I have a kind of strange problem. People say that I’m not good at expressing my opinions, but I think that is because I just have so few of them. I have some rather simple opinions such as “angelfish are pretty” and “all humans should be treated as equals”. Other than agreeing with certain political ideas and thinking things are pretty/taste good I don’t really have answers to lots of personal questions. The main issue comes up in social situations in which my opinion is part of the decision-making process. This often happens when choosing a restaurant or other social activity. It also happens when my boyfriend asks me what I want to do or asks “getting to know you better” questions. I always feel a bit bad when people ask me for my opinion on things and I say “I don’t know”, because it’s my understanding that “I don’t know” is the answer people give when they actually want to say “leave me alone”.
I have a couple questions about this situation:
1. What should I do about not having opinions? I’ve entertained the idea of making a notebook where I just list random things and then force myself to form opinions about them so that if anyone asks about things in that notebook I’ll have something to say. It seems a bit weird though because I seriously don’t care if we go to In-n-Out or Jack in the Box. It just seems like a weird thing to have an opinion about to me, but I guess most people expect to get an answer when they ask about it. So should I just formulate a bunch of opinions intentionally? It seems like most people just naturally care about stuff and automatically form opinions.
2. When people ask me for my opinion, what can I say instead of “I don’t know” or “whatever you want”? I really love conversations. I’ve typically gone with asking questions to the person I’m talking with, but there are some times where it doesn’t really make sense to do that. (like the fast-food question above.) I’ve thought that maybe I should just explain to people I interact with regularly that I seriously don’t know what I think about a lot of things, but it seems like that would come across as “I’m a shell of a person who has a very small personality”. The reason for that is because it seems to me like “personality” is formed out of many opinions, and the sum of all those opinions is what makes a person unique and interesting.
3. When people get tired of making decisions for me, they often tell me that they want to take my opinion into consideration because they feel bad for “never doing what you want to do” or “making you do what I want”. How do I explain to these people that they are not scaring or manipulating me just because they get their way all the time? I’d like a good thing to say that means “We don’t do what I want to do because I don’t care what we do” or “I always do what you want to do because I don’t care what I do (unless it’s dangerous)”. I think that people really think that friendships need compromise, but I don’t bring anything to the table for them to compromise with.
I just thought of another thing that might just confuse people. Would it help people understand better if I said stuff in the form of “My opinion is that you should decide where we go for lunch”? That way they understand that I’m not just letting them walk all over me or something.
-You can call me Kathy or Katie or Katherine or Kat. It doesn’t matter.
Dear Kathy or Katie or Katherine or Kat:
Would it be okay if I spelled your name with a C? Probably, right?
In answer to your questions:
1. I think having a notebook and writing about things you’re interested in is a great idea for anyone to do. Maybe it won’t generate a list of Conversational Opinions for you. Maybe it will just be you figuring out how you do feel about things. Try it and see – three pages or 750words/day is pretty easy to manage.
2. “I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about it,” is a perfectly cromulent answer when you don’t know and haven’t thought about it. If people push you and push you for an answer, it’s okay to be irritated with them. You don’t have to have an opinion just to satisfy people who like to argue about things. Hold your ground.
3. Your #3 is where it gets difficult, especially when you’re talking about making plans. Your friends and family may in fact be worried that they are manipulating or steamrolling you or leaving out your opinions, but I think the key words in that paragraph were “When people get tired of making decisions for me…” and I think it would help to frame it that way.
I had a partner whose answer to “What should we have for dinner?” was almost always “Whatever you want!“
Over time, that answer transformed into what what it really was, “I don’t care.“
On the surface, how accommodating and easygoing he was!
Over time, it was totally fucking irritating. Because “I don’t care” meant that I had to do all the work of coming up with the plan. There’s actually a lot of mental work that goes into figuring out budgets and groceries and recipes and going to the store and then making the stuff and cleaning up afterwards. There is mental work in picking the restaurant, in making the plans. Not ever having or expressing an opinion means that you are always the passenger and the other people always have to be the driver. They want you to be happy, so they do the mental work of trying to figure out what will please you. Sometimes (as you’ve found out) it’s awesome to be the passenger.
I have a Friend who lives in (major city) who has some Family wanting to visit later this fall. Friend asked Family, “What do you want to do while you’re here?” Family said “We’re up for anything!“
Super easy-going and pleasant, right?
No. Infuriating, actually. Because it seems Family is expecting Friend to act as a tour guide and do all the work of planning the visit.
You may not genuinely care where you go and what you do! But when you abdicate all decision making in your relationships, you are making your friends do all the work. It’s lazy! It’s uncaring. Your words are literally “I don’t care.” That’s not actually an awesome thing to hear over and over again inside a relationship. Because eventually you might start hearing “I don’t care, either, so I might as well go home and hang out by myself.“
You know this is causing tension, which is why you wrote to me, and I do have a couple of suggestions:
A. “My decision is that you should decide where we eat” is passive-aggressive as hell. Do not say.
B. When offered two choices, just pick one (whether you have an opinion or not). “Do you want dim sum or Thai?” Since either one sounds good to you and you would be happy eating both, do the other person a solid. Mentally flip a coin. You’ll both eat. You’ll be happy. You’ll stop having the conversation you don’t like where people push you to have an opinion. The decision doesn’t have to come from the center of your soul.
C. Make a list of places you know you like to eat and stuff you like to do. On your phone. Or in your groovy notebook (which seems like a better idea all the time, so good job!). Read the local weekly paper and find out when movies are playing or neat stuff is going on. When someone asks “Where do you want to eat?” or “What do you want to do this weekend?“, name one at random. Sometimes people are tired and they have decision fatigue and the best thing you could do for them is to just steer them in some direction. Maybe you’ll say “Pizza” and they’ll say “No, I had pizza for lunch. Could we have sandwiches instead?” and lo, a decision will be made.
This may start as going through the motions. You really don’t care! Sure. Okay. So do a little work to find something that you think will please the other person, and be the one to take the risk and say “I think we should ________.”
D. Help your friends/family/partner communicate better with you. I have several sets of married friends where one partner is clearly the Alsatian, making the plans and herding everyone to the optimal good time, and the other partner is more happy to go along. Anecdotally, a few things seem to make this work:
- If A asks B, “What do you want for dinner?” and B says “I don’t know, whatever,” A gets to pick without further consultation. A should take B at their word that they have no preference, and B is not allowed to complain. No back-and-forth! To get this to work, tell the person you’re with directly: “If you ask me, and I say ‘anything is fine,’ take me at my word and pick something. I promise I’ll be happy, but we’ll both get annoyed if it becomes a long exchange.“
- In some cases they spell out whose turn it is to (make plans/cook) on a calendar. This might work for you to give you some structure with your boyfriend.
- B partners recognize that what A partner does is valuable, and shows appreciation and also steps up from time to time. A gets to say to B periodically, “Hey, can you make the plans today?“
Reading over this answer I am obviously biased towards opinion-havers. I absolutely don’t think you should be forced to have an opinion about current events or books or ideas and have to express it on demand the way I make my students do in a film class. That’s annoying and you are more than allowed to shut it down. But when it comes to planning basic things like where you’ll eat and how you’ll spend your time, I do think that by never expressing a preference you are slacking in your relationships. If you could get it to something like 70% They Choose/30% You Choose that would be an improvement. Over the long-term it’s not really fun to be around someone whose baseline is “Meh.”