As an adult, I escalate quickly from “No, thanks” to “No.” to “No, and if you ask me again, I’m leaving.” and “Fuck you, I’m done.” about that quickly, in part because I was never taught the polite-but-firm way to enforce a boundary, and in part because social boundary violation puts me back in bullying situations in middle school and gets lots of anxiety and shame going for me – rapid escalation works, it’s something I can do when I’m having a hard time talking because of anxiety and autistic loss of words and speech impediment, and so I will stick with what works even if sometimes it doesn’t make me any friends. One of my siblings, on the other hand, just doesn’t go to situations where that sort of boundary violation is likely to happen because they don’t feel confident enforcing boundaries at all. Different responses to the same upbringing.

    I think very much this kind of culture of boundary violation starts in childhood, with how people in general treat childrens’ boundaries as things that shouldn’t exist, which teaches kids in particular that boundaries exist to be violated.

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    Shorter version of this article:
    “That Sam-I-Am. That Sam-I-Am. I do not like that Sam-I-Am.”

    I found it really striking, when given Green Eggs and Ham to read to my nephews, just what a raging asshole Sam-I-Am appears to be, and what a terrible message the book sends to kids.

    I get that there’s a spectrum of cultural differences in play, but honestly I think it’s pretty hard to argue that a cultural norm which tells people their “no” is meaningless and won’t be respected, and that they are never to be trusted to know what they want or what’s good for them, is better than one in which sometimes people miss out on things they might like but are unwilling to try.

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    […] “On Not Taking ‘No’ For an Answer, and Why It Isn’t Jolly Good Fun“–“Resisting social pressure can be extremely difficult, and it’s almost always unpleasant. It puts people in the position of either letting their boundaries be trampled, or repeating their ‘No’ a dozen times and being treated like a party-pooping sourpuss.” […]

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