I belong to a group of women that regularly get together to discuss our life goals and share personal achievements, drink wine, and give each other advice on stuff we’re struggling with. (I know, that’s quite the opener, right? Try to remember that at least I don’t belong to a local branch of an anarchist network, or regularly knock on doors to ask people if they’ve found Jesus yet, and you might hate me a little less. I promise I’m only telling you because it’s relevant.)
Since it’s January, we spent our last evening together reflecting on 2015 and trying to devise our 2016 goals by working out what uses of our time we’d got the most and least out of last year.
As we went around the room, I noticed a pattern in what was being said. Essentially, all of us wanted more time to do the stuff that mattered, like spending time with children or significant other, learning something, growing our own businesses, fixing up our houses, getting better at our favorite sport or hobby, discovering new music, walking in the country, or hosting dinner parties for close friends.
What was getting in the way of a lot of this? Well, quite often, stuff we were doing we didn’t really want to be doing. I’ve started asking around about this, and it seems to be a common theme in our lives, particularly with women.
Examples of the stuff the women I spoke to collectively didn’t want to be doing but were nonetheless spending precious time on include:
- volunteering for stuff we weren’t really emotionally invested in but felt bad saying no to;
- going to festivals, even though we hated camping and found it all totally draining and un-fun
- travelling all the way up to Scotland to spend a whole weekend with someone we went to college with and had nothing in common with anymore
- babysitting for friends who have kids or helping them host kids birthday parties, even though we don’t like/have kids, but because we feel guilty that we don’t spend that much time with the friends with kids. (Even though you’ve now completely grown apart and neither of you know what to talk about when the children are in bed)
- going to bars when we don’t like drinking alcohol and find being in bars exhausting and horrible
- going on nights out with friends who we simply don’t get on with or enjoy being around, and spending the night taking a million selfies to cover up the fact we weren’t having any fun;
- having coffee with friends who make us feel a bit sad and empty because they whinged constantly about their life and never asked us about ours;
- working unpaid overtime because we ‘felt bad’ leaving the work;
- going to watch sports because our partner wants to go and ‘we feel like we should go with them’ even though we don’t like sports
- hosting a dinner party with people you don’t like, just because they invited you to one back in 2007
- spending huge amounts of money to go to hen parties in Ibiza or Majorca, even though we couldn’t afford it and going to Ibiza or Majorca is our worst nightmare
You know what I mean.
Why were we doing it all? Because we couldn’t say no. Or if we did try and say no, it all got very, very uncomfortable. ‘Guilt’ was the word cropping up again and again. We all felt incredibly guilty for not doing stuff we didn’t want to do. So we said yes. Then we felt guilty for doing it and not liking it.
This state of affairs really sucks.
Mainly because it does nobody any favors. In any one of those scenarios, you ‘trying to have a good time’ doesn’t really end with you actually having a good time . At best, you manage to successfully repress your feelings about the thing for the entire time you’re doing it, and then the next interaction you have with whoever invited you is filled with passive aggressive comments about the thing (“Hmmm, yes, I thought it was a bit expensive for what it was, didn’t you? Oh, you enjoyed it? Yes, I suppose it’s more your thing than mine”) which the other person probably picks up on and bitches about with their partner.
At worst, you make your feelings show the whole time you’re doing the actual thing, and everyone thinks you’re a miserable dickhead and bitches about you with their partner and then you have to do even more stuff you don’t want to do later to make up for how much of a miserable dickhead you were. [NB: one of my 2016 goals is to use the word ‘dickhead’ more- it has such a restful, lilting rhythm]. In this scenario, you probably also do the thing in such a half-assed way (while complaining), that you make it hard for everyone else to fully enjoy the time, or use it well. (This applies particularly to festivals, any sort of group activities, volunteering, and work).
And, you are wasting both yours and someone else’s time pretending to like doing stuff you actually don’t. Mostly you’re helping no-one. Even in the working overtime scenario, which probably doesn’t involve a personal invitation or emotional element, you’re still a) probably not being efficient and making yourself tired for the next day, when you’ll send badly written emails, spill coffee down your front and accidentally tell your boss to shut up in a meeting; b) covering up the true state of staffing at the company, when they should probably face the music and get more capacity and c) screwing your colleagues over, as now they all have to work late too so as not to look bad next to you.
