I continually see one word destroying people’s love lives and opportunities. Here’s a few reasons why you can’t keep saying no to everyone.
We were recently at a baby’s birthday party and it’s so great watching my friends and their kids as they continue to grow up. However, for a number of my friends, they’ve hit or are hovering around the Terrible Twos. Why are they so terrible? One word, and you already know what it is:
No is an amazing word. It can actually also be a really great word. A powerful word. A freeing word. When you recognize you don’t have to say yes to everything that comes your way, you don’t have to compromise or open yourself up to things you don’t want to. No can be a great way to cut off the power of an abuser, to stop people taking advantage of you, to ensure you’re only spending your time focused on the things you absolutely should be.
And yet, it can also be a default or fallback position that sabotages and ruins every relationship you ever have, as well as the word that can prevent the door to love from ever being opened in the first place. You can’t keep saying no and expecting to be able to find a loving partner or to enjoy a fruitful and lasting relationship.
And sadly, many people end up always saying no to their own happiness. Time and time again, friends, partners and potential partners keep leaving or never eventuate in the first place. And too many people are left feeling like they’ll never find love or never having meaningful connections with others.
Whether it’s in a current relationship or the relationship you want to have one day, here’s a few ways I keep seeing this one word ruin what could be really great.
Because many great opportunities are available when you’re younger… and they don’t wait around
I would say I have the most amount of friends in their 30s, approaching them, or trying to cling on to them before they go. And one meme I’ve seen continually doing the rounds is this one:
I mean, it’s kinda funny at first glance. But the heart behind it usually isn’t laughing.
Now, I actually think that all of us are a bit like all these fish – none of us are really that perfect, and you find out just how not perfect you are when you enter into close relationship with others, and that special someone or those close friends are constantly around and constantly aware of your imperfections.
But the truth is, like all opportunities, people in the eligible category don’t wait around forever, and even the ones who do won’t stay available indefinitely. While you’re off trying to “focus on yourself” or “focus on your career” or “too busy for a relationship“, some of the best men and women around are continuing their search as they manage to pursue both relationship and career at the same time. They’re out there trying to find their partner as well.
And so, if they’re looking while you’re not, or they’re available while you’re still in a phase of dismissing every single opportunity without a second thought, you may be left potentially missing the opportunities you’ve wanted. When nobody is good enough for you, nobody is unfortunately who you end up with.
I think I’ve got to call out that men regularly get the criticism of being too immature. It’s funny to me how many scores of guys I know who were denied a dating opportunity for this reason and are great successes and happy now, whereas the ladies who said no to them still seem to be single and struggling with that fact even up to or over 5 to 10 years later. Some even cried or remain distraught about how much better their ex seems to be doing than them. Regret is the worst and is often most easily avoided by giving serious things a serious chance.
You can’t keep saying no to everyone and then complaining about the options available later. As King Solomon said, the one who observes the wind never sows, and the one who watches the cloud never reaps.
Because you might discount something great way too early
What does marriage material look like? How do you know you’ve found someone worthwhile and worth dating?
I think there’s a real artform to recognising great potential and someone who is well on their way to fulfilling it. A lot of people fall in love with the idea of someone and are heartbroken when the poor student who talks big is still broke and making bad money and career decisions 15 years, or when the addict with hope of change remains addicted. And that really, really hurts. The winning combination is both potential and progress. It’s not enough to talk big – they have to also be living big, or taking significant steps towards that.
The flipside is described well in Nada Surf’s Inside of Love – “I know the last page so well I can’t read the first, so I just don’t start“. In other words, our inability to recognise something great prevents us from taking a chance on what could be the greatest decision we ever make.
Bishop TD Jakes honed in on this by challenging the dating approach of “I’ll know it when I see it”. He pulled two men up on stage, one in a nice suit and the other in a t-shirt. Their vocations and incomes were vastly different to their appearance, and he highlighted if that’s true about vocation, what else is it true about? How do you know someone will make a great father one day or end up being a child abuser? How do you know someone is filled with anger and rage, or if they’re genuinely forgiving and generous with all types of people? Only by having a serious and measured look at who they are and how they work.
Think about how little about you a surface glance reveals. We don’t then want to be taking merely surface glances at others and basing our whole paradigm of them off of that.
More thoughts and some of the research I’ve done on that one in 10 Signs You’ve Found Marriage Material.
Because it can take a decent amount of time to get it right
How long does it take to go from Zero to Married? For many people, it sounds like the expectation is that they meet a tall dark handsome stranger and fall head over heels, committing to marriage by Date Number 2 because the feeling tell them they should, and they end up happy ever after within 3 weeks.
Sadly, The Spark doesn’t happen to everyone, boys and girls.
Well, I definitely know a few people who ended up having that happen that quickly and with a strong relationship to boot – I think it’s more about how they dated than the duration. But the reality is for most people, love comes softly, or takes time to navigate and most importantly – to grow.
Let’s say you want to spend at most one year dating someone before moving towards marriage. For some that seems quick and in fact the stats tell us the average is two or more years before engagement (with more research and the original study credit to BedBible here), but humour me here. Let’s say you want to be engaged for at most six months before getting married. And also let’s say like most people you find online dating or meeting people difficult so you’d rather be someone’s friend first, and you want to be their friend at least six months to suss them out in non-romantic settings before the potential for romance is on the table. So sounds like a 2 year lead time in our hypothetical realistic dating timeframe window.
