About three years ago I was suckered into attending some god-awful university reunion event at a scummy nightclub in Clapham. The thing is, I knew it was going to be god-awful from the get-go.
I hate nightclubs, even the good ones, and this most certainly was not a good one. It was going to be full of terrible people, wearing terrible clothes and drinking terrible drinks and yelling terrible things into each other’s ears while terrible music pounded in the background.
I was going to hate every single second, and I knew it. So why did I say yes, when I wanted to say no? The usual reasons, I suppose; not wanting to let down the few people there I knew and liked, not wanting to appear anti-social, not wanting to be left out of things.
Of course when I got there it was just as horrific as I’d imagined, and then some. An invasive bag search was followed by a sudden plunge into a veritable sea of unfriendly faces, all staring at me as though I was an awkward, gangly giraffe trying to mix in with a pride of lions. I recognized almost nobody, and what’s more, I didn’t want to; I felt like I was living out a scene from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, only with all the heart-warming family fun sucked out.
We had suffered through about half an hour of this when a friend of mine, who was hating it just as much (if not more) than I was, grabbed my arm and hissed ‘For God’s sake, let’s get out of here’. I offered a slight protest, on the grounds that we’d only been there for half an hour and we’d paid ten stinking pounds each to get into the place. She looked me dead in the eye, with the sort of look that spoke of a thousand gaping black chasms whirling on into infinity, and said ‘Harriet, that’s a false economy.’
And she was right; it was a false economy. By that stage, I immediately realised, I would have quite happily paid to get out of the place if I’d had to. Which begs the question: why do we spend so much of our social lives doing things we don’t want to do? Going places we don’t want to go to see people we don’t want to see? Why don’t we just say no?
Because, for some reason, saying no has gradually become more and more unacceptable. No-one’s going to take ‘I just don’t feel like it’ for an answer. No way, sweet pea. If you’re not going to turn up to a social event, you’d better have a good goddamn reason. Like ‘Sorry I can’t make it to your ice-skating party Bethany, I twisted my ankle last week during a charity run for orphaned bunny rabbits.’ Or ‘I’d really love to come to your hen party in the Cotswolds, Rebecca, but unfortunately I’m planning on giving birth to triplets that weekend.’
Or, if you are unfortunately sans triplets and with working ankles, you have to create some sort of fabulous, glittering lie. ‘My aunt is coming to town’. ‘I have to wait in for the emergency plumber – don’t ask’. Or, the queen of all get-out excuses, ‘I have a cold/flu/unsightly pox of some sort, and I really don’t want to give it to you.’
And then you feel guilty, not only for not going to the event, but also for lying to your friends, the few people in the world you should never have to lie to. Sometimes, the whole sorry business goes full circle, and you end up going on the night out you didn’t want to go on because the stress will be very slightly less than that caused by trying to swerve the damn thing.
As a society, we need to start making it more acceptable to unashamedly Just Say No. Just ‘no, I don’t feel like it,’ with no further explanation needed, or asked of you. And for those friends who take it upon themselves to try to guilt you into coming anyway, there should be some sort of code word to let them know they need to step off.
‘Oh, but I’m sure you’ll have fun once you’re there! Come on, it’ll be-’
‘Sandra – bananas.’
‘Oh. Well, alrighty then, maybe next time.’
We can make this gradual change, and form ourselves a happier, less stressful social climate. Find yourself a group of friends who will always take no for an answer, without you having to fabricate an intricate web of mendacity (and then go to radio silence for an entire evening just in case someone sees a careless Facebook status).
We need to be able to call up our friends and say ‘listen Janice, much as I like you, I’m just really not in the mood to trek half way across the city on a cold Saturday night when the football fans are in town in order to see you right now. This extended edition of The Hobbit ain’t going to watch itself.’