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#920: “I have trouble forming or expressing opinions and it’s bugging my partner.”

Dear Cap’n Awkward!

I have a weird one, I’m hoping you might have some insight. I had a not great childhood, a turbulent teenagehood, and then spent my entire 20s with an abusive husband and a major drug problem. I got out when I was 30, did years of therapy, got clean, got stable, and now have been in a great relationship for a few years.

So what is my problem? Well, here’s the thing. I don’t have opinions about a lot of things and it’s really starting to wear on my BF as the years go by. I grew up very poor, and then of course when you’re a giant dope fiend, you’re not spending your money deciding on what couch to buy, or where to go for dinner, or… And my ex made it clear that my opinion didn’t matter, even when he asked for it first. So I guess the first 30 years of my life, I was trained/training myself not to have opinions on things because why bother?

And now, here I am, 42 years old. My BF wants to know if I think our new bookcase should be dark wood or light? And guess what, I don’t care! It’s still a novelty that I can buy a bookcase! It could be puke green for all I care. So I tell him that he can pick, I have no preference. Or the ever popular “what do you want for dinner?” Who cares? It’s all food! As long as it’s not something I actively dislike, I don’t care what I’m shoving in my face.

This isn’t relationship-ending levels of stress, but I can tell it’s bugging him. He thinks that he is “getting his way all the time and I never do”. But I have literally had that happen to me, and trust me, this isn’t it. I’ve tried explaining that I’m going to be happy no matter what color the bookcase is, and I promise that I don’t secretly have a preference and one day 10 years from now I’m going to explode because I WANTED LIGHT WOOD YOU ASSHOLE!

So… How do I go about re-learning how to have opinions? Should I just fake it, and randomly pick crap and say it’s my “preference”? It feels like lying but if it gets the job done I suppose. What do you think?

Not Even Sure How to Sign This

Dear Not Even Sure,

From the background you described, it’s easy to see why your communication style around expressing opinions developed the way it did. Good job getting out of a bad situation!

I have a theory about why your “no preference” pattern is bugging your boyfriend so much. It’s not so much that it’s unfair that he gets everything his own way and you (secretly) don’t, it’s that it’s unfair that he ends up doing all the emotional labor of selecting and choosing things for both of you, from home decor to what’s for dinner tonight. By never having an opinion on any of it, it feels like you’re not fully participating in the work of making these decisions. We had a thread about this a while ago, in fact.

There are some things you can do to make all this go a little smoother.

  • Replace “I don’t care” or “Who cares?” or “I have no preference” with “They both sound really good to me.” “I don’t care…” said enough times in a row starts to sound like “I don’t care about you.
  • Mentally (or actually) flip a coin or roll a die to force a decision. If you really have no preference between spaghetti and pizza, then randomly choosing “Spaghetti sounds good!” or “Let’s get pizza tonight!” won’t ruin your day, right? If you don’t care which one, you might as well pick one.

As much as you would like your BF to assume that you don’t have secret unexpressed preferences, assume that if he’s offering you two choices he’d be cool with either of them. It’s okay to just pick one, already! Don’t think of it as faking it or lying, think of it as practice asserting an opinion and strengthening that ability over time with low-stakes decisions. And look at it this way – would you rather have a lengthy discussion about how you don’t have secret preferences you’re not sharing and how saying any preference at all is stressful and feels like a lie, or would you rather eat dinner?

With larger-stakes decisions, like furniture you’re going to live with for a while, here’s some stuff you could do:

  • Look – REALLY LOOK – at the options presented. Your partner spent some time narrowing it down to these two bookcases, so take a few minutes and look at them and try to see why he chose them.
  • It’s okay to say “I really like both of them, and would be happy with whichever you pick.” But you could also ask follow-up questions that show you are paying attention, like: “Is there one you’re leaning toward more than the other? Are you trying to match it to other furniture you have? Is one sturdier than the other or will it hold more?  Is price a factor?
  • Carve out some areas where you do really have an opinion and take charge of those things. Bookcases, maybe not. Dinner, nah. Couches…who cares? So what do you have an active interest in planning/doing/managing? If you can figure out a division of labor where you take charge of certain things and he takes charge of others, it can feel more equitable.

Over time, work out a decision-making protocol between you, whether it’s rolling dice or rock-paper-scissors or making lists of pros and cons or literally taking turns deciding. It’s okay to say, “Hey, I really have no preference, and you bugging me for one is stressing me out right now – please just choose one and I’ll be happy” or “Let’s get the D20 and figure this out” some of the time, but not all the time. I think that within a partnership, sometimes you gotta say “I like the blue one best” or “Red wine with dinner!” or “City walking vacation, not beach vacation, please!” as a way to show that you’re invested in the work of making a life together.

 

 

 

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186 comments
  1. I love the idea of saying that you love both ideas … but really think first. Maybe you do want pizza tonight, or Chinese … if so, it’s ok to say so, it’s safe now. 🙂 Otherwise, it’s cool to be like “wow, I could go for either. What do you really want?” But for furniture, I agree, look at what you have … do you think dark or light would go better? If you just don’t care, say “wow, I’m so excited to have a bookcase, either would be awesome!” As someone who wants to make those choices, I’d love complete freedom. But if he wants some input, give the best you can. “I kind of prefer dark wood” or whatever. (PS … I so respect that it doesn’t matter to you …. in truth, you’re wise … what does this stuff matter when looking at the big picture? You’re very wise, you know. 🙂 )

    • I like that Lara! Just come up with some fun and light reasons.

      Another thought, try throwing out some fun reasons. I liked the upbeat tone in the letter. Make a game of it.

      “Light would is great because it reminds me of the beach! And dark wood makes me think of a cool hotel lobby in Colorado. How cool would either of those be for our life!”

      Sometimes the emotional labor is just talking it through. Even if all the reasons are great or silly.

      It’s just fun to practice communicating when the stakes or low. Then when you really care, you’ll both know how to do it.

      Otherwise you’ll only be figuring it out how to have opinions on super important decisions.

      • alw_ays said:

        It’s just fun to practice communicating when the stakes or low. Then when you really care, you’ll both know how to do it.

        ^^^THIS
        So very, very much this.

        Why does a 2 year old have a preference which cup they drink from? Which side of the plate the fork goes? Which shape their sandwich is cut in? Why are they invested in these preferences?

        It’s practice.

        Start over. Relearn how to prefer something. Then when it comes to, “Do you want to move to Alaska?” You will be able to connect with how you make a decision and be able to state a preference.

    • Fading Flower said:

      If he’s asking about pizza or spaghetti for dinner, choose the one you didn’t have last. That’s a very common thing people do when faced with a choice. There are a lot of ways people make decisions that don’t involve preferences. Furniture, does your partner prefer things that coordinate/match or does he like a contrast/focal point? Then pick one and make that your go-to preference.
      Look at your clothes. Do you wear a rainbow, mostly cool colors, mostly warm colors, or all black all the time. That’s information you can use to inform your decisions. I like blue, but don’t want to be invisible when I’m sitting on the upholstery, so maybe gray? Once you find a preference, you can use it to inform other preferences.
      But it’s never wrong to say we had spaghetti last week, so I’d rather have pizza tonight.

  2. Tiny orchid said:

    One thing my partner and I will ask each other is “do you want me to make the decision?” Which helps to understand when it’s splitting the emotional labor of making all the decisions and when one of us is more invested in the outcome.

    • storyranger said:

      That’s a great way to phrase it! I’ll often ask my partner (whom I love dearly) which colour he prefers when I’m making something, and he firmly believes he has horrible taste in colours and shouldn’t be trusted. I’d never offer him a “wrong” option, so I should really just say “please make a decision my brain is tired right now!” rather then “which looks better?”.

      • johann7 said:

        This is a really helpful shift for the person asking for a decision – explicitly ask for a decision rather than a preference, or if the person indicates no preference when asked, follow up by asking them to make a decision anyway. It’s more advice for the boyfriend than for the LW, but it’s great advice!

      • Best Boyfriend does a thing where, when there are two equally valid choices and he literally doesn’t care, he will mentally make one A and one B, and then ask me “A or B?” And whatever I answer, that’s the one. I’ve started doing it to him, because it’s so helpful at times when I just need a decision dammit and I am too tired to make my own. A or B? 🙂

        • Nic said:

          I often assign one to “even” and one to “odd” and say “pick a number”. Easy enough to do with multiples as well, if there are more than two choices.

          • Penprp said:

            My roommate and I do that, often with “pick a hand” if it’s a binary choice. The trick is, if the answer we get disappoints us, then we really wanted the other thing. It can be a good way to figure out very subtle preferences that we didn’t realize we had.

          • totchipanda said:

            @Penprp (out of nesting), one of my social groups does this too. We call it “flip a coin and then pick the one you really wanted”.

      • Skada said:

        Something to add to this: if there is a good reason you cannot/should not/will not offer your opinion, SAY SO.

        Example from my work:

        A client, who is a geologist, asked me what resolution and method of developing a 3-D model of the shape of the earth I wanted to use. I am a surveyor, not a geologist. It would have been beyond inappropriate for me to tell a registered professional geologist how to geology. The point of building this model is so that the geologist could interpret was was happening geologically.

        What I said:

        “Look, I can make this model for you any way you want, but I can’t tell you which model you pick. That’s not my job. If you tell me how you like it and how to make it fit for purpose, I will make it exactly that way.”

        An example for everyday:

        “I’m happy to listen and help you think over how to deal with your mom’s illness. But she’s YOUR mom. I’m not her legal next of kin, I can’t make that decision. Whatever you make, I’ll support you and I will be there for both of you.”

        Key points:

        1. You acknowledge the choice.
        2. You make it clear WHY it is not appropriate for you to offer an opinion.
        3. You make it clear that there IS emotional labour here. “I’m happy to listen.” “I’ll help you.”

    • Heidi Mull said:

      I definitely recommend this approach. Along with “I don’t feel like making decisions right now, would you be up to choosing [thing]?”

      • Ren said:

        Nthing this, as my partner and I tend to go back and forth on which one of us has the “decide brain” to spare at the time on figuring out dinner or where we’re going grocery shopping or whatever, haha. Once we got past the dance of “I don’t want to choose wrong and make you eat something you don’t want” versus “I literally do not care please just choose for me” it has been a lot less stressful.

    • Jo Riley said:

      This is a great thing to do. My partner and I are both really bad at making decisions, in part because we’re both people-pleasers who want the other to be happy. Sometimes we’ll go back and forth in the “I don’t have a preference” “well *I* don’t have a preference” loop until one of us realizes that what will make the other person happy is for them not to have to decide.

      We’re both also working on a) believing that “I don’t have a preference” is a sincere statement when coming from the other person, and b) meaning it when we say we don’t have a preference. LW, that’s one thing to keep in mind–if there’s anything that you *do* have an opinion on, make sure you say so! That will make it easier for your BF to believe you when you say you don’t care about other things.

      • monologue said:

        One thing i started doing in this situation is to veto something and then ask the other person to veto something else. So your 5 restaurant options get cut to 2 or 3 that you both are totally fine with and then you can kinda randomly pick from that shortlist and both people did give input.

        • Yep, this method of vetoing works well nowadays.

    • quinalla said:

      Yes this! And then if he’s happy with either option, look at them both and make a choice, even if you truly don’t care. And I really do get it, my partner will agonize over certain things where I really could not care less and vice versa on less things for me vs. him. Picking out decorations, invitations, etc. for my wedding was exhausting for me because I didn’t really care, I just wanted it to look nice and not cost a bunch of money. I cared about a few things (DJ, Food, my dress & accessories, the pastor, who was invited) and the rest I was getting decision fatigue and just sort of started picking things at random because the 20 options were all fine, so yup sure that one! And deciding can be very fatiguing, so asking if he wants you to make the decision is a good way to go. Maybe sit down and talk about how best he’d like the conversation to go. Can he signal to you that he wants you to make the decision vs. maybe he wants to talk about it with you? My husband is a talker decision maker and I’m not, so sometimes I don’t realize he just needs to verbally hash something out with me so he can make a decision. Just throwing it out there in case that is part of the issue too.

      Usually how I’ll handle this for my partner and me is for more important decisions, I’ll start discussing pros/cons of different options since he usually needs to talk it out. For simple decisions, I’ll usually say “I’m fine with pizza or Chinese, but I have to pick, I’d lean Chinese.” That still leaves it ok for him to say “You know what, I really do want pizza now that I think about it more.” or just go with Chinese. We go down different rabbit holes of the dreaded dinner conversation, but I have no problem making a decision if he doesn’t seem to want to or be able to for some reason. My priority is usually eating ASAP, so if making a decision speeds that (and I usually will have a minor preference, or just pick whichever one I haven’t had most recently) I’m good with doing it even if my preference isn’t strong.

      We’ve also worked out things I care about and things he cares about and we generally defer to whoever cares the most about things that are fairly unimportant. For bigger purchases like furniture, vehicles, etc. we’ll have longer discussions and back and forth since it much more of a commitment. But for example, paint colors, I’ll help with input, but I really don’t care that much, he cares way more so he has final say. When we buy random kitchen stuff (like measuring cups, ladles, etc.) he doesn’t care at all, but I usually have preferences for various reasons, so I get final say. Splitting up based on who cares more helps a lot and then trying to help with decisions at least sometimes when no one cares is good to do so you split up that very real emotional labor of deciding.

      • SamSam said:

        I want to second your use of the “both would make me happy, but if I had to pick…” This is one way to make a decision for your partner while letting them know that you really are fine with either one.

        And I want to commend the letter writer’s boyfriend for using the approach of narrowing down options to make it simpler for the LW to choose. Instead of “what kind of bookcase do you want?” he’s asking “between these two options, which do you want?” which is a great way to deal with people who have a tough time deciding on things! Being asked “what do you want for dinner?” is more overwhelming than “hey, we have chicken and pork in the fridge – which do you want for dinner?” So something for the LW to keep in mind – your boyfriend is probably already making some heavy decisions getting to the point of offering you a couple options. He’s asking for help with the final step.

      • johann7 said:

        My husband is a talker decision maker and I’m not, so sometimes I don’t realize he just needs to verbally hash something out with me so he can make a decision. Just throwing it out there in case that is part of the issue too.

