A few months ago, over an enormous bowl of guac and a big bottle of Malbec, my best friend inadvertently introduced me to a phrase that’s been slowly transforming my life. It began (as most good stories do) with trying to cancel a gym membership.
You know how this story goes: you call them to cancel the gym membership. They give you a guilt trip the size of a city block and insist you come to the gym in person, look them in the face and tell them you’d rather not sweat on their lat press anymore. You sign paperwork. They glare. You glare. It’s awkward at best, demoralizing at worst.
But! My best friend (because she’s amazing and smart and tough) responded to their come-cancel-this-in-person request with:
“I’d prefer not to.”
After a bit of back and forth, the gym rep caved, said he’s accept this phone call as proof of termination, and my friend was free to spend her $50 a month on a yoga studio closer to her house.
My brain exploded at the brilliant, razor sharp simplicity of that phrase: I’d prefer not to.
If you’re a lady, raised in America, you’ve probably been implicitly taught that you should be
And even though I can be a grade-A hardass and I’m the captain of Team Personal Responsibility, I have my own moments of doing yoga-caliber back bends to please others. God forbid I ruffle the feathers of the shop girl/my neighbor/my insurance agent.
The beauty of “I’d prefer not to” is that it’s simultaneously unquestionably mature while being steely-eyed, this-is-not-a-line-of-questioning-you-want-to-pursue-my-friend ice queen-ery. Use it on people who are not respecting your space or boundaries, presumptuous strangers, sidewalk petition pushers asking you to support something you don’t believe in.
And a slightly warmer version for family members, friends, and well-intentioned strangers:
“I’d prefer to ________________”
“I’d prefer to check out your organization online before I sign anything.”
“I’d prefer a second opinion.”
“I’d prefer we left on Sunday morning so we can beat the traffic.”
“I’d prefer to spread that project over a few days.”
We can’t control anyone else’s behavior and we can’t always fault them for trying, asking, pushing the envelope a little. (Because if you don’t ask, the answer is always no).
But when we say yes to things we don’t want to do or allow people to cross lines we’ve drawn in the proverbial sand, we end up resentful, sulky, and possibly constructing personal voodoo dolls for each person who has inadvertently asked too much of us.
We’re the only ones responsible for setting and maintaining our boundaries.
You get to choose when you say yes and no.
You get to push back (politely, articulately) when someone wants more than you’re willing to give.
You get to question the validity of someone’s demand – gym membership or otherwise.
How do you respond when people ask you to do something you don’t want to do? How do you maintain your boundaries?