Yes and No

B and I sometimes have a conversation that goes like this:

B: “Shall we /what if/ how about ——?”

Me: “No.”

After some further discussion and negotiation, sometimes my “No” changes to “Maybe” and even sometimes to “Yes” (and sometimes it is still “No”). The matter maybe local and transitory (“Shall we invite X and Y over for dinner?”; “Shall we go to the pub?”). Or it may be life-changing (“Shall we move house?” “Shall we sell one of the cars”?). But very often my first response is to say, “No”. One of my sisters raised my awareness of this tendency recently, because she thinks that her default position is “No”, too. It might be a family trait (our Mum often does it too).

So why do I say, “No”? I think sometimes it feels that saying yes – even to something fun – is too much effort. It’s easier to stay at home (especially in November) on the sofa with the knitting and a cup of tea than it is to get up and out to the pictures, even if the film is very enticing. That’s quite an admission isn’t it – how lazy!

Maybe I’m also in a bit of a time-warp. When the kids were tiny, an adventure with them did entail massive amounts of organisation and effort. Transport. Nappy bag. Spare clothes. Amusements. Getting them togged up. Jollying them along (though they were adaptable and tolerant, most of the time). And a trip out without them involved finding and paying babysitters. Even a dinner party at home involved getting them into bed and then starting the cooking and entertaining. However did we do it (and we did do it quite a lot)?? Now I have less excuse, and I’m still saying no. Maybe the memory of all that effort lingers, along with the memory of the fun.

Caution is no bad thing, particularly regarding big decisions, and especially when your partner (like mine) has an impulsive streak.(Paradoxically, he thinks I’m sometimes prone to saying yes – being too eager to please, when I should say no. And he may sometimes be right). But an encounter with a potentially life-threatening condition makes you realise that your time is limited. My life expectancy has not changed as a result of recent events; it’s just that now I know my days are numbered. And thirty years to go (say) doesn’t seem all that long, so knowing when to say yes and no is important. I have in the last few months said, “Yes” to the co-housing venture. Is that risk going to pay off? And I have said “No” to the job I found so difficult. Was that a good, well-judged “No”? (“Some complain/Of strain and stress/The answer may be/No for Yes.”)

In our house, we have often noted that I don’t readily do spontaneity. Yet I love the eager, slightly reckless, even flippant spirit of the following poem. Seems to me the default setting here is “Yes”. Maybe now I should set my own Yes/No dial a bit further in that direction.


It’s like a tap-dance
or a new pink dress,
a shit- naive feeling
Saying Yes.

Some say Good morning
Some say God bless–
Some say Possibly
Some say Yes.

Some say Never
Some say Unless
It’s stupid and lovely
To rush into Yes.

What can it mean?
It’s just like life,
One thing to you
One to your wife.

Some go local
Some go express
Some can’t wait
To answer Yes.

Some complain
Of strain and stress
The answer may be
No for Yes.

Some like failure
Some like Success
Some like Yes Yes
Yes Yes Yes.

Open your eyes,
Dream but don’t guess.
Your biggest surprise
Comes after Yes.

Muriel Rukeyser



  1. I really liked this! I think in our household, just John and myself now the children have gone, it’s the other way round!

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