        Discussing this is a great idea. Even if it doesn’t apply to the LW, explicitly talking about decision-making styles and what one is trying to get out of asking for an opinion can help communication throughout the relationship.

  3. Jiu Jiu said:

    I am an opinionated person, and when my husband and I planned our wedding, I had Things I Cared About, and everything else. If I cared about it, I had a strong opinion. If I didn’t have a strong opinion, all options were fine. Except – I expressed it as “I don’t care.”

    Eventually my husband said “I don’t like it when you say that. It feels like you don’t care about our wedding. Can you pick different words?” (Yay for communication!) I started saying “Both options are fine!”

    Sometimes for the wedding, I got very tired of making all the decisions. Husband was happy to sit in the back and let me do all the emotional lifting. I finally said “Hey, this is OUR wedding, not MY wedding.” I had to say that more than once. I didn’t want to make ALL the decisions. I wanted him to make some. Even if both of us had equally neutral opinions, if I was making all the choices, then the emotional weight was going on my shoulders.

    A huge agreement that sometimes a partner doesn’t necessarily want a specific opinion, as they want some feedback. They don’t want to be doing all the work. So if they ask you – I agree – pick it. Divvy up the tasks. You pick the bookshelves and he picks the rugs. He gives parameters for the bookshelf, and you pick one that works in those parameters. That way all the decision making is not on his shoulders.

    Another thing to consider – what if your boyfriend dated someone in the past who WAS passive aggressive? What if when he picked it all his were wrong, so he is scared that will happen again? What if he recognizes he has controlling tendencies and is worried about that and strives for more equality in decision making. What if he is concerned about falling into male-dominant patterns and wants to make sure he doesn’t have to worry about drowning out his partner’s voice accidentally because of patterns you two fall into? Any, all, or none of these could be also nagging at him.

    In my world, I was very opinionated, and I’d say “OMG LET’S GO SEE FANTASTIC BEASTS!!!!” and my friends might not have even wanted to, but my charisma swept them away. Then a month or two later they’d sort of wake up and think “DANG IT WHY ARE YOU CHOOSING ALL THE MOVIES!!??” I’d ask “Why didn’t you say anything” and they’d say “You just seemed so excited about it. I didn’t want to disappoint you.” After that, I started choosing friends who would speak up, or I’d make sure to stand back and let the person pick the movie.

    OP – I support you going out there and making some decisions, even if you don’t really care that much about it! 🙂

    • mcbqe said:

      I’ve signed up here just to recommend this post. ^^^

    • S said:

      Yes to all of this. Omg the being opinionated thing is such a thing. I often express preferences JUST SO WE CAN MAKE A DECISION OMG ALREADY. But I do worry that I end up being THE DECIDER all the time. It is not cool, and no one wants to be accidentally railroading people into things.

      Now I run into a problem where my job at work is to literally make hundreds of tiny decisions over and over and over. So some days it’s like “So dinner?” and I’m like “I NEED YOU TO DO THIS BECAUSE IF I HAVE TO DECIDE ONE MORE THING I WILL CRY.” I’ve gotten better at just saying that, because otherwise we tend to stall out in the conversation.

      • Blue Meeple said:

        I often express preferences JUST SO WE CAN MAKE A DECISION OMG ALREADY. But I do worry that I end up being THE DECIDER all the time.

        I started doing this back in high school because I got sick of endless rounds of “I dunno, what do you wanna do? I dunno, what do YOU wanna do?”. Unfortunately this means my friends tend to look to me to be The Decider, and there are times when I just can’t, because making decisions takes effort that I just don’t have in me. I’m also learning to say “I need someone else to make the decision because I can’t right now”. And if that means sometimes nothing happens, then I guess that’s the way it goes, because it’s not fair to expect one person to make all the decisions all the time.

        • Emmers said:

          I’ve embraced my role as Benevolent Social Dictator in my circle, but sometimes I wonder if I’m too bossy? Sigh.

          I run out of energy fast and unexpectedly, though, so when I need to eat, I really need it. Hence “okay, we’re going to this restaurant, speak now or forever hold your peace.”

      • MrsLokiofAsgard said:

        I tend to be THE DECIDER in my relationships. It’s exhausting. It started after one too many “What do you wanna do? I don’t know what do you wanna do?” conversations. From the THE DECIDER it was only a hop, skip and a jump to THE PLANNER – which I hated. “We should go to a concert as a group/ take a girls weekend / get reservations / start a book club” (and all heads turn toward me).

        I started requiring my friends to have input in all decisions and plans. Okay..I started the book club and sent out those initial invites with the first book title but someone else picks the restaurant we meet in and everyone has to bring a book title to throw into the hat each month for the next book. Okay I’ll go online and get tickets to the concert but they have to decide who we’re seeing, when and where.

        LW, I think the advice given is spot on. Good luck implementing it!

    • caraway said:

      Oh wow, that idea of wanting decisions versus wanting feedback really opens this up. Yes, sometimes the other person would love to hear you say “I like the solid wood on this one, but I also like the movable shelf heights on that one.” Or even sometimes “honestly I’m so chuffed about the idea of unpacking our book boxes together, I just want to take either bookcase home immediately” — showing what you care about.

      And on the other hand sometimes they feel tired of making decisions and they want you to pick one up. And then that non-decision feedback may be not at all what they want, and it stings if they brush it off!

      tl,dr feedback vs. decision is an important distinction, and it may be really powerful to have a meta-conversation about, when you ask me, are you usually asking for one or the other, or does it vary?

      • Mookie said:

        showing what you care about.

        Yes! LW, you do care about things! You’re grateful for your dinner! You’re over the moon over a bookcase! The thought of books makes you swoon and luxuriate in ways you never got to before! You’ve got a nice partner! These things do matter to you — you’ve won half the battle already, because you’ve cottoned on to what you care about, something heaps of adults never manage to do with any expertise. Now spread that care around; don’t be afraid to get it wrong. Preferences and tastes change, the more you sample, the more simultaneously satisfied and dissatisfied you’ll be, ‘cos there’s So Much More Out There. I’m often overwhelmed by the choices I’ll never get to make, the meals I’ll never have. But indecision costs me, and you, both choices, all possible meals. Sometimes you have to roll the proverbial or miss your pass.

    • Raptor said:

      Ugh, wedding planning (as a woman and a man). Even after you’ve determined, as a couple, that something is the groom’s responsibility, vendors like to push it back on the bride. I made the majority of the decisions, but Mr. Raptor was 100% responsible for the groomsmen’s outfits. I didn’t even really want to come to the store, but Mr. R wanted me to. And yet, the whole time we were at the men’s clothing store…

      Mr. R: “I was thinking….gray ties.”
      Salesman: “Well, we have gray tie A and gray tie B…[shows them both to me] Raptor, what do you like?”
      Me: “Well, it’s Mr. Raptor’s choice, so sweetie, what do you like?”
      Mr. R: “I really like A, but I’d like to see what C would look like with this.”
      Salesman, to me: “And would you be okay with C?”

      Five minutes later…

      Salesman: “We have these things…”
      Mr. R: “I like those things!”
      Salesman: “And what does the bride think?”
      Me: “Whatever the groom thinks.”

      And repeat. And repeat. And repeat. I swear, I’m just lucky we got out of there without any of the sales people saying “Lol, brides, am I right?”

      By the end, it was just a relief to have other people decide. Centerpieces? Fuck centerpieces. MIL volunteers wine bottles. (She’s a homebrewer. Home wine-er-er?) The female groomsman (my SIL) chose her own outfit, after first asking me, not her brother.

    • miss_chevious said:

      Chiming in to say yes to this as well! If there is a power vacuum, I will fill it, and am happy to make ALL THE DECISIONS. This has caused me issues when I dated people who would ask my opinion and then be surprised when I gave it and expected it to be respected. Italian or Chinese? CHINESE! …oh, you actually wanted Italian and thought I would just go along? Then you shouldn’t have asked.

      That said, OP, help your boyfriend out by choosing when he offers you a choice. He’ll learn to offer only when he means to allow you to decide (it sounds like he’s doing this already, but in case he isn’t), and you’ll get some practice in deciding and then dealing with the consequences of deciding, even if those consequences are minor, like realizing you really wanted Italian after all.

  4. Kim said:

    Having to decide what to make for dinner every night is mentally exhausting. Your boyfriend probably doesn’t care much more than you do most of the time either.

    With my bf, we alternate making dinner, and part of the work of making dinner includes deciding what to have.

    • Redgirl said:

      Yes, a thousand times this! I am SOOOOO tired of meal planning for my family, in a way that simply cooking a meal someone else had planned and shopped for would never cause.

      • Oh wow, me too. If I don’t do the planning and shopping and cooking, it literally doesn’t happen. Husband would be happy to eat microwave meals and junk food, I wouldn’t. So i have to do all the work, ’cause I’m the one who cares about it. It does bug me, OP, and I’m telling you this because your boyfriend might be feeling the same way. When I’ve run out of tasty/healthy/cheap meal ideas and I ask my husband for suggestions and he just shrugs and says “I don’t know, I haven’t thought about it” while looking at his phone, I find it so incredibly frustrating.

        • AwesomeSauce said:

          Slightly off topic, but related to decision fatigue, I am totally the “I haven’t thought about it” person in my relationship when it comes to dinner, and it drives my husband bonkers, because he does most of the cooking. And he is even less decisive than I am in regular day to day life. But, I mean, honestly, I *haven’t* thought about it. I barely even remember what the options are.

          What we have to do is physically sit down at the table together, with a cookbook or two each, and both people are required to contribute meal ideas to the plan for the week. Cause usually neither of us wants to do it, so we suffer together. Maybe this would work for your husband. You could maybe ease him into it by putting some parameters around it: “Pork and chicken are on sale this week. Here is [your favourite cookbook]. Here is the pork chapter and here is the poultry chapter. Please choose a pork thing and a chicken thing for us to eat.” Intersperse with your favourite Awkward phrases to let him know how important it is to you to have some help with the work of deciding, and then cook what he chooses.

          • Raptor said:

            My mom was a genius with this.

            One night, after we’d eaten but before we got up, she got out a piece of paper, and we went around in a circle naming dinner ideas. Once we’d gone around the table maybe 6-8 times, we put meal ideas up to a vote. Any meal with at least three votes was a valid meal. She then wrote them nicely on a lined piece of paper, and hung it up on the fridge.

            Each time a meal was made, it got a tally mark next to it. Meal selection was limited to meals with the fewest tally marks next to them, and it was helpful just to have a list of the top 30 meals the family liked.

            Definitely doing this when-if I have kids.

          • B said:

            Yeah, it’s easy for my family to default to take out if we don’t plan ahead, which is kind of more expensive and probably less healthy than I would prefer. So we try to sit down once a week, usually before grocery shopping, and plan out who cooks what and when. I can say “hey I really can’t/don’t want to cook X night because I am on call / have clinic / etc” and we work it out ahead of time. Sometimes we do order out but I give myself permission to not feel guilty because hey, saving time/sanity is a thing too, especially if things were too hectic for us to plan and go grocery shopping properly.

          • Chessie said:

            @Raptor your mom was indeed a genius with this idea. Thanks for sharing!

    • stellanor said:

      I can handle picking out what to cook every night, but I can’t deal with how my parents always want me to pick the restaurant when we go out. They both have complicated health-related dietary restrictions but sometimes cheat a little so I never know what they will or won’t eat on a given day. Nothing makes me want to scream and throw a shoe like offering three or four restaurant options and having them all rejected.

      Having said that I think the reason I’m cool with doing the meal planning is that my partner is legitimately delighted with whatever culinary wonder I place before him. He just likes food, full stop. If he EVER complained about what I made him I would probably not like that I always choose what to make, but the only time he said anything was the time I made a legitimately horrible pasta salad that tasted like undiluted lemon Pledge, and what he said that time was “It didn’t come out very well” while I was making dramatic yuck noises and dumping my plate into the garbage.

      • Tenacious Walker said:

        “Nothing makes me want to scream and throw a shoe like offering three or four restaurant options and having them all rejected.”

        We go by the rule “If you veto a suggestion, you must provide the next suggestion.” It really cuts down the shoe-throwing around here.

    • holly said:

      my bf and i alternate too weekly which includes making a menu and paying for that week’s groceries. but we do review the menu with the other person to make sure there aren’t any yuck items. and during that week it is the other person’s job to do dishes and clean up the kitchen. it works really well.

  5. JeanLouiseFinch said:

    One way you won’t need to make decisions every night is to sit down every week and write up a menu for the week. That way, some of the decisions get made via practicality – if you get home late on Tuesdays, for example, it’s a good day for soup and snacks; or, if you have pork chops one night, maybe you would want to have pork tostadas made from the leftovers on a subsequent night.

    • And yeah, maybe coming up with your own ideas rather than choosing from his ones might help? Like, even if you don’t care what you eat you are definitely capable of thinking up different meal options!

    • Esselyn said:

      I have another strategy that has helped Hubs and I here. We shop, we make a whiteboard list of the meals that could be made from those groceries, and then we pick off the list. It lets us do “Taco Thursday!” but also “Eeeegh, I don’t feel like deciding, what’s at the top of the list?” and “The bag-o-greens is getting sketchy, soup and salad needs to happen.”

      Added side-bonus, I don’t eat cereal every night, and it’s really easy to tell when we need to go shopping, because we get down to the Emergency Mac n Cheese and Canned Soup tick boxes and can notice.

  6. MHM said:

    I’ve been on both sides of this so I sympathize! I loved the Captain’s advice. As the one (right now) who does a lot of the mundane decision making, I do consider it “work” to be the one: a) initiating the discussion on what to choose for dinner, to buy at the pharmacy etc. and b) actually having to deliberate and decide on the joint venture, with little input. Sometimes I just don’t want to go through the mental effort of coming up with options and then choosing. It can be exhausting actually! Having an easy going and grateful partner (like the LW) is lovely. It’s also nice to get a break from taking the lead sometimes too.

  7. dr_silverware said:

    Additionally–and I’m speaking from an American point of view here–a lot of these consumer decisions can have major symbolic value. That bookcase? Means you’re msking a choice about a brick in the foundation of your life together & home. Pizza or burritos? You are invested in planning the date. On an individual basis they may not matter hugely, but they definitely add up!

