Not a good look.
I don’t know the secret to happiness or the meaning of life, perhaps I never will, but I’ve figured something out. I have learned the most glorious word in the English language. It’s not “joy” or “love.” Or even “puppies.”
It took me thirty years to learn this one, folks.
I don’t have a degree in gender studies or psychology, and I certainly can’t speak for all women. I know many men have this problem too, but it seems to be more prevalent amongst the fairer sex. In the course of my travels through this lifetime I’ve always wondered why we girls are so concerned with being “nice” that we’re completely willing to fall all over ourselves performing tasks for others while we neglect ourselves. Honestly, sometimes we do the most ridiculous things for people we barely even know, often to the point of being blatantly taken advantage of, because we feel uncomfortable saying no. It seems for the most part, at least from my experience, most men want to be respected. They want to be the smart, successful badass that everyone looks up to. Girls want to be “nice.” We want to be liked.
I don’t know if it’s primarily due to nature or nurture, but looking back I realized I’ve engaged in this monkey nonsense since I was a small child. I was encouraged to be sweet, generous, helpful and quiet, while my brother was admired for being outgoing and boisterous and making snarky comments under his breath. Once, I sat and watched helplessly while a little asshole neighbor boy drew all over my favorite dollbaby with permanent marker… and didn’t tell on him because I didn’t want to be a ‘tattletale.” Tattletales weren’t nice. I let other kids cheat at games of ‘Mr. Pop’ and ‘Candyland’ and pretended I didn’t notice. I vaguely remember some older girls in the neighborhood convincing me to eat a bunch of acorns from the yard. I’m serious – fricking acorns, dude. Which I did, I actually ate them. Not because they threatened me with any kind of violence, which is probably the only reason a little boy would eat acorns, but because I wanted them to like me.
Okay, well I was only about six, so it was probably because I was too young to know any better, right? Nah.
This didn’t end in childhood. As a teenager and a young adult, I didn’t walk around chewing on a handful of acorns, but I was still constantly doing favors for people for no reason whatsoever except that I was afraid of being looked at as selfish. Sure, you can copy my homework. Yeah, I guess you can borrow my new sweater. Oh, you want my Doritos? Ok, I’m on a diet anyway. When I was a little more observant of such things, I noticed that it wasn’t just me – I saw patterns in behavior that seemed to vastly differ between males and females. One situation that I think provides a perfect example is the time I spent working as a server and bartender in various restaurants. If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant, you know these establishments are basically terrariums for every questionable aspect of human nature that exists on this planet. People are generally exhausted, grouchy and frustrated with their lives in general, and everyone is constantly trying to finagle their way out of a shift so they can go to a party or find someone to take over their section and sidework so they can duck out early and go get wasted down the street. The thing that struck me as odd, though, was that whenever a fellow employee would ask one of their female coworkers for a favor, she’d either begrudgingly do it, or feel compelled to make up some detailed story about why exactly she couldn’t do it, whereas the boys would just say no and leave it at that. I started to pay attention to this. Time and time again, over and over, the same thing happened:
“Hey Sarah, can you cover my shift tomorrow?”
“Ummm…I wish I could, I’m so sorry, but I have to take my grandma to the doctor. I’m so sorry. I wish I could, but she’s really sick. Did you ask Amy?”
“Hey Bob, can you cover my shift tomorrow?”
Once I transitioned into a different type of career, one where certain people had certain jobs and the passing back and forth of responsibilities wasn’t considered acceptable or productive, I didn’t notice this so much in the workplace, but it still crept up in my social life. By this point I was aware of it, but for some reason I still kept doing it.
Sure, I’ll watch your dog. Again. Oh, you need a designated driver? A ride to the airport? Blood? My left arm?
I think one of the most comical examples I can remember that pertains to this story is the Saturday I was recruited to dig rocks out of someone’s yard. I’m not even quite sure how it happened, but I’m glad it did. Not only does it make for an entertaining story, now that time has passed and I’m no longer seething with bitterness about it, but I think it was actually a pivotal moment in my career as a professional doormat.
I love to garden, and I’m actually pretty handy for a tiny woman. I have my own little set of tools and a small truck, so I was the one people would come to when they needed to retrieve an Uber-de-flooberdoober sofa from Ikea or move boxes from one apartment to the other. This particular Saturday someone asked me to assist them with their garden. I didn’t really feel like it, but they needed to pick up some things from Home Depot that wouldn’t fit in their Honda Civic, as well as borrow my rake and shovel, so I said okay. I figured I would transport some bushes and maybe help dig a hole or two.
Turns out this person didn’t actually have a garden yet. What they had was a plot of land filled with huge rocks, which they assumed I would be pleased as punch to spend all day excavating while they puttered around deciding where the flowers were going to go once I was done digging. This wasn’t someone I was particularly close to or owed any favors, either. This wasn’t my sick grandma or an elderly neighbor who needed someone to rake their leaves. This was a perfectly able-bodied person who had more than enough money to hire someone to complete this monstrous task.
What. The. Fuck.
It’s something I can laugh about now, but at the time, it was not. Once I realized what this “favor” entailed, I was flabbergasted I had actually been asked to do such a thing. I think my jaw dropped for about a half hour. These were huge blocks of dirty concrete, buried under rotten leaves, worms, and roots. I mean, huge, like 40-60 lbs a pop which I was supposed to dig out with a shovel and haul across the yard into a pile. The kind of rocks people on chain gangs were asked to deal with as punishment in old black and white movies starring Steve McQueen. I don’t remember murdering anyone in the 1920s so for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why I was in this situation. And then I realized why: because I always said yes to everything. I was asked to do it because I was the only person within state lines that would possibly be dumb enough to agree to it.
And for once, I was not concerned about being nice. I was pissed. And I went home.
I wish I had learned the importance of setting boundaries in my younger years, I know it would have saved me a lot of heartache. Being ‘too nice’ can be a vicious cycle. The more you do for certain people, the more they expect. You feel worse about yourself. You do more favors.
Sometimes you end up gravitating toward people who seem to possess the quality you’re so desperately lacking – a healthy dose of good old “I give no fucks” – style self-esteem…and sometimes those people turn out to be rather unpleasant characters. It can be easy to confuse a healthy self-respecting person with an entitled, cocky one when you don’t have a healthy sense of self.
And last but not least, sometimes when you don’t have firm boundaries with friends or loved ones, when you don’t speak up and say, “Hey, I don’t feel like doing that” and do whatever they ask anyway, they have no idea they’re putting you out. You end up resenting them when it never had to be that way. You’re not helping them in the long run, and you’re not helping yourself. Someone who really cares about you doesn’t want you to be silently angry with them because you felt obligated to do something for them. Believe me, they’d rather rake their own yard.
I still do favors for people. I’ll pick up friends who I know would do the same for me, I’ll walk my elderly neighbor’s dog and spend the weekend cleaning out my grandma’s attic. But I say no a lot more now.
No, you can not borrow my truck. I need it.
No, I will not pick you up at the airport when you haven’t returned my calls for six months.
No, I will not dig rocks out of your yard.
No. It’s a beautiful word.