Finding Fuck Yes

Rediscovering Your Intuition and Making It Matter

“I just don’t know what I want”

I am in my mid-30s. Most of my friends are in their 30s or early 40s. I hear this all the time. We are told what to want — a stable, well-paying, white-collar job; a heterosexual, monogamous marriage with children; a single-family home we own; a body that conforms to societal expectations — but we are not sure we want it. Yet asking ourselves what we actually want feels childish and self-indulgent, especially when the answers don’t line up with our own expectations or the expectations of the people we expect to validate us. When we find that we want to quit our respectable job, or to rent a room in a shared house with a bunch of other musicians, or to divorce the perfectly nice person we have come to feel only a benign benevolence toward, we question ourselves. We tell ourselves that we just don’t know what we want.

But we do.

December 1996

When I was fifteen years old, my friend Tarpy jumped off a bridge and died. Tarpy was not just my friend; in fact, she and I had barely talked one-on-one. But she was important and loved among my most important network of friends, the group that felt most relevant to my identity. I found out she was dead because one of those friends called me shortly before midnight, on my parents’ landline (since that was all we had), which told me as soon as I heard the ring that something was wrong. In turn, I called two more friends, waking up their parents, who woke up their kids because they also knew immediately that something was wrong. We instinctively created a phone tree because that was what felt right. Tarpy was dead. The fabric of our universe had torn. Those of us who knew were horrified by the thought of any of the others waking up in the morning believing that that fabric was intact.

I got some sleep that night — not much — and, in the morning, told my parents I was not feeling up to going to school. They insisted I had to go. So, furious, I dragged myself up the steps of my high school, trying to imagine how I would make it through each of my classes that day without falling apart. There was a message waiting for me from one of the teachers. She had driven past the bridge where my friend had killed herself the afternoon before, checked the newspaper in the morning to find out what happened, and recognized the name as someone I knew and loved. She had told my teachers not to expect me in class that day. So I spent the day sitting in the hallway with my best friend (who did not need such permission from the faculty to skip class) holding my hand when I needed him to and running interference on the well-meaning acquaintances who saw I was upset and wanted explanations or hugs. It was an awful day, although it’s lovely to look back on now and see how well I was cared for.

When I got home that afternoon, I felt a compelling need to read W.H. Auden’ poem “Funeral Blues.” I couldn’t find it in my parents’ Auden anthology (although, years later, I looked again and of course it was there — I must have been too wrapped up in my grief to see it), so I told my mom I was going to the local library to make myself a copy. (Along with the landline phone, this memory dates me — we had internet access, but we paid by the minute, and I didn’t know if I could find the poem quickly online.) Mom said no. She had a good reason, which I can’t remember now. This is the only time I can remember openly defying my parents. I burst into angry tears in the driveway and half-walked, half-ran the few blocks to the library to get my poem. I’m not particularly given to keeping mementos, but decades later, I still have that photocopy.

When I look back on that day, I think about how strong my intuition was, and how spotty other people’s intuition was, about my needs. I knew that I needed to call those friends and wake up their parents. I knew that I needed to stay up as late as I could keeping vigil for my dead friend. I knew that I needed not to go to class as usual the next day. And I knew that I needed to read that poem.

I was self-centered in a way that teenagers tend to be self-centered, in a way that most of us grow out of, and are praised for growing out of. But I knew what I wanted, and what I needed. I didn’t feel lost or uncertain. I felt grounded. I could depend on myself to know what I needed and to try to satisfy those needs.

October 2015

It was my first session with a new therapist. She asked me, “What do you want your daily life to look like? What do you want your priorities to be?”

There was a long silence. I looked out the window, then at my toes, and finally at her. “You mean I get to pick? That hadn’t occurred to me.”

She laughed. “Of course you get to pick. Who else should get to pick what your life looks like?”

This was when my world started to get a lot better.

