#1078: “Sooooooo…what are you doing this weekend?”

Dear Captain,

I have been thinking about this one for some time now, and I’m stuck: What is a good response to “What are you up to tonight / this weekend / next Thursday?”

I loathe this question, and I’ve been getting it a lot lately. I get it from friends (who usually just want to find a time to hang and that’s not so bad), my cousin (who usually wants me to babysit), my mom (whenever she wants to invite me somewhere), and people I’m chatting with on dating websites.

This is why I hate the question:

1. I don’t want to give you a rundown of my plans. They’re private and you don’t need to know them. I kind of resent that you assume I will tell you.

2. I feel like it’s asking me to say yes or no to an invitation / commitment before I even know what it is (like, if you’re having a party I might be free, but my babysitting quota is full for the month so no to that). Ugh.

3. In the case of friends and dates, I feel like sometimes it’s a slightly manipulative way of getting me to do the actual asking / planning. Like, you want to hang out with me, but don’t want to ask me straight up. Why not? Just ask!

4. I don’t understand the point of the question. Usually, the asker will tell me why they asked after I answer, no matter what the answer is (busy, not busy, don’t know). No matter what I say it’s, “okay, well I was just gonna see if you wanted to [actual invitation / request]”.

I usually end up saying something noncommittal like “I might be doing xyz, but I’m not sure yet – why?” and waiting to see what the actual deal is. But I hate this because then I have to pretend to wait while I figure out if my original “plans” are going through before I give them an answer. Or, if I tell a potential date some generic things (oh, probably reading and writing a lot) and add that I’d like to take a break so they know I’m open, I’m engaging in the same coy behavior that’s bothering me in the first place.

It all feels like a gross, stupid game I don’t want to play. I know it’s a common question and I’m sure most people don’t mean anything bad by it. But it puts me on edge every time I hear it. Is it just me? Should I keep doing what I’m doing? Or is there a better way to handle this?

Thanks Captain!

Free for the Good Stuff

Dear Free For The Good Stuff,

The bad news is that this question probably isn’t going anywhere in our lifetime.

The good news is that when you sense an ulterior motive or that an invitation is imminent you can answer “Dunno, I’d have to look at my calendar to say for sure. Are you up to anything good?” 

If the person comes back with an invitation and you’re not enthusiastically sure you want to do whatever it is, delay! Then, actually do check your calendar, check in with yourself if you actually want to do whatever it is, and answer the person when it’s convenient for you. It’s not so much about stopping the question before it comes (pretty much impossible!) as much as it is practicing not giving into pressure to give an explanation of your schedule OR an immediate answer. This is one of those times where being okay with yourself and your own boundaries about this will help you deal with other people in a mannerly-yet-assertive fashion. “I’m okay not giving you your exact expected or hoped for answer. Your turn to tell me what you have in mind!” 

The second part of this is being okay evaluating the specific invitations and turning them down if you don’t want to do them. Like, if you say you have nothing really planned, and you get asked to babysit or on a date, are you actually okay saying “Sorry, can’t this time”? And do you trust the asker not pull a “But you SAID you were free, that means YOU PROMISED!” (for me, someone who puts pressure on/pouts/lays on a guilt trip after I say no to an invitation gets an automatic LOL NOPE FOREVER response. It’s been pretty good policy.) Invitations are not commands.

For scripts, see also:

  • “Dunno. Do you have anything exciting coming up?”
  • “I’m climbing Mt. Laundry Pile. How ’bout you?” 
  • “No idea, I haven’t thought that far ahead!” 
  • What is a week end?” :-p
  • “Man, that sounds great, but I know I’m forgetting something on my calendar. Can I let you know for sure tomorrow?”
  • “Thanks for asking, but I’m looking forward to some unplanned time with no commitments to catch up on hobby/household stuff/creative project this weekend.” 
  • “I will be watching the Olympics with my cat. It’s going to be the best!” 
  • “That sounds really neat, but I have other plans.” 
  • “Oh, no thank you! Another time, perhaps. How’s next Sunday for you?” 
  • “Thanks for asking – I know I said I could do it, but I forgot about another commitment I have that day. Raincheck?” 
  • “I’m babysat out for the month, sorry! Can we have lunch soon, though? I’d love to see you.” 

If you follow through with people you actually want to see (as in, “Can I let you know tomorrow?” = You actually let them know one way or another tomorrow), you aren’t being a jerk by not responding immediately to their questions or invitations, and you don’t owe a full accounting of your time. Try delaying your answer and then see if taking the pressure off yourself to answer the question or commit to stuff helps you feel less annoyed by this question.


351 thoughts on “#1078: “Sooooooo…what are you doing this weekend?”

  1. “I don’t know. What are you doing?”

    “I don’t know. Are you planning something?”

    Question bugs me too, so I figured out some noncommittal answers that hit the tennis ball back into the asker’s court where it belongs. Good luck.

    1. I always do this, too, especially if I get the vibe they want something from me other than just hanging (like baby/pet-sitting). I like babies and pets just fine, but unless the baby is under a year old and sleeps a lot, and you have a super chill pet, I’m not up to the task. I have trouble entertaining myself sometimes, I definitely don’t want to try to entertain babies and pets.

    2. The problem with these is that the aforementioned ‘cousin who wants you to babysit’ may treat your “I don’t know” as “nothing at all, I have zero excuses.” You need to know your audience, but it does work well for the nosy-only requests.

      1. Ze might, but you don’t actually need an excuse to not provide free labor on demand. If you have a faaaaaaaamlyyyyyyyyyyyyyy culture where not providing free labor on demand for family makes you the jerk, lean in to it and accept the mantle of jerk; this frees you from ever needing to try to avoid that label in the future.

    3. I usually just respond with “I have tentative plans with a friend — why do you ask?” Lots of wiggle room there.

  2. If I’m bothered by the question, I usually answer back with “why ?” or “why do you ask ?”. Usually people have to give me a straight answer after that.

    1. “Why do you ask?” is my go-to response as well. It forces the manipulators to cough up some version of their agendas, and galvanizes the friends with vague plans into issuing an actual invitation.

      1. Add me as another one for “Why?” or “Why do you ask?” Because I’ve discovered the people who ask what I’m doing are usually people who want to ask me to do something they know I won’t want to do (usually. Not always).

        Sometimes, answering a question with a question is the best strategy.

        1. I always just say “What do you have in mind?” It hasn’t failed me yet!

          LW, if it makes you feel any better, when many people ask this question, they aren’t doing it to trap you into something (though some are, of course). Mostly they aren’t great at invitations. It takes a bit of confidence to state clearly and categorically what you want and then ask someone else to join in that thing, and not everyone has that degree of confidence. For that matter, even confident people can fall into the “What are you doing Thursday?” trap when they’re trying to sound unassertive.

        2. I like “why do you ask?” as a pre-programmed autoresponse, because it leaves room for them to stay, “just wondering if you have fun plans,” or “making conversation.”

          And it makes people ASK something!

          1. I wanted to stay–you can make “why do you ask?” be a friendly line–and you probably should.

        3. Yeah if I like the person and might be into it I usually friend-flirt with a “depends on why!”. Which is honest at least.
          If I’m 100% sure that I don’t want to do the thing based on the asker I treat this as open license to complain about how busy I am. I’m busy! Are you busy? Is everyone busy? Busy busy busy! I slept for twelve minutes while perching on top of my desk like a bird! I am so devoted to nail care now that it takes me 27 hours to get my tips right! Oh my god I have to go to (thing) which is (plaaaaace). Alternately, I am sleeping the whole weekend.

