The Delicate Balance Between Being Sweet and Growing A Backbone

It’s pretty natural to want people to like you. No one walks around thinking, “Okay, how can I earn a reputation as a heinous monster?”  But there’s a fine line between being a nice person and being a doormat. A pushover. Sometimes you have to stop being nice for a minute and tell someone what you’re really thinking. It’s difficult. I’m getting better at it as I get older, but it’s hard. Most people don’t like confrontation. Most people don’t like to hurt someone’s feelings (emphasis on most people). But sometimes you think you’re doing the right thing by being all nice and sweet, when really it would be better for you (and probably the other person too) to just have a backbone and be honest. Since I’m kind of Jewish and it’s the Jewish New Year, I’ve decided I’m going to work on this.

Here’s what inspired this thought: I have an infection (nothing major) so I was feeling really sick all day/night yesterday. I was not in the best of spirits. I was basically Cameron from Ferris Bueller’s Day off. Like, I almost started doing this. Chris and I were just lying on the couch trying to relax. All of a sudden a brain numbingly loud knock and three door bell rings sound. Then someone tries to open our locked door.

“WTF!?” I say.

Chris jumps off the couch. I automatically assume our neighbors were having some kind of emergency, because who behaves like that otherwise? Turns out it was some guy and some girl trying to sell us magazine subscriptions. First of all, unless you’re selling me delicious Girl Scout cookies….don’t bother me at home. But even if these people were selling me delicious Girl Scout cookies, I wouldn’t have been interested in the state I was in last night.

These people stood in our doorway with the door wide open for no less than 15 minutes as the guy rambled without letting us get a word in. He was so obnoxious. He kept saying that he was Jewish and was therefore a great salesman and we should feel obligated to buy something from him. He also said that because he was Jewish we should feel obligated to send him to Germany (apparently if he sells a lot he wins a trip to Germany) as a form of restitution. In my head I was thinking, “If you’re such a good Jewish salesman, why are you selling magazines door-to-door on Rosh Hashanah? And I hate people like you who give my people a bad name, you obnoxious clown.” Instead I just lay on the couch cursing the fates for my discomfort. He also told Chris and I that we had no personality. There’s nothing like an insult to make you want to spend money.

Finally I told the guy I had every magazine I wanted and he eventually got out of there. But all last night I was thinking, “Why in God’s name did I let this obnoxious clown stand in the doorway of my apartment for so long?” Why didn’t I just say, “You’re extremely rude and annoying and you probably aren’t even legally allowed to be doing this so get lost.” I kept getting annoyed every time I thought of a witty comeback I should have used on this guy.

This brings me to the issue of growing a backbone versus being nice. Part of the reason I didn’t tell the guy off was because I felt like death. The other part was because I feel weird being rude to strangers. It’s uncomfortable. But there’s a huge difference between being rude to a stranger and letting a stranger impose him or herself on you. I used to think that situations like this were either black or white. You were either polite to someone or you were rude. You let them talk your ear off or you kicked them out. Not the case. You can let someone talk briefly and then say, “We’re all set. Thanks for your time.” Or, when they prove themselves to be obnoxious say, “I don’t really need to be insulted in my own home. I’m not interested.” I did NOT need to let that guy ramble with the door open. Plus he was rude, so he doubly didn’t deserve to ramble.

Even if you don’t encounter a man trying to sell you magazines at your apartment door at 8pm, the same principle applies. It may seem like you either have to be nice or be rude. Nope. There is always a polite but firm way to express your thoughts and needs. I’m just realizing this now, but it’s true. I used to avoid telling a friend if she did something to hurt me. Better to be hurt than to have an awkward confrontation. Now I don’t pick fights, but I’m really making an effort to let someone know if I’m really hurt by something. It helps keep resentment from building and prevents the person from doing the same annoying/hurtful thing over and over.

I dedicated way too much time to an obnoxious door-to-door salesman, but the point I’m making is important. It’s hard and uncomfortable but I’m working on growing a backbone. It may not seem like it, but there’s usually a middle ground where you can express yourself and not be rude.

Do you guys struggle with this? How do you handle confrontations? Do you let people walk all over you or are you TOO strong? How do you find the middle ground?

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  1. Jackie Ch. says:

    oh my gosh, I need to grow a backbone ;(

  2. annoymous says:

    Ok I probably shouldn’t be doing this but here goes I have a 22 year old step daughter who I’ve known and lived with since she was 2 her mom hasn’t seen her since she was 7 any way she’s married now and they have a 19 month old son so I agreed to quit my job to watch him have been now since he was 7 months how do I tell off my intimidating son in law…here’s the problem he goes out of town for a training and hasn’t seen his son all week you would think he’d want to but no they drop him off for me to watch and this isn’t the first time they have done this it makes me mad what do I do I sort of said something yesterday I don’t want to cause problems but I feel used

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