Worst of all: this kind of commitment is sucking your life away. Your actual life-hours are being invested in this shit. You don’t have that kind of time! You have a limited number of hours on the earth before you die and your whole face rots- ACTUALLY ROTS. Do not spend these precious hours with people who want to try and make you do stuff you don’t like doing, just so they don’t have to be alone for 45 minutes at a hot yoga class.
My mission for 2016 is to NOT ACCEPT invitations to these activities- which we’ll now call ‘life-suck invitations’ – ever again.
Also, not to issue them, because we all do it.
So here are my five steps to remove life-suck invitations from your life.
Step 1: Work out if it qualifies as a life-suck invitation.
To make sure you really want to get out of the thing and shouldn’t be doing it, I theorise it has to fit at least 1 of the following criteria.
If it fits all of them, then DEFINITELY get out of it. If it fits 1, then it’s your call, but dude, I’d still be thinking no.
- The thought of doing it fills you with dread, sadness, boredom and/or anger.
- It’s not something you’re contractually obliged to do and doing it will mean you won’t be able to do something else you enjoy doing with your time: such as read a book, sleep, watch Disney movies in your pants, or have sex with a handsome Lebanese man.
- The person inviting you is someone you wouldn’t class as a GOOD FRIEND. Let’s define GOOD FRIEND as someone you’d be pleased to have turn up at your doorstep unannounced on a Sunday morning, just when you were settling down in an armchair with a cup of coffee; or to put it another way, someone you’d rather talk to than be alone. ( Just because you’ve been friends with someone since you were 10, does NOT automatically make them a GOOD FRIEND, as all of us well know.)
- It’s not something you’re doing as an owed favour to a GOOD FRIEND. Obviously, you can’t start getting rid of these kind of things, in case you also want to get rid of people who add joy and value to the life-hours you have left. (Plus, this is the stuff that means you get given bottles of wine, which will still suck your life away but in a much more enjoyable manner.)
- You can’t afford it, and accepting the invitation is going to make you cry periodically throughout the year when you realise all the stuff you actually want to buy but now can’t afford, because you did this one bullshit life-suck thing.
- It’s just not your thing. No matter how much you like the person inviting you, there is just no way on God’s green earth that you will ever find line-dancing/ a package holiday in Tenerife/watching silent cinema/being with four year olds/watching the Billy Elliot musical… fun. Particularly important to think about this one, if the thing is also expensive. Why the hell would you pay with both hours of your life, and your money, to do something that makes you involuntarily make your ‘constipated face’ when you think about doing it?
- The person inviting you a) won’t really notice if you’re not there, b) is probably inviting you to make up numbers, c) was rude about your dress/hair/choice of career last time you saw them and made you feel like shit, d) talks constantly about any of the following things: their baby’s bowel movements, their loft conversion, their chronic headaches, or how much they hate their job but how they can’t leave because they like the money. (Not that talking about any of these things makes them a bad person, but it’s not lovely to listen to, and you don’t have to be their sounding board; unless you also talk constantly about these things, in which case, go along and have the time of your life; but also never invite me to anything ever again).
- The only reason you are considering accepting the invitation is because you would feel bad if you didn’t. This particularly applies if you know that the person who invited you does a world-class job in guilt-tripping, and this is the main dynamic of your relationship now. It also applies if you and the other person are in a weird pattern of regularly meeting up with each other, even though you’re both perfectly well aware that neither of you enjoys it, but you feel obliged to reciprocate invitations because otherwise ‘it’d be rude’. If you don’t nip this in the bud, you will continue this ‘life-suck invitation’ pattern until one of you dies, or moves to South Sudan.
Step 2: Think about all the stuff you could be doing with that time, and remind yourself that you have a certain amount of hours on the planet and that the person issuing the life-suck invitation is going to take some of those away from you.