    2. This, maybe prefaced with “mostly working” or some generic busy thing.
      I’m self employed so I can realistically be working at any time and date.

      1. I’m also self employed and use a similar excuse. Then if someone tries to rope me into something I don’t want to do, I can pull out the old “Sorry, I have a deadline coming up soon / I’m behind schedule so I have to work.”

        Sadly it’s never QUITE a lie, hahaha. But it’s also true I can (usually) reorganize my schedule enough to accommodate plans I want to attend.

    3. Yep, this.

      Sometimes I feel like this is just another “Hi, how are you?” kind of question that can be sort of skipped over. Acquaintances or co-workers get a vague answer, like, {5 words to say I’m in/out of town or am/aren’t super booked}, then, “What are you up to?” because it’s really just small talk.

      When someone is fishing for a date or a maybe-babysitter, though, I turn it right back around on them. My response if I’m up for it is “Looking like a fun one, but did you have something in mind?” If I’m probably not up for it I say “All the things! What about you?”

      Works for me.

      My usual caveat- I am a very private person who others sometimes describe as “off-putting” and I perform the expected feminine social role like an ill-fitting plastic Halloween costume. And I’m totally ok with that.

    4. Throwing another vote in for a friendly “Why?” or “Why, what’s up?” Assuming I like them, I usually say it with a smile or an inviting tone. I feel like my best friend and I do this back and forth a lot, but that’s because we understand there are tiers to plans. If I say “why” and she responds with something easily done another time or only sort of appealing, I’ll judge it against a nice evening of doing nothing and maybe pass. But if her idea is super cool or needs to be done on a certain date, I’ll absolutely shelve my TV watching for another night!

      Basically, I don’t think people are trying to be manipulative and I do think you’re overthinking this, OP. If you want to push them to just say why they want to know, ask. But then again, I’m always the person who answers strangers who say “Are you X person” with “Who wants to know?”

  3. I think there’s some ask culture vs. guess culture stuff in here too? That might be some of what LW is sensing in terms of “it seems like you want to ask me but you’re afraid:” maybe for them, saying “I would like to do X this weekend, can you come?” is an invitation THEY would have a hard time refusing even if they didn’t want to do it. So that golden rule requires a bit of pre-invitation sounding-out.

    1. Yes, this is what I was thinking.

      Culture or not, I’m very sympathetic to people who have a hard time saying “no,” since that used to be me. I think my own culture is more ask-y, but I had a pretty pushover personality and often felt, well, pushed around by the people around me. They were being blunt and probably didn’t realize the pressure I felt to say yes to direct requests, and didn’t understand why I felt hurt when, upon working up the courage to ask for something directly, it was turned down.

      I’m much better at saying “no” now, and I realize that in most situations saying no is a perfectly socially acceptable answer. I don’t worry when people say no to me either.

      But when asking, I still tend to ask in layers so the other person has many outs to either say no or express no. Sometimes I might even say, “it’s okay if you don’t want to, it’s not urgent, but I was wondering if you could possibly help babysit Saturday? It’d be a big help, but if not I could find someone else.” Which is a lot of caveats!

      But if I don’t, I have that empathy worry, like what if they only said yes because they felt like they couldn’t say no? How can I ask in a way that minimizes that feeling?

      So the question layers, starting with “are you free Saturday?” Are a strategy I’ve used to hopefully take the pressure off other people.

      1. Are you me? I also feel compelled to give easy ways out when I feel like I’m making a request, including ending requests with “…and ‘no’ is a perfectly acceptable answer.”

      2. So the question layers, starting with “are you free Saturday?” Are a strategy I’ve used to hopefully take the pressure off other people.

        Thanks for articulating this so clearly.

        Even though I’ve done the layering myself, I don’t usually hear it as an attempt to give me all possible puts. Indeed, I often hear it as an attempt to “trap” me into doing something.

        How odd to be on both sides of this! I shall think on why.

        1. I also see “are you free Saturday?” or “What are you doing tonight?” as potential “traps” and in part it’s because in college the manager of the dining hall I worked at would call, start with “What are you doing tonight?” and then argue that whatever I said was less important than covering a shift for someone. So, sometimes it is a trap!

          But I think it tracks beyond that particular experience. To me layering (which I definitely do) is more about putting my information out there first and hinting that I’ll be chill if you say no, as opposed to initiating the conversation while asking the other person to show their cards first, which feels at the least unfair, and at the most, as you say, like a trap. I think this is a lot clearer in other contexts.

          Bad examples:

          “What are you doing for dinner?”
          “Can you do me a favor?”
          “Do you like, like me?”
          “Open your mouth and close your eyes and…hold on, it got away.”

          Hopefully improved examples:

          (1) “Want to have dinner sometime? I’m usually free Wednesdays and Thursdays, or I could do a weekend if we plan ahead.”

          Translation: “I want to have dinner with you sometime. Here are some days you can disappointedly shake your head at and postpone the event until some hazy future date when a Wednesday sees you free. You may also eagerly seize on these options and/or provide some of your own.”

          (2) “Hey, I’m looking for someone to cat-sit while I’m out of town for the next three months. It’s a little involved because Mittens needs daily collagen injections and also she’s doing primal scream therapy. I know it’s a big favor, but obviously I would pay you, and I have cable, high-speed internet, and a chocolate fountain with dark, milk, and bittersweet streams. I can find someone else, so don’t worry if you’d rather not-Mittens likes you, so I thought of you first, but I know at least two people who have been angling for some alone time with the fountain.”

          Translation: “Here are all the ridiculous things I am asking for, and the dubious rewards I can offer in exchange. You’re my first choice, but you are not my last hope.”

          (3) “So, I know this is a little awkward, but recently I’ve realized I like you in a… um… well, in a romantic way, and I would love it if we could maybe go out on a date sometime and see how that goes? If you’d rather not, I would love to immediately pretend this never happened and talk about dinosaurs for the next ten minutes, and then never bring it up again.”
          (this one may not be my wheelhouse… anyway, no translation needed.)

          (4) “I just found a salamander, can I put it in your mouth?”

          1. I think you’re right in general, although I don’t find items 2 and 3 problematic at all. I wouldn’t mind your first either, but that’s because the few people who’d ask me exactly that are close enough for me to answer however I’d like.

          2. I love so hard your example in #3. I will have to remember, the next time I must declare myself to a new prospective partner, to offer up the alternative plan of talking about dinosaurs for the next ten minutes and then never bringing it up again,

    2. I understand the concept, but it seems to me that getting an invitation after revealing that you were nominally free at that time would make refusal even harder, not easier. If the idea is to make refusal easier, I think scripts like “I’m going to this show tomorrow, if you’d like to join me” and “Do you know of anyone who might be able to babysit on Saturday?” would be more effective.

      1. This is how I feel too. My go-to refusal of any invitation is “I have other plans”, and nobody needs to know whether my other plans are a work thing I can’t get out of or a fun evening out or painting my toenails in front of Netflix. But if someone says “what are you doing tomorrow night” and I say “painting my toenails in front of Netflix”, that leaves me without a graceful out.

        1. I should add – it somewhat depends on how well I know the person. I have a group of friends now whom I trust not to give me a hard time about the explicit choice to paint my toenails in front of Netflix instead of going out. If I just say it sounds fun but I’m not up to it, they respect that. Not everyone in my life always has.

