#364: Should I have a different opinion about not having opinions?

Hi Captain,

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.

Thank you!

-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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.”

223 thoughts on “#364: Should I have a different opinion about not having opinions?

  1. I think an easy way to avoid conversation-killing on a topic you don’t have an opinion about can be “You know, I don’t know enough about that to have a strong opinion” and then ask for their perspective (if that won’t be horribly boring for you, of course – you can make this decision on a topic-by-topic basis). It’ll let you get to know them better at least 🙂

    Otherwise, as someone who has the same problem as you with the “what do you want to do?” type questions, I fully second all of the Captains’ advice.

    1. If you say “I don’t know enough about that to have a strong opinion,” the other person has an opportunity to ask what you *do* feel strongly about. And then you get to pull out the notebook full of thoughts and ideas you value and discuss them. You can take turns!

  2. Huh, this post made me realize that ‘what do you want to do?’ has two distinct meanings, (a) ‘what do you desire to do?’ and (b) ‘please contribute to the work of jointly coming up with a plan that everyone will like’. From the point of view of (b) rather than (a), I guess the right thing to do is to have some kind of plan ready that you can offer up, even if you don’t particularly prefer your plan above the other possible plans. And if the other people have other plans that they are attached to, you can always drop yours and do theirs instead.

    1. I think a situation like that is a good time for something along the lines of “[x food or activity] sounds good, but I’m flexible!”

      1. I like this tack. It’s proactive while still giving the other person a chance to express an opinion. They can either go “Pasta sounds great to me!” or they can go “Hm, I had pasta for lunch, how would you feel about sushi?”, and you can work around to something mutually amenable from there.

        In the situation where you say, “Pasta sounds good, but I’m flexible!” and they say, “I had pasta for lunch” without offering a counter-proposal, I think it’s perfectly fair to say, “No problem–your turn to make a suggestion!” Said with a smile, it’s friendly, but gets the “I’m not going to keep lobbing suggestions one-sided-ly” point across.

        1. I like your response if someone shoots down a suggestion but doesn’t offer their own. I’ve known people who would veto things but then would whine and go with “but I don’t know what I want!” when asked for a suggestion and it was MADDENING. I think if I had had the “no problem, your turn” response in my back pocket I could have saved myself a lot of headaches.

        2. Yeah I find this useful too, and do it quite frequently. Also, it kind of takes the pressure off if you honestly don’t care. “Thai sounds good but I don’t really mind, what do you feel like?” is a good way to respond if you honestly don’t care but want to keep the conversation moving.

          I never thought about it before, but decision making really is a skill, and given that, I guess it’s something you can practice and develop even if you don’t feel like it’s your strong suit. And if you feel like picking things at random is pointless, think of it as Decision Making Practice which could help you out when you least expect it, like if you ever find yourself hanging around someone else who has no interest in decision making. (Oh goodness did I have a lot of conversations that went “I don’t know, what do you want to do?” “I don’t mind, what do you want to do?” on loop, before I learned the art of just picking something for the sake of making the decision.)

    2. In lieu of actually stating preferences, which can be difficult, you could give what you are not in the mood for, I always find I can give a negative answer – as in, had Thai for lunch but I’m open to anything else – but find myself often at a loss to give an actual recommendation. I often find this with music. Most people will say that they like all music but ask them music they don’t like and they can give a very thorough list. My partner and I do make an agreement that if someone doesn’t have ANY opinions, they can’t yuck the yum of the person who made the decision.

  3. LW, Captain Awkward is totally right that a good response to “Should we do X or Y?” is to just pick one, whether you care or not. But when you do end up passing the decision back to the other person (which is a legit move, just not every time), can I recommend the phrasing, “Either one sounds good to me. Do you have a preference?” I think this is a much better response than “I don’t know” or “I don’t care.” It gets across the idea that you’d be happy either way, which may help with your friends’ concern that they’re accidentally steamrollering you, and it indicates that you’ve actually heard and considered the question in a way that those other responses don’t, which makes you sound a little less like you’re refusing to participate in planning.

    (Note: if the other person’s response is “No, I really don’t,” then you pick one, based on closeness or cheapness or alphabetical order or totally at random. There is a two-volley limit on this kind of question.)

    1. I second this. It works pretty well in my experience.
      I have two other favorite tactics that I use with people I make decisions with often (best friends, mainly). If we have three choices–to see this, that or the other movie; to eat here, there, or elsewhere–one of us will narrow the choices down to two, and the other will pick one of the two. That way we both have participated in the planning.
      If the choice is between two options, sometimes I will straight up flip a coin. If both of us truly don’t care, then what’s wrong with letting fate decide? On the other hand, sometimes we don’t really notice our mild preference for tails until we feel mildly disappointed with fate’s selection of heads, so the coin can help push an opinion.

      1. My spouse and I call flipping a coin “ask George”, because we usually use a US quarter to flip. We don’t have to obey George, but the occasional faint disappointment at his decision is helpful.

        We have more elaborate protocols for things like “we want to do X but shouldn’t” — in this case, “double Washington protocol” is that you flip two coins, and two heads means you get to do the thing, one head & one tail means you have to do something neutralish, and two tails means you have to do something reasonable sensible and adult. So say you want to order pizzas and drink rum & cokes at 11pm on a week day. Two heads = yay! One of each = go read in bed. Two tails = clean up the living room and then go to bed. Often we will opt not to risk the grown up thing and just go do the neutral rather than flipping…

        1. This is great advice! I do this kind of thing to help me make decisions I’m ambivalent about by myself too. I don’t usually get out an actual coin, but I think “OK, if it came up heads, how would that feel?” and sometimes I’m relieved or disappointed with that outcome and then I have my answer. It’s weird how imagining the decision as being up to chance can help us clarify how we feel about the options, but it really does.

    2. I actually do use alphabetical order once in a while when my decider lobe goes on strike and the outcome doesn’t matter much. Of course now that I think about it, there’s a great restaurant literally across the street named Val’s that I hardly ever go to, and the place I go to most often is called Aroma. So maybe I do this more than I thought.

      1. I love that you discuss the work of making decisions, as I suspect that’s exactly what’s going on under the surface. I’ve worked through that same issue with friends before where we regularly coordinate activities. We had to do some talking before we realized that what we were actually after was to share the burden of decision-making while still respecting other people’s preferences if they have any.

        The script that we came up with and now use all the time, which is similar to what was mentioned in this thread but more explicit, is “I have no strong preference, but I can pick one if you’d like me to.” That’s understood, from past discussion, to mean “I will go along with your decision without further discussion unless it really strikes me wrong, but if you’re feeling tired of making decisions, you’re allowed to just say so and I’ll pick something (possibly arbitrarily).” It works really well and has almost entirely defused the problem.

    3. I really like this phrasing! I’ve learned to do that with my fiance, since I find that having to pick something at random will then make me feel more invested in my random pick. So if my answer to “what do you want for dinner?” is “Hm…Thai?” I’ll get annoyed if he doesn’t wants pizza instead and well why didn’t he just say that!. If he really doesn’t care either, I’m happy to be the one to make the mental coin-flip.

  4. I thought I knew this LW until they mentioned having a boyfriend and calling themselves Kathy (etcetera). Because other than that, I know someone just like this.

    My problem with my No-Opinions-Friend is not his lack of opinions. It’s the fact that I’m conditioned by experiences with passive-aggressive people to suspect that “I have no opinion” means “I have a strongly held opinion, and I’m making you guess.” When No-Opinions-Friend says “We can go to any restaurant you want,” what I hear is “Read my mind! If you pick a restaurant that I don’t like, I’ll resent you for it!”

    This is my default assumption, and it took a lot of trust between me and No-Opinions-Friend for me to believe that he honestly and literally means “any restaurant you want.” I had to be very sure he wasn’t playing a game before I was able to accept it and just take it as a lovely opportunity to go to my favorite restaurants.

    (As an example of what people are afraid of: my mom will play the “any restaurant” card, and then when you pick a restaurant, she’ll go “Ugh, there? Well, fine. Hmmph. Let’s go there. If that’s what you want. HMMPH.” And then you have to either spend lots of effort coaxing her preferences out of her, or she’ll throw a ragefit that you were so callous and inconsiderate as to take her words at face value.)

    I think the Captain’s advice for you is good and I don’t have much to add to it; I just wanted to give another possible reason people get so uncomfortable when you say “I have no preferences.”

    1. I was going to add precisely this. My ex-girlfriend used “I don’t care, what do you want” — let us assume, unintentionally and inadvertently; indeed, conceivably only in my perception — as a test.

      1. Reading further, I wonder if (in my ex’s case, at least) this isn’t a particularly thoughtless and unempathetic version of the heads-or-disappointment technique described in a couple of comments here.

    2. I think the flip side of this is the person who has learned that when they’re asked, they’re supposed to answer whatever the person asking the question secretly wanted in the first place, and if you guess wrong, you’re in trouble. Having no preferences always trumps getting yelled out for the wrong ones. Dysfunctional relationships – the gift that keeps on giving.

  5. Oh man, I know exactly what you mean when it comes to meals, Captain. When I’m home from college and at my mom’s house, I cook. I usually ask my mom if there’s anything she wants for dinner, and she nearly always says something like “I’ve got nothing,” or “Surprise me!” It gets so frustrating after a while because I don’t always want to fall back on the default recipes I know by heart, and having no preference leaves me without any direction to go in.

    One thing I’ve found helpful in that kind of situation is narrowing the list of options down. For example, I’ll look at the meals I made last week and think, “Hm, I made a pork dish and a chicken dish, so maybe I’ll make fish today.” Or “We had pasta last week and lasagna yesterday, so I’ll find a recipe with potatoes or rice.” This can also help with going out situations – if someone offers you, say, pizza or tacos, you can say, “I had pizza last week” or “we ate pizza last time, let’s go for tacos.”

    1. This reminds me of a website:

      It presents you with a randomly chosen main course, with a link to a recipe. If you don’t like what comes up, ask it again.

        1. I know there are a lot of former Shapelings here; am I the only one who is eerily reminded of Harriet J’s contributions to the “Your Fucking Recipes” Friday semi-fluff thread? (Seriously: I went to the link, clicked the vegetarian option, and got “Prove your ability to follow linear instructions with some fucking spinach souffles.”)

        2. Another great link for letting the internet decide for you (that may save LW’s fast food problems):

          (which also has a drinks option you can click)

          And a fun one for if you’re hanging out with people at home:

          I also want to note that most of my friends don’t have opinions on fast food and such (unless it’s a negative opinion like “I just had pizza, so I don’t want that”), and that doesn’t mean any of us have small personalities- it just means that we’re easy-going.
          Also, just because you don’t have an opinion doesn’t mean you can’t contribute to conversations- for example, I don’t have any feelings towards Doctor Who. No love, no hate, so if I get asked what I think of it, I only have an awkward “It’s okay?” response. But since I know many of my friends love the show, I take note whenever I see something about it online/tv/in a store. So the next time they talk about it, I won’t be able to share in the “ohmygodfeeeeeelings”, but I can tell them about the TARDIS onesies I saw and talk about how babies make super-cute nerds

          And I agree that a great response to the generic question is to just throw out a suggestion with a disclaimer like “What about Jack-in-the-box? It doesn’t really matter to me” so they won’t feel bad if they shoot it down, but if they really don’t care either then they can just go along with your suggestion.

  6. Dated a guy for a few years who was very much of the “I don’t care one way or the other, you decide” variant. And I would tell him I didn’t really care either. And he’d decline to offer an opinion, much less make a decision. And sometimes I’d just go ahead and make a decision, and sometimes I’d try to drag an opinion out of him. It got old after a while.

    It would probably have been okay, though, if not for the time when I truly deeply cared about the decision, and simply said “I’d like to do B”. At which point he said, and I quote, “but you get to make ALL the decisions – I should be able to decide this time”. RAGE. Smash!

    Don’t ever do that. Don’t be the person who makes someone else do all the work, and then turns around and uses the fact that that the other person has done all the work as a reason why you should get your way this time.

  7. I’m frequently the person without an opinion, and the Captain’s advice is spot on. My lack of opinions used to cause some friction with my wife, because she assumed I had deep important opinions and would be upset if she picked wrong, so we had to work out ways for me to communicate to her that on a given topic I genuinely didn’t have a preference. And I had to learn to recognize when it would be helpful for me to just pick something to get a decision made. (After all, if you were eating by yourself, you’d presumably pick a restaurant somehow even without a clear preference.)

    When the issue is discussion and conversation, I would say there’s a difference between not having an opinion and not having a summary judgment. If you’re just shooting the breeze about fast food joints, for example, you don’t need to think Jack-in-th-Box is better or worse overall compared to In-n-Out to be able to contribute something like “I think J-i-t-B’s latest commercial is ridiculous! Have you seen the one with the things that are in commercials these days?”

  8. This is something my group of friends has run into a whooole lot. One of my very good friends is definitely someone who makes plans and has strong opinions, and several others are very much “whatever you want is fine” types. (I am somewhere between the two extremes.) But basically how that’s shaken out over the last few years means that Planning Friend has ended up being the person in charge of all outings ever… and has also been exhausted by it, for just the reasons the Captain describes.

    Here’s my suspicion about my particular Non Deciding Friends: they are all lovely people, and very much to the extreme of “I’d rather put myself out and not get my way than do anything that would ever make anyone else slightly unhappy.” That is very sweet and kind! But if that’s the sort of thing you’ve got going on inside, LW, please keep in the long, because of everything the Captain described, it’s *much kinder* to chime in with an “I’m in the mood for Y,” or “I’d prefer Q,” or whatever, even if your opinion isn’t all that strong. (It’s even better to sometimes step and say, “I’d like to go _____, you want to come with me?” and figure out the logistics yourself so Planning Friends can kick back and relax, and not have to be the ones stressing out over it for a change.)

    1. I am a serial Non Decider, and I used to get flak all the time for not having an opinion. Then, as an adult, I took a communications seminar where they talked about different personality types, and discovered I am a “consensus seeker”, aka “people pleaser”. As in, I get really stressed out when The Group is unhappy, so my natural comfort level is to do what The Group wants.

      I was finally able to overcome this a little bit when I worked in an office full of friends and we’d decide where to go for lunch everyday. It was nice to realize that I was allowed to say things like, “can we not go to that chicken bowl place where I got food poisoning that one time and anyway I really really hate chicken and it always seems dirty there.” And people would listen, and it didn’t mean that the whole office would go to the dirty chicken place and leave me alone to eat my sandwich because I had the audacity to express an opinion.

  9. You absolutely don’t have to have an opinion on everything. You said that you think personalities are largely made up of opinions, and in some ways that is true, but they are also made up of priorities. It is okay that the great In-N-Out Jack-in-the-box debate does not set fire to your soul, truly. If the difference between greasy hamburgers is not important to you, then there is no reason for you to have an opinion about it.

    I’m sure there are other things, things that are important to you, music, books, movies, social issues, art, interior decorating, cuteness of animals, sports, etc, that are more important to you. These are the things you should have opinions about, the things that matter to you.

    And I would also discourage you from forming opinions just to form them. If there is a topic that interests you but you don’t have an opinion about yet, sometimes that is just because you don’t really know enough about it. Do research, learn things, keep an open mind. Have ideas, not opinions.

    (Like, I don’t have opinions about films because I know nothing about film as an art and it isn’t a major interest for me. I have preferences, things that I like, but I don’t have theories about which film is superior because that would be me talking out my ass and I don’t like to do that. The more opinions you form on stuff you know nothing about the more likely you are to be talking out your ass.)

    As far as deciding where to go for dinner/lunch/play, maybe instead of thinking it as expressing a preference, think of that process as brainstorming.

    You are both suggesting ideas and then evaluating them. It’s not about saying I really want Thai or Italian, it’s about narrowing things down from a million options and coming up with something. And I bet you’re thinking “But I don’t care and it is so annoying to think about and so much work to come up with things.”

    Now imagine how that feels when you also do not care but the person you are with refuses to participate in the brainstorming process with you. Now you know how the people around you feel. Assume that if someone doesn’t come out and say “lets do this” that they need your help coming up with an idea, and then help them.

    Also, there are tons of apps on the internet to help you pick some lunch options or decide between random things. If no one cares, let the computer decide and then you can all stop having THE MOST ANNOYING CONVERSATION.

  10. Regarding the restaurant picking thing, I’ve always tried to implement a “one person gives 3ish options that are acceptable to them, other person picks from the options” system. It is exhausting to be in charge of planning things all the time. Also, even if you don’t have an opinion about the actual restaurant, do you have any requirements at all you could bring up? I’ll often say “I don’t care where we go but I don’t want to have to change out of what I’m wearing now” or “… I don’t want to spend more than 15 dollars” or “…I don’t want to have to drive very far”. That might be enough for people to feel like they’re not walking all over you.

    Do you have a smartphone? If you do, and live in a big enough city, one of those restaurant apps might help. You can put in criteria (location, price, cuisine, etc) and have the app randomly pick a place! It isn’t the same as actually having opinions, but it can mitigate the inconvenience your lack of opinion is for other people, which seems to be the real issue for you.

  11. One thing I do when I’ve narrowed down what I want to a reasonable number of options that I can’t decide between is to ask somebody to pick a number. Usually, the options would have some obvious ordering, even if it’s just the order that they were presented in. I generally don’t tell the person which ordering I’m using or even what range to pick the number from. If the person picks a number greater than the number of choices, divide and take the remainder.

  12. When you’re with friends/family/whoever and are deciding where to eat/go/hang out, Captain Awkward is totally right that it’s not just a preference question, but also a plea for some planning input, in my experience as the Person Who Is Deciding Now Because None of My Friends Have an Opinion.
    If you don’t care what you’re eating, for example, do you care how much it is? Or where? “I don’t really care what we eat, but I would like somewhere where they won’t kick us out for hanging out over coffee after we eat.” for example. Or: “I don’t really have a preference, except that I’m not looking to spend a ton; I just paid my rent/whatever.”

    Elsajeni’s example of “Either one sounds good to me. Do you have a preference?”, is really good, I think.

  13. I used to waitress in a pizza place, and have saved too many strangers from the “well, I like pepperoni, but I’ll eat anything” dance. Everyone is trying to be polite and not push to get the anchovy-onion-green peppers they’d eat at home, never realizing half the table wants EXACTLY the same thing.

    If you are truly a disinterested observer, making an “easy” suggestion like “Sounds like everyone’s okay with pepperoni, so how about you do that on the whole pie, with onions on one side & mushrooms on the other?” gives people something to react to. That’s a whole lot easier to navigate than starting every pie as a negotiation from scratch!

