By Dylan Ines
Throughout my childhood, I don’t think I ever said “no” to anyone. Literally never. I was what some people would call a people-pleaser and what others would call a yes-man. I never thought much of it – I just didn’t want to let anyone down. I was always taking the path of least resistance. Let me elaborate.
In elementary school, the Halloween dance was the event that sparked the beginning of most “serious” relationships. If you had a date to the dance, you were set, and I had just the girl in mind. For the purpose of this story, we will call her Veronica.
Ever since third grade, Veronica was the one. Every morning, my route through the school was expertly planned out so that I would walk by Veronica, give her a nervous wave, and then duck my head in shame. I had been wanting to ask Veronica to the dance since the minute I saw her. Needless to say, if Veronica agreed to go to the dance with me, I would be the happiest kid in school.
The process of asking someone to the dance was extremely elaborate. It went something like this: I confirmed with my friends that I was, indeed, interested in taking Veronica to the dance. My friends would tell Veronica’s friends, who would then tell Veronica. Veronica would approve or veto the proposal and that information would be relayed back to me. Finally, I would have to ask her face-to-face to make it official.
When I heard that Veronica was interested, I was ecstatic. I planned on asking her that same day during recess. I walked out of the back door of the school, my heart pounding as I gave myself a pep talk. Come on Dylan. Don’t screw this up, it’s only the girl you’ve had a crush on for two years. I don’t remember the next 10 minutes, because I’m pretty sure I blacked out while I was asking her. But what matters is that she said yes and I went back to class feeling like a million bucks.
Later that day, while we were packing up, I was approached by a different girl, who we will call Rose. I had known Rose for a long time, and we were good friends. So, when she asked, “Hey, do you want to go to the Halloween dance with me?” I was shocked. She completely disregarded the elementary school dating protocol. What kind of person asks another person on a date in a face-to-face conversation? It was insane.
Here’s where my yes-man mentality surfaced. I couldn’t just say no to Rose, I liked her and I had known her forever. The fact that I had just asked Veronica to the dance didn’t even enter my mind.“Of course!” I responded, just as I would to any other question.
The bus ride home that day was one of intense internal debate and a hint of self-loathing. Here I was with two dates to the dance. If I had just told Rose that I already had a date, I could have easily avoided this conflict. But no, I just had to have a fear of disappointing people. I took the path of least resistance, avoiding conflict at all costs.
At the dance that night, both Veronica and Rose found out that I had two dates, and I left the dance without one.
This theme perpetuated itself throughout my childhood. I always said “yes.” I always went with the flow, not thinking much of it. Sure, being easy-going at the right times can be a great thing, but I saw how toxic this mentality could be when you’re obsessed with saying “yes”. When conflicts arose , rather than dealing with them head-on, I would say “It’s okay” and move on. Conflict, confrontation, and saying “no” became my biggest fears.
Several years later, when I was in 8th grade, on an overcast day in January, I came home on the bus and found my mom at the kitchen table with her face in her hands, crying. My dad and my brother were both sitting next to her, both with distraught looks on their faces. When I asked what was the matter, my father replied with three words, that to this day, I still despise.
“I have cancer.”
As ludicrous as it sounds, my first instinct was to avoid conflict. That’s what I had been doing for my whole life. Every conflict and issue that I had confronted until then, I had solved by saying “yes.” By saying “Don’t worry about it.” I wanted it to be okay. I wanted to say, “We’ll get through this.” I wanted to say “Yes, it’s going to work out.”
The thing is, you can’t fight cancer without conflict and confrontation. In fact, fighting cancer demands the opposite of a “yes” mentality. Through invasive surgery or chemotherapy, beating cancer requires you to say “no.”
I looked at my dad, holding my brother and my mom in his arms, with a look of fear on his face, an expression I had never seen on him before. I realized that I couldn’t just brush this one off. For the first time in my life, when fear, sadness, and anger flooded my consciousness, I accepted them. In a way, the thought of losing the man that had raised me justified my emotions. I had no idea if everything was going to be okay.
Throughout my dad’s fight with cancer, I had to constantly remind myself that I didn’t know what would happen. My instincts and habits kept telling me to approach the situation by saying “yes,” and by saying that everything would turn out fine. I had to consciously remind myself that with such a mindset, I was ignorant to the precarious state that my father’s life was in. Instead, I allowed myself to be angry. I was angry that my father had such an ugly disease. I was angry at the possibility of losing my father. I was angry that I couldn’t just say yes.
Watching my dad being wheeled out of the hospital room to undergo surgery was the most emotionally challenging experience that I have faced in my life. Mainly, my fear stemmed from the thought of losing my father. I thought to myself, what if this is the last time that I see him? I instantly regretted every time I had turned down my father to do homework or hang out with friends. I was not only angry at my father’s disease, but I was angry at myself for having so many regrets about the thirteen years that I had known my dad.
I wasn’t only scared due to the thought of losing my dad, though. I was scared because I was filled with emotions that I usually buried deep within myself. I was angry. I was hateful. I was sad. Usually, my mentality would have been to brush these emotions aside and say “It’s okay.” But even thirteen year old me understood that I could not approach a situation of such magnitude with that kind of mentality. Even now, after my father’s surgery went successfully, as he returns every 3 months for a check-up, I allow myself to be scared and angry. I allow myself to say “I don’t know if everything will be okay.”
When I only said yes, it was always empty. Every time, it was a shallow and exhausted “yes.” It was a desperate attempt to mold myself in a way that would appeal to others. When I said “yes” to Rose, I was disrespecting her and simultaneously throwing myself deeper into a futile attempt at pleasing everyone. My dad taught me how to say “no,” but he also taught me how to say yes and actually mean it.