          1. Yes, my current circles understand introversion well, even the ones who themselves are extraverts 🙂

      2. I think the idea is that someone who thinks “no” is hard will get the direct request and start cancelling plans, because no one would actually directly ask for babysitting unless this was the most important event of their lives. Or something. So if you say “I’m probably going to that new movie,” they don’t ask and you’re not put on the spot. It’s like they’re trying to help you come up with justifications for saying “no” before they even ask you the question.

        Of course, you might have said that when you know that movie will be out for weeks and you’d absolutely prefer to have an excuse to build a couch cushion fort and have an audience who is actually impressed by your terrible magic tricks, and no one wins.

    3. That’s how I’ve always used it.

      “What are you up to on Saturday?” has often been my go-to when dealing with someone (like my sister) that I *know* will feel pressured to accept whatever I’m suggesting – whether or not she wants to or has the time/energy for it.

      So, when I do this I really am trying to get a feel for whether a busy people-pleaser like my Sis actually has time to do something on Saturday, rather than outright asking from the start – and leading to her twisting herself into a pretzel trying to free up that specific block of time for me because she doesn’t want to say no…

      Reading the LW’s feelings about this situation and the comments, I can totally understand why someone would hate being asked in this way and why it might make it harder for some people to refuse something they don’t want to do after they’ve said they’re free, but I’m still not quite sure what the solution is when dealing with someone who usually *does* seem to treat invitations as subpoenas…

      “Feel free to say no if you’re busy/don’t want to,” usually leads to assurances that she *totally* does want to hang out, Saturday is great, etc. etc.

    4. “What are you doing Saturday?” might be an attempt to be extra polite about making an invitation, but it only works if the person wants to accept, and it’s only necessary if the person is too shy to say no. I don’t know whether you’re being too thoughtful or not thoughtful enough here.

      1. After reading comments, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve over-generalized my preference (anxiety?)in a way that seems to be back firing. Instead of making it easier for people to say no, people find it makes it harder. Opposite of what I want 😦

        I guess the conclusion is, ask more directly up front, and if I know someone has a hard time saying no, make sure I explicitly say, “it’s okay to say no,” or something similar.

        Gah, I still worry though, like Blueberry Pancaaakes said about her sister, what if she cancels plans she needed or would have enjoyed? But, I think the conclusion there is, that’s not on me.

  4. Three takeaways:

    1. I think people use that particular question instead of asking outright so they can feel out whether the person has any plans or our open to hanging out before they ask them to commit to a specific thing. It avoids (in their mind) making the person feel pressured to commit if they don’t actually want to.

    2. I think it can also be a way of getting to know a person, or the kind of small talk that people in some regions feel they HAVE to make if they want to be polite. As in, “What are you doing?” is another way of asking “What are your hobbies?”

    3.If LW does not want to do the babysitting or isn’t available for it on weekends, that should be a separate conversation with those people and maybe set of boundaries to discuss with them.

    1. Yeah, I definitely use this question as way to be polite. A playful “Why, what’s up?” is cool, but I am probably not compatible friends with someone whose response to a polite-small-talk/soft-invite-opening is to demand why I am asking such a ‘nosy’ question. (Seriously? This is about the blandest, most banal small talk question I can think of.)

      All of the Captain’s scripts are great.

      Also, if you want people to drop the polite social conventions and be direct with you…maybe try directly telling them this?

      1. I’m right there with you. I can get behind being annoyed with the sister who’s trying to manipulate her into babysitting, but I think they’re reading a lot into the question when it’s being asked casually. What the letter-writer is doing seems a bit like foreign people not grasping at first that Americans don’t expect “How are you?” to be answered literally.

        In fact this letter reminds me a lot of a lady I knew once who moved to the US from a different english-speaking country and took offense to people asking her where she was from when they heard her accent. To her it was rude. She could NOT grasp that she was experiencing a cultural difference and the question wasn’t going to stop because a) people were genuinely curious and/or wanted to show they were interested in her as a person and b) she was living in a part of the country where small talk was expected and people would consider it rude NOT to ask that question.

        1. I disagree concerning the “Where are you from?” part. It can often be an “explain why you’re a POC” kind of thing in many countries with white majorities, and seen as a whole (it’s a super widespread phenomenon) it shows how far away our societies are from truly accepting themselves are diverse. It’s up there with things like “when are you going back home?” or “how does xy work back home?” and other similar questions asked to people perceived as foreign (mostly for racial reasons). Everyone knows most people mean it well, it’s small talk, etc but these things ARE not nice to be the receiver of. I can tell you out of personal experience that the constant repetition of this makes you feel a lot like you will never be fully accepted as part of the society/community you live in. It makes you feel like whatever you do, you are expected to conform to being othered.

          I know people who mean well don’t like hearing this, but I think that it’s important for people who mean well to also consider how the people they interact with might feel, so I consider this type of information to be useful to anyone who truly wants others to feel welcomed and comfortable.

          1. I’m white and an immigrant in the country where I live. I get the “where are you from?” question all the time. Because I’m white, I fortunately have the privilege of knowing that 9 times out of 10 it’s just genuine curiosity and an attempt at polite small talk (there’s always the 1 that’s still xenophobic, though, like the cashier who blurted out “when are you leaving, then?” or the psychiatrist who refused me medical treatment because “I should be going back to my home country soon anyway”—I’m married and staying here, sorry to disappoint). It can still get extremely wearing through, and I do wish people would think more about when this conversation is appropriate and when I’m maybe not up for answering a litany of questions that literally every stranger asks me (ie when I’m obviously exhausted and struggling with four bags of groceries that I have to cart away on foot).

            I get the friendly sentiment, but it’s not always welcome and people would do well to use more discretion.

          2. My white mom has a very unusual first name (I don’t know of anyone with a name that is even similar, AND it’s spelled with a non-English character) and, 40 years after she moved to the US people still ask her where she’s “from.” I agree with you — based on what she’s told me, it feels very othering, and she resents it.

            She does recognize that it’s a way people make small talk and that it’s not likely to go away any time soon.

          3. The people asking the question are rude and betraying their bigotry.

            It’s 2018. People of just about any accent can turn up just about anywhere and be “from” there.

            I like the fact that at my workplace, anything of that sort gets a polite reminder to all that US citizens come in accents of infinite variety, and it’s rude to imply that people aren’t “from” here in the same way that others are over something like an accent.

          4. My small college town has become a lot more cosmopolitan over my lifetime, and we’ve got enough of an international population now that I’m deeply curious about many of the customers at the store where I work. But I don’t ask them where they’re from, because it’s really none of my business; there are other kinds of small talk to make. If people volunteer that they’re from somewhere far away – whether they have a recognizable accent or not – I might ask what made them choose this tiny place to move to. But more often we talk about their kids or grandkids or the cute hat they’re wearing or the wedding they’re shopping for. I have learned over my decade plus of retail experience that the key to small talk that doesn’t annoy people is to feel out what they seem excited to talk about. Because everybody’s got something.

          5. This one is a bit tricky for me. I understand how it can be othering and I never ask anyone where they’re from first. But the thing is that people who were born in other contries than here (Sweden) ask me where I’m from all the time. I’m from here. I’m white. Not blond but like superwhite.
            1, It feels rude not to ask back.
            2, They ask assuming I’m also from somwhere else, prepared to bond over that and my answer is almost always a small dissapointment and I’m never sure quite what to do with that.