    I think it’d be great to meet your BF here like the Captain suggests, and make some decisions on these things. And especially nice to change some language so you’re not discounting the symbolic value of these choices. As she says, “either is great” instead of “I don’t care.”

    But it’s also ok to not care about the consumer part, and to not pretend you do. I think the Captain’s way is easier? But if you just…really don’t want to deal with the decision, you could try emphasizing your investment in a different way. “Pizza or burritoes?” “Either is fine! I can drive, and I’ll buy us a good appetizer at either place.” Or, “Light or dark bookcase?” “Even puke green would be fine with me. Oh, let me make sure we have the right screwdriver, do you want to build it together?”

    It sounds like this is a good relationship, and you just have to figure out the right way for you to stop walling off these small overtures & balance out some of that emotional labor.

    • caraway said:

      I love this about making a point to be engaged and active in some way, even if giving preferences is not your way of it. I’ll remember this myself and bring it up (my partner and I have areas of decisiveness imbalance both ways).

  8. Karen said:

    Oh man. This discussion. I have a very stressful and demanding job, a complicated family situation, and some pressing medical issues. My husband’s family are all fluffy unicorns and rainbows, he likes his non stressful job, and in the four years I’ve known him, he’s had one cavity and a two day head cold.

    Sometimes, I honestly don’t care what sustenance goes into my maw; I want to consume it, read a few pages of something fluffy and go to bed. I’ve never cared what pictures we hang. I didn’t even notice what color the walls were before we started painting them. I’m lucky my socks match.

    Husband has actually sat me down and explained this exact thing: it’s a burden to do all the decision making, and my apathy is not fun. We are partners. The important thing is, he waiting until this wasn’t an active issue before he brought this up, and we came up with a list of “reponsibilities” we are each in charge of. He gets to decorate the house, I get to landscape and garden. If I work past 8pm, he orders one of two or three things and I eat it on the way to the shower. He never asks me to navigate; I never ask him which outfit I should wear.

    We never, ever have important discussions during a school night.

    Talk to your partner at a time other than during the bookcase/dinner discussion and set up some things that you will be able to decide.

    • atma said:

      Yes! As much as everything is already covered in the thread, I wanted to emphasis your point here – you talk to each other, learn where the other person is coming from and create strategies for it. Not in the moment, but at another, calmer time. So important! Otherwise you’re both thinking “But I just want the other person to get what they want”. Unless you talk to each other, you don’t know what the other person wants

  9. Dear LW,

    How wonderful that your life is more free, that you’re with a good partner.

    As for choosing things, I’m with the Captain. Practice by flipping a coin, or picking the first thing on even days and the second on odd, or something.

    It will be grand when there are things you have a strong opinion on.

    Meanwhile, jedi hugs if you want them.

  10. nonzero said:

    It may be helpful to have choosing the cheaper option as a tool for making decisions where you have no preference. “Either is fine, so let’s do the one that costs less!” This doesn’t get you out of the situations where they’re the same cost, and it can be worthwhile to note right now cost vs lifetime cost (e.g. the cheaper bookshelf that will last a year vs the more expensive one that will last forever), but when you don’t prefer the more expensive option there’s no reason to spend money on it!

    • CMart said:

      Seconding the “cheaper option” as a good default option, especially if it comes to going out to grab something to eat or choosing which movie theater to go to. Especially if you can then translate that value into something you DO care about.

      For example you may not care about food or ambiance, but you might care about spending time with your partner. If there’s two restaurants that as far as you’re concerned could be carbon copies of one another, except for that fact that Restaurant A has happy hour and Restaurant B does not, then go for Restaurant A! If drinks or appetizers (or whatever) are half-priced that probably means you’re more likely to order an extra drink or an extra plate of cheese fries. It extends the value of your time out and about. You *could* spend two hours at Restaurant B slowly enjoying a salad and sipping on your waters, or you could spend the same two hours and amount of money at Restaurant A but get twice as much food/drink.

    • Elsajeni said:

      Yes! Cheapness is a good semi-arbitrary way to choose, especially since it can be applied to such a wide range of decisions. My other Arbitrary Decision-Making Tools (which one is closer to the house, which one is first/last alphabetically, etc.) work better for minor stuff, like what to get for dinner. Although I guess “alphabetical order” could work if you’re choosing between, like, two different IKEA products.

  11. Swistle said:

    This is so good. I DO think there is a whole realm of personality type (even without the various influences you describe) that just doesn’t have very strong opinions about things. And I also feel as if the Captain is likely to have put her finger on exactly what the issue: as someone who DOES have opinions, I feel decision-making is WORK. Sometimes it’s fun work and sometimes it’s un-fun work, but it’s always work, and it takes time and effort. I don’t always want to make all the decisions, not because I don’t always want things my way but because it takes effort to work through the options and pick the best/right one. If my partner doesn’t care, it’s like he’s saying “YOU do the work to figure it out for both of us.” I’d so much prefer the Captain’s way of him playing a role in the decision-making, even if he doesn’t have a preference. He can be involved by helping me work through the decision-making process, even if he doesn’t want to do that by opinion-offering.

    • Celeste said:

      I spent years raging that I was being directed to do the work. However I have come to see this exchange as the other person asking me to take care of them, when for whatever reason (hungry, tired, overwhelmed by choices) they feel they cannot. Some days it helps, other times (when I would like to be taken care of!) it does not. C’est la guerre.

  12. thebewilderness said:

    My mum struggled with this for years. Not caring was the only safe choice. Still, she wanted to do her share of deciding things so she made the effort. She learned to stop herself and ask a few questions in order to figure out if she cared or not. So first she would say let me think about it a bit.
    Then, having determined that she was not being set up for criticism for liking the wrong thing, she would consider if she was hungry for anything in particular or had a favorite that she was always hungry for, or liked light or dark better which a peek in the closet would reveal, in a general sort of non threatening way.
    It is a lot of work to unpack that survival training we get from abusers. Good luck to you and your partner.

  13. The Captain is spot on. My husband is a lot like you. I don’t believe he’s being passive -agressive or repressing his desires. I believe him when he says he just wants me to be happy and honestly doesn’t care where we go out to eat or where we go on vacation. But you know what? It gets EXHAUSTING after awhile. I do all of the research on everything and sometimes I’m tired or need a break. And even deciding what to eat at every meal gets old. Your partner needs you to be equal and take on some of this responsibility. It will show him how much you value him. Good luck!

    • And even deciding what to eat at every meal gets old

      Rephrasing for you:

      And sometimes exercising the brain the same way day in and day out without relief can cause mental charlie horse, and it actually hurts to do it again until the brain has a break to rest.

      Mental weigh-lifting is as exhausting as the physical sort, even if you can’t see it happening.

      • Thank you, SylviaMcivers! I’ll have to tell my husband this!

  14. Jane-E said:

    This is the post that has finally prompted me to de-lurk!
    Thanks Captain for your excellent answer and the reminder that this is about both people expending energy and effort into thinking about things, as much as about people getting their preferences met.

    Can I second the poster above who suggests that this issue may have as much to do with your partner’s past experiences as yours – I have been in their position somewhat.

    My previous relationship was with someone who was conflict-averse and passive aggressive.
    I am now with someone who is just very laid-back, and I have occasionally found myself second-guessing like… but you’re SURE you’re cool with just doing what I’m already planning to do? But you’re SURE you’re ok with this decision I’m making? But you REALLY don’t care if…

    Because even though I feel quite secure in this being a good, honest, happy relationship, I’ve been primed to brace for an eventual backlash of “but I wanted *that* and you should have known even though I never said and now it’s all your fault…”

    I’ve been able to discuss this with current partner, and I think he gets it. I’ve learned that sometimes I just have to practice my words when the issue is more that I’m sick of spending my mental energy coming up with options and plans.

    Like:
    – Shall we…
    – Oh I don’t know/ don’t mind.
    – Well I’m busy trying to figure out xyz just now and I don’t really mind either, could you please decide?

    It’s pretty easy and it works for us anyway.

  15. One thing that has helped my partner and I make choices when we’re both pretty neutral is to eliminate what we don’t want. We use this most often with food. Once sandwiches, pizza and Mexican have been eliminated other environmental issues can drive the decision. Like…we’re really hungry now so choosing the closer, faster burger joint fits the bill. Or we haven’t had sushi this week so we can have that.

    The space between shelves needs to be this much so we can fit X books or we should pick this one because it can take the most weight are also great ways to make a decision through the process of elimination.

    • stellanor said:

      I used to have a phone app that you could fill in price range and cuisine (or not and let them be random) and shake the phone and it would choose you a restaurant, slot-machine style. That was a good app.

      • ancolie said:

        Urbanspoon! Then they got bought and absorbed into Zomato. 😡 I miss US!

    • Heidi Mull said:

      Eliminating what we don’t want has been key for my partner and I, too.

      We used to spend hours trying to decide which movie to watch, because neither of us had strong opinions and we were overwhelmed by all the choices. It got pretty frustrating. Now we have a system that works for us:

      1) Master list of all the movies either of us might ever possibly want to see together
      2) List created of anything from Master List of all that either of us might want to watch that particular evening
      3) Elimination process of the second list. We watch trailers of anything we’re unfamiliar with, and then take turns crossing off one movie we’re NOT in the mood for at the moment.

      We end up with the final 2 candidates, which is generally pretty easy for us to decide on. It only takes us about 10-20 minutes, and it’s fun bonding time rather than stressful.

  16. I find making decisions to be Hard Work and for a long time I was an “I don’t care” person. I now kind of have a complex about it because in order to “cure” me of this affliction my father put me in charge of making as many decisions as possible for the family. What are we having for dinner? ELISE DECIDES. They named the most disgusting broccoli casserole thing “I don’t know” so that was what I was picking if I said I didn’t know or didn’t mind. It was terrible.

    ANYWAY

    As an adult I have discovered that for lots of things, especially food, you can just pick something and nothing bad happens. It makes the decision making process much less stressful if you already know the other person doesn’t mind. Just pick something! anything. making the decision is the hard part so by just picking something from equally great options in doing everyone a huge favour! When I don’t mind I state that first “Ohh both sound great how about pizza?” or “either day works let’s say thursday” and then at least you have something for someone else to veto or propose alternatives to.

    • After reading that he sort of threw you into the deep end of the decision-making pool without water wings and a life preserver, gotta say that I’m kind of feeling grouchy toward your dad right now, TBH: “Can’t ski? Let’s throw you onto some skis, hand you some poles, and push you down a steep icy slope. You’ll figure it out quickly or face-plant into a tree! Good luck, kid!”

      I will assume he meant well, but I really, really got the shudders. I would be a sad-eyed puppy if my family did that to me.

  17. sarah said:

    One thing I do with my partner is to say something along the lines of: “If you feel strongly, I’m happy to let you pick. Or if you don’t feel like picking, I can pick!” Because sometimes when I really don’t care where we go out to eat or what TV show we watch or whatever, I don’t want to impose a small preference or general non-opinion on the situation if my partner actual does care but is trying to be polite/nice in asking what I’d prefer. But other times, neither of us really cares too much and so we just need to pick, in which case I will happily just pick something. 🙂 Just in case part of your worry is “But what if I express a non-opinion and it makes my BF sad because he has to miss out on whatever he really wants!” – then maybe this script can work for you!

    • We do this by way of the half-vote: “I a-little-bit vote for Thai.” If I vote for Thai and he votes for pizza, then we have to have a negoatiation about what’s closer/ cheaper/ different from lunch. But if I a-little-bit vote for Thai, then he can override me with a full vote and no worries, but if he was out of ideas or too tired to think, then I’ve tipped the balance for *some* action.

      I am an introvert who has to fake extroversion at work, and often come home without two neurons to rub together. I try to keep it together long enough to greet the SO properly and get a plan for dinner rolling, but I will often explicitly flag for him when the moment comes that I am out of decisions for the day: “I’m pretty hungry so I’d rather eat now than after you exercise; then please don’t make me think any more. I’ll chop onions or whatever you need, but don’t make me think!” Then on days I’m off and he works, I’ll run the show.

      • pazzzia said:

        zelda, great system!

  18. Marthooh said:

    Also if your BF has been doing a lot of planning, choosing, and emotional mule driving… thank him for it!

  19. Allya said:

    Another way to play it if you really don’t mind but want to help out with the labor of making a choice is to say something like “spaghetti sounds good tonight, but I’m OK with either/if you’d prefer Chinese that’s great too” That way you’re offering a suggestion but making it clear you won’t be upset if he’d actually prefer the other thing. Sometimes people don’t know what they really want until the option is taken away, so this can be a kind way to figure out what you both actually want.

  20. Anononononon said:

    Totally agree about the emotional/mental labor part. I’ve had partners who never offered opinions on things, and while I know they meant well, it was *exhausting*.

  21. Raptor said:

    Yay! Good job getting out!

    I don’t want this to feel like a pile on, but I’m sure it’s the emotional labor thing. Since you’ve never been in that position, it might be a little hard to see what we all mean by work.

    I’d say it pretty much feels like working 8-10 hours at your job, and then coming home and being a personal assistant or secretary or events coordinator for 4 more hours. Definitely work. Organizational work.

    There were nights where my husband would cook dinner, but only after I would pick a recipe and tell him exactly what we needed from the store, and even that just drove me crazy. I’d rather just chop onions some nights, thanks.

  22. Are there things you really actively dislike? That may be a good way to ease into it. My wife was like this when we first got together, for similar reasons (abusive parents and abusive relationships after that). She doesn’t care about most of the choices, but sometimes, she expresses a very strong dislike for something, and I always respect that. It helps me feel that I’m not entirely riding roughshod over her and that she does get to express her preferences in our relationship.

    So maybe start by saying “I’m fine with either Chinese or Mexican, but let’s NOT go to that Ethiopian restaurant – I don’t like that one”. Or, as you’re looking at bookcases together, “That puke-green one is ugly – anything but that one!”

  23. Angel said:

    My little brother does this. Actually a lot of people I know do this. They don’t have a preference, so they say “I don’t care”/”It doesn’t matter”/”whatever’s fine” and leave the choice to someone else. This drives me up a wall. I’m always like “well if it doesn’t matter then you should have no trouble picking!”