Fuck Yes or No

In a 2013 blog entry, author Mark Manson presented the Law of Fuck Yes or No as follows:

The Law of “Fuck Yes or No” states that when you want to get involved with someone new, in whatever capacity, they must inspire you to say “Fuck Yes” in order for you to proceed with them.
The Law of “Fuck Yes or No” also states that when you want to get involved with someone new, in whatever capacity, THEY must respond with a “Fuck Yes” in order for you to proceed with them.

In essence, Fuck Yes or No means that any activity that doesn’t involve mutual enthusiastic consent on the part of all parties is (a) not worth bothering with and (b) not worth being upset over if it doesn’t happen. Frustrated that your friend hasn’t taken you up on your last few invitations to hang out? They’re not Fuck Yes about hanging out. Let it go. Not Fuck Yes about going to law school or getting married? Don’t. (Please. Ask me about either of these if you’re unconvinced.) Fuck Yes about linking arms with a bunch of friends and splashing barefoot in puddles after a rainstorm while singing They Might Be Giants’ “Whistling in the Dark” at the top of your lungs? Do it. (It’s fun, or it sure was the last time I tried it, twenty years ago.)

So how do you find your Fuck Yes? Even trickier, how do you find your mutual Fuck Yeses with other people?

Finding Your Fuck Yes

I’m stealing from my therapist here. What do you want your life to look like?

When you imagine a world in which you are happier than you think you have any right to be, a world that is constructed according to your personal wishes and values, without considering what anybody else expects or wants or needs, what does that world look like? That’s not necessarily what you’re going to be aiming for, because you’re not a resoundingly selfish human being, and you care about others. (If you are a sociopath or a narcissist, you probably aren’t reading this.) But conceiving of this ideal world is an important step to finding Fuck Yes.

Take a look around your world. Spend some time there in your mind. Open up all the drawers and poke into the corners. What’s there that surprises you? What isn’t there? What’s more important than you expected?

I’ll tell you a little about my world, although it feels like a pretty private thing to be sharing on the internet. In my world, I have many strong, authentic emotional connections with people who enjoy spending time with me and who can cope with and reciprocate my directness. I cook a lot, sometimes for and with other people. I dance regularly and feel happy and confident about my place in my dance community. I am a person whom people come to for advice and comfort, and they see me as wise and compassionate. I have a body that is strong and capable, and I do things with it that make it feel good and engaged with the world. I regularly try new things and spend time doing things I’m not good at as well as things I am. My home is a strife-free zone where my husband, my daughter, and I all feel comfortable and happy, and our friends and family feel welcome to visit anytime.

This ideal world is my roadmap to Fuck Yes. When I’m considering whether I want to say yes to a particular invitation, or whether a troubled relationship is worth salvaging, or even whether to swing by the McDonalds drive-thru on the way to game night, I consult my roadmap. Will the action I’m contemplating lead me closer to my ideal world? If not, why would I do it? Sometimes there are other compelling reasons, like because someone’s life or livelihood would be imminently threatened if I didn’t do this particular thing right now. But generally, I follow my map.

Let me tell you about some recent Fuck Yeses I’ve found:

  • At a contra dance last Friday, during the last waltz, two of my friends danced over to me, took my hands, and suggested that we start a waltz blob. We danced around the room, absorbing more people, weaving around and through each other in time with the music, laughing and making others laugh.
  • On a Wednesday morning a few weeks ago, I was feeling overwhelmed by grad school. (I understand this is a common experience.) Instead of reading for class, I took myself to Phipps Conservatory to spend some time among the plants. I wandered around and inhaled the plant smells that change from one room to the next. I took many close-up pictures of flowers. I sat in the shade in the garden and wrote a letter to a friend and got visited by bees.
  • This past Saturday night, I sat in my friends’ backyard around a crackling fire and shared a bottle of homemade lavender mead with a dear friend. We leaned our heads on each other’s shoulders and talked about our presents and our futures, being silly and making puns, connecting with each other and with our other friends who sat in the circle with us.