        2. ‘Where are you from’ is often followed by ‘no, where are you REALLY from’ which seeks to establish that you are a foreigner. Even when it’s not meant as a hostile act (merely as an exoticising one – ‘that’s so cool/I used to want to travel there/is it true that people there do x’) being othered never feels welcoming. While having to put up with ‘g’day, mate’ lacks the structural oppression of what’s aimed at POC, it is still annoying. Bear in mind that you may only ask ‘where are you from’ once, but the person with the non-local accent is not unlikely to be asked multiple times a day, every single day for YEARS; and POC may be on the receiving end for their whole lives.

          Are you asking ‘where are you from’ of every person you meet the first time, or only of those whose appearance/accent makes you suspect they are not from your locality?

          1. Yes, this. I’d also add that when you’ve lived in a place for years and are planning to stay, like I am in my husband’s home country, it gets very tiring to have everyone assume you’re just visiting or that you’re an international student and will be gone soon. As I stated above, it can even affect quality of healthcare and employment opportunities. At the very least, it makes you feel like the place you live isn’t really your home—that you’ll never belong or be from there, that you have no claim to it. That’s a very uncomfortable and isolating feeling.

        3. I’m one of those foreigners who are mystified with the use of “How are you?” in the US. I’ve spent some time in California and I never really know how to respond correctly. Where I live, in Sweden, you can ask your family, friends, coworkers etc “How are you?” and the reply would typically be somewhere between “It’s good” and “I’m a litte tired because the baby has a cold, but otherwise things are good”, but never “Kind of bad, my depression is making life really dark right now” (at least not when used as a small-talk question). After answering you always ask the other person in return how they are, and they respond in kind.

          This is OT, but if someone would like to explain how it’s supposed to work in the US, I’d appreciate it. I never know how to respond when service people ask “How are you?” and is seems almost like a variation of just saying “hi”. Am I supposed to answer? Ask back? It always makes me a little uncomfortable, because I’m not used to grocery store cashiers asking me how I am. If an acquaintance asks “How are you?” and I answer and ask back like I do at home, am I way off? What are the usual scripts?

          1. In service encounters 100% formulaic

            “How are you?”
            “Fine, thanks, and you?”
            “Fine, thanks.”

            There are variants but this one is always appropriate in all situations.

            For an acquaintance, depends. My range is from “fine, thanks, and you” to “tired but otherwise good” to … a real answer but nothing too dark or detailed.

          2. Born and raised in the US, and I also think this is a weird question not to answer literally.

            Setting that aside for the moment, it’s apparently *supposed* to go like this:
            Person A: Hi, how are you?
            Person B: Oh, fine, thanks. How are you?
            Person A: I’m fine.
            And then both go on to other things. It’s not an actual request for information, it’s a greeting and acknowledgement of each other’s existence. No useful data is exchanged, it’s just polite social grease to ease people along in their day without ignoring each other (which is definitely read as rude). Grocery store cashiers, random people in the elevator, and taxi drivers don’t want or need more of a response.

            That said, I tend to think the person asked, they can damn well deal with the answer. For grocery store cashiers, I keep the answer short: “Wet,” on a rainy day, or “Need more coffee” — this one particularly for coffee shop baristas, who probably hear it too often. They don’t really need the details, and wouldn’t know what to do with them. For people I know, the answer is closer to what you say is the norm in Sweden — anything from “Having a truly awesome day” to “Need more coffee to counteract the baby waking up an hour before the alarm.” For close friends, I can and have answered with details about what the brain weasels are up to today.

          3. I hear you. Born and bred in southern California, “how are you?” asked of/by a stranger functions, for me, like any scripted greeting, pretty comparable to an “all right” with or without the interrogative in that a detailed (or even particularly honest) response is not expected and in many cases won’t be acknowledged because it won’t be heard (because no one is listening for it). “All right,” “good,” “fine,” “grand” are the normal answers, and then it’s repeated back. My instinct leads me to: answer back in the affirmative (“great”) because Performing Happy is expected of us, thank them for their interest (“thanks”), and repeat the gesture (“yourself?”). Sometimes this takes several rounds before everyone realizes they’ve done their line but missed their cue. Depending on the purpose of the encounter, that might mark the end of the interaction or serve as an agreed-upon signal for one or the other or both parties to end the dance of content-free niceties and get to the point or commence the conducting of shared business. And then when you part somebody accidentally says “love you, too.” That’s how it always happens for me, anyway. 🙂

            “Hi / hello + [thing I want to talk about]” can almost seem too abrupt in that context, particularly among peers. When exercising the advantages of a perceived difference in class or power, however, refraining from using or responding “how are you?” is an old patrician tactic designed to keep the interlocutor in her place.

            When I’ve used it outside of the US and on people who are not Anglophones from birth, it’s often perceived as prying which, in those countries, it is. Stopping people you vaguely know on the street, without a care for what they’re doing or where they’re going, invading their privacy without having asked for and received prior permission for a scheduled social encounter, and then taking up their precious time to interrogate their current mood is, not surprisingly, offputting to some! is how this has been explained to me, and it makes perfect sense.

          4. Also, I’ve had dozens of this same conversation and witnessed hundreds more:

            [person comes up to their friend]
            person: Hey, hiya, ‘r’ya?
            friend: yooooooooo goodyou
            person: cool yep
            friend: yep cool
            friend/person/both: I’m in the worst fucking mood and here’s why

            Nobody ever catches the other out (“you said you were fine!”) because the dance must be done.

          5. I hear you. Born and bred in southern California, “how are you?” asked of/by a stranger functions, for me, like any scripted greeting, pretty comparable to an “all right” with or without the interrogative in that a detailed (or even particularly honest) response is not expected and in many cases won’t be acknowledged because it won’t be heard (because no one is listening for it). “All right,” “good,” “fine,” “grand” are the normal answers, and then it’s repeated back. My instinct leads me to: answer back in the affirmative (“great”) because Performing Happy is expected of us, thank them for their interest (“thanks”), and repeat the gesture (“yourself?”). Sometimes this takes several rounds before everyone realizes they’ve done their line but missed their cue. Depending on the purpose of the encounter, that might mark the end of the interaction or serve as an agreed-upon signal for one or the other or both parties to end the dance of content-free niceties and get to the point or commence the conducting of shared business. And then when you part somebody accidentally says “love you, too.” That’s how it always happens for me, anyway. 🙂

            “Hi / hello + [thing I want to talk about]” can almost seem too abrupt in that context, particularly among peers. When exercising the advantages of a perceived difference in class or power, however, refraining from using or responding “how are you?” is an old patrician tactic designed to keep the interlocutor in her place.

            When I’ve used it outside of the US and on people who are not Anglophones from birth, it’s often perceived as prying which, in those countries, it is. Stopping people you vaguely know on the street, without a care for what they’re doing or where they’re going, invading their privacy without having asked for and received prior permission for a scheduled social encounter, and then taking up their precious time to interrogate their current mood is, not surprisingly, offputting to some! is how this has been explained to me, and it makes perfect sense.

          6. In the UK, most encounters respond with “fine/good/grand, how are you?”

            In formal encounters, respond with “how are you?”

            It’s essentially part of, or an alternative to, hello.

          7. Also, again in the UK, if the person is literally asking, the emphasis will be strongly on “are”. If the emphasis is on “you” it’s just a greeting.

