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.