You Don’t Owe Anyone An Interaction

Have you ever beat yourself up over not responding to every message you received in a day?

Me too. I know how it goes. On one hand, you’re tired and overwhelmed. But on the other hand, there are emails! Texts! Calls! All demanding a response!

If we check in with ourselves, we can sense which messages require our attention. However, we have trouble heeding that inner knowing because it conflicts with what we’ve been taught …

If someone writes, we must write back.

If someone starts talking, we must converse.

If someone moves in for a hug, we must embrace.

It doesn’t matter if we feel uncomfortable, exhausted, or just plain unwilling. If we don’t do these things, then we’re unkind and rude. Right?

***

In the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt pilot episode, reporters interview women who spent 15 years underground in a doomsday cult’s bunker.

One woman shares the story of her involvement: “I had waited on [the cult leader] at a York Steak House … and one night he invited me out to his car to see some baby rabbits, and I didn’t want to be rude, so … here we are.”

It’s a searing example of how the fear of being rude and impolite can put us in real danger. And sure, the character is exaggerated to the point of parody, but I recognized myself in that woman.

What time have I wasted in needing to be seen a certain way? What danger have I courted with my inability to say a direct no? What have I sacrificed on the altar of being too nice?

***

A while back, I was struggling with whether or not to respond to some troubling emails. I didn’t feel comfortable keeping in touch with the sender, but the thought of not responding triggered feelings of guilt and insecurity.

What if I hurt this person’s feelings? Was I not being compassionate enough? Should I be polite, or listen to my intuition?

Eventually, I asked my husband Jonathan for his perspective. He said, fiercely, “You don’t owe anyone an interaction.” 

Boundaries and relationships

***

When Jonathan said those six words, they freed me to delete those emails. Sometimes, not interacting is the most loving choice.

Yes, I practice good manners, sending thank-you notes, and staying connected to friends. But I also set boundaries and trust my intuition. There’s a balance.

If you don’t have practice with boundaries, though, it’s hard to protect your time. You’ll feel like a bad person when you step back or say no. When the false guilt strikes, remember that there is a difference between hurt and harm.

When you say, “I don’t owe anyone an interaction,” you’re not harming anyone. You’re just reminding yourself of what is true. It’s not your job to people-please or walk on eggshells. Rather, your job is to live with love and integrity. 

Will some people have hurt feelings if you decline their invitations and delete their messages? Probably. That’s tough to accept, but the alternative is worse. Trying to manage other people’s emotions while tuning out your own is exhausting. It harms your health and your relationships.

We’ve been conditioned to believe that being kind means being available 24/7. But if we don’t guard our time, our ability to be kind erodes.

So the next time you feel pressured to respond, try taking pause and reminding yourself that you don’t owe anyone an interaction. Revel in the reality that you get to choose. You have the authority to decide how to spend your time and energy.

And here’s the real beauty of it: when you don’t owe anyone an interaction …

You’re free to give from the heart. 

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Do you struggle with these boundaries? Join the conversation in the comments section below!

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12 thoughts on “You Don’t Owe Anyone An Interaction

  1. Melanie says:

    Great post! Thanks for the reminder to check in with ourselves and really be in tune with that inner voice.

      • Melanie says:

        Oops looks like I hit “send/post” too soon. Adding to the above comments- This article really reinforced for me that I did the right thing when I said “no” to someone last week and stuck to it. I knew that I couldn’t respond to their request and take care of what I needed at the same time. I felt bad, because I really, really wanted to help. Instead of that person hearing and respecting my “no”, they tried to make me feel worse. I stuck to my guns and went my way. I discovered later on that I could help them. However, I “heard” a “no”; because by “helping” them at that moment was giving into false obligation and reinforcing the idea that manipulation is the only way to get your needs and wants met. Thank you again for this great article! It is so timely!

        • What a great example, Melanie! Thanks for adding it here. I know how hard it is to stick with your no in the face of another person’s resistance, so way to go! You did some emotional heavy lifting, and I’m glad that this post affirmed your choice. You go, girl!

  2. I so need to hear this, Caroline. I do feel guilty for not responding to people and not only does responding to everyone take up valuable time, the guilt takes up valuable mind and heart space. Thank you for reminding me I don’t owe anyone an interaction. Great post!

  3. This is a really important post, Caroline — thank you! Very timely for me as I’m getting ready to move to a new home and realizing I’m just not available for a lot at the moment. The other way I’ve heard this said is “Not everything requires a response.” 🙂 The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt example makes me laugh so hard — and yet, yes, it is truly frightening when you think about it.

    Congrats on all the new readers!

    • Jill, thank you so much! I’m thrilled to hear that the post resonated, especially in this time of transition for you. Best of luck with the move; I’ll look forward to hearing more about it in your forthcoming posts. 🙂

  4. Marion says:

    Another wonderful and very helpful post, Caroline. I think this is especially difficult for women, as we’re culturally conditioned to believe we need to nurture and be nice to everyone, even at our own expense. Thanks for your wise and courageous writing.

    • I agree, Marion! This week I’ve been joking with my husband that we should start a blog entitled, “Wisdom Sayings of Jonathan”, because when he offers input into situations like the one I describe here, his words seem straightforward and logical to him, but totally revolutionary to me as a woman. (There’s that cultural conditioning at work!) Thank you for reading and sharing!!
      Caroline McGraw recently posted..You Don’t Owe Anyone An Interaction

  5. Eric says:

    It’s just as important to realize we aren’t owed an interaction either.

    Still, a response is something not be withheld if you value the relationship. It’s ok to say no.

    • Very good point, Eric! I’ve had to remind myself of that when I get impatient waiting for a response. 😉 And as you say, it’s a balance of putting in the effort to stay connected to key relationships, and yet also giving myself permission to say no / set boundaries when necessary. Thanks for the insight!
      Caroline McGraw recently posted..What to Do When You Feel Not Good Enough

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