The feminist revolution has been a marvelous thing; in the space of just a few generations it’s taken women from rights-stripped property of men to their equals (though there are still many battles to be fought). Women stand up, and stand together and say no to discrimination, no to exclusion, no to inequity. “No” has given us power.
But there are times when “yes” has all the power of “no.” Here are six times to stop and think before defaulting to negation.
1. “Do we really have to label this?”
This question is often asked in a way that makes us feel as if we’re needy or clingy for wanting to define a relationship. Even early in, a woman (or a man) has a right to know what the other person is intending; are you dating, with an eye to a possible future? Is it friends with benefits? Just sex?
Often men pose this question when they are very much enjoying having sex with you, but aren’t interested in anything beyond that. And unless you’re into the no-strings-attached approach (and if you are, proudly fly that flag), the answer is yes, you do have to label it. Not because women are “crazy” or “needy” or “desperate,” but because we value ourselves and want to be with someone who also values us. Not just someone who thinks we’re good enough to hang out or hook up with; of course we’re good enough for that, we’re sexy and awesome, but someone who enjoys our mind, our company, who is interested in things about us that occur above our torso. Someone who offers us more than his penis, and wants more from us than a place to put it.
“Labeling” doesn’t mean you’re asking someone to state his long-term intentions for the two of you on the first date. It means you want to know whether you’re on the same page, and you have a right to know that from date one. But it doesn’t have to be an overt statement. Men make their intentions clearly known in how they treat you; a guy who sets up a date and takes you out to dinner, to see a show, hiking, etc., is sending a very different message about his feelings for you and his intentions than when he texts you at nine on a Friday to see if you want to come hang out at his place after work. Our job is to know what we want, see what we’re being offered and give out a tacit yes or no in how we respond.
So “do we really have to label this?” Yes. If you know your own mind, what you’re looking for and how you want to be treated, we do.
2. “Can I do that for you?”
My husband is always offering to carry my luggage when he takes me to the airport. He takes heavy packages from my hands, and invariably meets me at the car when I come home from grocery shopping to carry in the bags. I lived alone for a long time, with my own house and no one else to rely on for these tasks. I learned to be self sufficient, and I’m proud of that, so much so that when we first got together I’d wave him off: “I’ve got it.” I was so concerned with showing him that I could do things for myself, that I was strong and independent and not helpless, that I completely overlooked the fact that he gets pleasure from helping me, not because he thinks I can’t do things on my own, but because he feels it makes my life nicer if I don’t have to. It’s one of the everyday, non-overtly-romantic ways he shows me that he loves me.
Sometimes this can be perceived as a feminist gray area. Women have fought hard for the right to do for ourselves. But letting a man lift weight off our shoulders isn’t compromising that; it’s simply allowing a fellow human being to make our lives easier. More important, it’s letting someone show you that he cares about you, to feel he’s of value to you.
Most men don’t hold the door for us because they think we can’t handle the task. It’s a sign of respect. If you’re lucky enough to find a secure man to offer that, why not accept it?
3. “Do you mind?”
This question can be a genuine, polite query as to whether you’re OK with a certain behavior or action, or it can be a wheedling passive-aggressive way to push the line of what a woman will accept. And it can apply anywhere, at home, at work, on a date:
“I’m going to meet the guys for golf again this weekend while you take care of the kids; do you mind?”
“Do you mind grabbing me a cup of coffee/finishing this project for me/working overtime or taking on more work?”
“Mind if I come inside?” at the end of a date, or, as happened to me on one lunch date literally four times, “Mind if I take this call? It’s business.”
It’s almost an autonomic response to agreeably reply, “Of course not.” But take a moment to consider whether you in fact do mind whatever’s being asked of you, and be honest. As I finally did on my lunch date’s fifth “excuse me” to answer his cell phone… at which point I got up and left.
4. “Why don’t I treat?”
There are times when it’s important to pick up at least your part of the tab: if you want to send the message that this isn’t a date, if you don’t intend to go out with a guy again, if you’re meeting for the first time. And equitable sharing of the dating bills can be a lovely thing, but if a man insists that he’d like to pick up the tab, why not let him? Whether we want to believe in the idea of genetic programming or not, the truth is that men are hard-wired as providers.
I’m a feminist to my core, but it doesn’t compromise our independence, competence or autonomy to let a man treat us. And as with insisting on getting our own doors, fighting too hard to pay our half robs a man of the pleasure of providing for a woman he is interested in or cares about.
But here’s a nonnegotiable: That doesn’t obligate us to anything, in any way, whether a man thinks it does or not.
5. “Want to try this?”
Maybe it’s something as innocuous as a bite of his pigeon ravioli at a gastropub; maybe it’s spreading yourselves with Crisco, slapping on a diaper and heading to a key party. Only you know what’s way out of your comfort zone, but one of the wonderful things about a relationship is that it helps us stretch and grow. Unless you recoil from something on a truly elemental, constitutional level, why not try something new?
6. “Are you going to finish that?”
I have a girlfriend who literally allows herself six jellybeans at one sitting. Six. She counts those suckers out.
Too often women deny themselves, whether out of fear of gaining weight, or losing control, or appearing unfeminine or just making a pig of ourselves. (Trust me, you do not want to see me eat a Fat Queen pizza at the famous Pieous in Austin, Texas; it’s like a school of piranha on a side of beef.) “Oh, no, no,” we demur. “I couldn’t possibly.”
But by always monitoring what we eat, we take the pleasure out of one of life’s great aesthetic joys, good food. And the truth is, there’s nothing unsexy about enjoying our food; frankly a lot of guys appreciate a girl who’s comfortable with her body and enjoys eating. (Perhaps they are simply drawing their own lascivious conclusions from watching us tear voraciously into a meal, but that’s no concern of ours.) Don’t be ashamed of having a healthy appetite, and don’t feel you have to order a salad or nibble daintily at your food. Eat it, girl! “Yes, I’m going to eat all of this (and no, you can’t have my fries).”
For the flip side of this coin, read “10 Times Women Say Yes When They Should Say No.“
Phoebe Fox is the author of The Breakup Doctor and Bedside Manners, part of the Breakup Doctor series (from Henery Press). You can find her at www.phoebefoxauthor.com, and have news and relationship advice delivered right to your inbox here. You can also find her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.