How to Say No and Keep Your Friends


You’re at a party and your best friend offers you a drink.

“C’mon,” she says, “all our friends are drinking. You don’t want to be different, do you?”

One evening you’re at a friend’s house watching cable TV, and a questionable movie comes on.

“Hey, this is a great movie,” says your friend. “Let’s watch it, okay?”

Some of you are planning a night out. So far, all of the others want to go to a popular dance club and bar.

“It’s a great place,” they say. “Everyone goes there.”

It’s exam time at school. You’ve studied hard, and you’re confident you’ll do well. One of your friends hasn’t studied, and he’s got to pass the exam to pass the class.

“Let me copy your answers before you turn in your test,” he whispers. “You know I’ve got to pass this test.”

Sometimes you’ll face situations where you either say no to your friends or compromise your values. For some the biggest problem is keeping the Word of Wisdom; for others dating by LDS standards is a challenge. It’s easier to live the gospel when most of your friends have the same values and beliefs as you do. But even if you live in an area where you can have a lot of LDS friends, chances are that sometime you’ll find yourself in a situation where people you like ask you to compromise your beliefs. Your answer to your friends’ requests to do something wrong may determine how they feel about you, and, more important, how you feel about yourself.

It’s not always easy to tell your friends no. But while you may occasionally have to sacrifice a friendship to maintain your standards, it is often possible to say no and still be friends.

Here’s how others have done it.

Allison Bowman of Chandler, Arizona, explains her way of saying no. “I don’t preach; I just say no. You can’t be rude or they’ll think you’re stuck up. I just let them know what my standards are, and that’s the way I am. They can’t change me.

“When I moved to Arizona, there were some older guys in my debate class who wanted me to ditch class and go out to lunch with them. I told them, ‘No, I don’t do that.’

“They used to ask me to go on dates too. Every time they’d ask me, I’d tell them, ‘No, I can’t date until I’m 16.’ I must have explained it 100 times. But now they kind of look out for me. We’re all still good friends.”

Wilfredo Perez, a recent convert from Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico, has always had a lot of friends.

“The day I joined the Church,” he says, “many members told me that maybe I’d lose some friends. I wondered why. I couldn’t see why my being a Latter-day Saint would affect my friends.

“I kept doing things with my friends, but I no longer talked about or did some of the things I used to do before I joined the Church. Sometimes that made them a little uncomfortable. In the beginning, it was hard to say no. I didn’t want to hurt their feelings or have them think I didn’t like them anymore.

“One of my friends invited me to a New Year’s Eve party. I went and he told me, ‘Wilfredo, come in and have all the rum and beer you want.’

“I told him, ‘No thanks. I don’t like rum or beer, and besides, it’s not good for my health.’

“‘Okay,’ he said, ‘enjoy the party any way you want.’ So I enjoyed being with my friends, but without drinking or doing things I knew I shouldn’t.”

Mark Ray of Tempe, Arizona, says many of his friends aren’t LDS, but he doesn’t see that as a problem.

“I think it’s all right to have nonmember friends, but we must not be overly influenced by them. I do lots of things with nonmembers, but I don’t compromise my standards.

“Once I was on a school biology trip to California with some kids I knew. That night, when we got to the hotel room, they broke out some beer. I said, ‘No thanks,’ and just sat around. I felt kind of dumb at first, but they didn’t push it.

“Most of my friends know I’m a Mormon, so that saves me from saying no very often. They already know my standards.”

In some parts of the world, Latter-day Saints are few and far between. Thomas Eberhardt is one of only seven Latter-day Saints living in Muehlheim, Germany, a town of 3,000 people. Because the majority of Thomas’s friends aren’t LDS, and because beer is such a common drink in Germany, he’s had many opportunities to say no.

“In Germany, they drink beer everywhere for every occasion. As soon as you enter someone’s house, they pour you a glass of beer.

“First, I thank them for offering. Then I tell them I’d rather not drink beer and explain why. I’ll ask them if they’ve ever heard of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They’ll answer no, so I explain a little about the Church and the Word of Wisdom. My friends then respect my beliefs, but I have to always be positive, not offensive.

“Soon after I was baptized,” says Thomas, “I was drafted into the German army. In Germany, all 19-year-old men must serve at least 15 months in the army. We soldiers lived in large communities, and I could not avoid being in situations that conflicted with the teachings and commandments I had recently gained a testimony of.

“It wasn’t long before I was offered cigarettes. I always tried to be polite, thank them for their offer, and then tell them I did not smoke. My fellow soldiers accepted it with no problem.

“However, I was invited to a friend’s birthday party, and at the party I was offered beer. I thanked them for their offer and told them I didn’t drink. My fellow soldiers got more pushy as the party went on. I finally could find no other way than to explain to them why I didn’t drink.

