I Don’t Wanna

My mother taught me to be polite, to show up with a good attitude when I got invited somewhere and always reciprocate. No matter if I had a good time or not. I remember seeing her sitting on a sofa in someone’s house, looking bored and fake smiling. I used to follow suit and say yes to whatever showed up, but times have changed and so
have I.

One of the gifts of getting older is giving yourself permission to not do things that you don’t want to do. And to absolutely do things that you do want to do. There just isn’t enough time to waste trying to please someone else. During the height of Covid, when we were holed up in our homes, a friend asked me how I was doing. Her question didn’t surprise me. We all felt the isolation. But my answer to her question did surprise me. I smiled and said, “I’m so glad I don’t have to hug anyone I don’t like.”

For me, being alone wasn’t such a shocking or foreign thing. As a writer, I was used to being alone for long stretches of time. But now, it’s the “holidays,” as they say, and after multiple vaccinations and boosters, we’re meeting at people’s houses and eating together at
restaurants. Parties, dinners and celebrations with friends and family can be fun as we break bread, sip wine and have interesting conversations. But it can also be a drag when we end up tolerating people we don’t particularly enjoy, like the weird uncle, the snooty cousin who boasts about where her children go to school, or the eccentric neighbor who gets tipsy and corners you with the same
boring stories you heard last year.

This year, I was invited to several holiday gatherings. I was grateful for that, but when it came time to respond to the invitations, I had to ask myself, “If I could choose where I want to be with no ‘have-tos,’ where would I go?” I imagined myself sitting at a dinner table in someone’s house and thinking, “I don’t wanna be here.” Then I imagined myself at someone else’s house, smiling and having interesting conversations. That was where I wanted to be. But what if someone else got offended? What if they held a grudge? What if they talked about me behind my back? The answer was a quote from the title of a sixties album. “So What?”

My dilemma came down to a simple decision. I could go somewhere because “so and so is having such a hard time” or try to please someone because I had passed on their last invitation. Or I could show
up late, make an appearance and give a fake excuse to leave early. These choices were about making someone else comfortable and making myself uncomfortable. But what if I put myself first instead of trying to please someone else?

A friend said, “You never have to go anywhere and be with anyone you don’t like – ever.” I exhaled. I didn’t have to hug anyone I didn’t like –  ever, Covid or no Covid. I didn’t have to do something I didn’t want to do – ever. I could take care of myself first and kindly decline an invitation. If it offended someone, so be it. Better them than me.

I know that sounds selfish. I used to see it that way but I don’t any more. I follow a simple rule: I’m only interested in being somewhere if it feels as good or better than being alone. This guideline is difficult if we’re programmed to ignore our own needs and wishes. That’s the reason that I write. I feel in tune with life and myself when I’m sitting at my computer and hitting the keys, watching words and phrases appear on the screen. I can be writing anything – a blog, a reflection, a book. The simple act of sitting there and letting my mind wander and express myself on the page is my favorite thing to do.

Knowing that we ”don’t wanna,” and doing it anyway feels like an act of aggression toward ourselves. Of course there are exceptions to this rule. Sometimes we have to go the doctor or the dentist. We have to exercise to keep our bodies and our minds healthy. These are “musts,” but there are so many things we do because we think we should. When my father died after fifty-one years with my mother, she said to me, “I’m confused. I don’t know if I went to that restaurant because Daddy wanted me to go or because I wanted to go. I’m not sure what I like and what I did to please your father.”

Even if we feel weird or different,I believe it’s a writer’s job to express things that other people are afraid to admit. When I was writing my book, “Memoirs of a Ghost,” I had a decision to make. Was I going to hold things back because they embarrassed me or was I willing to tell my truth? I decided to tell it all and not conceal the less attractive parts of me. I was sure if I had done something I wasn’t proud of, there were plenty of other people who had done the same thing. 

Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron, says something like this: “No one else can sort out for you what to accept about yourself and what to reject, what opens up your world, and what keeps you going round and round in repetitive misery. The key to feeling more whole, more connected and less shut off is to be able to see clearly who we are, what we’re
doing and what we want to do.”

Doing what you want will open the door to the things that heal you. Doing what you don’t want will close that door and cause you to spiral downward into suffering. If we pay attention to the voice inside that says, “I don’t wanna,” we’re giving ourselves a gift and transforming that downward spiral into an ascending stairway with an open heart
and a peaceful mind.