    But in real life, sometimes you just need to make a decision and let the chips fall.

  14. When it comes to things other than making plans, I think it’s possible to indicate that you don’t have an opinion on the subject without seeming passive or disinterested.

    If the topic is something I don’t know much about but wouldn’t mind discussing, sometimes I’ll ask the other person what the various positions are and then follow up with a question or two. Usually by then, the conversation will drift to another subject, or I say that it’s an interesting question and that I might have to think about it some more.

    There are a lot of people who have badly-informed but strongly-held views, and sometimes coming across as thoughtful and careful makes a better impression.

  15. Kat, I find myself wondering — have you ever had opinions?
    I went through several years when I couldn’t care about things one way or another (in my case, I was quite depressed but determined to function) and I had to rely on what I assumed my previous opinions to be and tiny, arbitrary things to form new opinions — that one restaurant tends to be louder and busier than this other restaurant, so I prefer the second one over the first. Not because I was bothered by the loud and the crowd, but because I needed to have some reasoning behind my opinions to feel like I owned them.
    So this isn’t a mechanism for forming new opinions, really. It’s a substitute opinion-forming formula: have I ever had a preference? Okay, that’s still my preference. What’s something I’ve seen other people cite as preferring this over that? Okay, I like A more than B because of that reason (but I’ll still do B if that’s what the person I’m with wants). If you feel like a notebook and a search for your genuine preferences would be a fruitful search, I say go for it. After a while — at least, in my experience — having no opinions feels direction-less and taxing.

    1. ::nods:: I’ve also had depression that manifests as an inability to really *care* about anything. It’s tough to tell from the OP just what the LW means by a lack of strong opinions, but if they feel like it’s something they want to work on, I kind of dig the journal idea. Thinking about things you’ve never considered before could be fun!

  16. Another way to form more opinions: try more extreme stuff.

    So you don’t have a preference between In-n-Out and Jack in the Box. Ok, fair enough, they’re both ordinary fast food with not much to distinguish them.

    Instead, try a cuisine you’ve never heard of, somewhere really authentic, with organ meats. Or go to the place with the crazy hot spicy wings, where you have to sign a waiver and get your picture on the wall if you eat them all. Listen to hardcore Scandinavian death metal. Read a long, dense, extremely challenging novel (like Ulysses, or Tristam Shandy).

    In other words, try stuff that most people hate but a few people really love. Really polarizing experiences that you can’t help but form an opinion about.

    Worst case scenario: you hate it. But that’s an opinion – success! And if you tell it right, it can be a very funny story.

    Best case scenario: you love it! That’s also an opinion! An unusual, interesting opinion, that makes you an interesting person with personality!

    And this goal, of trying more extreme things, gives you an agenda. Something to look out for when you’re making entries in your notebook, something that can drive your suggestions to your boyfriend/friends/family.

    I’m not saying that extreme preferences are better or more interesting preferences. Maybe you’ll try a bunch of things and conclude that your tastes are “traditional” or “homey” or “laid back” or however you want to label them. That’s great, too! Those are also opinions that can help you contribute to plans and conversations.

    1. “both ordinary fast food with not much to distinguish them” – wow, I have an opinion about that!

      1. Oh, I completely understand that In-n-Out is vastly superior – I have tons of opinions. 🙂

        But that’s kind of my point for the LW. If you don’t have a preference between burgers and fries of significantly different qualities, then exaggerate the difference until you do have a preference. What about burgers and fries versus barbecue goat and plantains?

        1. Love that idea.

          And on the east coast, holding an opinion about Jack-in-the-Box vs. In-n-Out is mostly a moot point. My “opinion” ends up being that I’d have to eat at both of them to form an opinion, and I can’t imagine it would be my priority when I ever get back to California to visit.

          (that said, I also realized that all my opinions on California food are based on one summer that I visited both San Fransisco and Berkeley — so a fantastic Caprese salad and a crazy good vegan sprout sandwich, because seriously, how can you not try that in Berkeley. I’ve never been to southern CA. Now I think I should go. Just because.)

    2. I absolutely love this idea! In many cases it’ll also give the LW a preference to state when called upon: “I’d like to do X because I’ve never tried it before.”

  17. I’ve often been in the same boat of “I have no strong preference, therefore those that do should choose.” I can only second the Captain’s advice of just picking something and moving on. If you say “I’m open to [list], how about [thing],” your companion(s) know if they want something else instead they can feel comfortable saying so without having to worry that they are taking something away from you, and if they are equally preference-free or you happened to pick the thing they wanted anyway, the decision is made and you can get down to the spending of time with people you like.

  18. I kind of feel like there’s two separate but related issues here: having Strong Opinions about World Events and Important Topics, and contributing to a group decision about what to do this weekend (either with a group of friends or with boyfriend).

    You’re under no obligation whatsoever to form strong opinions about stuff and things, of course, but if you’re wondering how you get from apathetic to Strong Opinion Haver, I’ve made the journey. If you are interested in forming strong opinions, the answer is to read lots of stuff and think about it. I definitely used to feel really similar to the LW: people should all be treated equally, I was kind of vaguely feminist and liberal in the sense that I pretty much figured I wasn’t a conservative, I had gay friends but didn’t see what the big deal was about marriage. But over time, and over exposure to more news/current events/blogs about stuff, I started to form Opinions, because I realized that “I think everyone should pretty much be treated equally” wasn’t actually happening many places, and that made me mad. All these new Opinions were a surprise to my friends and my partner, and caused a little bit of strife, but we’re better and now I’m one of those people with Opinions.

    If you’re not interested in forming Opinions, and just want help participating in decision-making with friends, I really encourage you to take CA’s advice. I’ve had friends like that and they really do get tiring after a while. Especially when you can TELL once you’re at the restaurant/doing the thing that they actually DID have an opinion, they just didn’t want to make waves. Blargh. Anyway, good advice, CA, good luck LW.

  19. I am plenty opinionated most of the time, but I often don’t care about day to day stuff like “where shall we get lunch?” or “we have time for one big shopping trip this weekend and we need to buy some crap, so do you want to go to Ikea today, or Costco, or Target?” Thing is, my partner often doesn’t care either.

    We used to go many rounds of “I don’t care, you decide,” “No, I don’t care either, you decide,” and it was surprisingly infuriating, for exactly the reason the Captain says–the person who ends up holding the decision-ball is the one who has to do all the work of planning (picking a place to eat and finding out when they’re open and etc., determining when Costo and Ikea and Target open and close and whether the car trunk would have to be cleared out for what errand and etc.). Neither of us wanted to keep getting stuck with the decision-ball, so we’d keep bouncing it back and forth. And there’s always the lurking possibility that the other person has a preference but isn’t comfortable saying it, and if that’s the case it’s easy to feel like a pushy jerk. (Yeah, in a perfect world there would be no fear of saying, “I want to do X,” but this world is not perfect, and we both have our baggage.)

    Our solution is that, after one round of “I don’t care,” “Well, I don’t care either,” one of us says, “I still don’t really care, but I can invent an opinion to break the stalemate?” And then my partner can say, “Invent away!” or he can say, “Er, actually, I’d like Thai,” or he can say, “Sure, invent away–but I really don’t want to eat Mexican.” And then we can do Thai, or if they reiterate the not-caring I can say, “Okay, survey says pizza!” and decision is made.

    You may need to tweak the wording–“invent an opinion” works for us, because it sounds mildly silly, but I know friends for whom it would sound snarky and passive-aggressive. But it’s saved us a lot of rounds of mimicking the vultures in the Disney’s Jungle Book (“Whaddaya wanna do?” “Idunno, whaddaya wanna do?”).

    1. Ha! We’re both laid back, so we do what you do: process of elimination. “What do you absolutely NOT want to do/eat?”
      It works pretty well. I can say “I’m sooo sick of pizza” and he can be all “Meh, I don’t feel like tacos”, and we can come to a happy medium.

      1. Yeah, I do that too! The narrowing-of-options-by-what-we-don’t-want works pretty well.

        Also, sometimes we’ll do the narrowing-down thing. It’s sometimes less overwhelming or intimidating to narrow a huge field down to two options than it is to pick one outright. So maybe person A says, “What do you want to do for lunch?” or “What do you want to watch tonight?” and person B says, “What sounds better, tacos or yakisobia?” or “Which would you rather, The Avengers or Castle?” and then it’s back to person A to pick one of those options. Then everyone is involved in the decision, and yet it still gets made without endless rounds of “I dunno” and “whatever you want is fine.”

        1. Yes to this.
          Choosing from anything is really intimidating, providing narrowed down options take off a lot of the pressure from.
          It can also remind me that I just had pizza for lunch, and that the last time we had Chinese food I got sick, but that tacos sound AMAZING right now.

          1. Personally, I love food dice: each side has a different type of food–Mexican, say, or burgers–and when you can’t pick, you just roll the die and hey presto! Decisions, made. It’s pretty brilliant.

          2. I have a friend who does this for housecleaning. She finds prioritizing/deciding to be enough work that it was sometimes blocking her from doing anything. So she made a list of chores, and keeps dice near it, and does whatever rolls up.

          3. Ooh! I have that problem too with housework, and I’m going to steal that idea now. Thanks!

        2. My last boyfriend got really frustrated with my lack of decision-energy (I was in grad school, so energy was tight) so he would give me three options for dinner. I had to choose one, or volunteer my own. And sometimes he would be exhausted and ask me to offer him three choices instead, and I would just give the first 3 that popped in my head. It worked well for us.

        3. For “where/what do we eat for $meal?”, my variation on this is: Person A lists any three genres of food (say: Japanese, Pizza, Mexican) of which they are happy to eat any of. Person B picks one from them or makes an alternate suggestion.

          A related technique for “what do I want to order off this menu?” when you can’t decide between two different things? Assign (mentally!) each one to “heads” or “tails”, and ask a dining companion “heads or tails?” Their answer is totally non-binding – if they say tails and you feel sad that it’s not heads, BAMPF you have a preference and you should get the one you like. If there’s a third option, you can add “side”, but above three, maybe you should narrow it down a bit more, eh? Making conversation with your dining companions about the menu options is generally socially acceptable (and hey, I like it when we don’t all get the same thing, so I can try a bite of that other thing I wanted to try).

          1. I use the magical “Heads? Oh no! I… apparently wanted tails!” method to figure out what I want all the time.

          2. Me too! I also ask whoever I’m with to chose between 2 things I think I like equally (today it was mirrors for above my mantle) and then when they pick I’m usually either disappointed or happy. Sometimes that means I pick the exact opposite of what someone else said they like, but my friends are cool with helping me trick my subconscious into telling me what I want.

      2. Yeah, that works well for us too. Have an initial mental dialogue of “what do I really NOT want?” (For me it’s usually pasta)
        Share our “don’t wants”, look at the remaining options and decide from there.

    2. Mine is “would you like me to be arbitrary?” Separating the ability to decide from the having of opinions turns out to be an important thing to do.

    3. We call it Making An Executive Decision. Especially helpful when the group is large enough that consensus would be impossible, let alone before the restaurants close. Sometimes the discussion can get tangled enough that someone will say “Please, somebody just make an executive decision!”

  20. It seems to me that a perfectly good policy is to default to “l don’t really have a preference but if you want me to choose, how about ___?” And fill something random in the blank. that way, you make it clear that you are not actually strongly attached to doing it, but also contributing to the work of making a decision.

    1. Agreed. That says you’re willing to make the call sometimes (even if you don’t actually in your heart of hearts care), but it leaves the door open. Reading this post, I realized that wording I often use in those situations is “I could go either way,” which I think has the benefit of saying not just that I don’t have a preference, but that both do sound good so it’s not that I’m really hating all the options.

      But then, for this LW, it sounds like occasionally adding the “…but how about X” is an important piece of relationship work to be doing.

    2. I have an arrangement with certain friends where if one of us has a preference, we state it. And if not, someone offers to make an arbitrary choice. It helps get us out of the “I don’t have a big preference, just a small one, so I feel bad about stating it” trap. Plus, sometimes neither of us cares. We’re just getting hungry.

    3. “l don’t really have a preference but if you want me to choose, how about ___?” is great. For extra flair, though, I’m always amused by forms like:

      “I say we meet at 2pm, because that is a time.”
      “I would like to eat pasta, because it is food.”

      My boyfriend uses that sort of response occasionally, and I’ve started to pick up on it. It’s fun, and it gets the idea across.

  21. OMG, husband and his parents (who we see regularly) have this routine all the time: “Where do you want to go” “I don’t know, where do you want to go” that would drive me up a tree if I hadn’t decided early on to short-circuit it by jumping right in with a suggestion. I also have a few lines I use regularly, like (smiling): “Hey, if you tell me to decide, I’ll decide.” Or: “Would you like me to choose?” Because there actually *are* restrictions and un-preferred places that have to be dragged out, so I usually start with the place I don’t usually get to go to, in case no one objects. And they’re all really nice people, so I think it’s some side-effect of niceness.

    On the conversation thing, LW, no you don’t have to have a pro/con argument prepared on every subject. Maybe you’re hearing the questions too literally? If it’s a getting to know you situation, “so, what do you think about X?” can be just a way of finding out what you’re interested in, or where you come from, etc. Maybe in that situation practice interpreting those inquiries liberally, and responding with anything about you that relates: some experience you had, “I don’t know about x, but that reminds me of a time I took a class in x-y /met z person that I found really interesting.” Or even, “You know, I was taught some things about X growing up, but I don’t know what I think about that anymore.”

    If you’re feeling defensive about all this, I see why it can feel like personality is merely the list of opinions, but it’s really not like that. Plus a LOT of the opinions you run into out in the world aren’t exactly well-thought out. 🙂

    1. This is one of the reasons why I stopped hanging around with two of my friends. They’re both very passive, eager-to-please types and do the “I don’t know, whatever you want to do” “No, no, whatever YOU want to do” dance for EVERYTHING. I find myself constantly jumping in to break the cycle because I simply cannot tolerate listening to it for more than 30 seconds. It’s exhausting, annoying, and just no fun. I have no idea how they get shit done.

      This is also why I’m terrible at Southern hospitality. I’ll ask you one time if you want something to eat/need a drink/whatever. If you say no, I’m going to assume you are adult enough to know your own needs. I will not do the whole “Oh, no need to put yourself out dearie”, “Oh, no, it’s no trouble” “Weellll…if you’re sure…” routine. Either drink the tea or not, I don’t really care!

  22. When it comes to making plans, try this tack: “Well, we had Italian last week, so how about Chinese?” “We saw the Avengers last time, so how about a comedy this time?” If you’re truly ‘meh’ about any of the options in front of you, pick one to help get the group decision made.

    As far as conversations about things go, you don’t have to opine all day long. You don’t have to give your verdict on something–but if someone says, “What do you think about X” you can give your thoughts on specifics. “I noticed Y, C reminded me of [similar thing], I would have liked more of K. . .” etc.

    For example. “Oh, you saw Looper? What did you think of it?”

    “It was quite an undertaking to do a movie about time travel. Kind of mind-bending that he had to assasinate himself. I got confused at [plot area]. I thought [scene] was funny/exciting/scary/loopy. And [actor] reminded me of [person]. What did you think of it?”

  23. I am an almost obnoxiously opinionated person, but my boyfriend is a caring, open-minded, easy-going non-decision-maker like the LW.
    Which means I am frequently the organizer, and usually I enjoy it. But sometimes I do get ‘planning fatigue’, when I am tired of making the decisions boyfriend and I have an agreement that when I (the planner) ask ‘What do you want to do for dinner?’, that he has to provide me with 2-3 options (even if he doesn’t really care, sometimes he just picks the three closest restaurants, or three random items from the kitchen). And then I pick one of those things.
    That way I don’t have to think about all the options, he doesn’t have to form opinions about something he doesn’t really care about, and neither of us feels like we are steamrolling the other to do.

    Doing something similar with friends might work as well. I also love the idea of keeping a calendar of fun things to do around town. Just a couple activities to offer up and let them choose from.
    Even if you do not have opinions, maybe keep your eye out for music, movies, theater, or events the OTHER person might like. A favorite band, a musical coming to town, things that reminds you of the person for one reason or another. (Or just pick the three things closest to your home 😉

    1. This is pretty close to the classic strategy I have of how to pick movies. I forget where I heard it, but the way it works is, you go to a video store and one person picks five movies they’d like to see, and then the other person has to pick of one those five to actually rent and watch. It works really well, and kind of shares the burden of deciding out, because then rather that choose from EVERY MOVIE IN THE STORE it’s just out of five. Same principle goes for restaurants and so forth.

      1. The Fella and I play a slightly longer version of this called 3-2-1: Person A picks three [whatever], Person B rules out one, person A chooses between the remaining two options.

        For example: on a given evening, he might offer me three dinner options: pasta marinara, vegetarian tacos, or takeout pizza. I don’t want pasta, so he gets to choose: does he make tacos or drive to the pizza place? While he’s [cooking/driving], I select three DVDs: Rear Window, Silence of the Lambs, Parks & Rec. He decides he doesn’t want to listen to a cannibal while we’re eating, so I get to decide between Rear Window and Parks & Rec.

        Because we use this only as a mechanism for smoothing decision-making, we DO allow a very occasional veto when Person B decides that, hey, s/he DID have an opinion after all. The veto is operated thusly: “Y’know, none of those choices grabs me. What if I 3-2-1 you instead?” Then that person becomes Person A, who cooks or collects the dinner, rents the DVD, plans the trip, whatever.

        It works like a dream.

  24. Another thing that helps me have an opinion when I really don’t have one is to start making an abstract pro-con list out loud. For example, In-n-out or Jack-in-the-Box? “Well, we went to Jack-in-the-Box last time. But it’s a lot closer and doesn’t have that one mean lady on Sundays…” Sometimes, this helps trigger your own preference. Like you suddenly remember how far away In-n-Out is and how there’s that stupid U-turn you have to make to get there and you don’t want to do that right now. Or, this gives Planner Friend ammunition for their decision. If they decide on something you said was “closer”, they’ll feel safe knowing that you have some reason to approve of it. This functions kind of like the mental coin-flip, but it makes your brain satisfied feeling like it had a “reason”.

  25. This sounds so much like my relationship with both my first boyfriend. Neither of us had a lot of money (he worked for a non-profit that was having trouble with funding and I was unemployed), so most of the time we spent hanging out over at his place (I lived with my parents at the time) watching movies. For the first month or so (it was only a 3mo relationship, but we saw each other every day), we’d have this frustrating hemming and hawing where neither or us wanted to make a decision about what movie to watch or what to get for dinner.