    And I use this in my real life. If someone gives me a choice and I legitimately don’t have an opinion, I check that they don’t have a preference and then just pick an option! It looks like this:

    Human: Do you want the light bookcase or the dark one?
    Me: Wow, those are both nice bookcases! I don’t really have a preference, I think. Do you like one better or shall I pick?
    Human: No, I’ve been looking at them too long. You choose.
    Me: The dark one!
    Human: Okay!

    Or…

    Human: Okay, I’ve narrowed down the options. Red couch or blue couch?
    Me: *thinking* Those couches are nice couches. It doesn’t make a difference what color it is.
    Me: Blue couch.
    Human: Yay, blue couch it is!

    It’s so not a big deal to make a random choice if it doesn’t matter. It’s not some big deception where you lie about your preferences. You just… Pick.

  24. MsBorgia said:

    This was enlightening as a fellow decision-hater. People say I’m indecisive, but I just legitimately don’t care about the options (or I’m used to my opinion being overridden even when I offer it.) I’ll try to employ some of the Captain’s strategies!

    I do have a weird twist on this problem, where my boyfriend will often get into a funk where he wants me to decide what we do, but doesn’t like any of the options I put forth, or he puts a bunch of conditions around it. So… you want me to choose, but you want me to magically choose the “right” option? Pass, thanks.

    • goddessoftransitory said:

      Yep. Drives me crazy when my husband does this! If you don’t want A, quit pouting when I suggest B through H options. Pick one already and quit making me guess your magical, secret alphabet.

      • Thank you both. I never realised I did this, but I do, and I need to stop.

    • hbc said:

      Oh, yes. You can’t have decision fatigue *and* be picky. It’s your turn if you’ve shot down three reasonable options, and I will totally eat dry ramen for dinner if you don’t step up.

    • johann7 said:

      I do have a weird twist on this problem, where my boyfriend will often get into a funk where he wants me to decide what we do, but doesn’t like any of the options I put forth, or he puts a bunch of conditions around it. So… you want me to choose, but you want me to magically choose the “right” option? Pass, thanks.

      This is the worst. It happens to me WAY too much around decisions like where to eat or what movies to watch. For people who do this and are not intending to be passive-aggressive, a good strategy is to initially respond by noting what you definitely don’t want and suggest some agreeable alternatives instead of indicating a lack of preference. After years of dealing with this from so many people, I now give people two vetoes-without-alternative-suggestions before I get to the opt-out point: “Okay, well, I’m doing X; feel free to join me, and if not, I’ll see you later.”

    • My mom has this weird thing where she’ll ask me/my brother for our input on decisions ranging from, “Should your father and I renovate the kitchen?” (neither of us has lived with our parents for close to a decade) to “Where should we go for dinner?”
      This would be fine except when she actually gets an answer, like “Yes” or “Let’s have Indian”, half the time she’ll say, “Really? Are you sure? Why?” It’s like she’s less interested with getting the decision made than with dragging as many people as possible into the process to suffer along with her.

      • I told my mom up-front sometime last year that I had no interest in helping her choose between six different plaids (pillows / drapes / etc.) because I was tired of putting a lot of effort and thought into picking what I thought was the best option only for her to choose the one I liked the least.

        This was shortly after she nagged me into spending several weeks learning floorplan software and making a floorplan for the basement she wanted to renovate. I made a couple of special trips to measure everything and check where outlets and drains and windows were, etc., etc., made a thoughtful floor plan, including a living room, as potential renters might want to entertain somewhere other than in their bedroom or kitchen, and also citing concerns such as “maybe the bathroom shouldn’t have a huge window overlooking the driveway and less than 20 yards from the roadway that all the neighbors can look into while you’re on the toilet or getting in and out of the bathtub.”

        (P.S. The current floorplan has no living room and the bathroom has a huge window overlooking the driveway which is less than 20 yards from the roadway and all the neighbors will be able to look into it while you’re on the toilet or getting in and out of the bathtub. There is also an enormous floor-to-ceiling privacy-busting window in the kitchen area which eliminates the possibility of placing any storage space, cabinets, appliances, shelves, smaller window over a kitchen sink, etc., along that wall. Anyone sitting there at a table, perhaps in nightclothes and curlers or a towel, drinking coffee, will be 100% on display. If the bathroom door is open, someone in the driveway will be able to see every inch of the basement apartment, ditto and vice versa if someone is on the first floor or in the backyard of the house. It will not be a hot rental property. It is also not my problem.)

        I no longer have any dog in this fight and don’t give a damn what she does with the construction project or subsequent decorating. I’m tired and making decisions already takes energy I can barely spare. Making decisions after being pressured into doing so, knowing that those decisions will also just be ignored is beyond the pale, really. Pick your own crap out, and now, if you don’t like it, you can’t come back years later and complain it is my fault because you nagged me into helping you choose it, even if you didn’t even listen to any of my suggestions in the end.

  25. slythwolf said:

    I wonder if the LW’s partner may have had a similar experience to mine, where my emotionally abusive ex would claim not to care which choice or tell me I could choose whatever I wanted but *did* actually secretly hold it over my head and passive aggressively punish me for it for years.

  26. Re: food (though this could be adapted to some other situations, too), one of the first questions my partner and I ask each other is, “Is there anything you DON’T want?” That way, even if I’m not in a choose-ing type of mood, I can still say, “I really don’t want Mexican tonight,” and still be contributing to the discussion without engaging my brain over something I don’t have too much investment in (this happens a lot when I’ve had a particularly draining day and am DONE with brain-engaging for a while).

    • Esselyn said:

      This is a good strategy for a lot of things – I’ve used it for movies and housewares stuff too. “Not sure what I want, but definitely no Adam Sandler” is just as good a starting point for deciding as “I desperately want to see Rogue One, but would settle for Good Will Hunting or Monty Python.”

  27. caraway said:

    Sometimes it can work to follow “They both look great to me” with “would you like me to pick one?” If he’s feeling like he’s carrying the decision load, then he can say yes, and then you carry some. If he takes you up on that offer to pick one, then you can offer it more. Or if seeing occasionally that you *can* decide helps him feel chill, that’s fine too.

    And you can sometimes discover things yourself. Maybe you notice you are actually a little stressed picking either option, and you get a window on some anxiety in there. Or some people feel regret and regret-fear especially about decisions where both options are find.

    Or maybe in deciding you find you do have some preferences you hadn’t noticed. You know the mental trick where you flip a coin, and then see if you have a flicker of feeling about which way the coin decided? Like that with a little more process.

  28. Anothermous said:

    Plenty of other commenters have said this already, so I won’t belabor the point, but yes, it is important to understand that making decisions is *work*. It sucks to have to do that work all the time. So, just keep that in mind if/when you feel baffled about why your partner is frustrated that you’re not choosing.

    I did want to share a fun story about decision-making: my parents’ first car. At some point not long after their wedding, my folks went to buy a car. They had decided they wanted a Honda Civic, but at the dealership they were undecided about the color. My dad preferred the blue, my mom preferred the yellow, but neither had such a strong opinion as to REALLY want it one way or the other. So my dad pulled out a quarter and they flipped the coin.

    Mom won. They bought a yellow Civic.

    The dealer looked at them in awe and said, “I have never seen anyone choose a car color that way.”

    I also sometimes use the coin-flipping tactic when I’m legitimately having trouble deciding on two options. Not to lock myself into a decision, but sometimes because that helps me figure out what I truly want. If I’m trying to decide between a slice of cake or a slice of pie, for example (and I’m not hungry enough for both, heh), then I’ll flip a coin. If the coin lands one way and I find myself disappointed, I’ll know I actually wanted the other thing. If I truly don’t care, then I’ll be happy either way. It’s an easy option when the outcome isn’t super important, but you need to make a choice anyway.

    • Seatides said:

      That sounds like The Ring Thing! This is how my college roommate and I would decide things like what flavor of juice to have with lunch. Person A would take off a ring, say “okay, the ring is strawberry lemonade and no ring is apple juice”, then place her hands behind her back and swap the ring around a few times. Person B would then choose a hand, and thus the juice flavor. If one picked the ring and then got apple juice instead, well, a decision had still been made.

      • Blue Meeple said:

        Yeah, sometimes flipping a coin for a decision (or doing The Ring Thing, cute) helps you figure out what you actually want (or that you do actually want something), even if you don’t follow the result. Handy that way.

    • I use a standard die for this! I can use it to pick from more than two things: Between two things it’s “odds and evens”, three things is “1 or 2 is A, 3 or 4 is B, 5 or 6 is C”, and so on.

      Admittedly, I mostly use the resulting feeling of relief or disappointment to figure out what the hell I really want. Because often I just don’t know! Brain won’t shut up long enough to tell it straight, but it doesn’t need to shut up to feel disappointed.

      • queer_kitten said:

        this is random but i just found out with iPhones, Siri will roll a die for you, and also you can google “roll a die” and get a number too!

    • Elenna said:

      This! Lots of times I’ll be like “eh, don’t care either way” and then I’ll flip a coin (or do RNG or whatever) and my brain will go “Aww, but…”

      Took me a while to realize that, hey, the coin is not actually a decree from on high, I can just do the thing I realized I actually preferred instead. 😀

    • Light37 said:

      I’ve done this and it’s great for clarifying things when I’m tired or indecisive. I’ve ended up deciding mid-flip that I really want meatloaf rather than Indian food for dinner because it’s allowed me to recognize my preference.

  29. twomoogles said:

    I love this post. I really feel for both you and your boyfriend. I completely understand the anxiety behind making decisions. Often, for me, it’s the idea that if I suggest something first, the other person will just go along with it and be quietly wishing we’d done the other thing (I posted about this on the other thread CA linked to, so won’t recopy my whole post.)

    Sometimes I feel like my whole social group has a problem with being indecisive and it’s a variation of the Geek Social Fallacy where people want to never suggest anything that might exclude somebody *or* give them a reason to decline an invitation. So there’s a lot of stuff like “It’s my birthday Saturday! Come over anytime in the day, and we’ll figure out what we’re doing then!” and it tends to go over like a lead balloon as people drift in and out with no real sense of what’s happening, nobody goes out because other people might drop by, people don’t make firm commitments etc. We used to have a couple of sheepdogs who would organize most of the plans and then most of those people moved so without that it can be rough.

    Also, I know for me, hearing “I don’t care” is demoralizing. Especially when it’s repeated. I sometimes think people believe they are being extra nice and accommodating by never making a choice because then the other person gets whatever they want, but often the opposite happens and the decision maker ends up feeling frustrated.

    • Anon for this said:

      “We used to have a couple of sheepdogs who would organize most of the plans and then most of those people moved so without that it can be rough.”

      Hello I am a geek sheepdog and it is super fucking exhausting. If you notice this happening, consider stepping up yourself to do some planning and inviting, or talking to your other non-deciders about it. (I’ve talked to my circle about it, superficial changes get made temporarily, and then everyone falls back into the same patterns again. But if I *don’t* do the inviting, I never see my friends.)

      • SAME. This modus operandi is so common and I honestly think this is a huge reason for the prevalence of social anxiety. There are no clear expectations or communications and people are left feeling a bit rudderless and unsure. This coupled with the hyper critical American culture (or maybe this was just my upbringing) where any and all mistakes MEAN something about Who You Are as a Person and Your General Worthiness and we’ve got some pretty verdant breeding grounds for brain weasels and ANXIETY.

        I also think this can also be an age thing. My friends in their early 20’s live by this laissez faire attitude. But my older friends are much more aware of the value of time and energy (and generally have less of both) and so are much more intentional about how they spend these things.

      • twomoogles said:

        Yeah, I get it. I am a small-group planner; that’s just how I roll. I had the “party house” for awhile, but moved and now I don’t, and for me, small-group invites is what I like and am comfortable with. I am a big proponent of the Specific Invite thing, so I’ll say “hey come over at 6 to play Space Risk” for instance. The Geek sheepdog thing in my group was odd because the people who had that role were actually kind of toxic and controlling in some ways (didn’t want to get into the whole history) and we had some major freakouts over people not being invited to things over the years.

        So, yeah, I do organize (small!) events, but I don’t have 25 friends, so the bigger events are just not gonna come from me. but it isn’t really that people don’t organize as anything, as that they try to make it *so* open-ended and inclusive it ends up falling apart.

  30. G Lefoux said:

    Speaking as someone coming from the other side of things, I have so many opinions and preferences it can really stretch my science-fiction-loving brain to understand that someone can consistently just…not. It really feels like I *must* be taking advantage or riding roughshod over my girlfriend’s opinions, no matter how much she insists that she really doesn’t have a preference that I will need to compromise with. Things that are helping: talking about it from both our perspectives. Reminding myself that regardless of what is going on internally with her, the only things I can control are my own actions, so ultimately I just have to trust that she is being honest.

    I second the advice to just sometimes mentally flip a coin. When my jerkbrain tries to pull the guilt trip of “oh no, we always do what I want, I am a terrible person” it is enormously helpful to have the fact-check of “actually, you went to that movie she wanted to see last week, and two weeks ago you stayed in and ordered food because she wanted to, etc.”

  31. Melanie said:

    Having had a very controlling father (having an opinion was fine, just as long as it was his) and an abusive relationship, it does take time to heal. If you are anything like I was, having an opinion doesn’t feel safe…because it wasn’t for so many years. And when you can’t safely express your opinion, you lose touch with what it means to be you, with what your opinions actually are. To me, it seems like the problem isn’t how to (safely) tell your BF that either option is fine; it’s relearning how to identify what you actually want and preActising expressing it. For a long while, I couldn’t have told you what I did want, be it for breakfast or a life goal . I only knew what I didn’t want (abuse, drama, cauliflower). Something I found useful for the big stuff, although I might sound silly, what ‘sitting’ with a choice in almost a meditation until I could identify what felt right to me in my body. For smaller choices (tea vs coffee) practice identifying what gives you joy or even what you don’t want, then practice voicing it.

  32. Locksley said:

    I really enjoy when someone else makes decisions for me, especially around food. Sometimes it helps to frame it as a favor they are doing for me, a way of taking care of me, for them to choose for me. I don’t expect my partner to do favors for me all the time, and I do my share of being the caretaker. It really changes the dynamic, though, to go from “I don’t care” to “I love it when you pick for me, thank you!” It really helps when there is gratitude along with emotional work.