          8. For a cashier: “Great, how are you?” just because they are probably required to ask as part of their job. I chitchat with cashiers so it’s totally fine to say something like, “Ah, gosh, so crazy today I got a flat tire and I’m just grabbing something easy for dinner.” In other words if you have the time and energy to construct a lowkey, mildly entertaining story then go for it, otherwise just stick with “Great, how are you?” and you can let the conversation drop from there.

            For acquaintances, the way you do in Sweden will also work in the US. It’s a little startling to hear something super serious like “life is really dark” so that would be a surprise here as well.

            In conclusion the rules aren’t really all that different. In the UK I think some places greet each other with “all right?” “all right?” and nobody blinks an eye. It’s the same here. It is a question that can be answered or echoed and nobody minds too much.

          9. I always respond to casual/formulaic “how are you” questions with something positive, specific, and widely approachable. Examples include:

            “Good, nice sunny day out there.”
            “Good, looks like the flowers are coming out” (in Spring)
            “Good, the colors on the leaves are amazing” (in Fall)
            “Good, I just saw the cutest squirrel.”

            This breaks the “meaningless exchange of localized variations in air pressure” aspect of the typical greeting, and most people seem to respond favorably to having good things introduced into a conversation.

          10. With strangers (e.g., cashiers) and other people you don’t know personally well (casual acquaintances, colleagues with whom you are not also friends, etc.), it’s pure formula. It doesn’t actually mean ‘how are you?’ in the same way that ‘goodbye’ does not actually mean ‘God be with you.’ What it means is, ‘I acknowledge you, fellow human being.’ In some ways, it’s helpful to think of it not as a phrase but as a pair of words: how-are-you, fine-thanks-and-you.

            With friends and family you can be more honest if you like, but you don’t have to. If the answer is ‘miserable but I don’t want to get into it right now,’ ‘fine-thanks’ still works.

          11. It seems to me to have grown somehow out of “how do you do”, to which the appropriate response was, of course, “how do you do”. How it came to need an actual (although formulaic) response, I’m not sure. What I usually say is, “Not bad, not bad, how ’bout yourself?”

          12. Once in a college class, we had a group of students who had American parents but had grown up in other countries come and talk to us about the experience of having a foot in two cultures. We were asking about things they like or don’t like about America compared to the countries they grew up in. One girl mentioned the “How are you?” and said she’d learned not to answer it truthfully because “people don’t actually care.” All of us Americans responded that, well no, it’s not that we don’t actually care. It’s just that nobody expects a stranger or lesser known acquaintance to actually want to answer the question literally. We assume you won’t want to share all your more detailed baggage or bad news with someone you don’t know very well and we are a little taken aback if you actually do because it indicates that you feel a level of closeness with us that we didn’t necessarily feel with you. More detailed/truthful responses are typically only shared with close friends or family.

            So yeah, I think your Swedish approach is fairly standard for American culture as well. If a stranger or acquaintance says, “How are you?” it’s mostly just meant as a greeting, and you greet them back by saying, “I’m good, thanks” or “Doing alright” or “Oh fine, and you?” Just some standard vague but positive-sounding reply. It’s just a formulaic greeting. For a close friend, you could answer more literally.

          13. It’s funny — I don’t even register the question “How are you?” (I’ve lived equal times on the West and East coasts of the US), but I see a couple of UK commenters upthread and when I lived there I never, ever got used to “You alright?” which, functionally, isn’t that different. It always made me think I looked tired or upset or maybe there was something wrong with my hair, because it’s the sort of thing I would only ask a friend/acquaintance/student if it seemed like they were distressed.

          14. Other commenters have given great scripts. One thing to add – if you’re not in the headspace to ‘perform happy’ (thanks for putting it so well, @Mookie), ‘taking it day by day’ is also a cliched but handy phrase. Spares you from having to say ‘Great’ and feel like you’re lying (which can be uncomfortable even when you *are* aware you’re participating in a defined social ritual), but also averts the worry that if you say things are bad, the asker will pry for more details.

            Also works for the similar ‘How ARE you?’ @Grant Us Eyes mentioned.

        4. I think people are missing the fact that LW is talking about some instances of this running down lines of power and dominance, which is why this is such a problem. Note that LW says when it comes to friend-peer interactions, it’s fine, other than reminding LW of the more problematic interactions.

          On the other hand, there are the problem/dominance-related ones:

          1. LW’s parent. The fact that LW is this bugged about it shows there’s a problem and the parent is being manipulative. HUGE, HUGE, HUGE numbers of parents of adult children pull this exact same rude little stunt, and it’s designed to make the adult child respond to powerful guilt buttons installed by the parent and capitulate to what the parent wants, because the adult child is programmed to believe if they don’t have a good enough “excuse”, they have to go attend on the parent at the time in question. Now most parents don’t really mean anything bad by this (they’re just used to being able to control their child’s time and haven’t stopped to consider that’s a rude way to treat an adult), so responding every time they try this with, “Why, what’s up?” won’t be a problem, followed by, “that won’t work for me” if the invitation isn’t something the adult child wants to do. You know the parent is deliberately being controlling if “that won’t work for me” gets any variation on, “BUT WHYYYYYYYYYYY”.

          2. People hinting around leading up to asking for dates: Pretty much the same deal, only much more dangerous. Most don’t mean to be manipulative, and if that’s not their intention, “Why, what’s up?” won’t bother them in the slightest, nor will never finding out what you actually are doing next Thursday or what you did with that time if you turned them down. However, there are a lot of male people who use this approach on female people because they are trying to be coercive. If you’re female and you answer, and then he decides your time sounds like it should be at his disposal and asks for a date, and you don’t want to go, now you’re stuck in that ugly probabilistic space where various sorts of threats, anger, and violence may be coming at you. LW has a LOT of reason to be bugged by this approach to seeking a date — it carries a hefty implied threat because of what abusive men in our society have built it into en masse.

          3. The cousin wanting a servant. From the sound of it, this is a dynamic already in place where LW faces various sorts of family opprobrium if LW turns down the cousin, and this is what LW is reacting to. Given that the cousin is seeking babysitting, “What are you doing on Thursday,” followed by, “Great, you’re available to babysit for me!” is an incredibly rude and pushy way to go about asking for that favor. Personally, I’d recommend not babysitting at all for six months to allow cousin the time to get used to the idea that LW is not cousin’s handmaiden, then seeing if LW can re-engage with the cousin in a mutually respectful manner.

          All of these situation have the same question in them, but they are not remotely all one situation. The lines of dominance and power are what make this a problem.

          1. All of this.

            A “friend” tricked me into agreeing to babysit her kid once using exactly that “so what are you doing on X day” approach. I actually liked her kid, and if she’d just said she needed a sitter instead of tricking me into it, I wouldn’t have minded babysitting.I ended up filling that child with sugar and caffeinated soda (he had a grand time), and forever answering “I’m so busy, ugh” to all future questions about my plans. We’re no longer friends because she never wanted to make time to hang out with me; she just wanted free babysitting.

            And my mom thought I was like the most studious kid ever, because I knew that if I ever looked like I had free time, she would fill it with chores, so I always had some kind of project to work on (I did have the grades to back this up or it wouldn’t have worked). Most of those “projects” and “research” were for fanfiction.

          2. +1!

            “You know the parent is deliberately being controlling if “that won’t work for me” gets any variation on, “BUT WHYYYYYYYYYYY”.”

            My mom recently moved from “but why?” to “Ok, I guess you don’t love me” which is actually a sign things are going my way because it’s not a direct question.