    We knew this was a problem, so we eventually developed a system where we traded off decision making – “Okay, you picked the movie last time, so now it’s my turn.” We’d usually have it where one person selects a range of movies or dinner options, and the other person narrows it down and eventually picks one. By turning it into a game where, say, he’d pick out six movies, and hold up two at a time and I’d pick from the two, eventually narrowing it down bracket-like to a final selection, we removed a lot of that frustration that comes with “come on, just make a decision!”

    So, maybe a good thing to try would be to turn the decision making into a kind of game – make a “lunch bracket” and pit lunch places against each other in your choices.

    Or maybe that’s a terrible idea. It worked for me, but it might not work for you.

  26. I’m another person who mostly doesn’t care where we eat. One of the ways I deal with it is by paying attention to what the people I care about like. That way, when someone asks me what I want to do, I can say “What about (insert restaurant/activity that I know the other person enjoys)?” That way they feel like I’m participating (which I am!), and I don’t have to try and come up with where I want to go if I genuinely don’t feel like making that decision, but I also know they won’t be unhappy with my choice. And I also do the “as long as it isn’t (insert things I dislike)” negotiation thing, to make sure I’m not unhappy. 🙂

    That said, the notebook is a really good idea. I didn’t realize until fairly recently that part of my lack of opinions about everything was fear of visibility/abandonment/having needs. I didn’t have feelings about things because feelings are dangerous. I had to practice forming opinions and slowly putting them out in the world, starting with small things. That may not be what’s going on with you – and I really hope it isn’t – but I wanted to put it out there just in case.

    1. “part of my lack of opinions about everything was fear of visibility/abandonment/having needs. I didn’t have feelings about things because feelings are dangerous.”

      Exactly! I think you’re spot on here. I also think this is a big part of what makes dealing with this pattern so exhausting for the other people involved. Truthfully, I think it’s manipulative, though perhaps the manipulation isn’t conscious.

      Over time, even though each instanced may appear small, taking care of someone else’s fears around having an opinion can become a heavy burden.

  27. Hey Katherine, can you lend me your pony? You don’t mind doing my dishes, do you? I’ve decided I need a backrub, is that okay with you? Left a little. No, down. 😉

    Haha, just kidding. But seriously, I do hope that your friends and lovers don’t actually take advantage of you in any arena that you don’t choose. Unless you choose for that to happen. Oh dear.

    Ways to break restaurant-ties:

    “You pick three and I’ll choose.”
    “Each of you pick one, I’ll break the tie.”
    “List them in order.”
    “I want Chinese – you pick.”
    “You pick and I’ll pay. 🙂 Pick something less than $X a plate.”
    “What do you feel like?” (and then use your brainpower to ACTUALLY THINK OF AND VERBALLY SUGGEST something that will please them)

    Next, cut the pressure off at the pass by – gulp!! – SUGGESTING THINGS TO DO!! Now, I know this is freaky, but it will relieve your friends, as well as probably making them happy. They’ll feel less weird about shepherding you around town if you’re occasionally picking up the slack. Think about what your friends need or like! If that seems intimidating, may I suggest:

    “Are you guys hungry? I could do food.”
    “You seem down. Should I bring some soup over?”
    “I’m not feeling the restaurant thing. Let’s get takeout and have a picnic.”
    “I want to feel fancy. Let’s get dressed up and go a-drinking!”
    “I think you could use a new umbrella. Let me take you to a great umbrella place.”
    “I’ve never had tapas before. Would I like it? Want to come find out with me?”
    “We haven’t seen you guys in ages. Want to grab coffee downtown and pretend to be time-travelers?”
    “Do you guys want to come over for dinner? I’m making chilli.”
    “Who, in your opinion, sells the best pizza in town? When should we get some?”
    “You like bandicoots? Why, they’ve lovely bandicoots at the zoo! Let’s go look at them sometime.”
    “That sounds great, honey! I really like that plan. Maybe afterwards we can catch a movie.”
    “Should we all get together and play Dixit* sometime?”
    “Let’s just go for a walk around town until we see something amazing.”

    * Seriously, guys, we need four for a game, COME OVER.

  28. The larger life opinions are yours to have or not have. Truly. Those are for you and no one should push you on them. I do think that Captain Awkward’s suggestion to journal is a great one because you may surprise yourself to find that you do have opinions about things but haven’t necessarily given yourself the space to hear them/work them out fully yet.

    On the day to day decisions I can tell you that I’ve been on both sides of the equation. When I was younger I was the one who “didn’t care” because I didn’t want to be a “bother” or “rock the boat”, couldn’t decide, or simply didn’t care. One day a friend of mine in gentle frustration laughingly said “There are no dumb questions except for ‘I don’t know, what do you want to eat?'” and somehow that phrase — said with love and humor — helped me to see that I wasn’t being helpful by not making a choice.

    For me it was a case of taking baby steps towards having opinions…and where or what to eat isn’t a bad place to start on the choice making list. If you go to a place or eat an unsatisfying meal…it isn’t the end of the world…and you get to try over the next time. 🙂

    I started out by offering up options to the other person when I was asked what I wanted to eat for dinner. Such as “Hey, I’d be really happy with Thai or Mexican or Sushi tonight…which one sounds best to you…I truly don’t have a preference of those 3 things.”

    That way when I really feel paralyzed by making a choice I was saying something besides “I don’t care” and it helped my friend(s) by narrowing down the options to 3 things they knew I’d also be happy eating. It also helped them to feel like I was engaged.

    (Also…around food…and this may or may not apply to you … sometimes I get too hungry to figure out what I want. An ex and I had a code phrase which was “I’ve gone beyond” which meant “I’ve gone beyond the place where I can give you salient responses to your answers please rescue my low blood sugared self”. We worked out beforehand that there were 3 types of food we’d always be happy to eat while out and 3 types of food we’d always be happy to eat if we made them at home. When one of us got to the “beyond” place we both knew the other just needed someone to help them in the moment and as soon as we sorted that out, we stopped having fights because one or both of us were low blood sugar. We also knew not to abuse that phrase as a way to abdicate and only used it when we were truly at the “too hungry” place.)

    Now, I’m on the other end of the spectrum. I have been in the past two relationships I’ve been in. And I’ve found out that decision fatigue is real. I have often felt and do feel like Julie the Cruise Director (yes I’m showing my age here) because my partners have and do abdicate all decisions about what we’re doing/eating/watching, etc. Sometimes even “Julie” wants a break so I’m with Captain Awkward on helping with the day to day decisions. I now know (being on the other side of things) just how exhausting that can be. A little bit of help making decisions really does help…especially with things like movies or dinner.

    One of the best things an ex did for me was hear me when I said “I’m tired of making every decision/feeling like I’m the driver in this relationship” and for my birthday gave me a day of not having to make a single decision. He planned out a lovely day doing things he knew I enjoyed and didn’t ask me once what I wanted to do next or what I wanted to eat or where I wanted to go. He just “took charge” for a day…I breathed deeply and happily and was very thankful. It is still one of my fave b-days ever.

    Forgive me if what I wrote was redundant.

    1. That’s funny, I have a similar response to “I’ve gone beyond” that I learned from my mother! We say “I’m fading” if we’re at the point where we need to decide on food NOW to stave off a hypoglycemic coma, and we say “I’m faded” if we’re past the point of making choices.

      My ex would deal with me “fading” by automatically making me a quick 2 egg omlet just to get me back to the point where I could contribute coherent opinions again.

      1. Oh, man, low blood sugar is the arch-enemy of decision-making! (Literally; see also: willpower fatigue) I’ve had awful situations where I couldn’t decide where/what to eat just because I needed to eat so badly my sugar was crashing. My boyfriend has figured out he needs to take charge in these situations, but it’s hard to explain to other people if I’m in the middle of a sugar crash. I’ve tried, “I can’t make decisions right now because my blood sugar is crashing and I’m feeling extremely dizzy, so please choose a restaurant so I can eat and not pass out,” but somehow that doesn’t convey enough urgency. My boyfriend’s former roommate once told replied to that with, “Ugh, your indecision is really stressing me out,” and I wanted to smack her. I guess it’s one of those things you only understand if once you’ve lived it.

        1. Related: the best vacation I’ve ever had with my partner was to Disneyworld–not specifically because Disneyworld, but because I decided for us ahead of time to get their meal plan option. (If you stay at one of their hotels they offer you a few meal plans where you basically get credit for X meals and Y snacks per day.) I then made reservations for EVERY MEAL based on the parks we were visiting and what we consistently like to eat. There was no walking around in a haze worrying everything was too expensive and too hungry to make choices; we showed up and ate and it was already paid for (including tips). AMAZING.

  29. I both have a hard time deciding AND end up being the decider / planner for a lot of things. This is not a particularly fun situation. When I’m ill or exhausted, I literally don’t have the brain cells to make decisions, and an attempt to force myself to do so can lead to a complete mess. When my sweetie is ill or exhausted, I have to take over all decision-making because it sends her into an anxiety-spiral and she isn’t always working fully in shared reality. When we’re both ill and exhausted, it’s messy.

    In the latter case, we split the not-deciding. One person has to come up with three acceptable-to-them options, and the other has to pick one. Or we trade — I’ll decide this if you call in the delivery order.

    It took us a long time to realize the ways the I-don’t-care situations were hurting our relationship. Now we try to honor the reality that doing the planning / making the decision is actually part of the work of the household, and talk about responsibilities accordingly.

    (I’m also wondering if the maximizer v. satisficer thing is part of any of this. I’m a satisficer, which means I’m generally happy with the first option that meets my criteria. My sweetie is a maximizer, which means she wants to consider all the options before picking the best one. This is great for china and couches, less great for takeout when we’re exhausted.)

    1. Ooh, yes, re: maximizer vs. satisficer. I am a satisficer–to use the food example again, as long as something falls roughly within our budget, will be ready before we get crabby from hunger, and sounds reasonably good, I’m fine with it. My partner, though, wants to hit the sweet spot of maximal cost/time/enjoyment benefit, and sometimes it’s maddening–I’ll make suggestions, and then there’s this fifteen-minute conversation I don’t want to have about which one is the best option (whereas I would be fine with the good-enough option because then we can eat and also I want to stop talking it to death). It doesn’t happen every time we have to make a decision–usually we can do the ‘one person narrows it down to two, the other person picks one’ thing–but when it does, it’s maddening.

      Our compromise when he’s in full-on maximizer mode and I can’t cope is that I come up with a reasonable list of options (3-5, usually) and a time limit (which may be 15 minutes if we’re talking about dinner, or three days if we’re talking about furniture). During that time he can research, think about benefits and drawbacks, and talk to people.

      (I usually put a shorter limit on the amount of time I’m willing to talk about it, though, for my own sanity. If it’s a big decision like furniture, I may be willing to spend thirty minutes during that three-day timeframe talking to him about the benefits and drawbacks, but I won’t talk about it on demand all three days, because my satisficer self will go bananas if I try. Fortunately, his other maximizer friends can pick up the slack, and I can say, “If you need to work this out verbally, why not call A?” A, being a fellow maximizer, is usually happy to listen to him run through the cost/benefit analysis on each desk chair or whatever.)

      At the end of the time limit, he picks one of the options, and since I only picked 3-5 options I’d be happy with, I’m fine with that. If he’s still stymied at the end of the time limit, I get carte blanche to pick one of his short list myself.

      1. You touched on another piece of this, which is whether people generally consider silently or out-loud. I’m a big introvert, so I think things over in my head, but my sweetie is an extrovert, and she *has to* talk things over to make a decision. Her talking-things-over can make me really uncomfortable, because it triggers my aaaaaaah, too many choices thing.

        We haven’t solved this, but it got better when I asked her to use people other than me for non-critical, non-us decisions so I can spend my energy on the critical and/or us decisions. I’m going to steal your time limits — that’s brilliant. I’ve done that with before-sleep talk, because I need quiet and she needs to talk, so I’ll talk for ten minutes and then we’re going to be quiet, but I hadn’t applied it here.

        Decision fatigue. It is a thing.

  30. The thing I’ve hated about always being the planner is that I feel I have to take responsibility for how the event turns out – if it’s a dud, or, worse, a string of duds, I feel really bad for making the decisions and ‘forcing’ everyone through that – even if they said they didn’t care.

    If, however, we share planning responsibility, everybody ends up making a dud decision now and then and it’s a lot easier to relax when you get everyone hyped up about a movie and it turns out to be awful.

    1. That’s a really good point. I don’t mind planning, but there’s a lot of anxiety that goes along with it. What if the food isn’t up to par this time around? Will my friend like this bar, or will she think it’s pretentious? It’s not always rational since I know at least a few of my friends are like the LW and will put up with almost anything, but it’s a hard habit to get out of, especially since I grew up around critical people.

      Having others be willing to share the load takes some of the pressure off, because we can share the dud responsibility and also because I can get more insight into what they enjoy by seeing what sorts of plans they make.

    2. Oh for sure! I mentioned in a spam trapped comment that another issue I have is also feeling like once I’ve made The Decision, that someone who claimed they didn’t care actually had a preference and is silently resenting/seething the whole time, and that I am responsible for their bad time.

      1. I always feel like this. I had no idea other people did too! Although being on anti-anxiety meds has helped to squash it somewhat.

      2. Though, if they don’t use their words – People are not mind-readers, so you are not at all responsible for their bad time.

        1. You’re absolutely right. And my friends never resented me for it. But still, when I’m the planner I feel as if the outcome is still partly my responsibility because I made the decision to do it. So it’s a lot of pressure if I’m the one always making the choice.

        2. Yup, what TR said. It’s definitely my problem to deal with (anxiety), but it’s yet another way being the planner/doer can get really exhausting.

      3. I have such a huge problem with this – if I suggest something (like a restaurant) and it ends up being more expensive than expected/the food isn’t as good as I thought/the service is lousy/any combination thereof – I often find myself getting into this horrible loop of abjectly apologising, because I suggested the restaurant/bar so obviously it’s entirely my fault that the kitchen is having an off-night, or the server has a migraine and is in the weeds, or the management decided to raise their prices since that rave review came out in Local Paper. I am better about it now, because I learned to phrase suggestions in ways that I am comfortable with (“I’ve never been to X but I read a really great review last weekend, want to check it out?”) and to let go a bit if something that I have been the ‘driver’ for turns out to be less than perfect, and trust that my friends/partner will still love me and we will have a funny story to share about that time we went to that restaurant that was supposed to be great and ended up being terrible.

    3. Oh yes, this. My mother is someone who “doesn’t care where we eat,” but she’s also someone who is never, ever satisfied with the food or the service at a restaurant– she could always have “made something just as good at home. And without so much salt and so much noise.” And as a kid, as someone who expressed my preferences when asked, I felt horribly guilty every single time we ordered in or ate out and she predictably hated the food. As an adult, I can look back and realize that she had/has some issues with food that probably complicated that process, but I still resent it.
      Aaand now I’m the food-decider in my household, but my partner is an easy-going person who has evinced delight at every meal or meal-plan I have ever put in front of her and who considers it real work that I do in exchange for other household chores that are her domain, so it feels very different.

    4. That’s why I still feel bad about not knowing that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo featured multiple graphic rape scenes (I don’t know why the internet failed to give me that incredibly important information), and being all like, “the two reviews I read said this was a great movie, let’s see it this weekend!”

      1. Oh my Lord yes. What the hell, internet?! That is a seriously important piece of information!

        1. I know this is off topic, but I there are some things (including rape) that I absolutely cannot stand to watch and I’ve found http://www.kids-in-mind.com/ really helpful. They rate every movie in three categories: Sex & Nudity; Violence & Gore; and Profanity. They also review substance use, discussion topics, and general theme. Sometimes they miss things that are implied, but they’re generally very thorough. (I once saw “One man tells another man that he has many character flaws” listed in the “Violence & Gore” section.) I hope this helps someone! (If it’s too off topic, I will totally understand the Captain removing it.)

          1. I checked their write-up of the Avengers to see how they handle things. Some of it would make really hilarious cover blurbs:

            “A huge green superhero smashes many alien soldiers.”
            “Many alien soldiers descend on Earth, people are shot, and things are blown up.”
            “A man pours himself a drink (and drinks) and offers an alien deity one (he declines).”
            “While scientists experiment with an energy source, […] a beam of light is shot across the room, a portal is opened and an alien deity appears on a platform.”

      2. Not quite the same, but my very first date (freshman year of high school) was to see Fried Green Tomatoes. His choice. I’m sure he didn’t know about the … well, which scene or part of the movie do you pick as “not a great date movie for people too young to really be dating?” It’s difficult.

        You make decisions on the best available information at the time. Sometimes it turns out okay.

        1. Oh dear – I can top that. I went on a double date in high school to see…..Dead Man Walking. My audible sobbing put something of a damper on the evening.

        2. I can beat all of you! I chose Blindness for a very first date with someone from the Internet. I knew nothing about it except that I liked Saramago’s other books, and neither did my date. That sure went down a real treat. I never saw the guy again afterwards.

        3. I went on a not-date with a crush to see Requiem for a Dream. The Jennifer Connelly “party” scene made things particularly awkward…

        4. Opera may not be a good idea either. They’re seldom cheerful. One memorable first date was Miss Saigon (I won tickets). I spent the entire 2nd act weeping, sobbing and snuffling nose-bubbles of snot while trying not to get dripping mascara on my cute white Betsey Johnson off the shoulder number. Left the show looking like Rudolph the Red Nosed Raccoon.

        5. Once when my long-distance boyfriend happened to be in town for the first time in 6 months, we went to see The Constant Gardener because we had heard it was a thriller. Big mistake. Rape+murder+suicide+neocolonialism+white man’s burden =/= romance.

  31. LW, I think there are two separate types of “opinions” you’re describing in your letter. One is the planning kind — where you want to eat/what you want to do tomorrow night/which movie you should see. As the Captain says, it’s annoying to be the person always stuck choosing, so that’s a good area to just suggest something–even if you don’t really care either way–so that you’re contributing to the decision-making. That’s less about whether you need to have opinions, and more about pulling your weight in the planning department.

