Sometimes You Have to Say No to Say Yes!

“A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, or is it?”

Have you ever had to say no to something in order to open the door to saying yes to something else? What happened?

I had a great conversation with a colleague over lunch last week. She’s been dating a guy for the last two years. She seems to describe her relationship with him as somewhere between “things are OK” and “it’s pretty good” whenever we get together and catch up.  I’m not sure we’ve ever connected where she hasn’t shared some level of angst or tension with where things were at with this guy. There certainly has never been an instance of total love, passion, respect, joy, and fulfillment.  The fact is that her boyfriend is a nice guy and she enjoys being with him (most of the time), but their relationship always strikes me as hard and difficult.

After I got divorced and started dating the man I am now married to, the word that kept popping into my head was “easy!” No, I wasn’t easy! Our relationship was easy! That’s about as complex a word as I could use to describe how we got along from day 1, and in fact, how it continues to be 8 years later. It wasn’t complex; it wasn’t challenging. There weren’t more days of strife than days of joy. There wasn’t more anger and angst than there was love and laughter. Simply put, it was easy. That’s not to say we didn’t face obstacles. We did. Any relationship does, especially relationships later in life that have to take into account things like ex-spouses and children, histories and hurts. We called these obstacles our “hurdles” and made sure we talked about them and dealt with them, and we did, and still things were “easy.”

Which means that I’m puzzled by how “hard” my colleague’s relationship seems to be for both of them. I asked her if it’s always been this difficult. It has. I asked her if it was worth it. She didn’t know. I asked her if this relationship was giving her everything she wanted. It isn’t. But still, for two years, she has stayed put.

I wasn’t sure how direct to be with my friend. Yes, she’s a colleague, but she’s also a friend. I asked her to describe what she wanted from her relationship. She wants more than she is getting. She’s getting “OK” or “good,” and she wants “great.” Frankly, there’s nothing wrong at all with any one of us wanting, expecting, or waiting for “great.”

I asked her why she is sticking around. I asked her why she didn’t just cut her losses and move on. If this man isn’t capable of giving her what she really wants, what good is it going to do either of them if she sticks around. He feels the angst too. She isn’t giving him what he truly and deeply wants either. Both are “fine,” but neither is “fantastic.” They are sort of stuck in this icky and complacent place where neither is terribly happy, but their fleeting bright moments make up for the cloudiness that surrounds so much of their relationship.  The truth is that they want very different things for their future. We’re talking some pretty major differences in expectations. Marriage/no marriage.  Kids/no kids. Pretty major stuff, right?

She didn’t really have a clear answer for why she might want to think about moving on until I pointed out what I thought was pretty obvious. Sometimes you have to say no to something, in order to say yes to something else!

Perhaps it was time to say no to this relationship, so that she could say yes to the opportunity of a new relationship. She wasn’t going to build an online dating profile while still in a relationship with this guy. She isn’t going to put herself out there as available when she is in a relationship. She’s too honest for that. As a result, she’s stuck. She’s not saying no to her current situation, which means she isn’t putting herself in any situations to say yes to something better.

I get it. I really do. It is scary and there is a real risk. The risk is that she says no to this relationship and then nothing comes along for which she can say yes. What happens then? Not only has she said no to mediocre, but now she doesn’t even have a relationship at all. We talked about that. Emotionally and intellectually it’s easy to arrive at different answers. The heart and the head can lead us down divergent paths.

You know that old saying, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”? That essentially means that it’s better to have a lesser, but certain advantage, than the possibility of a greater one that may come to nothing (by the way, little history lesson, this statement likely refers back to medieval falconry where a bird in the hand (the falcon) was a valuable asset and certainly worth more than two in the field).

I really like my friend. She has an amazing spirit about her. She’s smart, funny, athletic, gorgeous … truly the whole package. I want to see her truly fulfilled and happy. I don’t want to see her settle.

What do you think? What would you tell my friend? Should she say no in order to have the opportunity to say yes? Have you said no in order to say yes?


About the Author:

Author Monique A. Honaman wrote “The High Road Has Less Traffic: honest advice on the path through love and divorce” (2010) in response to a need for a book that provided honest, real, and raw advice about how to survive and thrive through one of life’s toughest journeys, and “The High Road Has Less Traffic … and a better view” (2013) to provide perspectives on love, marriage, divorce and everything in between. The books are available on Learn more at

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