          3. All of these. Just treating it as a question of not disclosing/being private is entirely the wrong approach. The LW is getting socially trapped, and needs a selection of answers that are vague while also claiming her right to her time.

          4. LW, I forgot the part where you said some of this is coming from people you’re chatting to on dating websites, and you feel like it’s an attempt to get you to plan the date.

            Good heavens, I hear you.

            One of my long-time boundaries is I won’t date a guy who can’t properly carry out an invitation and follow it through. Men who constantly try to manipulate women into doing all their emotional labor is a ridiculously huge problem in American culture right now. I am not anyone’s manic pixie dream social secretary.

            That being said, in a couple of guys I’ve dated in the last few years, I’ve been amazed at how fast and how almost without me noticing they can go from planning and executing dates very well to somehow only being able to function if I’m doing it. And then coming up with all kinds of bizarre but obvious lies about how they reason they’re acting that way is solely for *my* benefit.

            I don’t have any good answers because that particular form of domestic abuse — excessively leaning on the partner for a deluge of small things to the point it is messing up the partner’s life — is pandemic in American culture right now, nearly always but not always done by men to women.

          5. “parents of adult children pull this exact same rude little stunt”

            I am the parent of an adult child who is living at home, and I have been training myself since her teenhood to say, “I would like to claim some of your time this weekend” or “I would like to ask a favor for this weekend, if you’re available.” or “would you help me with X” instead of “are you busy?” (OK, sometimes I’ll say, “Are you busy? I’d like to get you to take out the trash.”)

            There *is* a certain amount of “call on her time” that I -do- feel entitled to (she lives in my home, not hers; she’s a member of my family). Hence the “claim some of your time,” or even the “if you’re available” as a way to say, “you have to have solid plans if you’re going to tell me no; you can’t just say you don’t want to do it.”

            But I have made a major effort to train myself to STATE WHAT I WANT first. “I want to ask you to help me with a project tonight. Are you willing?” or, if I’m feeling that I’m entitled to demand it, I’ll say, “are you available?” (example: I’m not going to react well if you want to play Minecraft instead of helping me wrap the favors for grandpa’s birthday dinner; if you’re getting together with friends, online or IRL, or doing homework, OK).

            She can of course say, “I’m taking some mental-health time,” and live with whatever fallout from being an unhelpful family member.

            but I agree–parents of adult children (Hell, parents of NOT adult children) need to be more respectful of their children’s time and energy

          6. TootsNYC, why do you feel entitled to some of her time because “she’s a member of your family”?

            I completely get anything to do with joint maintenance of shared space — responsibilities for shared spaces need to be clearly shared out and individuals need to do their share.

            But why would you feel entitled to her time to help with party favors for a party you’re throwing? To the point she gets fallout for being “unhelpful” if she doesn’t do it? That’s possibly reasonable to do with a minor child, but you’re still acting to preserve a parental level of dominance over her as an adult. Why?

            I’m asking because you absolutely will pay for it in terms of impacts on the long-term relationship with the person she will become. Why is that worth it? –Part of why I’m asking is I just plain find it baffling that parents do this, though the consequences loom large enough.

            And part of why I’m asking is because maybe you just haven’t thought about it in those terms. After decades of various sorts of problem behavior from my father, I literally hit a brick wall of having had enough, and we’ve been done ever since. That’s not an uncommon experience. I’m sure to him that’s bewildering, but to me it’s bewildering that for so long he simply refused to choose to behave with appropriate respect.

          7. “You know the parent is deliberately being controlling if “that won’t work for me” gets any variation on, “BUT WHYYYYYYYYYYY”.”

            ooh. my mother does this. If I have no specific plans, she thinks my time is hers (“but you said you were doing nothing!” and she likes to be like cousin in example 3, re her children doing lots of stuff for her because that’s what good kids are supposed to do (and if we’re not performing like good kids, then she’s a bad mother ~guilt guilt~) and she doesn’t like to ask directly* so it often comes across as manipulative or passive-aggressive). So now as far as she knows, I am very very very busy. And if I do want to see her, then I just tell her something freed up in my schedule and ask if she’s available or if there’s anything she wants to do.

            +1 to the whole comment.

            *I have some sympathy for her, in that I’ve seen how this is gendered in our culture, of women being trained not to ask for what they want/need (possibly more than in western cultures? I feel like it’s somewhat related to not saying no also). I see it my grandmothers A LOT, and how it’s been passed down to their daughters mainly. But it can still be frustrating to deal with.

          8. Why do I feel entitled to some assistance or attention from the 24-year-old who lives in my home, taking up space, who pays nothing and does no chores (because she’s too unreliable, and I’d just be nagging at her, or doing them for her and pissing her off)?

            Why do I feel entitled to her assistance with something I am doing for her grandmother & grandfather while she sits in her room and plays Minecraft?

            Or why do I feel entitled to her presence and her company?

            Because she’s a family member. Because if she weren’t a family member, I’d throw her out on her ear; she sure as hell wouldn’t be in my home with all her stuff. And because family members pitch in.

            The fallout you talk about? I’m well aware of that risk. I’m pretty thoughtful about when I feel I’m entitled to expect her participation, and when I’m not. (Remember the FIRST part of what I said–that I’ve been careful to respect her autonomy since she was a teen. The “I’m entitled to your assistance” is the MINOR part of this.)

            But *I* am entitled to enact some of that fallout myself–it’s not all about her, she’s not the only one who gets to be offended and feel pushed around, etc.

            So what’s the fallout if I tell her I need her help with something, and she refuses –without a good reason– (because she wants to play Minecraft or listen to a podcast)? Maybe I won’t be all that interested in helping her someday. She’s moving and needs a van? Sorry, I’m busy.

            If I have to treat her like a grownup, and not like my minor child that I can boss around, she can fucking treat ME like a grownup, and not like her mommy that she takes for granted.

            That’s already happened–she made a big stink about her dad “telling” her that they were all going to do something to support me at a time when I was really upset (something that would have taken about an hour of her time). She didn’t have other plans; she just wanted to draw a line in the sand about him “telling” her what to do.
            It changed how I felt about her for a long time. I didn’t feel like talking to her much for several months. There are still traces of that damage; I’m still mad about it. My father nearly died in my arms, and you can’t meet me at the airport to show me you love me, because you don’t like being told what to do?

            I feel like sometimes there is such a huge anti-parent bias among the commenters here. This relationship goes both ways. Not every parent who expects stuff from their kid is unreasonable.

            My parents and my in-laws have requests that my husband and I don’t feel we can refuse. They’re couched as requests, and a truly good reason would be all the excuse we would need. But “I don’t want to”? That would create some damage. They help us tons, just because they love us and we’re family. They have the right to call on us and expect us to come through.

            That’s where I am as well with my kid. Do I think X is a fair thing to insist upon? How hard is it, what’s the timing, is it just for me personally (that’s a favor), or is it for the greater family–HER greater family?

            There are also times my kid can ask for help, and *I* don’t get to say, “eh, no, I’d rather read a book.” Not if I want to consider myself her family.

          9. I do want to clarify–I miswrote: if my daughter says she needs to “take some mental health time” and that’s why she can’t spend an hour helping me w/ a family project, that’s not fallout worth–she’s busy.

            But sometimes that comes across as “I just don’t want to,” and that’s pretty hurtful.

