1. An outward appearance that aligns with what other people deem appropriate and ideal. Too often I hear people hesitate to, say, get a tattoo or dye their hair or wear something “funky” out of fear of what the parents or friends or so-and-so’s in their lives will say and think. Those other people do not have ownership of your body, and it’s audacious of them to think that their opinions on what you choose to do with it matter.
2. Explanations for why you put your job first. I used to be a bona fide work-a-holic, but recently I’ve found that it’s far more important that I divide my time equally and healthfully. However, there’s one major catch: sometimes we have to prioritize, and work has to come first. It’s not about not caring about others or not “having a life,” but about the fact that you want to get a leg up or foot in or something else that will give you security in the future. It’s important to know the divide, but it’s more important to know when it’s time to prioritize.
3. Remaining in a relationship because someone — be it a family member, friend, or even your partner — expects you to. Because you have no other reason to leave than just wanting to go. Because canceling the wedding or letting down your parents’ expectations of being with who they think you ought to seems unbearable. Because you’re the “perfect couple,” and you should be happy. Because again: this is their problem, not yours. It’s never, ever okay to stay in a relationship for the sake of anybody else. It’s uncomfortable at best, and completely unfair at worst.
4. Marriage or children because it’s the “next step in your relationship,” your mom is dying for grandkids, or you don’t “foresee finding someone better.” Most times we settle it’s not because we’re actively trying to sell ourselves short — it’s because we’re looking to appease someone else, looking to not have to answer to the questions of why we’re still single and such and such an age, when we’re going to have kids, etc.
5. A date just because they ask. Even if they’re nice. Even if you’re maybe a little interested. There should never come a time when you’re seriously contemplating “I don’t want to go but…” Nope — not wanting to go is a red flag in and of itself, and more than enough reason not to.
6. Sex out of routine or obligation or just because you went on a date. I’d sincerely hope further elaboration wasn’t necessary, but unfortunately I hear of couples where one or both parties confess to having sex because it’s just “what you do,” not because they were necessarily 100% into it. They write it off as “sacrificing” for the sake of the relationship, but it’s not. You don’t owe anybody sex because you’re monogamous with them. They owe you respect.
7. Reasoning for your philosophical or religious or political belief. People like to pry and prod into your reasonings so as to “debunk” them and prove you wrong and change your mind so they’re more comfortable because you agree with them. The inability to accept other people’s beliefs for what they are, and them for who they are, stem from an internal need for acceptance and validation, and really has nothing to do with your personal dogma at all.
8. An apology if it’s disingenuous. Don’t tell someone you regret your actions and are asking for their understanding and forgiveness if you actually aren’t sorry, still think they’re in the wrong, and don’t care as much for their forgiveness as you do for them to hear out your side of the story. We are too quick to mend wounds that aren’t ready to be sealed, and they end up burgeoning beneath the surface and ultimately arising in uglier ways in the long run.
9. Inside knowledge to some intimate part of your life. People tend to find it off-putting if a friend won’t “open up” and spill the sexy details or money details or whatever-other-people-aren’t-privy-to-details. It makes sense, these are the things we bond over. But no matter how close you may be, you’re never in a position where you have to share, and you have to learn to re-define trust and openness within your relationships. Some lines just have to be drawn, and that’s okay.
10. An explanation for needing alone time. We’re too often to lie about cancelling plans or to just accept out of obligation or not wanting to seem “rude.” Saying you need some time to yourself to sleep in or just hang out or unwind is something a real friend would completely understand.
11. A favorable reaction to something, be it an outfit someone picked, a song they’re showing you, a life choice they’re evidently making, that they like and are seeking validation for. Being fake-happy and enthused and compliant with people is both exhausting and the material that makes for unhealthy and resentful relationships. There’s a polite way to say “that’s not my style, but I definitely see it working for you!” as opposed to lying through your teeth and releasing the fumes later on in conversations with other people, or worse, in plain old resentment for the person at hand.
12. Your undivided attention for someone’s perpetual tri-weekly crisis. You have to be their for your friends and loved ones, that’s part of the job. But when the job starts to entail tending to their every whim and need and sobbing phone call three times a week — to the point where you aren’t able to function in certain aspects of your own life — you aren’t required to do it forever. You don’t owe the sacrifice of your own life for your friend’s if and when you start to realize that their string of life crises will never end. Regardless: you can be there for them without getting overwhelmingly involved.
13. Agreement with someone’s personal beliefs, just because they’re sharing them with you. The art of coexisting is a lost one, and it’s ultimately frustrating and unfair to have to sit and nod in compliance when that’s not how you genuinely think or feel. It’s unfair to them and it’s unfair to you to keep that frustration bottled up. As with all things: there’s a way to do it tactfully and gracefully, but avoiding it all together is unhealthy.
14. A disingenuous response to the question: “how are you?” You don’t have to break into tears and tell the co-worker that passed by your whole life story, but there’s some kind of admirable merit in admitting that yeah, you’re struggling right now, but working through it. It makes the human condition seem a little less lonely and a lot more bearable, mostly because you don’t have to suppress and hide the truth.
15. A “yes” every time you’re given a project or opportunity. You don’t have to accept every last thing someone offers you. You can acknowledge their kindness and be grateful and still know how to politely decline.
16. A flawless outer appearance. You don’t have to live your life behind the façade of okayness. The people around you don’t need to be convinced that you’ve got it together all the time. The only thing you’re obligated to be is yourself, and that’s really the only thing you ever owe anybody, and much more importantly, to yourself.