    But it also sounds like there’s a second kind of opinion you’re describing, having to do more with your actual thoughts and feelings and views. You don’t give a lot of detail about that stuff, but when you say you don’t have answers to your boyfriend’s “getting to know you better” questions, that made me scratch my head a bit. Your opinions don’t have to be permanent, immutable things that you are wed to forever and ever, and you don’t have to feel super strongly about every issue (political or otherwise), but if someone asks what kind of movies you like and you say “I don’t know” and then they ask what your favorite book is and you say “I don’t know” and then they ask what you like to do for fun and you say “I don’t know, whatever,” then yeah, that’s probably going to raise some eyebrows.

    I don’t know what kind of questions you’ve been struggling with, but here’s a sample of what I think of as getting to know you questions:

    -what do you like to do in your free time?
    -what kind of movies/TV shows do you like?
    -what kind of music do you like?
    -what’s your favorite place to visit?
    -who are the people you’re closest to?
    -what is your dream job?
    -what kind of books do you like?
    -what excites you or makes you happy?
    -what’s an issue you feel really strongly about?
    -what’s something that makes you really angry?
    -what’s something fun you’d like to do in the next year?

    Not everyone will have an answer to every one of those questions (I don’t really care about music all that much, and I’m still trying to figure out the whole dream job thing), but if you’re struggling to answer most of them, then I think you could probably benefit from some introspection. You don’t have to be able to rank your five favorite movies of all time or have a personal political manifesto, but if you don’t really have any interests or preferences or dreams or passions, that doesn’t sound super healthy.

    1. One of the questions on your list might be my gateway into the LW’s mindset.

      I *loathe* being asked “what kind of music do you like?” to the extent that I’ve been known to reply with a big smile and “Can’t abide music!” And one of the reasons is that it’s such an obvious getting-to-know-you question that I feel like the questioner is really saying “Describe your personality succinctly in a language you do not understand!” or worse “Let’s put you on the spot – how cool are you?” And then every possible answer seems wrong in some way. If the LW has this brand of awkwardness about all questions of taste, I can sympathise. The best strategy I’ve found so far is to narrow it down: talk about the last concert you went to or what you had on Spotify that morning. That keeps the conversation going and, as with the restaurant example, it always feels easier to answer a specific than a general question.

      I offer this sketch which may help her see the funny side of getting-to-know-you questions:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gi4tL1PQD58 (relevant stuff starts 1:20)

      1. I have the opposite problem of having hugely wide and varied taste in music. There’s a couple of genres that I don’t listen to much of, but I don’t have a favourite band or favourite song or anything like that. “Everything” is about as useful as “nothing” in that respect.

        1. Should have made it clearer – “Can’t abide music!” was a lie to avoid answering the question.

          (The last concert I went to was Mongolian throat singing.)

      2. I think that’s a good strategy for dealing with people you don’t really know asking you about music/books/etc. Given that she mentions her boyfriend asking “getting to know you” questions it might also help if the LW tells him she’s not comfortable being put on the spot the next time he asks. Instead she can start volunteering things to him, for example she might not have a favourite colour but chances are she’s seen colours she thinks are pretty. The next time something he’s around when something catches her eye she can vocalise that so he feels like he’s getting to know her better and she doesn’t feel under pressure to name her favourite colour of all time forever.

        It works for books and music too. Chances are her boyfriend isn’t really interested in her favourite book itself so she can broaden the conversation, eg. “I’m reading X right now which is about a dystopian future. I really enjoy thinking about what it might be like to live somewhere like that.”

      3. Er…perhaps just try not assuming the other person is playing mind games with you, and actually wishes to know what kind of music you like? Perhaps they’re just looking for a point of common interest.

        1. Even so, it’s still not the greatest way of finding out. If I were to truthfully answer that, it would take me a lot longer than I suspect the other person really intended to spend listening. There are so many weird sub-categories and exceptions — for instance, country music. I like Western swing, older country music, Appalachian music, traditional Piedmont music, country waltzes, fiddle tunes, old-time, bluegrass, Beausoleil, The Austin Lounge Lizards, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Lyle Lovett, The Mavericks, Randy Travis (but nothing slower than “Forever and Ever, Amen”), and the Carolina Chocolate Drops. And I’ve left out a lot of stuff and skipped over the debates over which of those are or aren’t properly classed as “country”. And that’s only a single super-genre, and not even the one that makes up the largest part of our music collection.

          Someone looking for a point of common interest would do much better to ask me, “Do you like [genre]?” Or even, “Do you like [band]?” Then if I’ve never heard of [band], they can describe it and that can become a search for commonalities. Otherwise, it’s too much like asking me what kind of reading material I like. (Never ask me this. Ask me what I’ve been reading lately, but not what I like to read in general.)

        2. It’s not actually assuming the other person is playing mind games – music pretty much by default is a bonding/divisive thing.

          “Describe your personality succinctly in a language you do not understand!” or worse “Let’s put you on the spot – how cool are you?”

          The first one is basically describing how that question expects you to have affiliations and passions for music, but if it’s not a central part of your life you pretty much have no answer to that question and it feels like the most awkward of let downs.

          I have no memory for detail (ie: names of albums or artists, even those I like) and my tastes are all over the show. So I don’t even know what to say, I can’t craft a discussion out of it, and despite social anxiety I’m fairly good at keeping conversation rolling. “I like at least some of all genres” is my default and accurate response but it’s one that is not at all open-ended and feels like a disappointment to the asker.

          The second part sounds more accusatory but seriously, so much of music bonding is over loving or hating groups or genres (I don’t like talking about how crap x music is, and if I express passion for y then I’m expected to know names and history and and). When you do have something in common like that it’s awesome and for a little while the other person can be the coolest person you’ve met – when you don’t even know how to engage the topic you feel pretty fucking uncool.

          So basically I hate too the “what music do you like?” question though I attribute no malice to it.

          /failing to explain myself but I had to try. 😛

          1. I understood!

            And I think I’ve put my finger on the even bigger problem I have with the question, which is that I don’t like music by “kinds”. To me, it makes about as much sense as “What colour books do you read?” or “What letter do you like films to begin with?” And I know that a lot of people do go for kinds of music/books/films, and when one of those people finds a fellow early music afficionado / sci-fi enthusiast / Hitchcock nerd, that must be a good thing for both, so I don’t resent people for asking it, but I sorta wish they would phrase it differently.

            IMNSHO, for example, “Read anything good recently?” is a better question than “What books do you like to read?” because it allows the askee to swerve more easily if they want to “No, I’ve been too busy building a giant trebuchet out of cheese.”

          2. “I don’t like music by kinds” is an excellent description of this phenomenon, and one that I will probably steal. Thank you!

          3. Actually, this is kind of how I feel about the “what kind of food are you in the mood for?” in the context of restaurants. No matter what vague food mood I am in, the answer is “the best available of its kind (given budget constraints).” Even if I’m in an Indian mood, I’d rather have excellent Italian than mediocre Indian. Which I suppose offers another way to contribute to decision-making without imposing a cuisine preference: say what’s the best of its kind we can get for $_____ a head, within a 10 minute walk?

          4. “I have no memory for detail (ie: names of albums or artists, even those I like) and my tastes are all over the show.” Me too! I definitely like a lot of stuff and don’t like other stuff but do I ever suck at describing which is which???? Which makes me hate this question, too.

  32. It can also help to switch “I don’t care what we have for dinner” to “All of those choices sound really good.” Just a change in attitude and tone can make the other person feel more at ease that you are being made happy.

    I find this works with people who solicit opinions while secretly harboring opinions of their own in hopes that they will match yours, but who immediately disagree with you if they don’t.

    Of course, if the other person is wanting to “be a passenger” as the Captain put it, that is a different story.

    1. I don’t have anything to add, but I felt compelled to reply to you so I could admire the congruity of our screen names. 🙂

    2. This also works if you express different, but equally positive opinions about the available options. “I don’t know! Thai has spicy goodness, but dim sum gives me so many options.” It sounds less apathetic or passive-aggressive, because it actually indicates that making a decision takes effort.

  33. LW, you said that ‘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.’ When I think of ‘personality’, I think of attributes like funny or sweet or smart or incredibly sarcastic. Not ‘prefers In-N-Out by a large margin over other burger vendors.’ I can’t decide if you’re trying on some sort of humble-brag (‘I couldn’t possibly care about these silly human concerns; my mind is shining and pure like the robot gods in whose image I was forged!’*) or if you’re nervous about making the ‘wrong’ opinions and becoming an… uninteresting, not-unique person? The alternative, of course, is that you’ve just been a kind of lazy social person who didn’t previously understand the work of decision/plan making and will now proceed to step up her friend-game. But if either of those first two – silly human concerns! or paralysis in recognizing your own basic opinions** – are the case, please consider talking these things over with a therapist.

    *Robot Ayn Rand.
    **I assume you do actually order food for yourself, dress yourself, etc., which means that you have and are capable of sussing out your own preferences. Unless you’re literally ordering the first thing on the menu every time/buying the very first thing you see in the store/pointing to a haircut in the hairdresser’s stylebook at random.

    1. I couldn’t possibly care about these silly human concerns; my mind is shining and pure like the robot gods in whose image I was forged!

      I love that you said this, not just because it’s funny, but also because it’s good to have it out there. . . even if it does not apply to the LW, it is a definite impression I have gotten from “whatever you want is fine” perpetrators who then were demonstrably not fine with the results of my decision.

      It also reminds me of this very biting but true line from a Rebecca Solnit piece I read yesterday: “You don’t have to participate in this system, but you do have to describe it and its complexities and contradictions accurately, and you do have to understand that when you choose not to participate, it better be for reasons more interesting than the cultivation of your own moral superiority, which is so often also the cultivation of recreational bitterness.”

      In that case she is addressing people who will not sully themselves in the dirty political machine by voting, but “recreational bitterness” has broad and far-reaching applications! : D

  34. See, I think you DO actually have opinions, if you stop to think about things, or at least, you will. I doubt that every single book/film/political topic you have ever experienced have left you so unmoved that you can’t even say whether you mildly liked it/agreed with it or not.

    Yes, it’s hard to come up with a favorite book or song when someone asks you on the spur of the moment, but generally people ask these things because they want a dialogue (well, at least, sometimes), which means that you need to participate. This is not a test! Just pick something you like and can talk about. Do you vote? Then unless you vote for candidates at random, you must have some political preferences you can talk about.

    And as someone who does most of the day-to-day planning in my household, let me tell you that there are times when I just tell my husband that he HAS to find the hotel or pick what to have for dinner because I am tired of doing all the work. If you want to be have real relationships with other people you have to put in the work. Having input in decision making is part of that work.

  35. 1. I have a friend who will sometimes say (in what-do-you-want-to-do situations) “I really want to not decide.” She’s a little self-deprecating with it, and it effectively communicates that deciding is a burden and her anxiety, and because she doesn’t pull it out all the time, it is super easy to accomodate.

    2. One tactic could be “I had a really good time/had yummy pasta at X restaurant last month” or “Oh, Y movie? I read an interesting review of it that argued Z.” If it’s less of a personal opinion and more of throwing information into the group pot, it might help you.

    1. yes to #2, not just for deciding stuff, but as an answer to those getting to know you questions too. “I don’t have a favorite burger place, but my friend was just telling me the other day that she’s a passionate In-N-Out supporter because…” is honest and makes for good conversation. So is “I don’t have a favorite burger place, but that reminds me of this funny story…”

      Hopefully people are asking you that stuff to get a good talk going, not to put you on the spot and force an opinion out of you.

    2. Yeah, I was just about to post with a comment in favour of ‘adding information’. Even if it’s fairly banal, information can help with group choice-making: “X is cheaper/closer/cleaner/tastier than Y” may not be a clincher, but suggests a criteria on which the decision can be made.

  36. As kweirly suggests, asking the other person’s perspective is useful for making decisions, but also for learning why people have opinions and make the choices they do. If you are thinking of eating at hamburger place A or hamburger place B, instead of saying a hamburger is a hamburger, ask which your friend prefers and why. Maybe one of them uses grass-fed beef, or has better french fries, or has more comfortable seating, or plays better music, or has a really cute guy waiting tables, or is cheaper. Learning these things may help you to explore your own desires or feelings about such things, and help you to develop opinions based on factors you may not have previously considered.

  37. I don’t know if the LW is interested in delving into the deeper issues of why zie might be so inclined to back off when it comes to opinion-having, but it’s interesting to me that a not insignificant part of what zie is asking for help on is kind of further distancing herself from opinion-having, such that zie needs something to say that will more or less take zer even further off the hook from having/making/expressing opinions, ex.: “That way they understand that I’m not just letting them walk all over me or something.”

    A good way to get people to “understand” that they’re not walking all over you is, well, to have some opinions, and if not opinions, some pro-activeness. Finding newer/better/less passive-aggressive ways to say “Decide this for me, please,” might help a little bit with some people LW doesn’t see/hang out with often, but it doesn’t address the fundamental issue, which is that it’s exhausting to be pressured to be the Activity Planner all the time. It sounds like from what LW’s close-people have told zer that they’re approaching the frustration/exhaustion point. And as the Captain and others have pointed out, that’s a signal to folks that says ‘Maybe this person is not very invested in hanging out/doing activities/etc. with me.’

    So, I suggest that in addition to the good advice from the Captain and that LW came up with zerself (seriously, the notebook is a solid idea!) it might be prudent to examine whether there are any issues that make the LW apprehensive about being assertive with opinions/forming them in the first place/taking the reins, socially. There could very well be some family structure issues/adolescent experiences/etc. that would make a person inclined to be more passive in this way, and that could be a first step toward addressing the source of LW’s behavior, which might help zer develop some better ways of addressing and changing it (if, in fact, zie wants to, which is totally up to them.)

    I probably effed up all those zie/zir pronouns. I’m new to them. Sorry guys.

    1. They/their is always acceptable, neutral, and (despite naysayers) grammatical. I also second your suggestion that the LW might want to have a think about why they feel so strongly that they lack opinions.

  38. I agree with the Captain, that sometimes not deciding puts a lot of burden on the other person. It is also infuriating to be the one who picks Chinese, and then when you’re at the restaurant, the other person has trouble picking what to eat, because they had Chinese for lunch. Grrr.

    On the conversation aspect, I will echo some of the other commenters here, and point out that not having opinions on politics/books/movies/weather/whatever does the same thing as not having restaurant opinions does – it’s puts the burden 100% on the other person.

    If I ask you, “have you seen The Hunger Games”, and you say yes, my next question will be some variety of “Did you like it? or What did you think?” Shrugging and saying “I dunno, what did you think?” tells me, perhaps unintentionally, that you are not into the conversation.

    If you really have no opinion, even of the mildest sort, e.g. “It was OK / I didn’t care for it”, then maybe some examination as to why is in order. Is it that you’re afraid your opinion won’t be taken seriously? That you don’t want to have an opinion opposed to the other person, and get into an argument?

    Are there any books, movies, TV shows, hobbies etc. that you are passionate about? Are you an avid knitter? Gardener? You can always turn the conversation away from topics you don’t care about to ones you do.

    Like, “I’m not a big movie buff. But I love to read. What the best book you read recently. Mine was [Book].”

    I think it’s not so much that a personality is made up of opinions, but if there is really not a thing in this world you feel strongly about one way or the other, then that would be a little weird.

    1. Yes, this. Conversations take many little bits of work to keep going, and if you’re not putting those in, it can be very frustrating for the other person. Putting that bit in to find and put forward a topic that you’re interested in talking about keeps the other person from having to continually play conversational go fish.

  39. Yes to everything the Captain said about taking your turn with the decisions now and then, even if it’s arbitrary. Speaking as the Alsatian in my friend group, I also think it’s key to establish, in an ongoing relationship anyway, that you’re not doing the “I have a secret opinion and I’ll be disappointed if you don’t guess it” game. Because my state has a unique brand of passive-aggressiveness named after it (y’all know about Minnesota Nice, right?) I often jump to the conclusion that people are playing that game. (‘Cause often they are.) Just being told, “I really don’t have a secret agenda. If there’s something specific I want for dinner, I’ll tell you,” at some point as we’re getting to know each other has saved more than one nascent friendship for me. And it also makes me feel comfortable saying “I know you don’t care, but I’m tired today, so just pick something, k?”

  40. Thanks Captain. I tend to be one of those I-don’t-care-what-we-do people and I never thought about how much responsibility that puts on the other person. I’m actually kinda embarrassed now that I think of it. Will try to make more decisions.

  41. I think there are two different issues floating around here.

    The first one – not wanting to make plans – has been covered pretty well, and I agree with the consensus that even if it’s not your favorite thing in the world, it’s something that’s often a considerate thing for a friend to do.

    But you seem to have some larger concerns going on to, focused on what it means to have a large set of strong opinions and what that means about your personality.

    First off – you don’t need to have strong opinions about everything. Some people do! I have some friends who love to argue endlessly over what such-and-such actor’s best movie is, and lots of the time my opinion falls somewhere on the ‘depends on what mood I’m in!’ part of the spectrum. I’m a pretty conciliatory person and I tend to like a lot of things, so sometimes that will come across like I don’t have loads of opinions. This annoys some people, but I’m kind of okay with that. It doesn’t make them or me inherently more interesting, it’s just a matter of personality and preference. Having forceful opinions does not automatically make you more interesting or make you a better friend or better contributor to your social group.

    But that said, if you feel like you don’t have opinions about anything (and that’s something that bothers you) it’s something that you can work on in a couple of ways:

    1. You can form opinions! I don’t think it has to be by forcing yourself to make them up in a journal, as that seems kind of stressful. One of the best ways to form opinions is just to go find a field that you like and read loads and loads about it. There are bound to be differences in opinion, and if it’s something you care about already, you’ll be more likely to have a preference one way or another. Also, it’ll likely point you in the direction of other possible interests, which will lead you to new possible opinions. And it’s a win-win, because reading is fun!

    2. You can explain to people why you don’t have a strong opinion, or offer a related one. If someone asks you whether Superman or Batman would win in a fight and you honestly just don’t care at all, you could tell them why you don’t care (if it’s a good story), or you could bring in a tangentially related opinion that you do care about, even if it’s sort of ridiculous (“I don’t know about Batman or Superman, but I bet Nikola Tesla could take them both at once!”). This way you aren’t just making up an opinion for the sake of it, but you’re also participating in the conversation and making people feel like you’re engaged in what they’re saying.

    3. In certain situations, you can just make up an opinion. I get that that may sound disingenuous, but there are not a huge number of people out there who care passionately about whether their lunch will come from Jack in the Box or In-and-Out. Sometimes it’s easier to just pick one even if you don’t care. In some cases it can even be fun, and you can play devil’s advocate for a while.

