Nice Girls Say Yes

by Nicole Jankowski
Originally Published: 
A girl in a green dress standing in a field and holding flowers
Alena Ozerova / Shutterstock

I started saying yes when I was still a little girl.

Nice girls do, you know.

I said yes in the classroom, in the back seat of the school bus with papers flying overhead. I said yes at my friend’s house, at sleepovers, tucked inside my Carebears sleeping bag. I said yes to boys with pimples and pocket protectors and yes to short, elderly English teachers in suntan pantyhose. I said yes to cashiers and clerks, doctors and neighbors. I even said yes to a nun in the church basement.

It was always yes.

It was middle school, or even earlier really when it began happening all the time. I didn’t seem like a ‘yes-girl’ at first glance–I was just a white kid with a blond afro, wearing red tights and a acid washed jean skirt. I had friends–band friends—but enough, anyway. I smiled a lot and rose my hand to answer the questions I knew the answers to. Maybe I was smart enough, but I wasn’t a fabulous student. I liked to make people laugh. I was a little too loud. I was, altogether, just…nice.

But I was hiding something dark, something that remains with me still, even though I am now quite old enough to know better. It’s taken me 20 years to admit it, but the problem is real and it never seems to go away, no matter how hard I try to shake it.

I couldn’t (and I still can’t) say no.

It’s not the word NO itself that I can not say, of course.

I can form the nasal consonant “n” and let my breath whoosh out the “ooooo”. It’s really quite easy.

I can use the word in casual conversation: “No way, you did not just tell me that everything is half off tomorrow at the thrift store! No!”

I can sob it loudly, pounding my fist into my pillow: “No, no, no—it can’t be! Why didn’t any one tell me about the half off sale?”

I can scream it into my reflection in the mirror, when no one is at home: “NOOOOOOO! YOU HEAR ME? I. SAID. NO!!!!!!”

But when you ask me to babysit your pet Parakeet with Tourette’s Syndrome while you go hiking in Mozambique for 4 months? I will, inexplicably, unwillingly and yet, begrudgingly tell you yes.

He only eats the homemade leather of organic mangoes? I must drive three hours weekly to purchase said mangoes and do I mind using my own teeth to chew them into bite sized pieces so they don’t get lodged in his beak? Of course he does. Of course I don’t mind. Yes.

Can I call you daily at 2 AM Eastern Time (8 am Mozambique time) so Mr. Peepers can chirp you a happy morning rendition of On Top of the World? You bet.

If saying yes is a disease, I have a fatal case for which there seems to be, even after such advances in technology as the internet and breast implants, absolutely no cure. It is, apparently, a life long affliction that results in being the only driver in the carpool, the assistant leader of the Tiger Scouts, missing a number two pencil cause you gave the last one away on test day, the last one to the table when the cake is being served and keeper of Parakeets with an affinity for Imagine Dragons and curse words.

And the affliction is often, very loud, very time-consuming and very, very painful.

There is no cure for Excessive Yes-ing. And trust me, I’ve searched. There is no self-help audio program (if there were and someone came hocking it door to door, I’d surely buy it—how could I say “no” when the introductory offer of $99.99 ends tomorrow?).

I often wonder how much of my need to say yes is deep seated in my development, how much of it comes from the excessive pressure that has been placed on the generation of women my age (29 years old on my last 6 birthdays). From the earliest point in our life we were told we could have it all—a family, a career, love and sex and every single thing on the continuum between them. We were given more and more opportunity, more and more options—but no one offered us less or took expectations away.

If as a young girl we asked if we could be President of the United States, for the first time in the history of our nation, our parents told us “yes”. They were proud. Of course we could. We could do anything we wanted. But we had to do what society wanted us to do, too—the same things our mothers had to do. We could get a degree in Astro-physics and climb Mount Everest, but by the time we were 25 they were asking us if we had a boyfriend, did we want to get married and have children someday? We knew they wanted us to say “yes”.

We understand very early in our development that nice girls say “yes”.

Even if, as a baby crawling on our hands and knees, our first word was “no”, we learn quickly that “yes” is better. Yes makes people happy, yes gets us what we need to survive. Yes means another cookie, yes means someone picks us up and kisses our necks. Yes means we disappoint no one.

We are five years old in knee socks and Mary Janes and the neighbor next door asks us if we like kindergarten. No,we want to tell them, No—kindergarten sucks, lady. We have to take naps and the classroom smells like paste. But we smile and nod our heads yes because we know what that woman with the saggy stockings and the gardening shears wants.

She wants us to say yes.

I have no cure for my own problem, but I do have hope for the future. I’m raising my daughter to understand that it’s okay to say “no”. It’s not an easy feat. This often creates turmoil, because the person she says “no” most to, is me. But it can’t be helped. I don’t want her to inherit my disease.

How many 29-again year old women hide their illness, like me? I know there must be others out there, saying yes to run the Book Fair, yes to the Billy Rae Cyrus 1980’s mullet, just because the hairdresser was so convincing, so forceful? Just because there was no one else, because they felt guilty, because they were supposed to say yes?

How many women are hand-feeding chewed up pieces of mango to a borrowed parakeet in their kitchen, just because they never learned that it was okay, that the world would still turn, that they would still be loved and liked and wanted, if just this once…

The Nice Girl Said


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