Why do we value reliability over honesty?
So many of us, particularly those of us socialized female, have a tendency to always put the needs of others first. We’ve been trained to value being reliable and keeping our word above all else. I hear it over and over again from my coaching clients:
“I’d rather not go to that meeting/party/playdate/etc---BUT I said I would, soooooo....”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that it’s never important to put on some #actualpants and show up for the people you’re close to. And for those with kids or other dependents, what you feel like doing isn’t always relevant.
But in so many other cases, we police ourselves and in each other into doing shit we don’t want to do.
For example, I agreed to go on a trip to Mexico this summer with a dear friend. We decided spontaneously, over a glass of wine at the neighborhood wine shop. The plane tickets were so cheap that we bought them on the spot.
But in the weeks since then, I’ve waffled. When I thought about going on this trip, I didn’t feel excited. I felt anxious. I felt “off.” It wasn’t personal at all, but to me, all my reasons felt like frivolous justifications.
“I can’t just back out of this trip! We’re travelling internationally! We bought the plane tickets already. She’ll be so disappointed if I don’t go. What kind of a terrible friend am I??” etc etc. But I just couldn’t shake the feeling: I didn’t want to go.
So finally, I called my friend.
“I can’t go to Mexico. I want to want to go, but I just don’t.”
She was surprised and sad and disappointed. But it was okay. She called our other travel companion to regroup, and texted later to let me know that everything was cool between us. #goodfriend
What kind of world is it if we value doing what you said you would do three weeks ago over doing what feels like the right thing to do in this moment? Who benefits when we value reliability over authenticity?
Valuing reliability relates to patriarchy, rape culture, and ableism.
In terms of patriarchy: women are taught to prioritize the needs of others over ourselves. Women are never the center of our own story. That’s not to say that men can’t or wouldn’t sacrifice themselves for others, but when they do, it’s seen as heroic, whereas when women do it, it’s seen as expected, natural, par for the course.
So when we value showing up for something simply to preserve the feelings of other people, we’re upholding that patriarchal position.
The subtle coerciveness of rape culture is based on (among other things) the assumption that consent is irrevocable. If you said you wanted to do whatever-sexy-act last week or ten minutes ago, you’re not supposed to change your mind. Changing your mind is an affront to the desires of the other person, thus, your desires are secondary. (See point #1.)
But consent culture says we’re allowed to say yes now and say no five minutes from now. We’re allowed to change our minds. We’re allowed to back out.
Ableism presumes that your abilities stay basically the same from day to day, but for folks with disabilities, chronic illness or mental health issues, this isn’t true. Heck, it’s not true even for those of us that are (currently) able-bodied. What’s possible right now, in today’s body and mind, may or may not be possible in three hours or three days or three weeks.
The ability to say yes and then change one’s mind without social penalty is crucial for creating communities that are welcoming for differently-abled people.
So being flaky, aka, being okay with backing out of something you previously agreed to, might actually be the best thing you can do for yourself.
And get this, it might actually be better for the person on the other end of your agreement too. Because here’s the thing--when someone shows up to something out of obligation, YOU CAN TELL. It’s often apparent when there’s no enthusiasm.
I’m not saying to bail on people with no warning. I’m not saying to ghost your lover or no-show on your BFF. But with clear, direct communication, you can state your needs and your boundaries and do what you really need to do.
Yes, someone else might be sad that you couldn’t make it. It might put your coworker in a tizzy for a minute. But if these people really want what’s best for you, they’ll trust that you know what that is, even if it’s inconvenient or disappointing for them.
The idea that we have to prioritize other people’s feelings over our own well being--I’m through with it. It’s bullshit, and it doesn’t serve us anymore.
Here’s to unpacking coercive, ableist norms. It makes the world better, easier, and more liberated, not just for women or disabled people, but for ALL OF US.