A few weeks ago, the woman I call “Mom” called me and left a voicemail. She wanted to ask me a favor and requested that I call her back. I returned her call as soon as I got home.
She repeated that she wanted a favor and asked me what I was doing that Thursday and Friday (as in two days from this call). I told her nothing (since I was out of school and work by that time, which she knew), so she explained how her good friend was in town for a job interview. She was scheduled to fly home on Thursday, but had an overnight layover in my city. Her connecting flight wouldn’t leave until Friday afternoon, so she asked if this friend could stay with Wife and I on Thursday night.
Then she referenced how her son had stayed with us for a month last summer while he looked for work. He slept on our couch through all of August and it was (mostly) fine, so she suggested her friend could also sleep on our couch.
My knee-jerk reaction was to say yes, so I did. But I only said yes because I felt very put on the spot. I’d just told her that I was free, and she knew that my schedule was open. Plus we did in fact let her son crash on our couch for an entire month, so what excuse could I come up with at that point?
As soon as I agreed to the favor, I heard her tell her friend, “She said yes! Just like I said she would! She’s the best!” and I realized (with a bit of horror) that her friend had been sitting next to her as she asked me for this favor.
I suppose this seemed like a no-brainer to her, but it’s not so simple for me.
For one thing, I actually know her son. I’ve known him since he was a kid. Plus he’s around the same age as Wife and I and we knew he’d primarily be out interviewing for jobs, networking, or otherwise entertaining and feeding himself while he stayed here. He was probably the most low-maintenance house guest we’ve ever had.
I didn’t necessarily anticipate this friend being high maintenance, but I’ve never even met her! I absolutely believe she’s a lovely person just as Mom describes her, but I still don’t personally know her. If she did stay with us, that would mean I’d have to help her navigate from the airport to our home and back, figure out what to feed her (she’s a vegetarian and I’m definitely not), and find some way to entertain her (which Mom assured me would only mean “keeping her company”). But that’s still a lot of pressure for me, especially being a very socially anxious person with a disorder that causes me to switch personality states.
In general, that’s not such a big deal if my wife is around, but she changed her work schedule due to a last-minute training out of town, so she wouldn’t even be home until around 11pm Thursday night. Which means I’d have to sit alone in my apartment with this complete stranger for all of Thursday evening and Friday morning.
Not to mention that this friend is also from a foreign nation, so she speaks with an accent that is difficult to understand at times. Which, by the way, I only know because after I agreed to house this woman, Mom said, “Hold on, I’ll put her on the phone so you two can ‘meet’ right now! I just know you’ll love each other!”
Omg. I nearly lost my shit. There are very few things in this world that I hate more than talking on the phone. It makes me so anxious that it paralyzes me. I have had panic attacks trying to make doctor’s appointments. I don’t know where this specific anxiety stems from, but I know my parents used to force me to talk on the phone to random peripheral friends and family members who had a habit of teasing children for fun. I would literally beg them to not make me talk on the phone, but they’d just hand me the phone and make wild gestures signaling that I’d better open my mouth and speak or else.
Anyway, after we hung up the phone, I just sat there. Wife was at work, so I couldn’t consult her in the moment. I waited for her to come home before explaining what happened. She asked how I was feeling about the whole situation and I told her I honestly felt very manipulated.
Not only did Mom set me up by asking about my schedule BEFORE explaining what the favor was (thus making it difficult for me to refuse her) but then she reminded me that I’d done her this favor before with her son. And, repeatedly throughtout the call, she was telling her friend how kind and friendly and generous Wife and I and how much she loves us.
So I kinda felt like if I said no, I would be this total fucking asshole. But saying yes felt yucky and coerced.
I hemmed and hawed over what to do for the next 24 hours before telling Wife that I just couldn’t do it. I was so anxious I was shaking and panicking. So I asked Wife to please call Mom and tell her we can’t do it. Wife asked me what reason I wanted to give.
“I want to be honest. I don’t want to lie about it. Let’s just explain that now is not a good time afterall – that having guests makes me very anxious and you won’t be home to accompany me. Tell her that I’ve been having a difficult time lately and I’ve been switching a lot, so we can’t even guarantee that ‘Andi’ will be the person who shows up to greet this lady.”
So she called and that’s essentially exactly what she said. Mom was totally fine with it and said she understood. Then she thanked Wife (and myself) for trusting her enough to call and be honest with her, which kind of just made me feel like shit all over again.
I brought this story into session that Friday. The therapist asked me why I didn’t call Mom myself. I explained that I was too nervous and scared.
“What were you afraid of? Did you imagine she would be angry with you?”
“No. Not exactly. But she’s very emotionally reactive to me – much less so than she is with Wife because they have such a different relationship. We’re both very sensitive and she picks up on even the most subtle shifts in my emotion. So although I didn’t think she’d be mad at me, I knew she’d completely spiral if she thought I was mad at her. Which I was! I felt like she used our relationship to manipulate me and that she backed me into a corner right in front of her friend! And although I know she didn’t mean to do any of those things, she still did them. I just need more time to process all of this before I talk to her again.”
“Okay. That makes sense. I’m also wondering why you chose to explain that you’ve been struggling (emotionally) lately and were too anxious to be alone with her friend?”
“Because I wanted to be honest.”
“Right. But I suppose I’m wondering if you needed to excuse your decision? Could you possibly have just said ‘Now is not a good time’ and left it at that. Because you have the right to just say no, without explanation or excuse.”
“Eh. Probably. I don’t really know why I made excuses. I guess I felt obligated to explain my decision to her. And I felt like it needed to be a good enough reason to back out of a favor I’d already agreed to.”
But she had made a very good point. I am allowed to just say no, free of excuses or explanations. And to be fair, I did say no (albeit through my wife), which is a big deal for me because I rarely ever say no. I usually just grit my teeth through the discomfort because I’m terrified of upsetting or disappointing someone. But this time I refused to sacrifice my comfort for someone else, even someone I love as much as Mom.
I haven’t perfected it yet, but I am beginning to learn the art of saying “no”.