“I stood up and said to them all, ‘Thank you very much for your wonderful invitation to be here at this birthday party. Now I want to tell you all that I cannot drink beer or alcohol, and I want to tell you why. As you have probably heard, I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Lord has commanded us not to drink alcohol, and that is the reason why I don’t drink.’

“After that, I had no more problems with being offered beer.”

Michele Randria of Mont de Marsan, France, also lives in a town with very few Latter-day Saints. Naturally many of her friends aren’t Mormons.

“In my home town, I’m the only member my age. Fortunately for me, my father has never used tobacco or alcohol even though he’s not LDS, so most of my friends know that I don’t drink or smoke either.

“With dating in France,” explains Michele, “it was much more difficult. I really had to make up my mind in advance. But even with that, sometimes it was very difficult. If a boy wanted to do something I knew I shouldn’t do, I had to be dead serious and tell him no. And sometimes, after that, the boy wasn’t my friend anymore.

“I found that it’s always easier to say, ‘No, I can’t go on this date or to this place,’ before the date takes place. Once you’re on the date, it’s really difficult to say no. So sometimes, I just avoided the situation by avoiding the date.”

For Cathy Antonsson of Helsingborig, Sweden, saying no was not always easy or pleasant.

“It was rough. It’s not easy, but you have to pay the price for who you are. Sometimes I cried my eyes out because I had to stay home. It was difficult because many people here just aren’t religious.

“I went to Rome for two weeks on a school trip. In Italy, they always offered us wine. They have wine with most of their meals, so my friends kept offering me wine, and I kept saying, ‘No, I don’t drink that.’

“My friends spent so much money on drinks. Everytime we went out, I would put the same amount of money in my purse that they spent on their drinks. Before we left, I went to an exclusive dress shop and bought a very expensive designer dress. All my friends were really surprised when they saw it and said, ‘Hey, how could you afford that?’ I told them what I had done and that that was one of the advantages of not drinking.”

Despite the hardships, Cathy was glad she upheld her standards. “After I graduated from junior college (in Sweden, students 16 to 19 attend junior college), a boy that I used to date told me that when we started school he had set a goal that before we graduated he would get me to break my standards. He said it always bugged him that I was so moral.

“When we used to go out on dates, I always said, ‘Hey, no way. I want to be your friend, but I don’t do that.’ After it was all over, he told me, ‘I have never respected a girl as much as I respect you.’”

For many people, a sense of humor helps them to tell their friends no. Brian Halverson of Minneapolis, Minnesota, explains: “My sense of humor always comes into play and gets me out of tight situations. My friends don’t even know what a Mormon is. But they know what I stand for.”

A sense of humor also works well for Loraine Taylor of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

“Everybody’s not a jokester,” says Loraine, “but for me that usually works.”

“I was invited to a graduation party, and I knew that joking wouldn’t do it. I also knew that I wouldn’t be able to leave early because I had a date. So I prayed really hard before the party that I would be able to resist.

“People kept offering me drinks all night, but I had a prayer in my heart the whole time, so I made it through the evening.

“At first, it wasn’t easy. It took time and a lot of refusals before my friends finally knew me well enough to know that I was still their friend—even when I said no. But later they wouldn’t smoke or drink around me.”

As you can see, it’s not always easy to tell friends no, and there’s no perfect method for getting out of difficult situations. You can’t rely on what others do; you’ve got to decide in advance for yourself. If you study the scriptures, attend Church meetings, listen to the prophet’s counsel, and pray for guidance, you’ll be strengthened in your resolve to live the gospel and be able to come up with answers that work for you.

Allison explains, “I made up my mind when I was seven years old that I was going to try my hardest to do what’s right. Now I think of the circumstances before any decisions. If I do something wrong, I know I’ll have to pay the price later.”

“The key,” says Wilfredo, “is to look for ways to say no that won’t make your friends feel bad. You don’t necessarily have to lose your friends when you’re a Mormon,” he explains. “Now, when I’m with my friends, they don’t smoke, they don’t drink, and they don’t swear. My old friends are still my friends, and now I have more friends than ever.”

One of the group adds, “There were times I didn’t say no, and my friends were shocked. I could tell that people were disappointed, and I was too. It made it harder to resist the next time.”

“After you stand up for what you believe,” says Brian, “it gets easier. People get to know you for that, and they respect you for it. Everybody will know what you stand for.”

And that’s the most important thing to remember as you face difficult situations among your friends. Decide in advance what you believe in, and when the time comes, stand up for your beliefs.

If you do that, you can say no and still keep your friends, plenty of them.

[photos] Photography by Steve Bunderson