No. It’s a word that lays boundaries—we were that, now we’re this, which is to say: nothing.
But it doesn’t always work that way. The serious business of “if she said no, it was rape” aside, no is rarely an absolute, and sometimes it means wholehearted yes.
There is the private no, when you’ve actually said yes but you’ve already moved on. Like the months of break-up sex with my high school boyfriend. I was so not interested, but I let him talk me into it.
There is the half-assed no, where you might as well be saying yes. Like when I knew it wasn’t a good idea but I sat on a guy’s lap and wore jeans with no underwear and let him sort of brush his hands around the edges. Just enough to not say no but not enough to say yes.
Side note: did I really just say I “let him” in both those descriptions? Ew. Therein lies the yes in those no’s, I suppose.
Finally we come to the no of exquisite renunciation. It says: you don’t get to have me anymore, so there. This no is particularly hard to come by, and can be painstaking to execute—but done well, it’s nothing less than triumphant. I don't say yes to everything that crosses my path, and saying no to certain things affirms my particularity.
I’m far from a master at this no, having used it only once or twice. I discovered it in the drivers’ seat of my car, dropping off my not-boyfriend at his apartment after a night out together. He had made the limits of our relationship clear weeks before, and I had voiced my frustration to no avail. But we were still sort of sleeping together, now and then.
“What do you want to do, Linz?”
I wanted to go inside and let him fuck my brains out, then cook a nice breakfast together in the morning. But after months of this relationship-masturbation, I knew I wouldn’t get what I wanted.
“I want to go home.”
Letting him out of the car and driving off took more discipline than almost anything I’ve ever done—and we distance runners have a lot of discipline, so that’s saying something.
In this case, I wanted a relationship and he wanted no-strings attached sex. But even in situations where neither of us want anything more than sex, I often find myself frustrated and in need of a good, solid no.
To another guy, I was something preferably ordered no more than 12 hours in advance of consumption. As if I would spoil if opened too soon—or his desire would.
This quickly became complicated. His schedule was unpredictable, so my attempts to initiate our trysts never worked. I never knew when I was going to be called upon, and I started making tentative plans with other people just to leave things open for him.
I was basically a call girl. And though that might have been part of the appeal, it gets tiresome when you’re never the one calling the shots.
That’s why these non-relationship relationships always come stamped with expiration dates. Destruction is written into their form. After a certain point, I get attached to someone or I get bored. Some people seem able to coast in non-relationships indefinitely, but this has never worked for me. Not that I don’t have fun while they last—I do, for the most part, but it’s a complicated kind of fun. It makes me unsure of my boundaries, and slightly nauseous.
In any event—harumph. It hasn't worked. No need for explication. As an old boyfriend used to say: I do what I want, goddamnit. It was his little mantra, delivered with a distinct and confident rhythm, and it conveyed a sense of ownership over his life—ownership that defied reason, ownership for ownership’s sake. He used the line to justify anything.
There was something very masculine about the way he said it. Something reckless and proud and rugged. Something I could use a little more of, I reckon.