  42. A few thoughts:

    When I was a child (like 9 or 10 max) I became so known for my “I dunno” answers that my father decided to cure me by forcing me to make as many decisions as possible for the family. I recall that we were to have takeaway and I was to decide whether we had Chinese or Pizza. I don’t even remember what we had (possibly nothing which was the threat if I failed to pick something) and I still remember how sick and distressed I felt about it. Also nobody else was allowed to express their opinions or it would have been cheating.

    So anyway for much of my youth and adolescence I was like you, LW! When I really sincerely have no opinion either way it is very difficult to convince others of this fact… but when I got together with my husband he also doesn’t really have opinions about things and we’d frequently end up in “I don’t know” stalemate. It made me realise that I don’t find a lack of decision-making or opinion-having ability to be sweet and easygoing at all, it is in fact really frustrating and it feels like that person is abdicating responsibility. Probably because when I opt-out of the ‘what should we do/have’ process it is because I don’t want to be wrong and don’t want to contribute to anyone else having a bad time and those things short-circuit my ability to actually care about things.

    And the trouble with not caring about things is that it makes it hard to care about anything. And that makes me feel like maybe I am not even really a person. Maybe they could just replace me with a robot that said “I don’t mind” at regular intervals and nobody would notice. That isn’t a nice feeling for me, it is a really really awful feeling.

    I discovered that once I practiced a bit, I was able to have opinions about things and it has made me feel much more like an individual person who isn’t replaceable by a robot.

    1. Negative opinions are easier (for me) than positive ones. “I didn’t like (aspect) of film very much because x, y, z.”. “I would prefer that we didn’t have spicy food.” After doing this a few times I am now working on having positive opinions about things I did like or do like. it is WAY harder. But it is really quite fun to like things and it is especially fun to like things a whole lot! Start small. If people are asking for your input on where to eat just mention something that you wouldn’t hate. Or something that you would: “Anything would be fine but I did have pizza yesterday so maybe not that”. You can still make it clear that you don’t mind and if more people seem to be leaning toward Thai food you can throw in a “That sounds great too!” so people don’t feel like they are steamrollering you.

    2. You can like more than one thing at once. You can change your mind. I really admire people who say “I did/didn’t like X about Y” and then someone else says “that is interesting! I found X to be a bit problematic/thought it was awesome because Z” and the first person says “Oh I hadn’t really thought about it that way!”. If you are starting from the position of not really having strong opinions then you may be able to avoid being the defensive/argumentative opinion-haver! Or you might find that you do have strong opinions about certain things (I certainly found I did once I practiced a bit) and be able to argue your case. That is something else I really admire!

    Not many people like to be the person who makes the final decision, especially if they end up doing it all the time. Unless you are friends with someone who really likes doing that you will need to pull your weight occasionally. And really if you don’t care just pick something at random, pick the first one, pick the last one. It will make your friends lives much much easier! Because there is at least something to go on, something to start with! Maybe upon considering the idea of pizza which you suggest someone will be reminded that they haven’t had fish & chips in a while and would kind of like that. Hooray! Decision made. Look upon “coming to a decision” as a success condition. Abstentions count as votes for continuing the discussion.

    If coming up with an idea out of the blue (for what should we eat or what should we do) is too hard (and boy that is really hard) I have had some success in saying “I don’t know, what do you think our options are?”

    And in answer to that question (because it is a group discussion) I find it relatively comfortable to say “Maybe we could X”. The maybe and the could are important for me to feel like I can suggest it!

    I am trying to practice not saying “I don’t know/mind” in these sorts of decisions. And when the burden of decision making really is too much I will say that instead: “I have decision fatigue, I would really rather someone else decided” <– I did a LOT of this just after my wedding which was 6 months of constant decision making about things I really didn't care very much about but given that the groom was away on a ship I really did have to make all the decisions myself. And I find that giving myself permission to opt-out sometimes makes it easier to decide at other times. Because I know I can opt-out later. And apart from just recently I don't even feel like I have to do that very often any more.

    You might find you are able to form opinions/preferences. You might not! That is fine too.

    But I think the best thing I have found is that in the process of making these group decisions I feel way more connected to people, taking on some of the burden of the decision-making process is like reaching out and holding their hand and suddenly it is something we are doing together instead of me letting/making them do it all. And it is still really hard for me but when I do manage to do this and participate I really feel much more like a real person, like a valued person and like my presence matters to the group. I hope you find what works for you, and that you are real and that you matter too.

    1. I can so relate to this – I had to/chose to do *everything* for our wedding – my spouse was around but working a lot and I’m good with catering and sewing and all that stuff and I knew that if I diy-ed I’d be able to have the party I wanted that I wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise. So. I made my dress. I planned and cooked the food (vegan and coeliac friendly). I sourced and bought the flowers from a local grower (I did end up having some help making the bouquet and corsages/boutonnieres). I had an ‘in case of rain’ contingency plan that ended up being needed. It wasn’t a particularly large or elaborate event (I think we had between 50 and 70 guests/participants all tolled) but there were still *so many* things to think about and deal with and then do in a short-ish period of time and the night before when I was trying to get everything together I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Anyway, sorry to get tangenty, I know this has nothing to do really with the OP, but when I read your post I was like, YES!!! THIS!!!

  43. I have a couple of practical techniques for the picking-a-restaurant thing. One is that I will sometimes say something like “No strong opinion, but I’m always happy with Chinese food.” This is because I am always happy with Chinese food; but if there’s anything you can say that about, you can put it as “I’m not going to insist, but how about X” or “but I’m always good with XYZ Restaurant.” If the other person doesn’t care either, that’s a decision made; even if they do, you haven’t burdened them with making the decision solo.

    Similarly, if we hit a couple of rounds of “we could have X or Y, what do you think?” or “salad, soup, or pasta?” “I don’t know, any of those is fine,” I will pick whichever was mentioned first. That’s arbitrary, but if nobody has a preference, it’s good enough, and it saves mental energy, because I did the thinking once, when I wasn’t hungry or tired.

    1. I used to have a tactic like this! One particular friend group would always end up standing around going “So… where shall we eat?” for about fifteen minutes, and I got fed up, so every time it happened I would say, “Let’s go to Pizza Hut!”. So either we would go to Pizza Hut (win! I like Pizza Hut!), or someone else would have to express an opinion and we could use that, or have an actual discussion.

      It’s actually been long-term useful, too, because everyone knows that if they don’t have an idea we’re going to end up at Pizza Hut, so now they think about the issue in advance 🙂

      1. “everyone knows that if they don’t have an idea we’re going to end up at Pizza Hut”

        I also do something similar. I suggest a restaurant I know I like that I also know everyone else could take or leave. Sometimes you have to show people what they DON’T want in order for them to figure out what they do want.

  44. In larger groups, I think it’s totally OK to not have a preference and can be beneficial (unless you need to cast a tie-breaking vote). So I’d save the preference energy for decisions with your bloke.

    1. Oh, I hate being in a larger group where everyone’s just being quiet and nice. If there’s already discussion going on and you don’t care, then that’s fine, but if someone asks or if there’s a “niceness argument” going on, please step in with a suggestion so that a decision can be made!

      1. I was in just such a group during my Master’s. We actually came up with a system to solve this, because every single time we wanted to grab food together we ended up in an “oh, I’m fine with anything!” loggerhead where nobody wanted to venture an opinion: we’d get out a piece of paper, make a table with all the options for food and all the people there, and then each person would go through their row and rate the options – I think there was “veto”, “mild dislike”, “neutral”, “mild preference” and “strong preference”.

        The thing was that people *did* have opinions, but they had no strong preferences – and then nobody wanted to force the decision just because they were feeling slightly more like Indian than Italian today when they’d be just fine with Italian. The group being big made it worse, because nobody wanted their mild preference to make the decision for so many other people! But they were fine with writing it down, and then we could go through the results (I think we ended up going by “no veto and least number of dislikes, most likes among those”).

        This may also seem like a time-consuming and overly meticulous way to sort things. I feel the need to point out that this group consisted of maths grad students, which hopefully explains why we approached it that way. *g*

  45. My ex and I were both pretty laid-back, anything’s-fine-with me people, especially when it came to going out to eat. We eventually came up with a game to fix it. After a single round of ‘what do you wanna do?/I dunno, what do *you* want to do?,’ the first person would list three restaurants we both generally like. The second person would pick one of the three, and we would go there with no further debate (unless they *really* didn’t feel like any of those three places, in which case it was their turn to offer a three-option list or a specific place). Ideally, the list-writer picks three sorta disparate choices (say, a pizza place, a burrito place, and a thai restaurant), so there’s plenty to pick from.

    For us, it saved a lot of time and ensured that we were both happy with the outcome, without any one person abdicating or taking full responsibility for the plan making. After the second time we tried it, it was pretty automatic.

  46. My never-fail decision making process with large groups of people trying to find a restaurant is that you keep walking, wherever you are, and see what you come across. Everyone in the group gets one and only one veto. In theory this means that you compromise with a place that no one dislikes. But in reality, almost no one ever actually uses their veto. So you go to the first place you see, except that by thinking about and deciding not to veto, everyone reaches a consensus that it is a pretty good restaurant. It’s magical!

    1. Ha! As I was reading this, I was thinking, ‘Huh, that doesn’t really make any sense… OH! *lightbulb* It /is/ magical!’

  47. I worked with a woman once who never offered her opinions on anything, and was hesitant to reveal even a scrap of personal information about herself. She did the trick you are describing turning absolutely everything back into a question about the other person.

    We worked together for five years, and I didn’t know anything more about her when I left than I did when she started. It was a very small company (20 ppl), and we all socialized together quite a bit. But this person was an enigma to everyone. She was difficult to work with, because no one had any kind of personal rapport with her. Some other people traveled with her, and she still didn’t want to open up and share any details of her life.

    After I left I discovered she was VERY into handmade craft cards. Like, it clearly took up most of her free time. She taught classes, went to crafting conferences, had a super popular blog and everything. Obviously, she was very passionate about something, she just didn’t want to share. Which is fine, of course.

    All this is to say that I think what your friends are picking up on is that it’s not so much your opinions that form your personality as your passions. If they don’t know what really gets you going, if it seems like nothing gets you going, then it can feel like they don’t know you very well. That maybe you are even deliberately keeping your real, inner self private, like the woman I worked with.

    It sounds like that’s not the case with you, but it might be what your friends are feeling. I would say, think about what your passions are, how you like to spend your time, and bring that into the conversation.

    If everyone’s talking about movies, it’s fine to say, “I’m not such a movie person. I’m a pretty poor critic. I’m more of a reader. I’m reading [X] right now and loving. What are some of your favorite books?”

    That shows that even if you don’t have strong opinions about the movie, you do have life in you. And also might lead to great conversations about things you are, actually, passionate about. Win win!

    1. “it’s not so much your opinions that form your personality as your passions.”
      I think that’s a great point. It seems to me that a person with no opinion about lots of things can be interesting, if it means they want to find out more about them to decide what they think; but a person with few passions is just not that interesting.

      That’s a bit unfortunate for me, as I have many more opinions than passions. In a discussion about politics, pop culture, or whatever, I’ll happily contribute with what I think; but there aren’t many things that I’m really passionate about, and I sometimes feel that my friends think of me as ‘the boring one’ for that reason. I’d go into more detail, but that’s a discussion for another time; this thread is getting sidetracked enough from the LW’s issues already.

      1. Different strokes for different folks. What I like is a *conversation* with give and take. I think sharing opinions is heaps of fun where someone banging on about their passion for underwater basket weaving is yawnsville.

  48. My boyo sounds a lot like you, LW. He really does not care. He’ll even go along with my decisions even if he does have an opinion about it and will eat at restaurants he hates and not tell me he really just doesn’t like that place until long after. He doesn’t resent it, either, he just… didn’t care.

    We get along because even though he doesn’t care (for realizes, he doesn’t. I don’t even understand it. I’m very, very opinionated and I pretty much always care), he’s still willing to make a decision about stuff. We will try new restaurants that he spotted on his drive home from work. He knows places to suggest when I want to go SOMEWHERE and have zero desire to figure out how to drive there in a strange city (we’re in an LDR). He participates in decision making, which is really all I want. I know he doesn’t care if he eats a frozen burrito or we have a fancy dinner, but I don’t want to decide everything all the time forever when I’ve just had a terrible day at work and just want to lie facedown on the couch until he suggests pancakes for dinner. He doesn’t care, but he still helps.

    On the verso, I have a friend who will simply not make decisions ever and it drives me up a wall. It got to the point where I honestly wonder how she survives when she’s not around other people. It’s really not about opinions, though. She has loads of opinions. She just won’t tell me about them. She makes me decide the sequence of events 90% of the time and adds zero information, zero input, zero objections, and zero expression of her preferences. I hate making a decision with no input when there are hidden opinions lurking to bite me in the ass once we are standing in goddamned line and she didn’t tell me she’s on a diet and can’t get burgers.

    So- yah, I don’t know if I think it’s even about opinions, it’s about having enough info to make a decision or to reassure the decision-maker that there’s no hidden objection that will attack after plans are already set. If you can find some way to participate in the process, it might be a good thing!

    Also: I think I ask, “What opinions do you have on this?” it’s more fishing for common conversational topic than actual invested in getting an answer. At least it is for me. I’d love to talk about whatever your passion is because if you don’t care about this one thing, then what DO you care about and let’s talk about that! 😀 My conversations only flounder when I never find out what the other person enjoys enough to talk about.

  49. Something you could do with your boyfriend, when he asks you what you want to do and you don’t care and don’t want to make an arbitrary decision is, instead of saying “I don’t care”, say “I’m happy with anything, I just want to spend time with you.” It turns it into a positive.

    However, I do in general agree with the advice in both the post and the comments. I’m a bit of a non-decision maker because I worry that if I make a decision everyone will hate it and I will have ruined people’s fun. But then I thought – so leaving the planning up to everyone else is letting *them* take on this concern so I don’t have to deal with it, which is really quite selfish.

    When I examined this part of myself, I realised that it’s not that I don’t have an opinion, it’s that I’m scared of saying we should do something that someone else secretly doesn’t really want to. And that’s ignoring my own feelings for the sake of pleasing other people and it’s not a good quality in personal relationships. Even if they aren’t strong feelings, I think constantly saying “whatever you want” really erodes your ability to trust yourself and your needs. You’re constantly telling yourself that your needs aren’t as important as other people. And while it doesn’t matter when it’s something like what’s for dinner, do it too much and it’ll creep into other areas of your life.

    So I think it’s probably worth making decisions, so you teach yourself that you can make decisions, and so that you learn that other people will respect your decisions. If you constantly do what someone else wants, you avoid finding out how they handle it when you say “no” to them and you have no practice at drawing boundaries or disagreeing with someone when it’s over something really important. It’s something that it’s a really good idea to learn, and starting with deciding where to have lunch seems like a good place.

    1. Yes! It will strengthen your relationships to explicitly say you’re glad to spend time with your friends & bf, while using the wording others suggest like, “I’m easy to please!” or “All those options sound great!” They may worry that your indifference about activities also means you’re indiscriminate in who you choose to spend time with. (That deeper issue seemed to be a concern both LW and CA had.) LW, I’m also easygoing and have been in your boat. I hadn’t thought of organizing as a burden before, so I will try to drive a little more and be a passenger less.

      My parents are a cautionary example of what happens when indifference reigns. For years, there is only one restaurant they have (occasionally) visited. Turns out, they don’t think it’s their favorite restaurant, just the only one that doesn’t seem like too much of a hassle to go to (though many are available). If this depressing rut is one you don’t want to see yourself in, dear LW, make the newness of an experience a tie-breaker when you’re at a loss for opinions otherwise.

      Do snobs play into your reticence to venture opinions? Some people are judgmental or outspoken about style, brand, or “quality”, especially with food, wine, clothes, and music, and it often feels easier to follow their lead or make neutral choices to escape scrutiny.

      My old job had snobs, and I decided to limit what I shared there. For instance, during a big push our team took turns choosing a restaurant to order lunch. For my turn I picked a grill where I loved the turkey Swiss burger; the menu had many tasty things at a variety of healthiness levels. However, I overheard a senior colleague griping to the VP (both on the team) about someone having picked that awful place; apparently I was supposed to have discovered a trendy yet obscure hidden jewel. This was one of many reminders that my preferences were out of step with colleagues’, and I realized I did not want to express myself much in that office. (I found mutual interests with a handful of people, but we generally only talked about comics or international relations one-on-one rather than in group situations.) The office has a tradition of hosting a small goodbye party when anyone leaves, and I was relieved that another colleague left the same week I did; he liked my suggestion of pooling the money for both parties and we celebrated according to his and the social committee’s tastes (though I made sure there was some sparkling cider for me, not just alcohol).

      Is lack of life experience an issue? I may be projecting; sometimes I would go along with things (or completely avoid things) because I was afraid to demonstrate my ignorance. For Important Choices be sure to find the information you need so you can be comfortable making a decision; and if you’re considering making Big Life Plans with others, make sure you feel comfortable discussing all aspects of the choice with them and get your questions answered, so that you can enthusiastically consent and they know this is something you do care about.

      These three internet resources may help with your quest to develop opinions, dear LW:
      1. I like your journal idea and second 750words! The site does a simple word analysis of what you write (all of which is private). Which words are most frequent? Is the tone more positive or negative? The analysis can be amusing, and sometimes it gives me insight that I sound really negative when I talk about X, even if I don’t intend to.

      2. If Yelp covers your area, look up local new or top-rated restaurants and activities (maybe filtered by price). Then you can suggest a place that your friends are statistically likely to enjoy or may not have tried. Deals on sites like Groupon could also force arbitrary choices and help you organize if you say, “Here’s a buy-one-get-one free deal for ___. If that sounds good, let’s buy it and go next week!”

      3. Finally, embrace your love of things like angelfish! I joined Pinterest a while ago, and users are very forthright about liking and having some “boards” filled with just pictures of their favorite fish or gardens or tutorials on hairdos they might try. Through Pinterest, just by looking at others’ fashion posts, I have developed my own style a bit and now try to express my personality through how I present myself. What I love about Pinterest (in addition to cute animal pictures) is that many of the same people posting things that may seem silly or mundane also share favorite books, movies, art, and ideas. (I’ve pinned Captain Awkward columns, as many others have.)

