The Power of No
...the not-quite-close-enough friend who asks to borrow your lipstick:
1. Celebrity makeup artist and sworn germaphobe Mally Roncal says: "I learned my makeup-sharing lesson in high school, when my friend used someone else's mascara and ended up with pinkeye. It's classic: You start passing around the blue eyeliner, and next thing, everyone's wearing eye patches." No need to imply that your friend is a walking virus factory, though; just say, "I didn't feel well this morning, and I'd rather not spread my germs."
...the friend who says, "Do I look okay in this?"
2. If you can save her from herself right now-i.e., the price tag is still on the dress and you haven't left the dressing room-say, "You look great, but that micromini doesn't do you justice."
3. If it's too late to save her but you want to help her avoid repeating the disaster, say, "You look great, as usual-though I have to admit, my favorite style on you has always been..." Then mention a specific outfit that makes her look her best.
...the friend or coworker who wants your help with yet another school bake sale or project at the office-when you don't have time to deal with your own stuff:
4. Tell her, "I'd love to help; unfortunately, I'm already overextended."
5. But if you're one of the pathologically accommodating women who can't open their mouths without saying, "Sign me up!": Shake your head and point to your STOP ME BEFORE I VOLUNTEER AGAIN button (12 for $24 at annetaintor.com).
...the friend or relative whose request to borrow money makes you uncomfortable:
6. "I'm not broke, but I can't afford to lend anything."
...the perfectly nice would-be friend who keeps inviting you to lunch-when you know in your gut that the two of you won't click:
7. "That sounds great, but I just can't put one more thing on my calendar for the next few weeks. Let me call you when things clear up." Who's to say things will ever clear up?
...the person who always wants to get together in the name of friendship but who you suspect just wants something from you:
8. Put her on the spot, politely: "I'm horribly overbooked right now, but I get the sense there's something in particular you wanted to discuss. What's up?" Any appeal-for your money, advice, contacts, time, whatever-can then be either easily satisfied or dismissed with a simple, kind "I'm sorry, I can't." Which should put an end to the lunch invitations.
...the social hug:
9. Do the preemptive handshake-or try the grab-the-forearms-then-stand-back-and-say-"Look at you!" move, as if you're admiring the would-be hugger's sheer fabulosity.
...the neighbor who asks you to check in on her cat while she's gone for the weekend:
10. If you have no pets or plants of your own-or anything else that might ever, under any circumstances, need tending; if you have no trash cans, newspapers, or mail that, in your absence, might ever need to be brought in; if it's guaranteed that no child of yours will ever damage your neighbor's property in a way that might make her think, Lawsuit?-then by all means say, "I'm sorry, but it's not a good weekend." Otherwise play by the golden rule. Someday you will thank us.
...the friend who asks if it's okay to bring another guest...
11. to your wedding: "I'm so sorry, but the guest list is set. It's a numbers thing-I'm sure you understand."
12. to your dinner party: "I'm planning to keep this gathering small and focused. I'd really like to stick to the guest list."
...the friend or relative who asks you to babysit:
13. You think you have to invent some elaborate excuse. You think it's a big, huge deal to say that you're sorry, you can't. Here's what you say: "I'm sorry, I can't."
Penny Wrenn is a New York-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in Esquire, Essence, and Redbook.