And here are a few Nos:

  • My friend showed me a training schedule for a running program and said, offhandedly, “We could do this together.” While I love(/hate) running and have been wanting to get back to it after several years, I know that adding another regimented thing to my life right now would not be good for my anxiety, so I said no.
  • I ended a relationship with someone I really cared about because it just was not a Fuck Yes for me anymore. I wanted it to be a Fuck Yes, but it wasn’t, and we both knew it.
  • A friend asked me a few months ago whether I would consider having regular talks with them about their life and what’s on their mind, along the lines of therapy but less formal (and understanding that I am not licensed or even trained as a therapist). I had reservations about this but agreed to schedule a time to talk through what they wanted and see how we both felt about it. My friend rescheduled our appointment, then canceled the rescheduled time. This was obviously not a Fuck Yes for my friend, nor was it a Fuck Yes for me. We haven’t made any efforts to find a time for it since.

That Pesky “Or No” Part

It’s hard to say no when you know that yes is expected. It’s especially hard to say no without trying to convince the other person that they should agree with your no. Think of all the excuses we give each other, honestly or dishonestly. I know I owe you a phone call, but things have been so crazy lately. I’d love to go running with you, but I really need to get new shoes first. I’m delighted you’re coming to town, but oh, I’m so sorry, you can’t stay with us that weekend because my mother-in-law will be here and we have to spend the whole weekend with her.

The corollary to requiring an excuse for no is this: if you can’t come up with a good excuse, you have to say yes. And that is a terrible corollary. Maybe you don’t feel comfortable saying to someone, “That doesn’t fit my Fuck Yes roadmap, so I’m saying no.” I can’t blame you; I don’t think I’d feel comfortable saying that to most people either. But you aren’t going to make any progress toward your ideal world, or find many Fuck Yeses along the way, if you’re busy wandering side paths because other people told you to and you didn’t have a good excuse not to.

It’s okay to be pretty explicit about the fact that you’re searching for Fuck Yes. Imagine that someone you like, but don’t know too well, invites you to go to a beer tasting with them, but you don’t drink. This is not an occasion for torment! You could say, “That won’t work for me, but I would love to spend time with you. What other kinds of things do you enjoy doing?” Maybe there’s a mutual Fuck Yes in there somewhere. (It feels pretty magical when you discover one unexpectedly.) Maybe you’ll end up playing bridge or painting rocks or going to a bluegrass jam with that person. But settling for the beer tasting isn’t likely to make you happy, or to foster a strong and trusting relationship with this new person.

I have people in my life with whom I am basically Fuck Yes for hugs and that’s it. That’s okay. Those are some really great hugs. Maybe someday we’ll discover more mutual Fuck Yeses, and maybe not. Maybe we’ll be too busy exploring the Fuck Yeses we’ve already found, with other people and on our own. That’s also fine.

All of the time you can spend in Fuck Yes is good time. Don’t waste that time on things that you know should be Nos. Remember that your No also frees up the other person to find the Fuck Yes they weren’t going to find if they were doing that No thing with you.

Intuition Strength Training

As I did this over and over — discerning Fuck Yes from Well, I Guess, and using No appropriately — I found that the process became more automatic. I learned that most people can cope with No just fine, and I lost all patience for people who could not cope with, or would not accept, my No. I found that people who were outraged by No (I am including many aspects of mainstream society as “people” here) sapped a lot of my energy, and disentangling myself from their expectations freed me up for a lot more fun and fulfillment. I no longer feel like I don’t know what I want. I trust myself to know what I want in the moment, or to ask for time to figure it out. My anxiety is much better than it was a couple of years ago. I feel better about myself. I feel more confident that I am loved. I am more able to deal with grief and loss.

This is what happened for me over the past couple of years. I can’t promise that it will be the same for you, but I would expect it to be very similar. I would love to hear about it either way.

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