  33. goddessoftransitory said:

    “it’s that it’s unfair that he ends up doing all the emotional labor of selecting and choosing things for both of you, from home decor to what’s for dinner tonight. By never having an opinion on any of it, it feels like you’re not fully participating in the work of making these decisions”

    YES YES YES. I once dated a guy like this–he didn’t have the background of the LW, but he was pathologically unable to make a choice about anything. And it was EXHAUSTING. He was the sweetest, kindest man, not a mean bone in his body, but his terror of maybe picking something I didn’t like and willingness to let me do all the work meant I eventually lost my attraction to him.

    • TurquoiseDra9on said:

      This one. I once dated a very nice man for six months who never disagreed with me about anything. I don’t mean we never fought, I mean he never expressed an opinion that didn’t boil down to the option that he thought I wanted. Half the fun of spending time with new people for me, either dating or friendships, is learning about things that I wouldn’t have picked but might love once I try it.

      • Emmers said:

        There’s a really cute song by Christine Lavin about this – “Good Thing He Can’t Read My Mind.”

  34. jacccccc said:

    I relate to this a lot, from both sides. Mostly I think there’s a lot of self awareness and openness to even asking these questions so great job there! Just to emphasize some great points from the captain and others:
    Unless your boyfriend is extremely opinionated/hard-to-please, at least some of these decisions are going to feel like work. Someone accurately compared it to assistant/event-planning. To me the worst part of making a decision, for example date-night restaurants, is the guilt of choosing wrong. If I choose the place and it’s got a weird atmosphere, or it’s hours are wrong online and we have to eat quick so they can close, or the food is bad, then I am constantly regretting my decision and feeling anxious because any problems feel like they’re my fault. Meanwhile if my fiance chooses a place I feel much more relaxed and can endure 10x the annoyances before I start feeling any anxiety.

    My partner and I are both pretty laissez-faire in general, which can be annoying when we’re choosing what to eat for 20 straight minutes. In that sense the coin-flip method is great. Often times I won’t realize I have a preference until my partner says “I wouldn’t mind either, let’s do ramen” and my brain suddenly realizes that it actually really wants a sandwich.

    Also I want to point out that most intelligent and kind men think to some extent about privilege and patriarchal pressures in straight relationships. Thus if there are aspects of the relationship that could be attributed to patriarchal norms it is hard not to worry and/or feel guilty about them. Generally it’s an irrational guilt – we all grew up in patriarchal societies, our brains are largely “wired” in our youth, and in the end we’re all just people who want what we want and are who we are – but it can still wear you out.

    In terms of actual action the captain’s advice is great! Just try to work on it and keep the communication flowing! Congrats on getting clean and taking care of yourself and your relationship!

    • Light37 said:

      “Also I want to point out that most intelligent and kind men think to some extent about privilege and patriarchal pressures in straight relationships. Thus if there are aspects of the relationship that could be attributed to patriarchal norms it is hard not to worry and/or feel guilty about them. ”

      That’s a really good point. In his shoes, I would be wondering if I was unintentionally pressuring you to do things my way, or if you didn’t feel safe expressing your preference because of something I was doing.

  35. Emma said:

    Yes! I had to make this mental switch a few years ago, too. If you’ve been in an abusive situation, especially one where your opinions are rejected or mocked, you start to think of having a preference being synonymous with imposing your preference on other people. You wind up feeling super rude if you express a preference when it’s not majorly important to you, because what if, by doing that, you’re overriding the other person’s preference, which IS majorly important to them? (Or is at least important enough that they’ll be pissed at you for getting in the way of it?)

    The answer is two-fold.

    First, recognising the emotional labour thing. Others have explained this very well. Choices need to be made all the time, and it can be tiring to make choices. Especially for minor decisions, you are actually helping by choosing something, even if you’ve chosen randomly. Lots of people have talked about responding to the “pizza or Thai?” question; I would also add that it’s important take that role of narrowing down, which can look like this:
    Partner: “Where should we go for dinner tonight?”
    You: “How about *rolls dice* an Indian or *throws dart at world map* that new Italian place?”

    This takes the pressure off your partner, allowing them to pick their favourite of two options rather than their favourite of two thousand.

    The second bit is communication. Foster a dynamic in your relationship where you both feel comfortable expressing an opinion even when it’s in contradiction to the other person’s opinion. You don’t need to worry about imposing your minor preference on your partner, if you know that one of the possible outcomes of the script above is “Actually, I don’t fancy either of those options. Let’s get pizza.”

  36. resili0 said:

    I have been through similar abuse and it got to the point where the only safe mode of survival was to be a blank slate with no emotions or needs. I was so used to anticipating and meeting my abusers needs to head off abuse that I wasn’t sure I could have a desire, let alone put it into words.

    I found a new safe place; a journal. I made lists of things I knew I liked/wished for/didn’t like. It brought up sadness at how much I had lost in the years of being abused and how much abusers had punished me for having natural likes and dislikes. I then had time to quietly feel that.

    When it felt right, I shared my lists with my partner, he made lists too, it helps us learn about each other. I managed to communicate what decision making methods make me panicky and stressed. We then found ways to practice low stakes decision making together. He has been very patient and respectful.

    You do it, LW, you’ve been courageous and strong to get to here.

  37. Anisoptera said:

    LW you say you don’t care, and for some things I’m sure that’s true, but one thing an abusive background teaches you is that you don’t get to have opinions. If you grow up with that it’s easy to internalise it, and completely lose touch with what your opinions even are. Because your opinion is – you just want everything to be easy and normal and low friction and for the other person to be nice to you, just this once, *please*.

    Except if you’re anything like me plenty of opinions are lurking beneath the surface, deep down. It’s great to get in touch with those opinions, and admit to yourself you have them. Then it’s powerful and vulnerable to admit them to other people, to even advocate for them.

    I mean, perhaps you really don’t care about light wood, or dark, or puke green but it feels a bit to me like you do think puke green is the inferior colour, so maybe there’s a colour you like best? When you say that I hear “I value this domestic stability a thousand thousand times more than the colour of my shelves.” Which of course! But, dear LW, you can have both now! You can have the small things you would never have even dreamed of fighting for, because it’s not a big deal and you guys are choosing stuff together.

    Finally, the Captain is right that this is emotional labour. In life there are so many choices we don’t really care about, but yet we still have to make them. I get this every time I buy a new appliance. I emphatically do not care about microwaves, as long as they are the right size for the space and actually function to heat up leftovers and wheat bags. But yet I had to buy one, so I had to make a bunch of choices between various silver-coloured boxes with various prices. I had to understand at least on a basic level what different price points got me and then decide whether I wanted that thing. Ugh! So boring! It was work to choose. Sometimes you have to do that too, even if you really don’t care. You need to put in a bit of effort to make a somewhat informed choice. Just like sometimes when people say “where shall we eat?” It’s nice to make a few suggestions even if you don’t care, just because otherwise you’ll all stand there on the steet going “I don’t mind! You choose!” until you all get hangry and give up.

    • Right. This is pretty much exactly what I wanted to say. And to add to that: in your old life, on the very rare occassions when you could/had to express an actual opinion, it was *high stakes shit*. Right? Like, not “where shall we eat?” but “what do I pick from the food pantry to fill this one bag?” Where do I take a last-ditch stand to protect myself, and what am reserve of emotional energy am I spending/what am I going to take punishment for later/what am I giving up to do that? The flip side of “why bother?” is being paralyzed by the idea that you only have so many “I am expressing an opinion now” chips in your pocket and you have to save them for when it’s *fucking important*.

      You don’t. Opinion chips are a renewable (and expanding!) resource. The glorious burden of having the financial freedom to have bookshelves is that you now have to pick a style, and a color, and what books to put on them, and what to read in what order, and who to share them with, and all of that can be a little overwhelming, and austerity thinking is in some ways easier but it’s also kind of soul-numbing, and what happens when your soul starts to wake up again is hard and scary but it’s also wonderful. (Kind of like getting clean.)

      I remember one time my partner was living temporarily in another city for medical reasons (chemo) and we had decided to paint the kitchen and we’d agreed on a general color scheme but I was trying to narrow it down to specific brand and shade paint chips and I was bombarding him with Facebook messages and links and then he was home for a weekend and we went to the hardware store and I was actually crying in the paint aisle because I was *SO STRESSED OUT* by this decision and felt so guilty that he was spending some of his rare and precious time away from hospital to do this thing with me because evidently I couldn’t adult my way through it on my own and why weren’t we done with this and I didn’t want to screw it up and he dragged me out of there and took me out to dinner and sat me down and said, “Babe. Stop. Listen. The thing is here: it’s not that I don’t care, it’s that I TRUST YOU with this decision and it’s JUST NOT WORTH you being this upset over it and I WILL BE HAPPY with what you decide.” And then I drank two margaritas and, thusly fortified, went back and bought some fucking paint and I loved that kitchen with all my love – and so did he, and he commented on it many times – until he died a couple of years later and I had to move out of that house.

      And when I moved into my new apartment alone, I found I really cared about the paint color, and it was almost effortless (and *joyful*) to make a decision, and I was so, so grateful to him,

      Every fiber of your being is screaming that the color of the bookshelves is not a hill to die on, I know. It’s not! But it is also not a hill you’re going to die on. It’s just a little opportunity to practice letting yourself participate in this relationship. You’re going to be looking at the bookshelves for a long time; the decision is not “what color?” it’s “do I pick something that will make me *happy*, or do I tell him clearly that I trust him and I am already content?”

      It’s not about the bookshelves.

      *hugs if you want them* It does get better. Good luck.

      • Light37 said:

        “Every fiber of your being is screaming that the color of the bookshelves is not a hill to die on, I know. It’s not! But it is also not a hill you’re going to die on.”

        I love this.

  38. Vicki said:

    One thing my husband and I will sometimes do is ask for “can I please have a heaping helping of You-Decide?” That makes it explicit that the person being asked is doing the other a favor by choosing. “You-decide” can be chicken with ginger from a Chinese restaurant that delivers, or rice and beans, or sandwiches from what’s already in the house: the only constraints are not to choose something we know the other person dislikes or is allergic to. Also, it’s not “please cook me dinner”: leftovers, takeout, and the emergency stash of filled ravioli in the freezer are explicitly okay there.

    Years ago, I used to hang out with a very loose sf fan social group; we’d get together and hang out in the park for an hour or two, and then subsets of the group would go get dinner. I got tired enough of the “what do you want? I don’t know, what do you want?” that I would sometimes say “I’m going to XYZ Restaurant, who else is interested?” and when I’d gotten a few yeses we’d head out. That short-circuited the endless indecision, and avoided the failure mode of dropping an unexpected party of 14 on a restaurant.

    • Elenna said:

      Another suggestion for the restaurant thing: if you’re in a downtown area with friends and nobody is stating an opinion on where to eat, it’s perfectly reasonable to start walking down the street and go “How about that one? No, Friend A doesn’t want burgers. That one? No, it’s outside Friend B’s price range. That one? No objections? Cool, we have dinner.” So if people really don’t have strong opinions, you get to eat, and if they do, it’s easier to veto one specific place than to try to figure out what you want among infinite options.

      Might result in repeatedly eating in the same place if you always start walking from the same hangout, but hey, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and if it is, you can always veto that place on the basis of having gone there too much.

      • I vigorously endorse this method. My best friend and I do this ALL THE TIME. It is one of the most fun things about traveling with her; we found some amazing places this way in the French Quarter in New Orleans.

  39. A couple of things occur to me:

    1. Since you grew up not getting to make many choices, and then had a relationship where you weren’t allowed to make choices, it’s not very surprising that choosing isn’t your strong suit now. However, rather than treating it as a fixed personality trait, you might want to think of it as a skill you can develop. Evidently your partner wants your input – but also, if you’re with someone nice and can afford nice things, it’s possible that over time, you will find yourself more interested in making choices.

    Perhaps, if your partner wants you to take part in joint decisions more, it would be helpful to present this as a new skill. ‘Hey, Partner, I know you’d like me to take part in choosing stuff more, so I want to get better at doing that. I’m gonna try, but I may need to think aloud/use some artificial techniques/do odd things while I’m learning. Will you support me in that?’

    2. You may also find it interesting to look up Barry Schwartz’s research on choice. Here’s a good place to start: http://www.wsj.com/articles/how-you-make-decisions-says-a-lot-about-how-happy-you-are-1412614997. You can also take an online personality test here: http://www.nicholasreese.com/decide/

    Basically, Schwartz posits two kinds of people:

    – Maximizers. People who want to make sure their choice was the absolute best they could have made, and who therefore do a lot of research before coming to a decision. Ironically, they’re also more prone to buyer’s remorse, because their standard is ‘the best possible choice.’

    – Satisficers (yes, that is how you spell it). People who want something that will suffice – that is, as long as it does the thing they wanted it to do, then they’re happy with it, and it doesn’t really matter if another choice might have been slightly better.

    You sound very much at the ‘satisficer’ end of the scale – as long as it’s a shelf/a meal/whatever, that’s doing the job for you. Your partner may not be a hardcore maximizer, just closer to that end than you because you’re way over at the satisficer end. But it might be useful for you both to look through that lens and see what kind of a chooser each of you is. It might help you see each others’ position a bit better.

    3. If you really don’t mind which you choose, put some positive energy out there. It’s draining to ask someone’s opinion and get nothing but a ‘meh’, because it’s quite possible he’s trying to bond with you by talking about the things you’ll share. So bounce back that positivity even if you’re fine with either shelf: ‘Honestly, hon, I think they’re both really nice. I can see myself living happily with either of them. Do you want to brainstorm which you’d prefer? Because I’m good with either, but if you’re hesitating, I could help you think it through.’

    • spacebavarois said:

      I like your option 3. It gets across that there is some caring there for the partner, and a willingness to do the emotional labor, while maintaining the truth that OP doesn’t have an actual opinion on the bookshelf.

    • That’s really interesting about maximisers and satisficers, although if he thinks these are two discrete types of people then Schwartz wouldn’t know what to make of my husband. If he’s buying, say, electronics, he will either spend months and months agonising over which of two or three options would be the absolute best, or he won’t buy it at all just in case it’s not amazing and he’d feel he had wasted money. On the other hand, if I want him to help me choose what to have for dinner or what colours to paint our house or where to go for a day trip, he couldn’t possibly care less.