Now, let’s say that it doesn’t work out. How long before you’d be open to dating again? If you’re into doing the rebound, well then bounce bounce baby you’re back at it straight away (although with the worst odds of making a good decision). But what if you gave yourself 3-6 months to recover between breakups – you know, post mortem, what could I do better, what do I really want in a relationship, eating ice cream listening to Adele’s Hello staring at the moon until your heart’s song returns.
We’re talking 27-30 months potentially, and that’s with numbers quite a bit lower than the averages.
Now, here’s a thought. That might be each time. Because the reality is you won’t always marry the first person you date or pursue seriously (I think I was at number 6 or 7 before I did). One study of 2000 adults put the average at about five or six serious relationships before finding the right one. You might get your heart broken. You might discover you don’t have common dreams or you have some differences that are too wide to cross.
How many of those cycles are you able to go through before you feel like you’re running out of time? At 17, that’s quite a few. At 25, well….
For this reason, I think it’s important not to put off our love lives until the last minute. If you’re young and have a serious offer on the table, I would encourage you to at least consider it. Get some good wisdom around you, some good friends, some good accountability. Read the books, put in the time, take it seriously. Because I know too many people now kicking themselves because they put love off completely for their 20s and 30s.
If you are in that boat of feeling like you missed some great opportunities, check out Have You Missed “The One”? In Search Of The Soulmate
Because you get a reputation
Our generation has an absolute obsession with doing things no matter what anyone else says or thinks about you. There’s some merit to that – doing what you’re called to do, being who you’re called to be, and not letting opposition stand in your way. Good stuff.
But the thing is, we’re supposed to be known for the good we’re doing, not for being a closed door. Not for being a wife beater. Not for being a destroyer of men. Not for always taking and never giving.
The reality is that people talk. They hear of breakups, they hear of people declining every date, they hear of people who said no and didn’t pursue back the whole time you two were together. Gossip is one thing to deal with, but it’s very difficult to overcome a reputation of constant rejection or denial when it’s the truth about you.
The Hebrew proverb tells us that a good name is worth more than diamonds and rubies. We should pursue it as such.
Because a screen can’t love you back
I think a significant reason why many people don’t date as seriously or as early is because of porn. Porn is a broad range of content in my book – some of the PG or M rated movies are more sexually exciting and impacting than the most hardcore or deviant material you could find. Books, movies, TV shows, streaming services – porn is everyone.
The reality is though, a screen can’t love you back. And you can’t keep saying no to everyone because you’ve got a sexual coping mechanism that is framing your sexual desire rather than discovering it, and worse than that – it’s a cheap imitation that reinforces feelings of loneliness, isolation, and a lack of appreciation or intimacy in one’s life. It’s the worst type of bandaid.
Porn is a big topic I’ve written a lot about and there’s a whole heap of research to back up the damages we do to ourselves by choosing it over people – check out What Porn Teaches Us About Men, 5 Ways Sex Scenes Ruin Your Love Life and Celibacy Syndrome, Rejection, and Preferring Sex With A Screen.
Because you’ll destroy the one you’re with
Pursuit shouldn’t end when you end up with someone, but if you’ve trained yourself to say no and make people really work for it on the way to love, you create a habit that will undoubtably reappear in later relationships.
Dr David Gudgel in the book Before You Get Engaged wrote a powerful chapter with a poignant observation that many people have relationship issues because they’ve been practising divorce their whole lives. Every relationship they’re willing to break off for small reasons. Every friendship is fleeting. They remain consumeristic. They expect others to do far more for them than they’re willing to do for others.
And so when the lights are on and it’s showtime in your marriage, you fall back to the same playbook you’ve used everywhere else the rest of your life. Ouch.
The truth is in a loving and lasting relationship, you can’t keep saying no and be happy. Love is meant to be a shared and open experience.
The ideal I always think of is the couple in the Song of Songs. If you ever want a study on what true love really looks like, I don’t know a better one. Both people from the start are open and generous with each other. They do say no but they say no to others so they can continually say yes to each other. They are generous and celebratory with their bodies, their words, and their hearts.
That’s the posture of love – come and take what you need. Come, take what you want. I’ve got something special for you. You’re celebrated. You’re worthwhile. You matter to me. From your body to your heart to the silly TV shows you like to the way your hair looks in the rain to the deepest secret of your soul – I love you.
And you don’t just one day get married and suddenly possess the ability to love well. That’s got to be developed over time, no matter whether a relationship works out or not, we must always bring our best, as well as the willingness to live open with our heart and lives.
One of my pastors growing up used to say well that marriage isn’t so much about finding the right person as it is about being the right person. The Scriptures don’t say a huge amount about how to find a soulmate or how to know whether or not you should marry someone, but they do really hammer on continually about how we should endeavour to be our best selves.
I think that’s because when we are our best, we are really and truly ready and able to give and enjoy our best with someone else.
In truth, it’s not just in our love lives that no is a destructive force. I wrote quite a bit recently about how no has a profoundly destructive effect on friendships too. You can’t keep saying no and expecting people to still be able, willing, or open to making an effort. If you keep hitting people in the face with the door, eventually they stop knocking. This is true of career, work, volunteering, fulfilling our purpose – pretty much every aspect of our lives.
I think we really need to take seriously every single opportunity that comes our way. We don’t have to say yes to all of them, but we can’t just say no on principle. Who knows? Maybe the love life of your dreams is on the other side of you taking a chance.
Should you say yes to everyone? Of course not. We need wisdom. But are you saying yes to anyone? That’s not wisdom either.
How about you? What do you think about how you can’t keep saying no and expect a good love life? Or maybe you can?