The Day I Failed the Assertiveness Test

I was raised to be nice to everyone. It was one of my mom’s basic rules of life. Don’t be mean and don’t get mad about stuff. Being a trained nice person can result in freakishly unassertive behavior, however. I may have set some records in letting people walk all over me and it’s possible that I’m in some scientific journals and a textbook or two.

I was a psychology minor and for one of my classes I had to get a certain number of points by participating in studies, experiments, surveys and other crap that grad students needed human subjects for.

Not realizing how hard it was to find studies appropriate for me, I did what I do best and procrastinated. When I finally realized I had limited time to earn the points, I realized with some measure of horror that the studies offering points were for diabetics, sex addicts, cross dressers, the deaf, men who lost their mothers from ages 5-13, and people with missing limbs.

I was considering faking one of the above conditions and getting the points any way I could, when my dorm room phone rang one day and it was a grad student with an offer.

“Are you interested in participating in a memory study I’m doing?” he asked me.

“Ummm, I’m not sure. I can’t remember.”

After not laughing (psych grad students have no senses of humor), he told me the parameters of the study. I would have to spend about an hour performing some memory tests and I would get 15 points. Fifteen points! I was euphoric.

I told him I’d do it. And then he raised the first small red flag.

“There’s no electric shock involved.”

Well, thank you for that! I hadn’t asked, but thanks anyway for the information.

I should have known that if they were using the lack of electric shock as a positive thing, already having the 15 points (FIFTEEN! POINTS!), that there was something dark lurking there.

I showed up to the grad student’s office and was waiting in the waiting room with a guy of medium cuteness (except for the fact that he had black hair and wore his bangs heavy and straight across) and we started talking and he asked me what my major was and I said journalism and he said he was in accounting or something completely opposite of journalism and we’re talking away and he’s telling me about this paper he has to write, for accounting, and he’s having trouble because he’s not a very good writer. (Thus the majoring in accounting thing.)

The grad student comes out and tells both of us that we’re going to be taking this memory test together.

He puts us in a tiny room – like a TJ Maxx dressing room with a table and two chairs crammed in there, where the mirror is one-way.

I am handed a list of about 50 nonsense words and told that I have 3 minutes to try to memorize as many of them as I can.

Bangs Guy was given a list of 20 real words and told that he had 10 minutes to memorize them. We are told to not talk to each other.

“Go!” said the grad student and left the room and closed the door. I started frantically looking at my list of words. Julpin . . . merkle . . . frenshic . . .

“Man this is weird,” Bangs said.

“Yeah . . .” I was trying to be polite, but I had way more words than him. This wasn’t fair. Borlis, crol, phenstoy.

“It’s hot in here,” Bangs set his paper down and pushed his hair back and was looking around the room. “How many points did they tell you we were getting for this?”

Shut up! Julpin merkle fren-something . . . something . . . Oh crap, I’ll never learn these. But I kept smiling at Bangs and talking to him because, what, should I be rude?

“Fifteen. We’re getting fifteen points,” I told him. He wasn’t even looking at his words! I hadn’t even learned five words out of my 50, but at least I was trying!

“What’s the best burger place in Kent. Do you ever go to Ray’s?”

Shut it! SHUT. IT!!!! Julpin . . . julpin . . . Plus we’re going to get in trouble for talking.

“Oh, yeah, I go to Ray’s. They have great burgers. I like the Bleu Cow.”

Then he started flirting with me. He started leaning over the table so his face was right next to my paper and talking away in a very flirty voice. He asked me for my number, saying he wanted to call me to help him with his accounting paper. I was giving him my number and trying to memorize these sonsabitchin words. I was sweating.

The grad student came busting in the room and said, “TIME!” to me and snatched up my paper. “You have seven more minutes,” he told Bangs. “Take your time. Do you want some coffee?”

Well, that’s not very fair, I thought. But I followed him out of the room like a cow. Bangs winked at me.

In the grad student’s office, I was told to write down as many nonsense words from the list that I could. I think I could come up with about five and one of them was a lucky guess; I just combined a bunch of letters together and scored.

Then he dropped the first bomb.

Part of the study involves putting in some time stuffing envelopes for the psych TA’s, he told me. So to get my 15 points I was required to put in a total of 3 hours on Tuesday and Thursday stuffing envelopes. He took out a pocket calendar and asked which dates I would like to come in.

Great. I’m carrying a full load here, working at the paper, I already have to help Bangs write his accounting paper and now I’m stuffing envelopes?

“OK, sure, fine,” I said. I really was like a cow.

And one more thing. Since I didn’t do so well memorizing the words, would I mind coming back in and doing the study again?

“Well – tsk – um, I don’t know . . . that’s really not fair, since you told me that it was an hour-long study and I could get the 15 points, but OK, fine, I’ll come back in and do it again.”

And about those 15 points. As it turned out, the grad student made a boo-boo and gave out too many points to other people and he only has 6 left and he’s happy to give them to me. As long as I stuff the envelopes and redo the study and everything anyway.

WHAT!? The HELL?? I was mad now. I was almost crying. “No, I think you should give me all 15 points,” I said in my maddest voice, which was like a regular person’s whimper.

“Well I don’t have them,” he said.

“Well find them from somewhere. Please? Come on! Get them from the guy who’s still in there learning a measly 20 words in what is turning out to be way more than 10 minutes, by the way. You get them from somewhere and you give them to me.”

The grad student smiled. And then he told me what you probably already know, that this wasn’t a memory study. It was an assertiveness study. It was a study on how far a nice Hubbard girl, desperate for psych-minor points will go before she puts her foot down and refuses to be pushed around.

Then Bangs came in, smiling too. Oh my god, he was in on it. It was like Punked. It took me a while to absorb the fact that I had been watched like a lab rat for signs of milktoastiness and the needle was probably going off the chart for me.

The grad student told me I almost went the distance. He was starting to run out of situations that were supposed to make me mad. If I hadn’t put my foot down when I did, I may have been asked to drive him to the airport and help him move.

“Do you want your number back?” Bangs asked me as I left the room.

That’s when I realized I wasn’t going to have to stuff the envelopes, redo the study or help him with his paper.

“Am I still getting the 15 points?”

They said yes.

“Then, yes, I want my number back.”

My unassertiveness had had me on too many dates with guys with weird baggage, boring personalities, or bangs that were too straight across, and I was finally figuring out why.

Who says college doesn’t teach you anything you can use in real life?

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