      • I think it’s quite common for people to be maximizers in some areas – generally the areas they care about most – and satisficers in others. If we maximized over everything, we’s never get anything done!

        • Exactly – I’d go for two types of decision rather than two types of people

        • Light37 said:

          Yep. I maximize in places where it matters to me (like picking the perfect restaurant for dinner because I’m craving X and they do it so well) and satisfice in areas where I’m less invested (like picking the radio station because as long as it’s not horrid talk radio, I can happily deal with NPR or country music or sports talk.)

  40. red_reader said:

    As the one who ends up in your boyfriend’s shoes in my household, there is really not a whole lot that infuriates me more than this exchange:

    Me: “What do you want for dinner?”
    SO or Housemate (sometimes in unison): “Food.”

    Okay, so thanks, I’m left with all the decision-making work, you’re making aren’t-I-cute jokes about it, and I’VE BEEN TELLING YOU BOTH FOR OVER THREE YEARS THAT THIS IS REALLY ANNOYING.

    • Lizzie said:

      Can you order a few cans of Soylent, and serve that the next time they request “food”? 🙂

    • Vicki said:

      At this point you would be more than justified in saying something like “Yes, food is good. Let me know when the food is ready.”

  41. On the subject of psychological theories, there’s another one that might be relevant here: John Gottman’s concept of ‘bids’. (http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/06/happily-ever-after/372573/)

    Gottman’s take is this. A lot of the time when we speak to our partner, we’re not really talking about the surface subject: we’re making a ‘bid’ for connection. For instance, ‘Hey, look, a magpie!’ isn’t just about the magpie, it’s a way of saying, ‘Would you like to bond with me by sharing a moment of enjoyment?’ And the partner can then either ‘turn towards’ or ‘turn away’ from the bid.

    It’s possible that your partner is experiencing the not-choosing as turning away from a bid. Gottman identifies four possible responses; I’ll take the shelf example.

    Bid: Hey, I’ve found two different shelf units that might be good for us. Which do you prefer?

    Active constructive: Ooh, nice choices. I think I might like the dark one better, but what do you think? (Ie, affirm partner, say something that keeps the conversation energized.)

    Passive constructive: Eh, either’s good for me. (Ie, nothing particularly negative, but nothing very positive either, which can be deflating.)

    Active destructive: Jeez, I hate it when you bother me about petty stuff like this. (Harsh and uncaring.)

    Passive destructive: I really don’t care. (Shows no apparent interest in either the subject or the bid.)

    If you really don’t care about choices and your partner’s feeling frustrated, it’s possible that your responses are falling into one of the two passive types.

    According to Gottman, ‘active constructive’ is the only one that keeps relationships successful in the long term – so when you’re thinking about how to respond, it might be helpful to ask yourself ‘What could I say that would feel active constructive?’

    • Sparkly said:

      This is a really, really interesting link – thank you! This might explain why I sometimes feel oddly defeated when my boyfriend doesn’t seem as interested as I would like when I point out something cool I see out of a train window, or why him being happy and proud when I do something well sometimes seems even better than doing the thing well in the first place. This framework looks very useful!

    • Kathleen Costello said:

      When I don’t have a preference, but I know there is a bid for connection [related to shared emotional labor], I try to 321 it.

      H: What should we have for dinner?
      M: Hmmm… I am neutral… how about falafel, pizza, or steak?
      H: Knock out steak.
      M: Okay, felafel it is!

    • Bess Marvin said:

      This is very insightful. Thank you for sharing it.

  42. spacebavarois said:

    When some people get hungry, they get cranky or easily frustrated. One thing my friends have noticed about me is that when I get hungry, I get *desperate*. I will eat literal garbage from a literal garbage can as long as it happens soon and I get to put in the minimum amount of effort. Making real decisions in this state is basically impossible.

    When it comes to dinnertime out with my buddies, I have 2 strategies:

    1. Offer a list of 3-5 semirandom “I’m OK with this” restaurants. They will then either choose one, offer a different option, or try to get me to choose (in which case I go to option 2).

    2. Given a list of options (either from option 1 flow-over or a list my friend has come up with on their own), I pick at random or by which one is physically closer (or some petty secret criteria, like how awful the wall decorations are).

    This usually gets us to somewhere that I can get my blood sugar back up in the least amount of time with a non-minimum amount of satisfaction, where the emotional labor part of making a decision is either on someone who wants it or on someone who is willing to choose randomly.

  43. Catherine from Canada said:

    Haven’t read all the comments, am jumping in to say that abusive childhood, undiagnosed Asperger’s, unbalanced rather than abusive marriage, left me with a similar problem: why want anything when I don’t know what I can even have?

    Seconding all of the Captain’s advice especially the emotional labour bit, that was the real issue for my husband, simply switching my response to, “what do you think? why are you deciding this way?” really helped.

    Want to add: think of these decisions as practice; practice in making a decision, practice figuring out what you want, practice knowing what you want, and knowing how to ask for it. These are all skills, not inborn abilities. (well, I wasn’t born with them, anyway…!)

    Also, if they are practice decisions, it’s okay to get it wrong sometimes. Pizza or spaghetti? You say Pizza but when it’s put in front of you, realize you actually would have preferred spaghetti. That’s okay, it’s not the end of the world, pizza is okay, and next time you’ll know to ask for spaghetti. Or a brown bookcase, or the beach rather than the forest, or whatever.

  44. Clarry said:

    We flip coins. Onlookers often think we do it to decide between options when we’re in conflict as when he wants one thing and I want the other. We know better. We do it to avoid responsibility. The fear is that if one person chooses and the choice doesn’t turn out well, that person will have to own the negative outcome. It’s become something of a game, but it works, and we literally flip a coin.

    “Where do you want to eat?”
    “I don’t know. Where do you want to eat?”
    (Repeat several times.)
    “How about Mexican is heads and Italian is tails.”
    “Okay.”
    And then we flip and eat dinner.

    I used to spend a while itemizing the advantages and disadvantages of each choice, but he still wouldn’t decide. I’d drive myself crazy asking him what other information he needed before he could decide. Still nothing. Now, I bring out the coin.

  45. JDubbs said:

    I have a similar but different problem. I can be the decider most of the time, and I’m fine with that. But some things are not my forte, so I leave them to my husband to decide. My problem comes in when he gives me the options, and I say “Choice X is good.”, I get in return, “Just good…?” I am apparently not an enthusiastic enough picker. He wants to hear “THIS ONE IS GREAT!!!!!” or “THAT LOOKS LIKE THE BEST X IVE EVER SEEN!!!!”.

    And I’ve tried faking the enthusiasm, but he can always tell.

    • That … kinda sounds like a lot of pressure. Working up more enthusiasm than you actually feel is emotional labor too. Does he give you a hard time about it?

      • Blue Meeple said:

        I agree, that seems kind of unreasonable.

    • thebewilderness said:

      Does he seriously want to argue about the quality of your uninformed choice that you left up to him because he had the knowledge to make an informed decision? I don’t think so. I suspect he wants ego service and is trying to get it in a very manipulative way. Since you do not have sufficient information to judge the quality of his judgment maybe you can just tell him you trust his judgment.

      • JDubbs said:

        I’ve resorted to that a few times. That does seem to work.

        And the ego service is definitely part of it. His dad is the kind that needs to be thanked for barbecuing a steak when the rest of us made the other 80% of dinner. So it’s something I’m slowly getting rid of in him. And to be fair, he is working his way out of it.

        But most of the time, I’m just the option finder and decider, which is less exhaustive mentally at this point.

  46. skamp said:

    Another strategy that an equally people-pleasing friend and I used to pick out restaurants: one of us would suggest maybe 5 options they would be happy with (or 3, or whatever felt right in the situation), the second person would narrow that list down to 2 they would be happy with, and the first person picked the one. That way we each had a hand in the decision, and we each knew that the other person would be happy with the final choice!

  47. theSingingLibrian said:

    My ex used to drive me MAD with not making decisions. The thing is, he did have opinions, just wanted me to guess them. So I would say “what do you feel like for dinner” and he would say “I don’t mind” and so I would say “great! How about sushi?” “no, not sushi” “ohh…. Pizza?” “no, not pizza”…… “So what then?” “I don’t mind” aaaaaaagggggghhhhhh!!!

    I’m really conscious of it now, and I make sure never to do that to my current beau. So if there is something I really don’t have an opinion about, I will usually say “I vote sushi, but I’m not fussed either way if you would prefer pizza”

    • chi type said:

      My husband is like this.
      “What do you want to eat?”
      “Oh whatever, I’m not picky.”
      “Ummm…you have like a two page single spaced list of foods you consider gross.”

      • Tapetum said:

        Oh God, this. My husband will say “Oh, whatever.” to a request for what he might be interested in for dinner – but then when push comes to shove, it’s “No, that’s got tomatoes – you know they give me heartburn.” “Oh, ugh. No I can’t face any sort of beef tonight.” and so on, and so forth. Drives me spare, because he’s basically asking me to come up with a list of options that he can shoot down one by one without having to come up with any on his own.

        To be fair to him, he has some serious taste and appetite issues due to cancer treatment, but I have similar issues to LW. My mother was an undiagnosed high-functioning schizophrenic, who would never make a decision – but you had to choose what she secretly wanted, or all hell would break loose. So I got very, very good at sussing out the tiniest of cues to work out Mom’s actual preference, so I could choose that. Which means that the little playlet above, that my husband has started doing to me several times a week is something close to a lifelong nightmare. And I don’t really know how to get him to do something else. It seems wrong to ask him to chip in for more emotional labor when he’s feeling like crap, but it really is hard on me.

        • You are not alone. After an abusive upbringing in which I lived with a mother who expressed her wants either by screamed demands or oblique hints and who was REALLY inflexible and controlling around food, I really struggle with my husband’s apathy about what to eat. I do most of the cooking for various reasons but whenever I ask him what he wants on this week’s menu or for tonight’s dinner he always says he doesn’t know or hasn’t thought about it (I have tried asking him to think about it and have an answer ready by X time but it hasn’t worked). Thing is, he is very, very picky about food. He doesn’t like casseroles, stews, anything with gravy, most vegetables, pasta with peppers in, certain different things mixed together, anything “stodgy,” lamb, most fish, most ways of cooking potatoes, the list goes on and on. Whereas I have to eat a low fat, low salt diet due to my health issues. The effort it takes to figure out how to meet both our needs is absolutely exhausting. And then he *never* gives me feedback on my cooking unless I ask for it and then it’s almost always a monotone “it’s all right” or “I don’t really like this.” I feel like I have to spend my time guessing what he wants and usually getting it wrong. He nearly always leaves a pile of rejected items at the side of his plate while I quietly sit there thinking about how much i used to love cooking and how much i miss shepherd’s pie.

          This thread and the Captain’s response have been SO useful though.

          • JenniferP said:

            Your husband sounds exactly like a dude who wants to start cooking and meal-planning for himself every day!

          • Funnily enough that’s what I told him a while ago, but things get more complicated when you need to budget jointly but have to factor in the extra costs of shopping separately and using twice as much fuel for cooking and having almost no kitchen storage space and having a small child to cater for also.

            I’m getting to the point of saying fuck it, we’ll make it work that way anyway!

  48. Tattie said:

    My go-to tactic when I don’t have a strong opinion is:

    – Say something positive about option A.
    – Say something positive about option B.
    – Ask “which are you leaning towards right now?” Listen to their thoughts on the matter.
    – If you’re both still undecided, offer an arbitrary choice.

    I feel that this script really does help produce a *joint* decision, which is what the other person is usually after.

    • Cali_T said:

      This is excellent. Simple to follow and sounds very effective.

    • This is a really, really good script.

      I talked a little about austerity thinking above, and coming from a place like the LW does (and I do), it’s so easy to get enmired in “lesser evil” decision making – “is one of these options bad enough that I can’t live with it [when I have a very skewed, damaged, and extreme idea of what I can and cannot live with]? If not, I’m NOT ALLOWED TO CARE.”

      Looking at *both* choices in a positive light, and paying attention to embodied emotional responses to those positive possible outcomes, is so freeing and illuminating.

      It’s not without problematic aspects, but I found the KonMari method really, really useful after many years in poverty and emotional abuse. “Does this object/choice/experience make me *happy*? Does it increase my experience of joy?” was not a question I had a lot of experience asking myself until, maybe, the last five years.

  49. Anne Bonny said:

    Thank you for framing this as “making decisions.” I almost want to do away entirely with the concept of “having opinions.”

    Reading this and rereading the linked thread, it makes me a little annoyed at the “Who cares?” crowd. Because what if, in fact, NO ONE CARES. Your friend is asking “Thai or dim sum?” because THEY don’t care which–but a decision has to be made. To continually say you don’t care is to say, “This decision isn’t worth MY energy, but it’s worth YOURS.” It makes the other person feel like your personal assistant.

    It’s particularly annoying when you’ve gone through the work of narrowing every bookcase in the area down to a mere TWO and the other person refuses to just pick. If you had to buy a bookcase yourself, what would you do? If no one offered you options, where would you eat? Would you simply waste away, dying of starvation surrounded by tragically unshelved books? No, you’d make a decision. If you’d do that for yourself, you can do it for your loved ones.

    • The Blocked Driveway said:

      So, would it be possible to drill down past the “I don’t care” by asking them “What do you like best about Bookcase A?” “What are Bookcase B’s strongest points? Is there something, like, fitting it into the car, that we haven’t taken into consideration but should-?”

      I was also married to an “I don’t care” for some years and, as has been pointed out, their lethargy was the result of severe abuse. Meanwhile, I was bossy and gave everything two seconds before sighing heavily and picking. Not my finest moments.

