I love everything about Christmas presents. I love Christmas shopping, and finding that special thing to make someone’s face light up on Christmas Day. I love settling down with a bad Christmas movie and a stack of presents, spending hours wrapping each one with painstaking care. But most of all – and this perhaps colours me in a more selfish light – I love getting presents. I was always that kid who tore off the wrapping paper because she was so excited about what was inside. Giving and receiving presents is 100% my love language – it’s how I best show others that I know and love them, and how I best feel known and loved – but saying that, I cannot decide how I feel about writing a Christmas list…
In my family, you write a Christmas list – and I never had a problem with that. For some kids, it’s part of the Christmas magic where they write a letter to Santa. I personally used to love going through the Argos catalogue and just circling all the things I wanted. For me, writing a Christmas list has always been a great system; you ask for what you want, your family doesn’t have to stress about finding you something; and no one is disappointed come Christmas Day. But as I got older, and I met James, I started to question the very nature of writing a list.
You see, James and I don’t do lists – we both want surprises on Christmas Day. We want the other person to choose things we’d like – things we’d never think to get for ourselves – and even get a bit competitive with each other about who gets to “win” at giving the best presents. And after a while, I began to get mad at the very notion of writing a Christmas list. Why can’t other people just buy me something they think I’ll like? Don’t they know me at all? James doesn’t need a list. Writing a list started to seem transactional, like I was just adding a middle-man who would go buy the thing I wanted instead of me just buying it myself.
But there’s a key part of mine and James’ present buying technique that I’ve left out: we play a little game. We go Christmas shopping, and wander around looking for things for other people. BUT, at the same time, we also point at stuff we like and go, “Oh, that’s nice, isn’t it?” The longer you linger at the item, the more fuss you make, lets the other person know how much you’d actually quite like that item for Christmas. And then we split up for half an hour, go back and get those items the other person obviously wanted.
And for some reason that seems better than just asking for the thing you want. Even though I know I’m dropping seriously heavy hints, to the point of full-blown inception, somehow I delude myself that James is coming up with these ideas all by himself. I’m not being greedy or demanding or picky, because I’m not outright asking for any of this stuff, but he just happens to know me so well that he picks the right things every single time. He just gets me.
Yeah, I’m not fooling myself either.
I’ve started to notice how rubbish I am at being direct, at simply stating my needs or asking for something I want. So often I try to wheedle my way around it. I complain to the air, “Oh, there’s just so much laundry to do” instead of asking James if he’d mind putting a load in while he’s working from home. I say, “Man, I’m thirsty” and wait for someone to offer to go make a round of drinks. I don’t want to sound demanding or naggy, or put myself in the vulnerable position of asking and giving someone the chance to say no. Far better to hint, and hope, and then get angry and offended when the other person doesn’t magically do the thing I wanted.
And I hate a gender stereotype but I wonder if it’s a bit of a girl thing. I wonder if, as women, we have somehow been trained to take the scenic route instead of going direct. I wonder if someone once taught us that nice girls don’t just say what they think, but pose their opinions as suggestions prefaced with, “I don’t know if this would work but…” I wonder if we’ve internalised the old adage that you don’t just tell your husband an idea, because you need to make him think it was his idea (I also wonder how many people will pick up on the irony of me starting all of these sentences with “I wonder” instead of stating things straight on…)
Why do we say “I’m fine” when something is clearly bothering us? Why do we suffer through years of bad friendships, bad relationships, instead of calling the other person out on their behaviour? Why do we shy away from taking credit for our achievements, or putting ourselves forward for things we’d be good at? Do we hate being vulnerable? Do we fear being seen as a nag? Do we think we shouldn’t have to ask, or do we think we don’t have a right to?
One of the best autobiographies I’ve ever read is Yes Please by Amy Poehler (for those of you who don’t know, she’s famous for being in Parks and Recreation, Saturday Night Live, and a bunch of movies with Tina Fey). Amy Poehler is famously one of the nicest people in TV, but also someone who puts herself out there, seizes opportunities and champions the women around her. As she explains in the preface, her philosophy is tied up in the two key words of the book’s title:
“It’s called Yes Please because it is the constant struggle and often the right answer. Can we figure out what we want, ask for it, and stop talking? Yes please. Is being vulnerable a power position? Yes please. Am I allowed to take up space? Yes please. Would you like to be left alone? Yes please. I love saying “yes” and I love saying “please”. Saying “yes” doesn’t mean I don’t know how to say no, and saying “please” doesn’t mean I am waiting for permission. “Yes please” sounds powerful and concise. It’s a response and a request. It is not about being a good girl; it is about being a real woman.”
So this Christmas, in 2020 and beyond, let’s stop beating around the bush, and start saying “Yes please”. If you’re truly happy with surprises on Christmas Day, say yes please, and if there’s a list of stuff you’d really like, say yes please. Say yes please to opportunities at work for promotion and more responsibility (and say yes please to being paid fairly for all that work you’re doing). Say yes please to your family when you need them to help out around the house. Say yes please to spending time with your mates, and yes please to having a break for yourself. Let’s be strong AND kind, independent AND collaborative, assertive AND polite. Let’s be “Yes please”.
Written by Chloe Satchell-Cobbett, Deputy Editor, Liberti