Imagine you got hit by a bus the day after you did the thing. Imagine that doing that thing was the last thing you ever did.
Now you’re ready to say no.
Step 3: Say no politely. Don’t make excuses.
In any of the scenarios above, you do NOT owe the other person any apology for saying no to them. In fact, you are wasting their time and your time by concocting elaborate excuses. It’s nicer for everyone if you’re just polite and honest.
How not to do it:
Hey, it’s been sooo long since we hung out, I’ll try and come…although, I only just got back from Spain, and I’m super tired. Also a bit broke. I might try and come along later, where will you be about 10? I’m trying not to drink that much right now, so I might not be a bundle of laughs but I’m so keen to see you I’m going to give it a shot…I’ll text you later and find out where you are. Enjoy! See you in a bit!
[later on] Hi sweetie I’m sorry but I’m exhausted and just realised that I actually have to work in the morning, would have loved to see you and hear all about the new puppy and about Stan’s surgery, really sorry. Maybe another time? Coffee Saturday? xxxxxxxxxxxx
You aren’t fooling anyone with this stuff. Especially when you both know you don’t want to see each other on Saturday either.
Instead, keep it simple, and don’t apologise more than once.
“I’m sorry, I have plans that night. Have fun!”
“It sounds great, but I can’t afford it. Look forward to hearing all about it when you get back.”
“No, thanks. It’s just not my cup of tea. Let’s go for a drink next week instead and you can tell me all about it?” (this ONLY applies to #6)
“I’m afraid I can’t stay late tonight. I can start work on it again in the morning.”
“Thanks, but I don’t really enjoy festivals. Have an awesome time.”
“Thanks for inviting me, but I can’t make it.”
That’s it. You are done with it.
If you get reprisals or guilt-trips, either don’t reply; or politely repeat a variation on the same line, without apologising again or adding to the excuse pile. Also, don’t respond immediately and don’t get mad. That’s also a life-suck and you have better things to do.
Step 4: Don’t be the person issuing life-suck invitations.
This is partly about breeding good karma, partly about giving yourself more life-hours back for the stuff that really matters, and partly about not perpetuating the cycle of life-suck invitations in your friendship circle.
What it looks like: making a conscious effort to not be the ‘CHEERFUL AND SLIGHTLY PRESSURISING ORGANISING PERSON’ who has random and ill-thought through ideas for stuff that nobody really wants to do, and then forces everyone in your friendship circle, even remote acquaintances, to commit to it even though you haven’t really put the time into organising it properly; such as knitting circles, elaborate murder mystery cocktail evenings, or holidays in Wales.
If you are the person having those ideas, think it through and plan it before you invite people and waste everyone’s time with a million messages that are mainly about encouraging your more ‘project manager’ type friends to take over and organise it on your behalf; while you concentrate on making people commit to it, and then drop it halfway when you realise you can’t be arsed to organise it, thus confusing everyone’s diaries and wasting everyone’s time in the process.
Once you plan it, make sure you only invite people who actually would be interested, and don’t pester people who you barely know or you can see clearly aren’t into it into committing, just to bump up the numbers. If someone says no, leave them be. Definitely don’t repeatedly invite them to your poetry-reading evening or badger-spotting walk every month when they’ve said no every time. They know it’s happening, and they’ll tell you if they want to come. We’ve all been that person (I certainly have) and we need to stop it and realise that we are ruining people’s lives with our cheery reminders to RSVP.
Also, when someone is saying no to you and says ‘I’m sorry, I feel really bad for saying no’ or is making a ton of apologies, realise that you are putting undue pressure on that person and EASE THE FUCK UP. Let them live their lives and use their time the way they want to, and you’ll be much better friends as a result.
Step 5: Do the shit you really want to do with those extra hours.
Don’t feel guilty about it. Enjoy every second. It’s your life.
Do remember to call your parents every so often, and let them spend twenty minutes telling you how to make a good spaghetti bolognese (even though you like the way you cook it better) because that’s important, and you’ll miss it like hell when you can’t do that any more.
Don’t take up the bagpipes as a hobby, because that is not okay.