  50. Cali_T said:

    I’ve been on both sides of this. When I was younger (for somewhat similar reasons) I had a hard time making decisions, and then eventually I found myself in a relationship where I was very much the leader and he wanted to just go along with whatever I chose. I think this advice is spot on and the emotional labor thing is probably at play here. Your BF has already put in a bunch of work in narrowing things down to two choices for you, and just saying “I don’t care” has the unintended effect of seeming uncaring and ungrateful. But you express gratitude so eloquently in your letter! Do you say these things to your BF? Affirming to him regularly that you are just so grateful for him and your life now and the food on the table, that you don’t care what specific thing you’re eating tonight, could help offset his frustration. I also have a couple other theories of why there could be a frustrating emotional undercurrent (not saying this is what’s actually happening on your end, but it could feel that way to him). (1) If you always seem like you don’t have any preferences and really don’t care what happens, he could worry that you didn’t care about choosing him over any other partner you could end up with. Sharing opinions and passions in certain areas can help him see that you were intentional in choosing him. (2) It can feel like you’re scared to make the wrong decision or are prioritizing making him happy over what you would want. This type of tentativeness can feel to your partner like being put on a pedestal, which is not super fun when you want an equal partnership.

    I think slowly starting to exercise the muscle of making decisions and knowing that whatever you say is okay is a great approach. I also think that if you haven’t yet had a conversation with him about why you don’t make decisions, that would be a good first step.

  51. And even deciding what to eat at every meal gets old…
    Decision making is hard, especially dinner…

    This came up again so I’m rephrasing for you:

    And sometimes exercising the brain the same way day in and day out without relief can cause mental charlie horse, and it actually hurts to do it again until the brain has a break to rest.

    Mental weigh-lifting is as exhausting as the physical sort, even if you can’t see it happening.

  52. johann7 said:

    Decision-making is mental/emotional labor, and having to do all of it does get draining after a while. I find myself on both sides of this concerning different issues – I’m going to be the one pulling teeth for input on dinner or vacation activities, but I don’t have strong positive preferences about the couch pattern or counter top color.

    It sounds like the boyfriend is already using one of my common strategies for trying to get some decision-making engagement from an indecisive person: pare all of the options down to two. I very much agree with the Captain that he’s good with either choice and he’s probably looking for signs of emotional investment in your relationship via decisions that impact both of you (even in small ways), and her scripts on that count are great suggestions (asking about related concerns like matching furniture with the bookcase demonstrates that emotional investment). However, this is also something I do when I’m on the other side of the divide, and you can put this strategy to work for you, LW. It’s an especially good strategy when I don’t have strong positive opinions, but I do have negative opinions, and I suspect this is sometimes the case for you, too, LW, since you say, “As long as it’s not something I actively dislike, I don’t care what I’m shoving in my face.” In those cases, you can demonstrate the investment and do soem of the emotional labor by being the one to present two or three choices that you don’t actively dislike and asking your boyfriend to choose. This is going to work better for things like dinner as opposed to bookcases, where you already know his tastes to some degree (unless he has a very strong, consistent sense of style for furniture and you know what that is) and can pick options that are likely to appeal to him.

    If you’re asked to make a choice and you’re worried about lying, you don’t have phrase your choice as a preference. The Captain’s “Let’s get pizza tonight!” is a good example: it’s suggestion, not a statement of relative preference.

    It sounds more like your issue is with conflict over your lack of preference in some cases or the way you express that than with you being able to express opinions when you do have them, but in case there is an element of the latter, you can also use the present-a-limited-set-of-choices strategy to practice expressing negative opinions when you do have those (since you note that you do have them sometimes, as with the example above): “I’d rather not pick this option or this option, but I’d be happy with any of these three options!” That’s also a good way to avoid the most aggravating pattern that can sometimes result for someone in your boyfriend’s position, which is when the other person only has negative opinions but won’t express them, perhaps for fear of seeming too negative, and can result in a cycle where the person who “doesn’t care” proceeds to shoot down every suggestion the other person makes despite supposedly having no opinion. I’m not saying that you do this, but in case you do, I promise that negating your disfavored choices right at the beginning and then following with a set of agreeable options is going to be preferable to the alternative in most cases.

    Good luck!

  53. clorinda said:

    You can practice this. Really, it’s a skill you can learn, and you probably do it quite often already when you’re on your own. When you’re hungry, do you stand between two restaurants and dither? Obviously not. You pick one, you get a menu, you choose something. When you turn the radio on in your car, you choose a channel, or you choose to leave it where it is (which is also a choice). You get dressed every day.
    It’s MUCH harder to do this in front of someone else, especially after that kind of childhood; it might feel like if you choose wrong, you could actually die. Or you could lose your boyfriend’s love. It feels truly dangerous. I get it; I’ve been there.
    So, practice! Go grocery shopping by yourself and bring home a quart of ice cream in whatever flavor you want. Take baby steps. Your opinion is worthy of respect, by yourself first and then by the people around you.

  54. mercury said:

    You can also phrase choices as “pizza, we can get spaghetti next time/tomorrow” for dinner choices. Otherwise when you are relaxed try to observe what catches your eye and list it somewhere. Even if you don’t need it right away, you will know your preference is for something similar when the time comes.

  55. Lizzie said:

    LW, there’s a ton of great advice from the captain and in the comments; all the things I was planning to say while reading your letter have been said already. But I realized reading all those comments that I should remind you of one more thing:

    This is a normal problem. It comes up for most people in most relationships. I bet your background makes you wonder, for every relationship problem that you hit, “is this happening because I am broken somehow, from going through all that?” This time at least, the answer is a resounding “no!” 🙂

  56. Bunny said:

    Speaking from the other side of things, all of the Captain’s advice is awesome. I can also suggest some ways you could ask your partner to make it easier for you to get involved in decision-making.

    The WareHouseSpouse cannot cook. Was not taught. I’m talking, is actually unsafe in the kitchen levels of cannot cook, although he is eager to learn when we have a kitchen that is not 5ft square and that has more than 1 square foot of actual food prep surface. Part and parcel of that is, for years he was so ingrained in the habit of being *grateful to have food* and *grateful to have someone willing to cook for him* that he struggled to form opinions on what he wants to eat.

    I’ve found that narrowing the options, or re-framing my questions, has helped a lot. “What do you want for dinner” is a tricky one for him, because he doesn’t know what meals we necessarily have ingredients for and isn’t familiar with the prep time required for some dishes, ON TOP OF his difficulty in voicing or feeling strong opinions on the matter. But if I say “Would you prefer tacos or curry tonight?” or “Shall I make chicken or pork stir fry?” or “I’m in the mood to make a big Winter soup and some home-made sourdough, but I’d need to start it today to serve tomorrow – are you okay with soup for dinner tomorrow?” then he’s generally able to offer an opinion.

    Often, when I’ve been working on a decision about something, I’ve put a *lot* of effort into it and have pros and cons weighed up for both options. A decision needs to be made, so the work needs to happen, but I might not feel totally confident about picking between the final choices I’ve narrowed things down to. Where non-food related decisions are concerned, WareHouseSpouse has encouraged me to vocalise *how* and *why* I’m trying to decide between things, as it helps him come up with opinions of his own when he can see the pros and cons laid out in front of him. Or even, sometimes, he won’t have an opinion but will help share the decision-making labour by just *having a conversation about it*.

    “I’m not sure if I’d prefer the leather sofa or the fabric one.”

    “I don’t care, pick either.” is not helpful and leaves me doing all the work. Whereas

    “What do you like about the leather one?” “Is the fabric one a better price?” “What problems might we get with the leather one?” “Are these two options definitely the final ones, or was there a third option you liked but decided against?” “it sounds like you’re trying to choose between a cheaper thing you don’t like all that much and a more expensive one you aren’t sure you can justify buying” is extremely helpful and feels like sharing the work.

    • Chessie said:

      Yes! I love this advice so much! Evaluating the pros and cons of each option feels very much like sharing the work, to me. Yay!

  57. Sparky said:

    Sometimes it isn’t just a matter of choosing, but of someone offering other input.

    Will the cat get on top of the shelves and scratch them? Maybe lighter wood is better. Does one book case fit better in the car, if you’re driving it home? Do you move often, an easier to move book case makes more sense. Does it go in a dark corner? Maybe the lighter one is better. It helps to have someone else point out things I hadn’t considered, not just agree with or veto my choices.

    Good luck to you, letter writer, and enjoy whichever book case you and your boyfriend get to arrange and fill up together.

  58. Rhoda said:

    It’s possible that your boyfriend feels pressure to make all the decisions and wants that taken out of his hands from time to time. I know that when I’m tired at the end of a long day and my beloved asks “What should we have for dinner?”, it feels like one more tedious chore to make a decision. So, in the case of something like a book case, look around the room it’s going to go in, make a mental inventory of what other furniture is there, and say something like “Well, the light one goes better with your desk”, or “The dark one matches the television stand”. He doesn’t have to agree, but it shows willingness to do some of the work of making decisions.

    • Chessie said:

      Yes! Or if you’re feeling torn between two choices, say that and explain what you like/dislike about each option. “I like that the light wood one matches the other furniture in your flat, but it’s small and can’t hold your enormous trove of cookbooks. If you get the darker one it will be able to hold everything but it won’t match up with your other furniture.” Knowing that you’ve thought about the options can make it feel less like you’re just abdicating.

  59. I can relate to this, LW. In my case, my upbringing taught me that if I cared too obviously about something, my narcissist parent would go out of her way to ruin it for me. Each time I forgot this lesson, she’d do it again. Or if I counted on a promise she’d made, she’d break it right after I got too invested in things to back out, and was really counting on her following through and keeping her word. This trained me not to demonstrate openly what my preferences were, because to say “My favorite color is blue and I loathe pink” meant you’d be ‘surprised’ by an pink, orange and lime green bedroom replacing your perfectly fine white and blue one, and expected to act happy and grateful for it. If you say you’re planning to go somewhere with a friend, and save up for months on end to afford it, you will be told you can’t go the night before, preferably after you have packed your bags and verified your plans again with your friend on the phone. If you cry for six months while traumatized after getting your long hair cropped into a pixie cut, and grow your hair out for years until you are happy with its length, you will be pressured to get your hair done right before your senior portrait and the hairdresser will collude with your N-mom to cut it up above your shoulders in an unflattering triangular wedge, and your N-mom will hang ONLY the pixie cut portrait and the wedge bob senior portrait in her house, despite both photos making you feel ugly and reminding you of being bullied into haircuts you hated and looked terrible with. And so on.

    I learned not to express strong opinions about things, or to share plans, because my opinions would be used as weapons against me. If I liked something, it would mysteriously vanish, e.g., get “accidentally” thrown out or given away to someone else’s kids. If I made plans, or had a test to study for, or a project to complete, suddenly my N-mom would find excuses to fear-monger about my plans or come down with a strangely conveniently-timed vague illness and demand I stay up all night so if she called, I could be right there (rather than her calling 911).

    As an adult, this tendency to go along to get along and not express strong opinions led to two not-good things: Bully-type friends who liked someone they could interrupt and boss around, and boyfriends who liked me a lot were frustrated and increasingly dissatisfied that I didn’t introduce them to many new things or fight to defend my beliefs, because I shared most of their existing interests (or seemed to, because I was agreeable) and was used to having to keep my beliefs rather quiet and private (and I was even happy to do that).

    When I started speaking up for myself and expressing opinions (something I started doing around people who encouraged me), I didn’t start with my N-mom! I chose friends and it still felt like I was choking out this big, invisible lump in my throat. Gradually it got easier. It will get easier for you, too. In the meantime, there are lots of good suggestions / ideas upthread!

    • thebewilderness said:

      It is incredibly distressing for children to deal with adults who do these things. Whatever I wanted I was sure not to get no matter how small or easy to acquire. However, I had to be very careful how I said yes when they asked if I liked something because it was likely to be the gift I received.

    • Rhoda said:

      Wow, your mother doesn’t just sound narcissistic, she sounds sadistic and sociopathic. I’m so sorry you had to go through that.

      • It feels like there’s overlap sometimes, but at the risk of defending my emotional abuser, I don’t think there was malicious intent so much as seeing me as an extension of herself to the point where OF COURSE I’d like my hair short, because SHE looked cute with short hair growing up (no matter what I said I wanted my hair to look like) and OF COURSE I’d like a pink bedroom, what girl wouldn’t (no matter what I said I wanted my bedroom to look like). I suspect she was baffled on a regular basis because I was not a clone of her and had differing opinions and preferences (how could that be?) and not agreeing with her opinions and preferences, particularly as I got older, seemed to her like I was saying her opinions and preferences were less good than my own (and narcissists don’t like criticism, even if none has been offered overtly).

        • Clarry said:

          Britpoptarts–Assuming that you’d like pink because she liked pink does sound like classic boundaryless cluelessness, but waiting until your bags are packed for a trip you’ve been looking forward to for months before forbidding you to go sounds like something more mean-spirited. Throwing away beloved possessions, using your opinions as weapons against you, getting ill as a means of spoiling your plans, there’s something more horrible going on there. From here I can’t say if there was malicious intent or not, but I can say that I am so glad you are away from her awful influence.

          • According to a friend of mine who has a narcissistic mother, that kind of thing is not unusual. Wanting to do or have anything other than what her mother chose for her always got shut down, because it was a sign she was a separate person rather than an extension of her mother. As my friend puts it: if you saw your hand moving of its own accord, you’s slap it down, right? Because that would be aberrant and scary and you’d need to make it stop. Having your own tastes and plans is inherently threatening to someone with a damaged ability to distinguish self and other. I don’t think her mother was even consciously trying to hurt her, though of course she did; she genuinely thought that thwarting my friend’s actual tastes and personality was how you raise a kid. (Her own childhood was even worse.)

            Partly, I’m just saying that I think Britpoptarts knows their own mother best. And ‘You want X? Y it is,’ is not aypical behaviour for a narcissist at all.

          • I’m not 100% away from her, but she’s been giving me the silent treatment since March and I’ve never been happier. Recently reached out to her to ask if she’d like me to take her out on her birthday (yesterday) and she wanted to “talk about our relationship first.” Initially I said “if that’s what you want” but I have since had second thoughts, so I just dropped off her present in her condo while she was out and, at least right now, I have no plans to have that talk. I can’t see any benefit in it for me, but I can see a whole lot of potential harm and hurt.

        • Rhoda said:

          Okay, I get that. I had pink stuff forced on me throughout my young childhood. My mother was also baffled and annoyed that I wasn’t what she had in mind for a daughter. I was supposed to be a delicate, quiet, obedient little doll who just sat there playing with girly toys until she was ready to interact. I was supposed to have curly hair and not be the active, tall, athletic girl that she actually ended up with, the girl who preferred blue to pink.