      To get started, try typing in the title and author of a book you remember enjoying, or even “angelfish”. The results show who posted what about the topic; sometimes what’s of interest is just the picture, sometimes there’s an interesting article or link behind it, usually indicated in the caption. Follow people from this search who have boards on a wide variety of topics, be liberal with your use of the “like” button, and repin things that pique your interest. (If you are a perfectionist, remember that there are more things you “should do” in the fitness, crafting, cleaning, and recipes categories than Martha Stewart could do in a million years.) You will probably uncover and develop tastes about things you hadn’t given much thought to before, maybe find others who share an obscure hobby, and realize that you are utterly uninterested in certain realms that other pinners are passionate about (and that’s fine).

      The Pinterest community at large seems to be a safe place to share things you like, and you can choose when creating the account whether you want to link it to your other social media identities. It can be fun to see some of the things friends & acquaintances care about, and unless you know awful people you’re very unlikely to get negative feedback. I can’t imagine anyone would possibly say, for instance, “That is the ugliest angelfish I have ever seen, and I will continue to follow your angelfish board so I can mock your horrible taste in fish!” 😉

  50. My girlfriend’s solution to this problem — let’s call it decision-exhaustion — is to be in a BDSM relationship. With me. Because I’m actually very decisive and usually restraining myself from being bossy. So it works for both of us.

    Have I mentioned the hot kinky sex?

    1. (That said, my girlfriend has *my enthusiastic consent* to avail herself of my decisiveness. If other folk wanted me to make a lot of decisions for them, I’d be annoyed).

  51. With the food one, particularly where a group is concerned, the first question is basically going to be “Anybody here have food allergies? vegetarian/vegan? (raw vegan?) gluten intolerant?” and since I hang out with a bunch of hippies, the answers to these questions usually narrow down the field quite a bit. Vegan Person will often go “Oh, no need to worry, I can just get a salad wherever” which is my usual cue for “That sounds less fun. How about X place?” since I tend to find all the foods anywhere I hang out for more than three days. Which leads to everybody discovering the nifty Ethiopian hole-in-the-wall or whatever, which is full of win.

  52. LW, there’s nothing wrong with having an easy going personality. You’re fine! I’m the same way, and I’ve learned a few tricks to make life easier for my friends and partners, and to express the opinions I do have. You probably have more opinions than you think you do, and you’ll develop more about the topics that are important to you.

    My college roommate was a non-decider too, and so we set up a system where we took turns making any joint decisions. Should we get blue or green curtains? I’ll pick. What’s for dinner? Your turn. It worked out really well, and became an in-joke with our circle of friends asking us who had the authority to make plans for us today. (Never in a mean way; they all thought it was brilliant.)

    For getting to know you questions, and with your boyfriend in particular, it’s OK to express an unfavorite. Favorite food? Anything but fish. It’s also cool to answer questions about your preferences for colors/movies/sex positions with, ‘I like a lot of colors/movies/positions, so I don’t really have a favorite. Right now I’m kinda liking orange/Whip It/missionary. For me it’s less pressure to come up with a right-now think I like than to decide an all-time absolute-favorite-ever.

  53. It seems to me like there are two different things going on here: opinions and preferences. I’m going to use some Myers-Briggs-ish false dualism as a convenient shorthand; please don’t assume that this means I actually think that all people fall into discrete binary categories.

    First, preferences: I’m the kind of person who, when it comes to the smaller things like what to have or where to go for dinner, often has no strong preference. I tend to be more of a let’s-mull-over-the-options, what-would-you-like-to-do person. In Myers-Briggs terms, I’m a P. So is my husband, and most of one side of my family. When we were doing our premarital counseling, our priest actually warned us that “what to have for dinner” was likely to be a big pain for us as a couple, because neither of us wants to go ahead and make the decision.

    It can be pretty exasperating sometimes. We’ve fallen into doing the thing where one of us offers 2-4 options and the other picks one — not deliberately, we just kinda ended up there. (Which says so much on its own.) The important thing is acknowledging that making decisions is a form of work. Once that’s been done, it’s hard to justify always pushing that chore onto the other person. That said, it’s also hard to be the decision maker when you really don’t give a damn. Here are some handy ways of getting around that:

    If presented with a choice of specific options, you can ask something like “Which one is closer/cheaper/open later/more convenient?” If there turns out not to be a substantial difference, then you have to pick one. The key thing to realize is that it doesn’t actually matter what the decision is; it matters that it has been made.

    If not presented with a specific choice, you can go with “Well, I always enjoy X, but I’m up for just about anything.” “I always enjoy” can be replaced with “It’s been awhile since I’ve been to” or “I’ve never actually tried” or any other similar phrase. Then you’ve floated out an option that the other person is free to either accept or counter.

    Opinions are a different deal. I have few preferences but many strong opinions. This was another highly useful part of our premarital counseling: Mr. Other Becky processes information and thoughts externally, while I process them internally. So he often won’t know what his opinion about X is until he’s talked about it. This was a totally alien concept to me, whereas the idea that I can figure out how I feel about something without talking to anyone about it was really weird for him. I wonder if you may be more in his boat where opinions are concerned. It might be worth exploring that with a couple of close friends.

    In short: not having opinions already formed doesn’t make you shallow. Being unwilling to contribute to the chore of social decision-making due to lack of strong preferences is both completely understandable and really annoying. (I speak here as someone who would be perfectly happy to never have to decide what to have for dinner ever again.)

  54. re: having opinions about books, politics, etc: You (LW) say you feel like people just “automatically” have opinions and express them. But it’s not like some people are born with pre-installed opinions and some aren’t. So instead of “people seem to automatically have opinions,” I’d say “there’s this process by which people form opinions, and some people go through it SUPER FAST and some don’t and some do it for ALL THE TOPICS and some don’t.” Coincidentally, that process tends to happen through conversations like the ones the Captain and other commenters have suggested: “What do you think of X?” “I don’t know much about it, please tell me!”

    Not to sound like “ehh, you’ll grow out of it,” but after having a lot of awesome conversations where you’re doing more listening to than offering up opinions, you might find that you’ve developed some of your own and want to share them. Like, someone tells me why a TV show is their favorite and I’ll notice that stuff next time I watch it, or someone tells a personal story about why they hold some political view and I’ll realize, ok, this is worth caring about.

    re: deciding on restaurants or activities: Whenever my friends get into decision paralysis I like to invoke the coin toss or rock paper scissors. Deferring to randomness is a good way to say “I don’t have an opinion, but let’s make this fun instead of going ‘no, you decide’ all night.”

  55. You know, a non-decider can actually do the planning work. I can be a decider, but I really like to get consensus. And, being a bit of a people pleaser, I tend to defer to others (which is sort of a problem), but! I don’t put my friends through decision fatigue by making them do all of the work. By taking charge of planning you can often artfully not have to give your opinion while still giving your energy to the group. For example:

    Trooper6: Hey gang, let’s all get together for dinner on Thursday night! I’ll organize…so where do you all want to go?

    Then your friends all email in their preferencs, you pick the one that works for the most people, make the reservations…but you never have to give your own opinion.

    Unless, you actually don’t want to do your share of the relationship work…which…is often not so cool.

  56. I also am a huge fan of the “one person gives choices, one person picks from them” strategy.

    Another killer strategy is rock-paper-scissor. Depending on your dynamic, winner “gets” to pick or loser “has” to pick.

  57. LW, I used to be you only a few years ago! Right down to the considering-a-notebook-of-forced-opinions and feeling like I had a small personality and with no strong opinions about most stuff. I’m still working on getting out of the no-opinions things but I no longer feel like what you’ve described here, so maybe what I have to say will be helpful to you? I hope.

    I thought I was being easy-going and nice, letting other people choose what they wanted to do when I didn’t care. However, when my (now ex-) boyfriend had an outburst about it I realized that in fact I wasn’t being easy-going, I was getting to be irritating. So from that point onward I tried harder to have an opinion when I was called upon to make a decision – even if it was an arbitrary one.

    I do what the other commenters are suggesting for restaurants and activities so I don’t have much to add for that. However, one thing I do is scope out new restaurants, activities, cool museum exhibits etc. (the newspaper is great for this) that I might want to experience and keep that suggestion in my back pocket for when decision-time comes. And, if you ever need to fill up your Saturday or if all of a sudden it’s your turn to be the event planner, you have a back-up plan.

    For me, the lack of opinions and small-personality feelings stemmed from the fact that usually I didn’t /know/ enough about what I was supposed to be having an opinion about to have an opinion about it. E.g. I didn’t know what restaurant I wanted to eat at because a) I enjoy a wide range of foods! and b) I didn’t know what restaurants were nearby, or what they served, or their price ranges, or if it was considered a “good” place to eat or not. Here I might recommend a little research – find out what’s around you that you might like to try, or file the info away if you’ve heard someone else talking about a cool place. To encourage opinions on other stuff like current events, I would suggest maybe reading the newspaper/trusted online news source, just so you know what is going on in the world and can mention that you heard X fact about Y event in conversation. That way it’s not necessarily /your/ opinion but you still have something to contribute in a conversation. This is easier if you actually have an interest in whatever it is you’re learning about, and I fully second the comments advocating finding out what your passions are and developing them – I’ve found that I have been more comfortable in having/sharing opinions since I found out more about what I like to do (knitting! Doctor Who! hiking! photography!).

    If you spend any time on social media, consider following actors/artists/authors/musicians/bloggers that you admire (if you don’t already) – you can find out if they’ve got any new projects on the go, or if they’re doing something awesome, or maybe coming to a town near you, or starring in a new movie. These are all things you can mention in conversation if you get stuck and need a topic (or need to choose a movie. “I’ve heard [cool actress I like] is in X movie, why don’t we see that”), and comments about things you enjoy “count” as personality points. I’ve also found that it’s easier to talk to people (and make new friends) without being frightened if you’ve got a few things you like to talk about up your sleeve (you don’t mention having a problem with holding conversations, but I certainly did, and this kind of thing helped me. YMMV.)

    More specifically about small-personality feelings: whenever I was feeling bad about being a shell of a person without a personality, I would make a sort of a tally of things I liked that maybe not many other people I knew liked (Edward Gorey! Surrealist Art! Obscure Indie Band!). Being able to list specific examples of things I liked that were unusual helped me feel better. “But a person with no personality wouldn’t like XYZ things! I do have opinions on XYZ things!” Getting to know myself better definitely helped me have these feelings a lot less.

    Another commenter mentioned a co-worker who didn’t let anyone get to know her. I can sympathize with the co-worker, because I still feel sometimes that letting people get to know the ~real me~ is really scary and not something I want to undertake with just anyone. I find that when people are asking my opinion about things that come dangerously close to letting them know the ~real me~ I end up deflecting or reverting to having no opinions (or sometimes giving false opinions) so I don’t have to let them in. I don’t know if you feel this way, LW, but it’s maybe something to consider about why you might not be comfortable giving opinions.

    Apologies for the long comment (it’s my first time!) but I hope my experience might be useful.

  58. It might help to break the task of “having opinions” (and wow, it sounds loaded when you put it like that) into two smaller tasks.

    1. Coming up with options. In the case of making decisions about dinner, you can list some places where you would like to go to dinner. In the case of working out an opinion about a movie, you can come up with both reasons to like it and reasons to dislike it. In the case of conversations, you can think of things you’d like to know about the topic in order to form opinions, and then ask about them. This part is fun and you can turn it into a game for yourself; how many options can you invent? There also aren’t really any wrong answers.

    2. Chucking out any options you don’t like. This is easy once you’ve generated the options, some may just strike you as unappealing. And again, there are no wrong answers. If you decide not to throw out any options, that’s OK. (Well, if you throw them all out, then you’ll have to repeat step 1 until you get something acceptable.)

    3. Choosing among the remaining options. This is the scary-sounding part, but it often takes care of itself once you’ve gone through steps 1 and 2. If you’ve done steps 1 and 2 and you still have trouble with step 3, this is the time to toss the ball to somebody else. By doing step 1, you’ve pulled your weight, and now it can be the other person’s turn.

  59. (Qualifier: Turns out half a beer and a long day at work make me not read so good, so I sorta skipped through half the comments here to post mine. If this has already been said, I apologize, and feel free to edit/delete. I may also not write so good right now.)

    I agree 100% with the Captain on not using “My opinion is that you should decide,” because of possible passive-aggressiveness. Although maybe it depends on your group of friends – if you think they’d take it ok, that’s a different story.

    I’m personally a huge fan of the word “ambivalent.” It doesn’t get used nearly enough, and it is perfect to describe what seems like your frame of mind, LW – one both I and my husband find ourselves in frequently, by the way. “I don’t care” is fraught with negative connotations, and “I have no opinion” does exactly what you said – makes you seem/feel like an empty shell of a person. “I’m ambivalent on this subject” says exactly what we need it to – which is essentially “There is no opinion nor even a grain of an opinion upon which a decision could germinate.” Sometimes it’s just that way. Sometimes I go looking for an opinion or decision in my brain, and all that’s there is a big empty room full of “Eh.”

    That said, I do also agree with the Captain that “I don’t care = I won’t be upset about either/any decision made” can start to look an awful lot like “I don’t care = I’m not invested in you/us/the friendship/etc.” It certainly felt that way between me and Mr.Blake for a while.

    I got through enough comments to know that strategies for that part have been very well covered – and I like a lot of the ideas posted here. Especially the “Choose 3 and I’ll choose one from that,” the “Let’s decide what we Do Want by saying what we Do Not Want,” and the “Invent an opinion” strategy. I can say from personal experience that all three of these are sound in theory and in practice.

    I think you’ll do just fine, LW. And the notebook sounds like a really fun idea. “What do I think about monkeys? What do I think about airplanes? Chinese food – discuss. Transubstantiation – is it a thing?” I may have to start one myself. 🙂

    1. To be a drive-by pedant, “ambivalent” actually means having strong, conflicting feelings. (“I love X restaurant, but I don’t feel like I can spend the money.”) For total lack of opinion, I enjoy using the less-known meaning of “agnostic”, since being agnostic on the subject means I have neither clue nor stake in any possible outcomes, There is also “nonpartisan”. </geek>

    2. Warning! Pedant Alert!

      Ambivalent actually means having two conflicting opinions – like “I would love to meet Roman Polanski and discuss his amazing films! I would hate to be in the same room as Polanski; he’s a rapist!”

      It does mean ‘undecided’, but the reason for the indecision is not ‘no opinion’, but ‘conflicting opinions’. I guess the better word might be ‘indifferent’.

  60. Also I would really like to emphasize the Captain’s advice to make an effort OCCASIONALLY (not all the time) to find something maybe you don’t give a shit about but that your friend has an opinion about (a positive one!) and suggest it! Because as a constant-driver in many of my friendships, I would hazard a guess that at least 30% of the time, your driver-friends are trying to choose something they think you would enjoy (based on little data), and it would be nice to show them that you are aware of that effort (and all the effort they put into metaphorical driving) by making a little effort to do something nice for them! And if they go “oh, you’re just saying that because I like it,” you can say “I wouldn’t have suggested it if I had a problem with it, and I like it when you are happy too, so that’s a nice bonus to good food.” or whatever. Even if you don’t have strong preferences, it sounds like the people around you do! Use that to your advantage to make them feel cared about and appreciated on occasion.

  61. So a lot of people recommend tossing a coin or just randomly picking something. I actually used to be pretty opinionless because I was an extreme people-pleaser, and also because I was raised in a household where “I don’t care” actually meant “I care, but you are going to have to guess what I want, and I will go into a rage every time you guess wrong,” and my learned response to this sort of thing, after trying to be psychic for a while, was an inability to care and total decision paralysis.

    So what I used to do back when I literally could not make myself choose something randomly, even when my decisions didn’t affect anyone else, was that I’d number my options and use random.org to pick something.

    And you know what? The random number generator kept picking WRONG, and I would SIGH HEAVILY, and fulfill my duty to the random number generator. And after a while, I realized that actually, I do have opinions, it’s just really hard for me to figure out what they are sometimes, and what am I doing the bidding of a random number generator for, anyway? So now when I have trouble making a decision, I flip a coin, and if it’s WRONG, I go with what I apparently prefer.

    I’m not saying this is definitely going to be you, LW, but if the coins you flip keep coming up heads and you’re like BUT I WANTED TAILS, go with what you want.

    Also, if you have regular plans with particular people who are also indecisive and this is problematic, you might want to actually come up with a concrete schedule where you alternate (or take turns if there’s more than one person in the group). I have dinner every week with a friend, and we alternate picking restaurants every week, so even if I am not feeling like anything in particular, it’s still MY JOB to pick, and we just skip the whole awkward “I don’t know, what do you want to do?” part of the outing. It’s nice.

    1. I laughed at the “fulfill my duty to the random number generator.”

      You’re pointing out something important here, which is that some of us have plenty of preferences, but they’re kind of quiet and small (not describing this very well) and they’re hard to coax out when in the presence of people who have big, loud preferences. Sometimes I actually need to leave the room and breathe on my own to figure out what I prefer. (Not so much with dinner, but definitely with other things.)

      1. I wonder if it’s a safety-feeling thing? Or a proper-feeling thing? I know that when I’m feeling unsafe, I do not let myself feel whatever it is I truly feel. I don’t even know it until later, when the real feelings come out. This is awkward sometimes because I can examine how I feel about a thing and be all “Yep, that would be just fine” and then later discover “No that is SO NOT OKAY that I didn’t even let myself know it was NOT OKAY, and part of me feels unsafe about saying so for whatever reason.”

        For instance, best friend wanted to have ex over for dinner. I considered and it seemed okay, maybe a little tricky, I don’t know if I want to hear about it, but okay. It happened and she mentioned that ex’s girlfriend played with the baby. I snapped into DEFEND KILL NOT OKAY mode and was very surprised. So was my friend. I had no idea, but it turns out I don’t feel like I can properly veto who comes into my best friend’s house, so I wasn’t letting myself know that I would be upset, even though my best friend was asking for this specific information to decide what she wanted to do.

        I apologized profusely as it’s not my place to decide who gets to touch the baby’s feet, and my friend was all “Don’t be ridiculous. That’s why I was asking. Your comfort is way more important than your ex or his girlfriend.” I knew she’d say that, but I didn’t feel like I had the right to it, and so I didn’t let myself feel what I felt until later — and I didn’t tell myself I was doing it.

        I only have this problem with Important decisions, or Big Feelings, though. But I can imagine someone having similar problems with smaller decisions or smaller feelings, if they don’t feel (deep down) that their opinions or desires are safe or proper in their environment. Especially if (deep down) a person feels (or is told!) that stating an opinion or preference is the same as trying to persuade, make, or force people to do the desired thing.

