The night of my first “no,” I put on my yoga pants and my husband’s t-shirt at 7 o’clock. I crawled into bed and read stories with my girls. Then, after tucking everyone into their own cozy comforters, my very patient husband and I shared a bottle of red wine and a wonderfully quiet night together. It was heaven right here on earth. And, for the first time, I was absolutely fine not being part of the group. I knew my girlfriends were all going on without me, sipping their half-priced mojitos and sharing some kind of double-fudge concoction in a shallow pool of crème-anglaise. I smiled knowing that they were all having a delightful time, and the world was still spinning, and, as my friend Lauri always says, “no babies were dyin’” as a result of my decision to say no.
After my first experience saying no, I admit that I became nearly drunk with delight at the very thought of saying it again. It was empowering. It was cathartic. It was life changing. And, I mean that with no drama intended. It was actually and literally, in the absolute real sense of the word life changing. Why in the world had I waited over 40 years to figure out that more-the-merrier has its limits. And, that giving up nearly everything simply to be part of “the group” is no way to live a full and meaningful life.
This shift in my whole thought-process took on a life of its own, like a small snowball that rolls down a hill without anyone close enough to catch it or slow it down. I became determined, for the first time, to dig deep, to turn inward, and figure out exactly who I was with no props, with no “groups,” and with no pre-conceived notions about whom I was expected to be by everyone else.
I started thinking about who was most important in my life. I made a list on paper and doodled all over the names like I was back in junior high. I wrote out all of the things that really mattered to me. And, then I wrote down all of the groups, the committees, the events, and all of those external things that had defined me for 40 years.
I looked at my list. I prayed. And, then, I began reluctantly crossing things off of my list, one at a time. I knew that there was no human on this planet that could possibly keep all of the things that were on my list and still have enough time and energy to devote to the things that suddenly mattered the most. It felt very strange to cross off names of people, names of events that I had always been part of. It was almost like erasing part of my history.
But, as I continued, I realized that I was not erasing history at all. I was uncovering who I really was and who I was meant to be. I was eliminating all the props that I had been surrounding myself with all these years (the props that made me look so good and productive and popular and totally put-together). Each layer that I crossed off my list left more of me exposed. I knew that without my “props,” the me that I had been putting out there for everyone to see might not look so shiny and appealing. The me-minus-the-props was actually not very party-worthy. But the me that I began to uncover was authentic, deeply caring and devoted, and unabashedly loving. The me that began to emerge on this piece of paper didn’t look exciting but she looked like someone I would want to know.
As 40 crept ever closer to 41, I continued to explore my new downsized life. I realized that the quality of a few close and meaningful friendships was so much better than that of five dozen superficial ones. The need to be invited faded quickly into hopes that I wouldn’t be invited so I that I wouldn’t need to hurt feelings. I found that spending more time with fewer people fed my heart and filled my innermost being.
And that whole idea of measuring the success of a party by the number of people who crossed the threshold of my front door seemed, well, laughable.
So, how did I spend my 41st birthday? With my husband and three girls and Bailey, my German Shepherd. It was perfect. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.