  60. I tend to be somewhat like the LW (but not as extreme). I am autistic, so I have to guess at what is socially appropriate, since I can’t pick up social cues like normal people can. I somehow picked up the idea that most people like it better when other people, particularly women, agree with them. I have actually lied to people to pretend that I agree with them. Of course, my body language gave me away every time. Awkward conversations about my needing to be more assertive/increase my self-esteem followed.

    • Chessie said:

      This sounds like it was probably very annoying for you, and I’m so sorry that you’ve had to put up with that. Jedi hugs if you want them, slow blink of cat-friendship if not.

      • Thank you, Chessie! Hugs and cat-friendship accepted!

  61. I also had literally no idea until today that always leaving decisions up to others is literally making them do more work! Thanks for this thread!

    • This was a hard concept for me to learn, too. I’m not autistic, but I am super socially awkward / introverted and some social rules clearly flew right over my head. 😀

      I was thinking “based on what I learned as a child, people apparently like power, so who wouldn’t be happier to have the power of choice most if not all of the time?” but people who aren’t dictators or control freaks (or narcissists) actually prefer to share the burden of the work that is making decisions and choices, because they actually value your point of view and opinion about stuff and aren’t upset or punitive if your POV or opinion is different from theirs. Lightbulb moment!

      • Thanks to two controlling religions, I learned that it was not polite to disagree with others. (Only one of said religions was fundagelical. The other was a cult.) I am still surprised when I find out that it is OK to disagree with anyone.

  62. Emdashing said:

    Oh, LW, I could be your boyfriend, only I’m not nearly as patient as it sounds like he is. I spent most of my 20s trying to learn and internalize the idea that not having an opinion about dinner was not always a signal of a lack of caring in general, and I’ve mostly done it, but it still does hurt in relationships–both romantic and friendship–on occasion. I am loathe to mention “The 5 Love Languages” because I have never actually read it (perhaps others can comment?), but I believe the gist of the idea is that people express caring in different ways and sometimes things get lost in translation. When I come up with 2 suggestions for dinner chances are I have researched them and spent some time thinking about them both. When the person or people I offer my two carefully chosen selections to throws up their hands and says “who cares, nourishment is nourishment,” I feel insulted and belittled. Why did I spend effort and time on you if you not only do not appreciate it but cannot be bothered to take on some of the work of choosing?

    At their worst, moments like this can make this introvert decide to take her ball and go home. I’d rather eat by myself than deal with the special bitterness that comes from having not only done extra emotional labor but also having had that labor be unappreciated. I have tried to learn not to interpret those responses as purposefully callous, but the Captain’s reframing suggestions are excellent. How much better it is to hear “gosh, those both sound amazing, you choose,” than “doesn’t matter.”

    Food is, I think, a special category, since it means love and caring to so many people. But the other daily decisions your BF is asking for help with can be viewed as moments when he is trying to engage with you as his partner. Imagine how your day would go if he didn’t help you make some of these decisions? What would you eat? When? Would you have a bookcase at all? You don’t need to have an opinion all or even most of the time, but appreciate that you have someone willing to hear your input when you have it and willing to come up with a plan when you don’t.

    As an irredeemable opinion-haver, I do try to make sure I don’t bulldoze everyone all of the time, but if I get trapped in one of those never ending “What should we watch/eat/do?” loops for more than five minutes, I do start to get frustrated. I’ve developed the habit of saying that–as nicely as possible–to friends and family. My scripts go something like this “My primary desire is for us to reach a decision and no one seems to have a strong opinion. Would it helped if I narrowed it down to two? Or would you object if I chose?” This tactic is better for groups than one on one and does not address your boyfriend’s frustration with always having to choose (I do not make this offer when I am not up to choosing), but it has a way of weeding out the passive-aggressive non-choosers from the truly flexible.

    As a final optimistic note, opinion-havers and opinion-have-nots can live in harmony. I am not sure I’ve ever felt more appreciated and understood than when my aunt and cousin called me while they were on vacation and said “We’re both being indecisive. Can you choose a restaurant for us?” I wasn’t even there but they trusted me to weigh their food preferences and do a little research and give them an answer they’d be happy with. I felt honored by their trust and they appreciated being able to have a glass of wine in peace while I read yelp reviews from afar. 🙂

  63. Spicy Spice said:

    LW here, first time commenting. Just wanted to say a million thank yous to CA and the whole comment team. It never occurred to me that I’m making him do all the work and I imagine he’s super tired of it. I owe him a huge thank you! And you guys rock. And roll! A ton of the stuff you said resonates with me, like “what if I pick wrong and then he’s mad/upset/hurt/disappointed.” And flipping a coin may become my go-to food decision matrix. Keep on keeping on, and I’ll do the same 🙂

    • I think you are totally awesome for asking this question in the first place, because it shows how much you care, and then taking on board what everyone says because this is one of the best comment threads I’ve seen on here for a long time. Thanks for starting it!

    • JenniferP said:

      Glad we could help! ❤

    • Chessie said:

      I love the coin flip idea. And I especially love the idea of flipping a coin by yourself and then sitting with that decision for a quick minute, to see if any buyer’s regret kicks in. If not, stick with what the coin said! But if so, hey, how interesting to discover that you maybe had an opinion deep down, however slight. (I say this as someone who frequently finds out after the fact that they had a slight preference they were ignoring, and who will be using the coin flip method in future.)

      • No Longer In Academia said:

        The way I do it is to flip the coin and then – without looking at the result – see if I find myself hoping for one side over the other.

  64. Friendly Hipposcriff said:

    In our household, ‘any’ is a popular choice. We drink a lot of tea, for instance, and sometimes this is ‘I’m going to make tea. Cherry?’ and at other times it’s ‘any preferences’ which gets answered either with ‘Mango’ or ‘An anyTea, please’. Asking specifically for an anyTea (or an anyMeal etc) feels more thoughtful than ‘I don’t care’ – we’ve given it thought, we just don’t have preferences at the moment.

    My other trick is to lighten my cognitive load by using pre-made decisions. If I don’t know whether I’ll drink the whole pot of tea, I’lll use a cheap staple, usually [tea I like best of the ones I can easily replace]. If I don’t know what to make for dinner, I pick the first thing from a random freezer drawer that isn’t similar to yesterday’s meal. If I’m exhausted, I suggest sausages.

    In your case, you might decide that you like pizza better than Chinese, or that you’ll go to a familiar takeaway when you’re tired and try out something new when you have spoons; and you can discuss together what colour scheme you would prefer for your living room: once you’ve decided on ‘blues and light wood’ an awful lot of other decisions – wallpaper, rugs, sofa, bookcases – will just fall into place.

    Decisions are exhausting. My life improved a lot when I looked at how many of them I made in a day, and made category decisions: ‘X type repair takes too many spoons, I will replace such items’ (e.g., I don’t darn my socks, I buy new ones.) You seem to be coming from the opposite end of the spectrum from me – for me, every decision matters too much – but maybe the same strategy will work for you so that you _have_ an opinion even when you don’t care.

  65. kdorian said:

    One thing I haven’t seen mentioned in letting one partner make all the decisions is the possibility of what I think of as ‘decision debt’. It goes something like this:

    Partner A: Do you like #1 or #2?
    Partner B: Either one is fine!
    Partner A: Let’s go with #2, then.

    Partner A: We’ve got choices from A through L, what’s your preference?
    Partner B: It doesn’t matter, they all look good to me.
    Partner A: OK, then I’ll pick up J.

    (40 decisions later)

    Partner B: Hey, that thing over there is kind of cute. (Thinking: Yay, I finally made a decision, Partner A should be happy! And we got something sort of kind of cute, go me!)
    Partner A: Great, we’ll pick it up right now! (Thinking: Oh YECH! But how can I refuse when I’ve gotten everything I wanted so far? I’ve been asking B to make a decision, I can’t say no the first time B finally decides on something! So where can I stick this hideous monstrosity where I won’t see it and be tempted to vomit every time I walk by?)

    It’s easy to end up with the Partner B ending up with veto-proof decisions just because Partner A doesn’t want to come across as a tyrant (or risk discouraging future decisions by Partner B). This, in turn, can lead to resentment from Partner A, or both Partners if Partner A starts to push back against Partner B decisions they can’t or are unwilling to live with..

  66. Chessie said:

    Hi LW! I had a ridiculously stressful relationship recently in which my partner was really really not into expressing their preferences explicitly, and where every question was a weird trap and I would only find out later that they had wanted the LIGHT wood, dammit. And I noticed that over time, on a very low level, I began to have trouble figuring out what I wanted when I didn’t know how my partner was feeling regarding a joint decision. I felt like my partner was keeping their opinions and preferences secret from me, and I began to get super awkward. I simply couldn’t decide whether or not I wanted to eat Thai food when there was a chance that they secretly really wanted or secretly really did not want the Thai food, but hadn’t voiced that. I am no longer in this relationship (yay), but I noticed a few weeks ago that I’m still having trouble checking in with myself about what I want, when that question is put to me by someone I have a close relationship with.

    Here’s a strategy that’s been working for me: when someone I care about says to me “What do you want to eat? Do you want Thai or Cuban food?” and I realize that I’m not sure how I’m feeling, I pause for a second. And I do a weird thing where I depersonalize the question. I ask myself why — hypothetically speaking — a person in my position (not necessarily me, just any old person in my same situation) might feel inclined to want or not want Thai food. I ask myself why a person in my position might be inclined to want or not want Cuban food.

    Oddly enough, sometimes when I ask myself what * I * want, the answer is “I don’t know and it’s not important anyway, just pick whatever you want and I’ll be fine with that.” It’s like it’s more work for me to navigate the small awkwardness of expressing a slight preference than it is to just say that I don’t care, especially when my preference is slight. But when I ask myself why a hypothetical person-in-my-place might have one opinion? Or, why might they have this other opinion instead?, that yields answers like “well I just had Cuban food last night so I’m not really feeling doing that again” or “I’m really in the mood for beans, not tofu.” It’s amazing how much opinion bubbles up to the surface when I pretend, just for a moment, that it’s someone else being asked.

    I have no idea whether this will help, but it’s been a useful thought experiment for me to run on a number of occasions. Good luck!

  67. Fiona the Lurker said:

    I’m married to someone who doesn’t much like to make decisions, although I’ve never quite got to the root of why; in some cases it is genuinely because he doesn’t have an opinion – particularly when it comes to food, because alas he is absolutely unable to taste anything! Sometimes I get mad at him about this because it really *does* feel like he’s making me do all the hard work, but I’ve gradually learned that unless a thing is (a) dangerous (b) stupidly expensive or (c) just not convenient he’ll probably give me the final say. When it comes to home decoration/furnishings in particular he thinks I’m awesome and can do no wrong, so he’s more than happy to defer to me about those. I do find it helps to narrow down the decision to two or maybe three choices and then discuss them with him, and from time to time I just say “I really don’t know which of these to choose, what do you think?” because I hate the idea that he might ever feel he isn’t being consulted. The way our budgeting works we’re rarely able to make snap decisions about big items anyway, so we do tend to discuss it in some detail before we commit to paying for anything that costs more than – say – the equivalent of a day’s pay.

  68. avid reader said:

    Just tossing it out there, but after having gone through a handful of abusive relationships and finally recovering, I’m in a similar situation. It was always someone else’s decision on what to do, and I had to just pretzel myself into being what they wanted to get by in the relationships. As such, unless it’s something that actually matters to me I have no preference. Though I’ve been through therapy and working on myself, it’s taken a while to get this back to usual, and with a healthy partner now it’s difficult to realize I don’t have to bend to someone else. My new partner and I often find ourselves in the “you pick, i don’t mind either way” back and forth at one another, and once it’s established that neither of us have a strong preference.. we do a coin flip. Works every time 🙂

  69. thetigerhasspoken said:

    As someone who feels like they are perennially in the BFs shoes – YES TO THE EMOTIONAL LABOR!! It is so. incredibly, draining. to be the one who makes all the decisions. Who does all the research. Who pays attention. Who finds our options. And who spearheads every Thing that gets done.

    I ended a friendship with a kind and supportive person because she refused to ever have any input on anything we did. I had to make all the plans from date, time, place, activity, length, etc. I talked to her about this three times and explained how exhausting this is for me and how much I hate making decisions. She just shrugged and nothing changed. Add that to a partner who claimed that I was “anal retentive” and “picky” and that’s why I had to make all the decisions but he was really just gaslighting me to get out of *any* responsibility ever . . . and I am awfully salty about hearing “I don’t care!” as all I hear is “you deal with it!”

    Though, I had a friend who for each others’ birthdays – we make all their decisions for them as their “present.” So for her birthday we went out to a restaurant I know she likes and I ordered all of our drinks and food (double checked with her to make sure she was cool with the order). It’s one of the best presents ever.

  70. I’m kinda terrible at making decisions too. There’s a bunch of good stuff in the Captain’s response and in the comments.

    I think of decision making as a two step process:
    1. Cull the options to 3-5 acceptable choices.
    2. Make a choice from the limited options.

    When I’m in a relationship I usually try to establish up-front I can do the culling the choices to three or I can pick from three options; but, I can’t do both. It’s a great way to set expectations.

    And, I’ve found over time that the practice of having to make choices has helped me to develop opinions about things. Not overly strong ones; but, I know where I’m most likely to go if I’m hungry for pizza.

  71. peridotfaceted said:

    LW, I was a little similar: I had learned that it was not safe to care about things. What changed me was dating a partner who really cared about things: when she liked something, she was delighted, and that made me happy. So I took joy in choosing things that made her happy. (This may be what your BF is hoping for: if he learns what you like he can show his love and understanding by choosing things that make you happy.) But she was paying attention to me and pushed back: from her I learned to notice when things made me happy too, and to choose those. She actually started stopping me every time I tried to avoid saying “I liked” or “I want”, and gradually I learned to recognize in myself when I had a preference.

  72. sometimes poster said:

    LW: I just wanted to say that reading your letter made me so happy — the way you sum up your story, and your progress. I’m almost a year and a half sober and reading this line “and then of course when you’re a giant dope fiend, you’re not spending your money deciding on what couch to buy, or where to go for dinner” of your letter just made me smile. Best to you!

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