          10. TootsNYC, thank you for responding.

            I don’t think there is the slightest thing wrong with wanting something in the way of rent for the houseroom and resources she takes up. I absolutely support you insisting on it and tossing her out on her ear if she doesn’t want to.

            But it needs to be a set rent, that can be codified and set down in a form you could use with any other adult, should the fancy take you. For example, if there were a certain number of hours per week or month that she needs to work at certain things you set, I’m not seeing a problem. Make up a lease and sign it.

            This business of hanging on to parental authority as a form of rent, however, has already damaged your relationship, from what you’re saying. This business of judging what another adult does with their leisure hours (with the obvious caveat that they harm no one) is bad enough, but insisting on the right to interrupt that time to set another adult extra chores is unreasonable in most circumstances, and not good for anybody. There’s a great body of research on the pileup of mental stress on the interrupted person, and the habit encourages the interrupter to indulge in constant watching and judging of how another adult spends their R&R downtime, which isn’t good for the interrupter either, since it breeds resentment, often of a very petty kind.

            I still have the same question of why do this? Why not set up a rent in dollars or set hours of work, and have done? Why insist on these parental avenues of control and dominance over another adult, when it has already harmed your relationship and can only do more harm? You’ve made such a long-term investment in your child already — why put the future relationship at such risk?

            What a mess. I get you wanting to be met at the airport under those circumstances. I also get your daughter refusing to comply with requests that aren’t made with at least normal adult civility — it was not even a request, in fact, but an order.

            Nobody seems to be doing well by this arrangement.

            “If I have to treat her like a grownup, and not like my minor child that I can boss around, she can fucking treat ME like a grownup, and not like her mommy that she takes for granted.”

            Okay, how would that be couched in terms of a lease you would give to another renter? Because as far as I can tell, you’re saying you want to be treated with the closeness of family, only you seem pretty adamant you don’t actually want to be family with her in the sense of two adults choosing to be together and support each other as family — you’re very clear that you want a relationship where you retain levels of dominance and control only suitable with a minor child. I get that you’re saying you don’t do this often and you see it as a minor part of your relationship. But that’s always what those on the winning side of dominance relationships say. Those on the other side never see it that way.

            Which brings me right back to not understanding why parents do this to themselves and their children.

            My vote is toss her out and let her adult.

          11. @TootsNYC (ran out of nesting)

            I just want to say I appreciate that, you know, you haven’t started charging your daughter rent, etc. I think there’s a frustrating…I don’t know what to call it, but adding monetary transaction to a relationship doesn’t always make it better.

            I moved out from my parents when I was 25. I had a hard time staying employed and taking care of myself because I have a chronic illness, and the alternative to living with my parents would be to figure out how to apply for section 8 housing and Disability, both of which have a long wait list.

            Eventually I got consistent work as a freelancer, something I could do from home even when I was in pain or needed oxygen etc. I saved up enough to move out.

            I really appreciate that, even though my parents and I had conflict, they never threatened to kick me out if I couldn’t pay the rent. That would have been a really frightening prospect for me.

            I think there is something to be said for family relationships between adults where the balance is between emotional labor and responsibility for the home rather than money.

            It’s harder to say if someone doesn’t do their fair share of emotional labor, or figuring out their fair share of chores if they’re not physically or mentally able to do the same amount as you. There was definitely conflict where trying to balance and figure out fairness, safety, and compassion were difficult and sometimes heated. Our relationship got better when I moved out.

            But, in the long run, in my life, I think the conflict over emotional labor and fair division of chores, while sometimes painful and frustrating, was something we were able to move past when I moved out because I never felt unsafe. I felt disliked, maybe undervalued, often embarrassed (and some of that came from my own ‘brainweasles’ or ablism in broader society, not primarily my parents) but never unsafe.

            I think feeling unsafe crosses the line where a relationship can’t be repaired. So I think it makes sense to feel that threatening eviction / charging rent could be harmful. I know that doesn’t solve your overall problem, and I don’t know what a reasonable solution is 😦 I’m Sorry you’re struggling right now.

          12. Indoor Cat raised some good points. And I have to say, my, “Toss her out and let her adult,” is in flat contradiction to my frequent assertion that successful launching has been economically tough for young adults for some time now.

            Indoor Cat says feeling unsafe would have been the most damaging to her relationships with her parents long term. For me, it was lack of basic adult civility and respect that was the death knell — I didn’t expect safety or that level of support after 18 and didn’t feel wronged that it was not given. I don’t know what would do the most damage for NYC’s daughter long-term, but I do know that no matter the form it ultimately takes, the preservation of parental lines of dominance into the adulthood of the child will do real damage long-term.

          13. Excellent insight and analysis. I appreciate the suggestions about responses, having to deal with a pushy in-law (nosy for information and has a big sense of entitlement). Thanks!

          14. @IndoorCat–I appreciate your comments. My daughter is also struggling with brainweasels and getting a job. So threatening to make her move out is just not wise. Even if it’s only logistically. I’m struggling not so much w/ her being at home as I am w/ my worries about her, and with trying to decide what’s the best thing for me to do–apply pressure? not?

            (I am also not her only parent, so I don’t get to act unilaterally. Her dad would not agree with a move to force her to move out. Especially not in NYC, where housing is so tight, and especially when she doesn’t have a job.)

            I don’t think she feels disliked; there’s really not a lot of conflict for us. There was a bit at first, and SHE had some learning to do in terms of how she reacted (example: her dad said, “We’re going over to Grandma’s tonight,” and she started to blow up at us about making plans for her. We had to interrupt her to say, “We = mom and me, and you got mad so fast, we never got to say ‘would you like to come along?’ ”
            And I had to say to her, over the airport thing: Act like a grownup. If you have plans, just say so. If you don’t want to go, just say so. You are hearing pressure where there is none; and even if there were a little pressure, the grownup way to deal with it is to push back firmly but politely–no whining, no yelling, no accusing, no lecturing. Speak to US respectfully.

            As for rent–part of my problem with that is: I would never, ever rent a room to a non-family member. Her presence in this household is ONLY because of her family relationship. So setting a rent that I would for “any other adult” is simply not applicable. No other adult would be here.
            And even if she did pay money (not rent–but to share in the household expense, which is different from rent, even if it is the same amount of money), I would still consider her to be part of my family and as such why WOULDN’T she pitch in when I needed her to? (that said, I do aim at treating her the way I would an adult roommate.) I might not feel quite as entitled to her time, but I’d probably still think there were some things I could ask of her that she’d be wrong to refuse.

            If she wants to NOT have some other grownup “setting a price” on her activities occasionally, she can get a job and move out, and then I won’t be saying, a couple of times a month, “if you’re home tonight, I need you for X.”

            Helen Huntingdon mentioned interrupting–I just want to say, that’s a helluva an assumption. I make a special point to not do that, not even if the thing I’m asking for help with is sort of non-negotiable. And when things are something that I consider a family obligation, I make it clear (“I need you to…can you?” “I want to put a claim on your time for X, will that work?” etc.) There’s still room for her to refuse. But of course I’m going to judge her reason for refusing.

            I have strong memories of my MIL telling my husband, shortly after we’d married, “I need you to clean out the gutters.” Or maybe “you need to come this weekend and clean out the gutters.” I really minded that! OK, you want to ASK if he’ll help you w/ your home maintenance, fine, but these are not HIS chores anymore. So I know what you’re talking about.
            But then there’s her “I’m going to need you to be my helper for Christmas Day because I’m getting older,” and that doesn’t seem so presumptuous–it’s MY Christmas Day and MY extended family too.

