The Times I Should Have Said No
I don’t know who thinks it’s a good idea to have networking meetups at the crack of dawn, but obviously I was silly enough to go along with it. And so here I was, groggy and trying to fake a smile as I joined the line of nametag-adorned young professionals waiting for our overpriced coffee.
I love coffee but am not as much of a snob about it as I am about beer, so the list of brews and the flowery descriptions painstakingly written on the oh-so-typical chalkboard invoked an eye roll from me. I chose the one that sounded the most like it would suit my pedestrian tastes, paid, and dragged my feet to the side of the bar to wait.
The barista finally pushed a wide white mug on a saucer toward me and asked if I’d like room for cream. “Almond milk, please,” I said.
“Are you sure?” he asked.
I stopped for a moment, surprised by the question. I’d been avoiding dairy because it occasionally upset my stomach. Yes, I was sure what I wanted, wasn’t I? “Yes.”
He rolled his eyes as though amused that I, in this extremely pretentious coffee shop, was being ridiculous for wanting an alternative milk. “Ooookaaayyyy, but it’s gonna curdle,” he said, making no move to get the almond milk and instead hovering the pitcher of cow’s milk over my mug. “You should do regular milk instead.”
“Um, okay, I guess,” I said, and his hand tipped the lactose-filled substance into my mug.
“Theeeerrreee you go,” he said, as he pushed the now-ruined coffee toward me. I took it to the table and watched it cool off as Local Hip Professional gave his presentation.
Why did I throw that money down the drain? I was kicking myself, wondering what happened to the girl who used to stand up for herself and not let judgmental baristas force their choice of milk on me.
I should have said, “No, I asked for almond milk.” Just like I should have said, “No, I’m not working 80 hours a week for only $300 a week” to my boss. Just like I should have said, “No, I’m not comfortable with your having the utilities in your name” to my roommate. Just like I should have said, “No, I’m calling the cops” to my abusive ex.
We’re all encouraged to be accommodating and friendly, to say “yes” whenever possible. We get so much pushback for the word “no” that it’s become a dirty word. And I’d been trained like Pavlov’s dogs to expect the worst when I said, “No.” I’d lost a job for it. I’d been sexually assaulted for it. I’d been exploited for it. And yet, by saying “Yes,” I’d accepted further mistreatment and misfortune.
“No” is powerful. “No” is lifesaving. “No” is affirming of our wants and needs. It’s self-respect. And at this time in my life, I didn’t have that. I’d been beaten down by abuse and bad luck, and I had no energy to argue with a barista.
Three years later, I was having drinks with my mother and remembered an old favorite from my college years: a Bailey’s and Coke. Thinking she’d like it, I ordered one, and the bartender cartoonishly paused in the middle of wiping a glass.
“Are you sure?” he sneered. “It’s gonna curdle.”
This time, I was ready. “I’m sure,” I said.
“Ooookaaayyyy,” he said. He made the drink and sighed dramatically as the Bailey’s made what I thought were delightful curls throughout the Coke, giving the drink a marbled effect. “No refunds,” he said.
I brought the drink to my mom, who loved it. She still orders it, and I still drink almond milk in my coffee. Turns out the ugliness of the drinks isn’t as ugly as people who want us to mold to their desires. But we must make the choice to stand up for ourselves. We must say “No.”