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What Does "Maybe" Really Mean?

Updated: Aug 29, 2023

I used to say "Maybe" when I really meant "No". So one thing that maybe can mean is, “I want to say no, but I’m scared.”

Sometimes we say "Maybe" because we’re really not sure what we want. This can mean a lot of things, from “I want to do something with you, but I’m not sure I want to do that particular thing,” to “I want to do that, but I’m not sure right now is a good time” to “I’m excited to try this, but I’m not sure that I will like it” to any number of combinations that make us unsure.

There are many reasons to be unsure, and I like to make sure that young people hear that it is normal and common to be unsure, and that it’s OK to take the time to think and feel into what they actually want. I’ve seen too many books and educators admonishing young people to know what they want and have clear boundaries.

Easier said than done! Please have compassion for yourself and others around the challenges we all have when figuring out what we want or don’t want in the moment.

Sometimes we say "Maybe" because we are having a hard time knowing how we feel. We may have a lot of chatter in our minds, and we may be experiencing a lot of different sensations in our body. It could be overwhelming and cause us to be confused about how we actually feel about something.

We live in a world that forces us to push our feelings down on a daily basis, in order to carry on and do what we need to do to fit in, or get by. So when we suddenly need to check in with ourselves to figure out how we feel about something, we can be out of practice on how to do that. I’ll be writing a blog piece on how we can get better at checking in with ourselves soon.

In our book, we recommend encouraging people to default to a “No” whenever they want to say "Maybe". There are several reasons for this.

When I used to say "Maybe’ when I really wanted to say "No", it led to a lot of exhausting and stressful mental convolutions as I went home and stewed about how to avoid the thing I had just said "Maybe" to. I would really live with a cloud of negative anticipation hanging over my head.

For people who say "Maybe" when they’re not really sure how they feel, or exactly what they want, it simply creates an atmosphere of uncertainty between people and creates discomfort for themselves, others, or both. Most people are confused or frustrated when they hear a maybe, and would rather get a clear no.

If we default to "No" whenever we’re not an undeniable and authentic "Yes", we provide clarity to others while gaining time and space to think things over and figure out what we do want. We can then come back to the conversation with a clear vision of what we would like, and collaborate to find a mutually agreeable outcome.

This simple advice - say "No" when you’re a "Maybe" - has changed my life. Try it out and let me know what happens for you!

In the Consent Culture Intro workshop, featured in our book Creating Consent Culture: A Handbook For Educators, my co-author Marcia Baczynski and I share fun and interactive exercises that help students to experience and practice saying “No” in a safer environment. We also share simple exercises for youth to check in with themselves, explore their internal feelings, likes, and wants, and learn to notice embodied clues as to whether they are a "Yes" or a "No".

To learn more about the workshop and the book, visit

Order the book here!

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