      2. oh god – this is very useful and is making me feel very guilty for having big, loud preferences and expressing them. I’d always assumed that (among friends, colleagues or family), if people had preferences they would say what they were, and we would all work out how to make everyone as happy as possible. But it seems I have been walking all over some of my friends and colleagues for years, not giving them the space to decide what they wanted in the first place…

  62. Additionally, it might help to disengage decision-making from planning. The LW can say, “You decide what movie you want to watch/kind of food you want to eat, and I’ll find the showtimes/make the reservation/cook.” This has two advantages. One, it takes the burden of doing everything from the LW’s friends. Two, the LW might find that after becoming engaged with the planning that opinions form all by themselves: “Cinema A is too dirty” or “I really like cooking pasta” and so on.

  63. Hey, that sounds like me!

    Here’s some strategies I use to avoid always mooching off of other peoples’ decision-making skills:

    – “I don’t care, but if you don’t care either, we could X.” A fair portion of the time, I don’t like making suggestions since I don’t like giving the impression that I have a preference about something that I really don’t care about. This avoids that, and also leaves a clear opening for the other person to make their own suggestion if they want to. (Usually they don’t.)

    – Actually take some time beforehand to think about the options. I usually do this a day or two ahead of time, and I visualize going to two or three different restaurants. Oftentimes I will discover that I do actually have a preference for one over the other, even though this isn’t obvious if I just think about the names and types of food that they serve. (I’m a visual thinker, though, so you may do better with something else besides visualizing if you’re not.)

    – When choosing between two similar restaurants, silly reasons to prefer one over the other still count. In-n-Out has more interestingly patterned fabric on its seats than Jack in the Box? Sure, you can pick which to go to on that basis, if you really don’t care otherwise.

    – When picking types of restaurants, go with the last thing you had a craving for, even if the craving was weeks ago and is over. It’s pretty arbitrary, but I’ve found this to be a good strategy for finding a starting point in considering where to go.

  64. There’s a lot of great stuff here on ways to help and be positively involved with planning-type decisions, LW, so I just wanted to say something about the ‘having opinions’ bit.
    I wonder if maybe you are overestimating the knowledge and passion that has to go into an opinion? (The wonderful Sheelzebub touched on this). So, example: the movie “The Kids Are Alright” copped quite a bit of flack on its release for, as some people saw it, playing into a tired stereotype about lesbians all secretly desiring a man. If I were a different kind of person I can definitely imagine this being the kind of issue I simply wouldn’t have an opinion on – I’m straight, I’m not from the US, I don’t watch a lot of movies or know anything much about the history of queer cinema (as it happens I’m the sort of person who’s very happy to wade unprepared into arguments but that’s not relevant right now!). So I can very much imagine that if I were a more measured sort of person I would be tempted to simply say: I have no opinion, what do you think? – if asked about it. But. Everyone has likes and preferences and tastes. So what if your opinion is nothing more than – I find Julianne Moore so beautiful I just loved watching her? I feel like maybe you would see this as too trivial, but really it’s not – we humans find other humans constantly fascinating! And just a small thing like that can show that you are engaged and contributing.

  65. This may or may not help depending on the ways in which you do not have an opinion (awkward sentence is awkward!) but…

    If you struggle to have an opinion on “where do I want to eat”, for example, why not narrow it down to “what would I eat there?”. I’m presuming once you get to the restaurant, you make your own choice from the menu options, so maybe if the discussion is pizza/chinese/mexican, reframe that in your mind into what you’d order at each of those.

    Could a choice between the vegetarian burrito you thought was amazing last time you had it, the lemon chicken that you order out of habit and the spinach-ricotta pizza that sounded amazing but was kind of meh, give you better options? Maybe imagine taking a mouthful of each and see which makes your mouth water.

    Another way around it is, if one of the choices is something you’ve not had before, vote for that! If you’ve no preference for any of the choices, you’ve got nothing to lose by giving it a try.

  66. I had great ideas as I was reading the letter and then the Captain hit them right on the head! Followed by the commenters! So I second (50th?) that the problem with not making decisions is that DECISIONS ARE WORK! and in a relationship/friendship, you need to be pulling your weight. Or at least contributing. My mother was a horrible annoying person growing up because she too pulled the “I don’t care” card and basically meals became my burden.

    So since that problem ISN’T the lack of your opinion but is the lack of contribution, you could try all the aforementioned things, but I would also add to try taking notes (mentally or on trustworthy print formats) on what other people like. Instead of worrying that your own non-strong-feelings are inadequate, just suggest things that the other person would enjoy or has expressed an opinion on. Saying “I don’t care” shows no caring, both for the topic discussed AND in the process of choosing, talking to them, and having a mutually rewarding/entertaining experience. But remembering “Kiki loves fried chicken, my spouse LOVES indian buffet, etc.” means that you can change “I don’t care” messages to “Hey you really like indian and we haven’t had that in a while, maybe we could do that?” It’s hella considerate and shows you care, plus you are indeed doing the work of choosing.

    I think the phrase “I am easy to please” and variations thereof could be helpful for your related problem when talking about your opinion-less-ness. “But we always eat what I like.” “No, we totally eat what I like. I am very easy to please and like those things too.”

    or “Hey, so, what are you into/what kind of movies do you like/I’m getting to know you” “I’m easy to please, and can really enjoy a large variety of those things. I’m a laid back person.” To help you avoid repeating “I don’t know” or “I don’t care” so much that you look/feel totally vapid. Also most people just come up with examples, whatever comes to mind the fastest, of things that they could enjoy/have enjoyed and talk about those. If you have to run through a couple ideas before one is something you can talk about, whatever. It’s the effort that matters.

  67. I think C.A is particularly spot on about the whole making a decision over where to eat. It’s a problem that I have with a couple of friends. One in particularly lives a long way away, I like her a lot, so I make a special effort to physically transport myself to her town in order to spend time with her.
    In evitably, the question will come up of where to have lunch, especially as her town has a lot of awesome options all really close to each other. The convo will go like this:
    Me: Well I don’t want pizza, I had that last night.
    We then look around at the non-pizza options (of which there are many)
    Me: What do you fancy?
    Her: I don’t know.
    Me: Well how about X or Y?
    Her: I don’t mind. You choose.

    And while sometimes it’s awesome to get the choice over, say, Mexican or burgers, that only really counts if I’ve had fajitas on the brain since last Tuesday. Otherwise, I’ve given her the choice, but it’s ALWAYS down to me!
    Recently, I’ve taken to arriving at foody area, positioning us in a vaguely central point. Gesturing around and going “Choose”.
    Don’t get me wrong, it’s fine in plenty of situations to defer to someone else, like you don’t know these particular restaurants so don’t know what’s good, or it’s your friends birthday/celebration so they get to choose what they really want. But otherwise, in an equal relationship, both parties have got to take a turn in the mental legwork. Even if it’s just to flip a mental coin.

  68. I really want to reiterate what the Captain said about decision-making and planning being tiring. I get pretty bad decision anxiety when I’m tired or not feeling well (trying to make decisions sends me into an anxiety spiral) along with eventual decision paralysis (the anxiety spiral is so bad that I can no longer make decisions). My good friends, who luckily don’t have the same issue, know about this. This means that they ask what I want to do and I can tell I’m about to get into a bad spiral, I can go “I’m sorry, I can’t make decisions right now. Can you decide?” At this point it really doesn’t matter whether or not they have an opinion on the matter, because they have to take care of it – I don’t have enough decision spoons left!

    And one of the reasons this works is because when I’m not tired, I do my fair share of the heavy lifting – suggesting places, shooting down suggestions, and planning. This means they’re not disproportionatey burdened overall.

  69. These were great suggestions so far! I’ll add a few of my own:
    1. As far as choosing things from random, especially places to eat, my stepmom likes an Urban Spoon app – it picks something at random from your desired restaurants (with or without filters like price, distance, type of food etc). Then you can shake again if you/your group doesn’t like the options. Also has some planning factors built in, like distance and price.
    2. I also feel compelled to tell you to watch Runaway Bride – it nicely addresses the ‘I’ll have what he’s having’ choice and Julia Roberts trying to discover her own opinions.
    3. Try out the opinion notebook, and don’t be afraid to try new things. Also, try to discover WHY you like certain things or have certain opinions, and what it is about other things that you DON’T like. Your deeper values and preferences may carry over into other topics, and can be a starting point for talking about things even if you may not have a solid opinion.

  70. It’s funny — you’ve spun this very much as a negative about yourself. Although I totally get the issue about carrying your fair share of the planning and decision-making burden, I think it’s unduly harsh to think of yourself as devoid of opinions. Maybe you have lots of opinions, you just don’t know what they are yet?

    I got to college feeling like a blank slate. I really hadn’t had that much experience as a basis for forming opinions, so I hated being asked to pick music, or restaurant, or anything else for other people. But gradually I got experience, and gained confidence, and realized I did care!

    Another way to present this instead of “bleah, I’m a personality-less dud is “Gosh! I dunno how I feel about Thai, but I’d love to find out! Ethiopian? I’m game!” Think of yourself as adventurous and up for anything — isn’t that the good side of the way you are? In terms of helping with the burden of picking, make it a fun research project where you try lots of things and keep notes. Thai — loved that red curry thing with the coconut milk, but that thing with the tamarind seeds tasted weird to me. Your contribution to “where shall we go?” when people want you to pick can be “what haven’t I got an opinion on yet?” At some point, that’ll stop working ’cause you have opinions. But that’ll be ok too.

  71. Making decisions that involve other people stresses me out. A lot. Like a lot a lot. I found two things helpful to ramp myself up to actually being able to answer “[What/Where/When/How] do you want to ____” without spending the rest of the evening obsessing over how I made the Wrong Choice and everyone was secretly pissed that I hadn’t made the Right Choice and then crying when I got home because everyone was mad at me for being dumb. This is different from your problem! But maybe my coping skills for being crazy in the head will be helpful.

    1. When my friends asked for my opinion on something, I would answer “Anything but _____”. Like for food, I am a really picky eater but I can find something to eat at almost any restaurant, even if it means ordering off the kid menu like a loser. So for a while, my answer to “What do you want for dinner” when we were going out/ordering in was “anything but sushi”. Which was still a problem because it wasn’t actually making a decision, but slightly less because at least now I was giving some sort of limit to my anything.

    2. Realising that when people ask “Do you want to do X or Y” odds are fairly good that they are asking because they give the exact same amount of fuck as I do (ie: none) and are tired of always making the decision. So I’d just pick one at random, and it was fine!

    3. Recognizing that, with the exception of one friend, when my friends are asking me for my opinion on doing something, there’s no wrong decision. Period. They aren’t being passive agressive about it and just hoping that I’ll pick X instead of Y, or magically pull the right answer out of thin air. People who ask for an opinion on an activity involving both you in general want an answer (even if it is random).

    Also I had lots of therapy and hardcore psych meds, but idthink that is something that will help you.

  72. I eat takeaway dinner at a friend’s house once a week. I’m not very decisive but the most decisive of the three of us. A likes to shoot down everyone else’s suggestions but not offer any of her own. B likes to stonewall completely, e.g. “What do you want for dinner?” “Food!”

    The script that works for me: “I’m really hungry, so I’m going to go get my dinner now. If you can make up your mind what you want in the next 10 minutes, I’ll pick up your food too. If you can’t, you’ll have to order home delivery.” Effective because I’m the only one with a car, and home delivery costs more and has fewer options they like. Last time this happened, they ended up getting home delivery, and they still hadn’t placed the order by the time I got home from getting my mee goreng, but it was no longer my problem. Also effective because it gives me some space to take some deep breaths.

    1. That made me laugh, because when the spouse or I answers, “Food!” to “What are we doing for dinner”, that means that we’re so hungry that we can’t make a decision until we’ve eaten something.

  73. I had a bit of a different reaction to the “My opinion is that you should decide” thing because my sister says something similar which I find positive. She very openly says, “I get enjoyment from not having to decide, and that would make me happier than having any particular choice over the other.” And I’m usually quite happy to do her that favour. That said, I can also see the perspective that “my opinion is you should decide” would come off as passive-aggressive. What’s good about how my sister does it is that she acknowledges up front that making decisions is a burden and she’s asking for a favour. And also it helps that we’re in different cities and don’t see each other that often, it may be irritating if I regularly had to make every decision.

    On the flip side I have been in a relationship with someone who would have preferences, but would refuse to say what they were for fear of disappointing me, so either I had to get into a really long drawn out “please tell me what you want, no I won’t be disappointed, I really want to know, etc.” or else I would just pick something and she’d be disappointed and then try to hide it and I would say, “Okay obviously you don’t want X which I picked, would you prefer Y” and then she’d say “yes” and I’d be like “So why didn’t you say Y when I asked which one you preferred 10 minutes ago?” Obviously this was extremely frustrating and exhausting (and passive-aggressive). And even though that is not what you are intending to do, I hope the example can help you understand why the things you say might be perceived that way by other people.

    With those comments I wholeheartedly agree with the Captain’s advice.

    And on the other point about “opinions = personality” I just want to second the commenter who changed it to “passions = personality.” You may not have an opinion on something you’re not passionate about, but you must be passionate about some things, and the “I’m not so into movies but I just read this great book/saw this great play/speaker” is a great solution in my opinion for people who genuinely want to get to know you (assuming you want to share with them, of course!)

  74. LW, this really struck me; “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.”

    It struck me because I am not sure what you mean by personal questions, “getting to know you” questions could run the gamut from what your favorite food is, to how you felt the first time you had sex or saw a rainbow.

    On having opinions on things that are not a direct experience for you; Could part of the issue for you be that you have little interest in the outer world and so you don’t educate yourself on issues and come to conclusions? Or is it more that in order to form an opinion on these types of things you need to talk it out with someone knowledgeable rather than research it alone? I am a think things through, research person who will still change my opinion if I talk to someone who brings up points I didn’t think of, or thought of in a different way. I do know people who start out from the position of having the knowledge but not forming an opinion until they discuss it with others. We are all wired differently.

    Sorry to ramble with little advice, and there is no way to know your mind from the letter. I am just wondering if the social aspect of this has caused you to recognize a discomfort with your self knowledge that goes beyond the social problems you are encountering. How true is your self assessment that you have no opinions even about yourself, your own life experiences? If you substitute “how do I feel” about X instead of “what is my opinion” about X, I wonder if that would help in realizing you do have opinions? If you could talk to someone about this, like a therapist if you have no one you trust, I think you’d work it out faster.

  75. Ooh! Another thing, when people you don’t know ask your opinion on [SUBJECT] they may not, actually, care or think you’re opinion on [SUBJECT] defines your personality. What they’re asking might actually be more like

    “Hey! I don’t know you that well but want to talk to you. Here’s a random subject to start a conversation on.”

    In which case, when you see “I don’t care about [SUBJECT]” or “I don’t have an opinion on [SUBJECT]” but then don’t offer a different thing to talk about, you’re ending the conversation. You’re leaving that other person, who has already done the uncomfortable job of approaching someone they barely know to talk to either wander off awkwardly, or fish around even harder for a different subject to talk about.

    How you deal with that will depend on what you want to do in each situation. If you want to have a conversation with that person, and you genuinely have zero opinion on the subject they’ve chosen, you could try “I haven’t heard about [SUBJECT], what’s it about?” or “I don’t know much about [SUBJECT], but I notice from your [HUMOROUS T-SHIRT] you like [OTHER THING]. Tell me about it!”. That way, you’ve communicated your lack of an opinion without putting a roadblock in conversation.

    I know when I was younger, and even less able to deal with people well than I am now, I found it much easier to start up conversation with someone new if I could find an obvious, easy conversation topic to start with. My starters after being introduced were often “What do you think of Pratchett’s latest book?” or “I like your [BAND] top! Do you also like [OTHER BAND]?”. If someone just said “I don’t know.”, I generally took that as a hint they didn’t want to talk to me and left them to it.

  76. Oh, man. I so relate.

    My husband actually brought this up as something I do that he finds inexplicable and frustrating. I just flat-out leveled with him, and some of my closest friends, that sometimes I just don’t want to have to be responsible for the decision. Sometimes I just can’t decide. Sometimes what I actually want is not possible (can’t afford the good sushi place, for example) and I can’t make a decision about anything else.

    Thing is, my husband often does the same damn thing to me!

    Being asked to make a decision, even an “inconsequential” one, is actually fraught with layers of meaning. Does that sound silly? Yes. Is it still true? Yes!

    We came to understand — this may or may not help you, LW, but others may find it useful — that when one of us says “I don’t know,” that means “let’s throw some ideas out there to kick around.” “I don’t care” means exactly that: “I don’t care what we have, let’s just have some tasty food.” “I can’t decide” means “I can’t decide” but it needs to be followed with two or three suggestions.

    And, finally, the really useful one: “I don’t WANT to decide.” Which means “Seriously, Other Person, I’ve got decision fatigue. Please decide for me.” When we hit those phases at the same time, we will just pick something quick and easy at random.

    A lot of times, all the other person wants is input. Even if they wind up making the final decision, they just wanna know that they’ve taken your preferences into account, and that everything’s okay with you. So sometimes saying something as simple as “Well, we had burgers last time. . . .” can be enough.

    I agree with folks who say that from time to time, just picking something that you wouldn’t mind eating is fine. Assume that if they object, they will say so.

    Whatever you decide to do, this is something you can learn to work around. It doesn’t mean you are awkward or a boring person. It just means that, well, you don’t have preferences.

    1. “Being asked to make a decision, even an “inconsequential” one, is actually fraught with layers of meaning. Does that sound silly? Yes. Is it still true? Yes!”

      This is so true. I have been in the strange position of once choosing a restaurant, and forever after having everyone in that group insist that the restaurant is my absolute favorite and I’m an absolute nut for that type of cuisine. Which was not necessarily true.

  77. I’ve been on the opposite end of this and I think another thing that might be coming into play is people may have had bad experiences where the person they’re with says “I don’t care, whatever you want!” but they secretly do care and then they blame you for not reading their mind and picking the thing they wanted.

    For example, one time I was going to have lunch with someone I’d met recently and I said “do you like Thai food? There’s a great Thai restaurant nearby,” and she said OK! and I said “I mean, that was just the first idea that came to me, there are other places nearby too” but she said Thai food sounded good. But when we got there, it turned out she had a lot of food allergies and hated spicy food and she ended up being rude to the wait staff and complaining about how there was nothing on the menu that she could eat (in fact there were lots of dishes that met all of her criteria…) and she admitted that she’d never had Thai food before and didn’t really know what it was. That made me angry! I felt like she’d lied to me and made me the bad guy, and acted like I’d steamrolled her into going to a restaurant she didn’t want, when in fact I’d made some effort to do the opposite.

