What if someone told you that there was a little pink, tasty pill that if you swallowed it, every word that came out of your mouth would be extremely pleasing to everyone? You’d never ever have to worry again, about saying the wrong thing that hurt someone feelings or made you sound selfish? Would you take it? I know lots of women who would.
In fact, I swallowed that pill when I was a little girl and I am pretty sure it was my mother who gave it to me. She, like many women of her generation, was raised to be a “good girl.” Her parents liked her best when she was obedient and dutiful and respectful ─you know, all those qualities we’ve been told are “feminine”─ and naturally, she expected the same from her own daughter.
So I swallowed the little pink pill and it worked. I said all the right things; I never sounded selfish, or hurt anyone’s feelings and I was extremely pleasing to my mother, my friends and eventually to my husband.
But there were side effects to that pill that no one had told me about. Just like all the other pharmaceuticals we’re warned about in those obnoxious ads, swallowing the pink pill caused anxiety, sleeplessness, weight gain, depression, low self-esteem, thoughts of suicide and even the occasional self-medication to alleviate these symptoms with vodka and grapefruit juice.
And the need to always be pleasing to others had other repercussions, too. The “friends” I made were only my friends because they knew I would say the things they wanted to hear, even when deep inside, I didn’t want to say them and they knew I didn’t want to say them.
“Patricia, you’ll give up your weekend to babysit my three kids at your house, won’t you?”
“Awww. Thanks. You’re so sweet.”
As for family, my husband and mother were great at giving me the “I’m-so-hurt-because-you’re-so mean” silent treatment should I ever even try to stick up for myself. And I was my mother-in-law’s go-to daughter-in-law for everything from dealing with her business for her at the Motor Vehicles Office to rolling her jars of pennies. Two real fun jobs, don’t ya think? I still remember sitting there, being the pleasing one, rolling up pennies and seething while she sat and watched television.
And let’s not even talk about that husband ─ the one I’d “earned” by always saying the most pleasing things.
Believe me, there are special kinds of people leeches—I call them “pleeches”─ who latch on to you the moment they figure out that the only words that you can say are, “Yes,” “You’re right” “and “Okay.”
I finally discovered that the only antidote for the little pink pill was forcing the word “no” to come out of my mouth. The first time I said it I was 33 years old and I had a two-year-old son whose grandmother thought there was nothing wrong with holding him on her lap with no seat belt while they were passengers in a car.
I had very patiently, in my respectful way, of course, explained to her why this was dangerous and wrong, but since that was not pleasing to her she just ignored it, although I didn’t know that. Until one day, I happened to be out in the front garden when she drove up and I saw my two year old was sitting on his great aunt’s lap. Wearing no seatbelt.
That was a defining moment, alright. I had this one child and I was going to lose him on someone’s whim if I didn’t get the word “No” out of my mouth, loud and clear. Despite the circumstance, it was much harder to say it than you might think. My knee caps were so shaky they felt like they’d been replaced by lemon Jello. But I had a choice that day: obey the pink pill and lose my son in a possible car accident, or say “no.” They didn’t like hearing it, but it worked. My son was always in a safety harness after that.
I’d like to say it was easy to say no since that happened, but it wasn’t. It took years of practice before “No” was a true working part of my vocabulary. In fact there are times all these years later when it’s clear that the effects of the little pink pill can reoccur. My “no“ sometimes still comes out too weak:
“Um, I don’t think that’s going to work for me.”
Or sometimes, because I’m afraid it won’t come out at all, too strong:
“NO, goddammit! NO.”
But a miracle has happened ever since I started saying it, whether said well or poorly. I have different friends and a different husband whose sole reason for their presence in my life is not because they can get me to “please” them. They like me, even if we don’t always agree. I have a new mother-in-law, too who respects me.
Yep. That’s the main thing that’s different: Respect. I am not always necessarily liked, which is still hard, but I am, most of the time, certainly respected.
And so, what I have to say to any woman whether she’s old or young, is this:
When it comes to taking that little pink pill that will turn you into a pleaser rather than as strong and respected human being, to paraphrase Lauren Bacall,
“Just put your lips together and say ‘no.’”
Editor’s note: “The Little Pink Pill” was read by the author, Patricia V. Davis, on April 20th 2013 at Women Rock It with a Heart event, presented by Hyla Molander and Evan Bailyn. To learn more about this wonderful event that celebrates women, visit their website, or read Jen Duchene’s The Polite Woman’s take on the event .