    If your friends have had experiences like that, I can understand why they’d be uncomfortable when you don’t state a preference, because they can’t tell whether you’re being sincere (as you are) or being like this jerk.

    Some things that work for me when I can’t decide what to do are to ask them to give me some options, and to ask for a little time to think about it, then really spend a few seconds thinking about the pros and cons of the choices. If after that I still don’t have a preference then I’ll say so, and my friends can more easily trust that I’m being honest because I thought about it, instead of blurting out “I don’t care, whatever you want!” as a default response. And then like Captain said in part D, I stick to that and don’t complain about the choice I left up to other people.

  78. Through patchy therapy and introspection I’ve realised that somewhere along the way I was trained out of having/expressing preferences. It came up when being assessed at the anxiety disorders unit when they asked what I wanted to do with my life and my first answer was more focused on a) what I was expected to do and b) what might be plausible. Reframe the question, same thing. I just could not answer with what I wanted. It comes up when I’m staying with my uncle for school, too – he’ll ask what I want for dinner, I’ll say “oh, I’m not fussy.” Growing up the only time we got to express an opinion on dinner was on our birthday, and then not always every year and it wasn’t always followed. We had a lot of expectations placed on us in a lot of areas. So, yeah, something I’m working on. I’m at the point now where I can consistently say what I don’t want – eg, I don’t eat anything with nuts or shellfish, I don’t like McDonalds or white chocolate, and overcooked mushy vegetables or overcooked dry meat drive me up the wall. I can also usually narrow down my preferences a bit, but often I find that I just get overwhelmed very easily if I’m asked to choose from ALL POSSIBLE OPTIONS. Choosing from a list or making a list for someone else to choose from are compromises that are a lot less scary and disabling.

  79. LW, I think you’ve gotten some really good advice here, and I hope you’re able to find many things that help.

    Something that has helped me over the years, both in forming opinions and in being able to articulate them, is critique. Years ago, when I was writing heavily, I joined a writers’ critique group, and it was amazing. You couldn’t just say, “Well, I liked/didn’t like X”; you were encouraged to pick apart your reaction and give more specific feedback like, “I wasn’t sure what was happening in this scene – the jumping back and forth confused me.” or “I really appreciated how Y supported Z in overcoming hir fear.” or “F is coming across really unlikeable to me. Is that intentional? Because if I’m supposed to like hir better, it would help me if I could see hir motivation more clearly.”

    The best part of being part of a group was that not only did I leave my own feedback, but I got to see everyone else’s reactions AND the writer would chime in after a period of silence with explanations, further questions, and their own take on any issues raised. We didn’t always all agree, but everyone was remarkably polite (usually! lol) and good at pointing at the reasons for their opinions rather than shouting each other down.

    Now, I’m not saying you have to join a critique group, but if you can find that type of group for something you’re interested in (art? old movies?) it might be good practice in forming and defending your personal opinions.

    It sounds as though your notebook could be used in a similar way, too. But when you’re practicing forming and discussing opinions, it sometimes helps to have other people to bounce your thoughts off of.

    Good luck, and I hope you’re able to work something out!

  80. (Wow, a lot of people have opinions about this letter!)

    I have a very similar problem that I only really realized was a problem about six months ago–I started feeling bad for putting other people in the position of making all the decisions about day-to-day things, like where to eat. Part of my problem was definitely lack of knowledge, and part was that I’m liable to have an anxiety attack when faced with a small decision where the outcome doesn’t really matter. I’m not sure if this is decision fatigue, a worry of stomping on the other person’s preferences, or six-of-one-half-dozen-of-the-other, but regardless I’ve been trying to come up with better coping strategies. So far it looks about like this:

    Friend: “What do you want for dinner?”
    Me: “AAAAAH!” *begins panicking*

    And then take three deep breaths and think about it for a second and formulate some parameters, like, “I’m having a veggie craving,” or “I have fixings for A or B, does either of those sound good to you?”

    I like the idea of, especially when I’m somewhere unfamiliar, asking the person for three options to choose from/express a preference between. Totally adding that to my repertoire.

  81. I think that there might be some comparing your inside view of yourself with the outside perspective you have on other people. If you are a person who generally only expresses an opinion when you feel it deeply and for all time, then you may assume that when other people express an opinion about something, they feel it deeply and for all time. This is not necessarily the case. For me, how deeply I have to feel something in order to express it as an opinion varies by context.

    For instance, I’m 53 years old. This means that I’ve had dinner more than 17,000 times, so I realize that where we eat for dinner is not likely to matter in the long run. So if it’s my turn to pick a dinner spot, then I am going to pick at random, perhaps with my knowledge of the other person in mind. I won’t pick a ramen house for my diabetic, gluten-free friend or a pizza place for my kosher friend. Otherwise, what I really care about is that I do my fair share of deciding. So often me saying, “Well, what immediately comes to mind is Joe’s Joint, but I can be flexible,” in no way means that I really care about Joe’s. it means that I care enough about my friend to do some of the work in the relationship.

    On the other hand, there are things I do feel deeply and for all time about. You’re not likely to be able to tell the difference between “my favorite movie comedy, despite all its problematic portrayals of various groups, is Ruthless People” and “my favorite movie drama, despite the fact that I think it’s wrong on the facts, is Ian McKellan’s Richard III”. One of these is an opinion I have right now, which is subject to change. The other is something I have felt since the first time I saw the film, and it held up over many many repeated viewings. But I use the same words. Since you can’t see in my head, you don’t know which deep and forever. But! I said both of them last night, in two different conversations, with people I hardly knew, who had lobbed me a conversation-starting question. Both conversations were pleasant, largely because by answering, I kept the conversation going.

    So in short, while you are learning more about your own opinions, please let go of the idea that opinions have to be deeply held and for all time before you can express them. Today, my favorite color is a gorgeous grape purple someone was wearing at last night’s party. Yesterday, it was a deep azure. Some opinions are ephemeral, and that’s okay.

  82. Some of the anxiety comes from a worry that whatever you pick, the other person actually kind of preferred the other thing..but now they aren’t going to say it because they don’t want an argument. So they’re just going to silently be unhappy with what you picked. This has happened to me enough times that I have to physically remind myself ‘they said they don’t care, I picked something, they didn’t disagree…I have done nothing wrong, I have not been pushy, if they are silently unhappy it’s not my fault’. But, being around a ‘silent unhappy’ is still unpleasant and less fun even though it’s not my fault, so…the anxiety remains.

    I am pretty good at making small decisions now, especially ‘what to eat’ or ‘what movie to watch’ type of thing. If the other person can’t decide I will suggest something. Sometimes I feel like I’m *always* suggesting things with certain friends, but it usually works out OK. I don’t mind deciding at all if I believe that the other person will truly be happy with whatever I say.

    1. This is so apt, the “silent unhappy” (or, shall we use the technical term, SULKY PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE BABY) is super-unpleasant. If they would just be silently unhappy, it wouldn’t be annoying, but sighs and little faces of “ugh” are not all that silent.

    2. Once had in laws visit… They did not condescend to share an expected arrival time, so Friday I made a comfort food kind of chicken stew and dumplings, (nothing stronger than carrots and onion, these being non-adventurous eaters), so it could be ready in the slow cooker without being ruined waiting for them to arrive. My sister-in-law acted all put out, like they’d had their hearts set on eating out. So Saturday I gave them the Dining Guide for the town next to ours where there are tons of great restaurants. So she acted put out that I was foisting the choice on them… Though actually they know the area and its restaurants well, the resort town having been a favorite of theirs before we moved near. That was the moment I stopped worrying about pleasing them, forevermore!

      I can handle easygoing, like the other brother-and sister-in-law who cheerfully say “we can find something we like on any menu!”. I can handle people who request something in particular, or Not something in particular.

      People who won’t just come out and share their hearts’ desires but get pissy when they aren’t gratified? Fuck ’em.

  83. I really suddenly feel better about myself having framed this thing I have as “I am willing to do the work of deciding where we eat”.

    I’m vegetarian, and while perfectly willing to eat out at least once in any restaurant so long as it has a vegie starter and a vegie main course (though it is preferable if starter/main course are not both goats-cheese and mushrooms) – still, I do have preferences, and my definite preference is for restaurants where I will get to be able to choose what I eat, not go with whatever the chef decided was the vegetarian option tonight.

    Indian and Italian are generically good for that: Thai and Chinese sometimes are: French restaurants in the UK are not (though in France, good restaurants are normally very willing to be flexible if you can ask within the proper limits of their menu) – and with regard to British food, the posher the restaurant the less likely it is to serve a tasty/interesting vegetarian meal. (The further away from posh you go, the more likely that the menu will include baked potatoes, your choice of topping, or the option of a vegeburger, unhealthy but filling.) I’ve put a good deal of thought into this – I am extremely quick at surveying a menu to confirm that there’s at least one thing there I can eat, and assessing general restaurant cuisines to have a good idea even before I look at the menu whether there’ll be something I can eat.

    So, when a bunch of us are standing around going “Okay, we want to eat out – where?” I’m usually the one who says “Well, X is good, and I’ve never been to Y but I like the sound of it, and I checked out D’s menu recently and I liked the look of it – shall we do (pick one) because it’s (cheaper) (nearer) (bigger tables)?”

    And then someone else might say “Well, I like M, actually, and it’s just up the road, and it has vegetarian options – ” and I’ll go “Sure!” because why not? Try anything once.

    But more often than not, the group does tend to go with one of my suggestions, which is great because I really hate standing around on the street for ages getting hungrier while everyone politely tries not to have an opinion. And I used to feel bad about this – was I forcing people to do what I want?

    Now I think, hey, I can just think of myself as doing work. *beams*

  84. I am pretty much the exact same way. I’ve always been really easy going, an “up for anything” sort of person. This was reinforced in me for years by very strong personalities in my life who discouraged me from having opinions, steamrolling them at every turn when I did manage to suggest something.
    I’ve gotten away from all those people now, and I’ve pretty much had to re-learn all kinds of assertiveness, including making small decisions about where to eat, what movie to see, etc. And honestly, a lot of my “opinions” are made up on the spot because half the time I don’t really care. My friends will ask “where do you want to go?” and (unless I actually have a plan or a craving) I just say the first fun-sounding thing that comes into my head. They can either respond with “yeah, awesome, let’s go!” or “That’s too expensive/tiring/boring. How ’bout we do ___ instead?” Either way, a decision gets made. AND as two added bonuses, they feel better knowing everyone involved got to voice their opinion, and I feel better because I was at least asked, even if I didn’t have much to offer. You don’t have to have an opinion; you just have to be willing to make a suggestion.
    Making little decisions like that can be very empowering, and it’s helped me develop opinions on bigger topics with a lot more ease.
    My advice to you is to just suggest SOMETHING, even if it’s just something at random. Keeping a notebook might be handy! List places you liked, stuff that was fun.
    Be aware of your moods, too. If you feel like being outside that day, you can say “let’s do something outside, like a picnic or a hike.” If you feel lazy, suggest watching a movie or grabbing a coffee at the coziest cafe in town. You don’t have to have a specific restaurant in mind, but maybe you’re craving something spicy, so say that. Sooner or later, you’ll likely start having ideas of what you want to do every now and then.
    There’s nothing wrong with not having strong opinions about what you eat, etc, but it will help take the pressure off the people around you if you make suggestions from time to time!

  85. I’m not sure if I am quite the same as the LW as I wouldn’t say I don’t have opinions, I just tend to like most things, while liking certain things a bit more and not liking very few things, especially when it comes to food, but in general too. This used to translate to being very passive about things, but since I ran with a crowd that was also very passive, I finally forced myself to become the decider and planner because someone has to do it or you all just sit around for hours saying “What do you want to do/eat/etc.?” “I don’t know.” and it is more fun to do stuff or eat. I also am one who doesn’t mind eating/doing the same thing over and over, I know some people (my husband being one) cannot stand that, so that is a big contributor too for me. And since I know it is easy for me to fall into always eating/doing the same things, I sometimes will purposefully pick things I haven’t done or eaten before to shake myself up.

    So I usually go with something like: “I like most anything, but if you want me to pick, how about X?” or “How about Y or Z, but if you don’t like either, what would you like?” or “I had X today for lunch, anything but that is fine.” or “X is always good, but Y has gotten good reviews, maybe we should try that if we’re feeling adventuress?” I try to always give the other person an out when first starting it, but once I’ve established they can’t or won’t pick, I’ll just go for it because I cannot stand all the hemming and hawing. And when I am tired out of deciding, I will just say it, “I’m too tired to decide, you pick!”

    It does make sense to get across to your partner/friends that when you say you don’t care or are up for whatever that you really mean it, but that if they need you to help make the decision, to use some phrasing you agree on together and you will. Being the planner all the time is fatiguing, so definitely as the Captain suggested step up to fill that role sometimes, even if you truly have no preference. Maybe something set where you always plan Thursday dinner and Sunday lunch or something would help?

  86. I hear this so much…you have no idea….

    I recently moved in with my boyfriend, and “what to eat for dinner” has become a daily annoyance.

    When I lived on my own, I ate whatever I decided to eat when I got home from work. Sometimes I’d eat bean and cheese burritos all week. Sometimes it’d be chicken and broccoli. Whatever I felt like making and eating when I got home from work.

    Now that I’m living with the boyfriend, though, things like that don’t fly. He absolutely hates having to decide what to eat, but is very quick to veto anything he DOESN’T feel like eating when I start suggesting things I might like. It’s a very confusing way to have a non-opinion. Add that to my completely different eating style, my OWN lack of opinion about what to eat (I have more of a “food is fuel” mentality and I’ll eat whatever’s available, whereas he wants everything to be delicious), and his desire to be the one who cooks…dinner becomes kind of a strange battle every day.

    I’m starting to think we might benefit from having a food calendar…Or maybe have a wheel of dinners we can make and spin it every morning to see what we’re going to eat that day…I don’t know.

    Now that I’ve whined about myself for a while.. (sorry)

    I actually think the notebook idea is a good idea. I don’t know about you, but thinking and making decisions on the spot is hard for me, so having an answer ready would cut out a lot of awkwardness and keep the conversations flowing.

    Something I like to do when I don’t have an opinion about something at the time is say “I don’t know. Let me think about that a bit and get back to you.” Doesn’t work in all situations, but has proven handy at times.

    And just so you know, it’s alright to not have an opinion, too. It doesn’t make you a bad person or a pushover.

    1. That is strange, that he wants to cook, but doesn’t want to decide, but wants to be picky about what you eat. I think you get to give up after three tries, or start eating only for you.

      I have occasionally gotten into the “OMG CANNOT FEED HUSBAND AND ME IT IS SO HARD OMG” and part of it is that I seem to think I have to feed him better than I might be feeding myself at that time. Like, I would not hand him ramen, you know?

      Being able to say “cannot deal, let’s eat different things” or “if you are going to be difficult, you make the decision” is a big and important thing. It should not stress you out.

      How did he eat before you lived with him? You could ask, and see where that goes. It might be a more productive way into the conversation.

      1. Before he lived with me, he traded off dinner duties with his roommate. It worked for them, though, because they had much more similar schedules — they both got up super early and went to bed super early.

        He and I, however, are kinda skewed as far as schedules go… I have a regular 9 to 5 job, he’s got a 5 to 2 job, so waiting for me to come home and cook would likely have him eating very close to bedtime, which he doesn’t like to do. So it makes sense that he would want to do all of the cooking, it just doesn’t make sense that he wants me to choose what we eat 90% of the time.

    2. Make a calendar and take turns or this is going to be a constant source of tension and weirdness and control issues for both of you. On his night, he picks. On your night, you pick. Also, do what my mom did when we were teenagers and picky eaters: There were always cereal and sandwich makings around, so if you didn’t want what was for dinner you could eat cereal or make yourself a sandwich, but you were not allowed to complain or critique what was for dinner.

      Instead of cereal vs. sandwich, you could keep a stash of frozen burritos, frozen entrees, frozen pizza, canned soups, pasta & jarred sauce, etc. – something that takes a few minutes to throw together – for those times when the other person picks something you don’t like or for the nights that you just don’t feel like dealing with it. I love all of carbondatedwit’s advice for having the conversations.

      Other suggestions: Plan out meals in advance using something like this (I fucking love this thing. ENDORSED). That way you can somewhat coordinate grocery lists, etc.

      It’s so fucking solvable, and yet? My former partner and I could not solve it, so I recognize that it’s not easy. I hope you have better luck!

    3. I’m willing to throw out two suggestions for my husband (who also likes to be the cook but sometimes is feeling uninspired), but after that I tend to be like, “okee dokey, then, I guess it’s on you.” Or maybe I’ll offer to make such-and-such, or that we get something out, but if that offer is rejected, too, I go back to “up to you, love. Remember it doesn’t have to be the ultimate meal; it’s just dinner.”

        1. I believe you are living with my husband’s long-lost twin! Except he mostly wants me to cook, but requires the cooking to achieve great heights of culinary perfection. In his case, he often wants dinner to take away all the stress of whatever happened that day, so he builds up big expectations over it.

          I generally go along with it though, as I like the game of suggesting things to eat and hitting on the right one. I never ask him what he wants to eat when he’s hungry though, as then what he wants to eat is Magic Food of Such Deliciousness that it Does Not Exist. Is all planned and agreed at the beginning of the week when we shop.

    4. i am poor. but i like to eat delicious food.

      so i meal plan my dinners by the week. takes all the guesswork out. i only shop once a week (saves money!!).

      seriously – try it and see how easy dinners get. i sit down on sunday a.m. with coffee, a bunch of bon appetit magazines, my recipe box, and cookbooks and pick my dinners. then i write out the grocery list based on those choices.

      1. That’s actually an idea worth persuing. He seems to want to plan meals out, but never takes a list to the grocery store or checks on what we have before going. Maybe I can get him to sit down with me and be a little more strategic about it.

  87. When my brother and I were asked by our parents to choose between two restaurants for a family outing a while back, and neither of us had a preference either way, we settled it by playing rock-paper-scissors. We decided that I was Team Restaurant A and he was Team Restaurant B, and the winner’s restaurant would be the one where we ended up going to eat. Sometimes games like that– or flipping a coin, rolling a die, doing eeny-meeny-miney-moe, etc.– can help a lot when it comes to choosing between the options someone’s giving you in situations where you have no real preference or opinion. It’s childish, sure, but it gets things done.

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