            Those things influence what I ask of my kid, and they influence how I ask it. They also influence how OFTEN. Those non-negotiable things come up probably twice a month, at most. And they come up organically–I don’t invent them just to make her jump through hoops. (Remember–if she had specific other plans, that’s a reasonable excuse. Leisure time is not–I give up my leisure time to hem her pants or help her move back from college or make her dinner. Especially since she’s not working during the day–she only HAS leisure time.)

            Helen Huntingdon, I don’t want you to think I’ve dismissed all your arguments–you’ve certainly given me pause and gotten me to think about what my expectations are. And I understand many of your points.

            But I don’t think you can compare me to your dad.

          15. The thing about “she is family, and I expect family to do X” is: Who decides what is necessary, when is it necessary, and who needs to do it? And in my experience, parents of adult children don’t assign their children’s plans (and wishes) the same priority as their own plans (and wishes). If the reason for you that you daughter should help you at X time with X thing is “because family”, is the reverse also true? Do you feel obligated to help hosting her party when she wants to invite her people over? Always? Or only if you consider it important?
            If you both talk about what to do in the garden (I know you probably don’t own one, it’s an example), is it a conversation like “I want to plant radishes” “Well, I want to plant flowers” “Fine, then we plant one half with flowers of your choice and one half with radishes and everyone waters everything”? Or is it more like she doesn’t get involved into such decisions but you expect her to follow through and water your radishes? Your radishes that you consider joint family radishes because everyone could eat them?

            Btw, the annoyed reaction at “go to the airport” and the misunderstanding re: grandma could be exactly because she is used to you making decisions for her and expecting her to follow through. Just because at that one time it wasn’t true doesn’t mean that her reaction was irrational. You’re right, adult people who feel safe and are treated well like adult people probably don’t react like that.

          16. TootsNYC, thanks for responding and considering what is said.

            If it makes you feel better, I did not compare you to my father. I compared to you older friends of mine I see ruining their relationships with their adult children through constant disrespect, but then being bewildered as to why things are going so badly.

            “Helen Huntingdon mentioned interrupting–I just want to say, that’s a helluva an assumption.” That wasn’t an assumption — it came directly from what you posted about deciding to take her leisure time. The mental stress is the same whether you interrupt a current rest period or interrupt the chance to get there before it before it starts.

            I’d like to leave you with a couple of last thoughts to consider:

            One is that you say she has reacted to, “We are going to…” by hearing a command and responding accordingly. If you have never phrased commands to her that way, yup, that’s on her. However, if you and/or your husband have used that phrase in the past where she is included in the “We,” she’s not mishearing — you/he are misspeaking. If you use the same phrasing with suddenly a dramatically different meaning, it’s not other people’s fault if they don’t know you’ve changed the meaning on them. “Your mother/father and I are going to X, would you like to come along?”

            Another is that people your daughter’s age and under have grown up under a level of surveillance never before seen in the entire history of the human species. And we do know that extreme surveillance is a very brutal and destructive form of torture. I honestly don’t know how young people are functioning as well as they are, given that. So when you talk about watching her leisure time and knowing how she spends it all, I hear a situation that would be psychologically unhealthy for a teenager, let alone someone in their mid-twenties. And for that age range of teens into mid-twenties, it’s developmentally normal to not adult well in spaces/tasks/areas of endeavor where they cannot do so unsurveilled by childhood parental authority figures, but to abruptly adult extremely well and competently when freed from that surveillance. It’s not really surprising when you think about the mechanics of it — it’s basically stereotype threat / stereotype threat removed.

          17. @TootsNYC – Just wanted to say that I really like the phrasing you spell out in your first comment, in that you’re acknowledging that you’re making a request for your daughter’s time and effort. My own mother STILL phrases things the way she did when I was a teen like, “How would you like to take out the garbage?”… well, I wouldn’t LIKE to take out the garbage at all! I’ll do it anyway, but saying it that way doesn’t make it somehow not an order, Mom! (And boy howdy, did she get pissy when I responded with “not really.” We did NOT live together well.)

          18. Spot on, thank you. I am admittedly very sensitive to potential power issues, so I have a hard time seeing when they’re really there and when I’m just reacting as though they are. Since the question “what are you doing this weekend?” has, like, 18 possible meanings, many of which *can* involve power plays, it just breaks my brain.

          19. @TootsNYC If you want your daughter to do her share of chores, it is a better idea not to tell her to take the trash out (now or in the next couple of hours) but rather have a family meeting at the beginning of the week, talk about what needs to be done (not only stuff that you consider important but also stuff that your daughter considers important) and then you talk about who does what. That way your daughter can organize her time (which is an important adult skill) and gets some input on what is a chore and how important it is (which allows her to build other adult skills) and she won’t get interrupted that much (which to you doesn’t feel that way but her story looks probably very different).
            Another option is to have certain chores that a certain person does (e.g. in a family meeting you decide that father empties the dishwasher, daughter cooks on weekdays, mother cooks on weekends or whatever) which also lets her develope that skills.
            Important points about both solutions is a) she gets to participate in the decision and doesn’t just get told and b) she makes her own timetable about chores.

          20. Love this post Helen Huntingdon.

            This reminds me of a post the Captain did on “Freeing Yourself from Constant Contact” with people calling all the time. Similar boundary setting but this is a different angle. I read that post all the time.

            I’m in my 20s and married, living away from home, but I feel like I’m constantly playing tug-a-war with my parents and we’re fighting over boundaries. I get the feeling I’m not alone, I always thought my relationship with my parents was healthy until I became an adult and now I dread conversations with them. There’s always some kind of obligation, because they’re my parents and I love them and I want to honor what they’ve done for me in giving me a great life. On the other hand, being around them makes my shoulders go up around my ears.

        5. I should have specified that this particular woman was white, of a european background, and when she elaborated it was pretty clear that she was getting the “I am genuinely curious about you” variety of the question and not the “You aren’t REALLY one of us” implication. I recognize that the question can DEFINITELY be used to intentionally or unconsciously other people, Her problem with it seemed more about having to answer it ALL the time than any implied racism or xenophobia.

          1. That doesn’t make it okay. She’s right to find it othering and exhausting.

            I have friends who grew up in Poland but have been UK citizens for decades at the tops of their highly-respected professions. And it is really freaking wearing on them that people in the UK will correct them if they say they’re British. I didn’t realize it until I noticed they were running a long-term experiment when they traveled of noting responses — they said they like Canada and big chunks of northern and western US, because if they say they’re British, no one bats an eye despite their obvious Polish accents.

            Another example: My parents both corrected their local accents to American Standard Television English long before I was born, so I grew up with that accent myself. I really enjoyed my years living in the American South, but I realized the day would never come when I wouldn’t be seen as an outsider. I was surprised what a relief it was to move to a completely different part of the country where I at least have the option of blending in. That stuff just wears on people.

            I prefer living and working in places with a major international contingent for that reason — so that different is what is normal.

          2. @Helen Huntington

            I’ve been loving all your responses on this thread. This particular response though, is one of my favorite comments ever.

            Thank you for it.

          3. Helen Huntington already explained it very well. I just wanted to add that in my experience as a POC in a white majority country it’s mostly been well-meaning people who have made me feel discriminated against. To them I am this exotic other they feel entitled to treat in a certain way because their goodness and its expression is more important than my real and complex experience as a human being. You get to notice pretty fast that your opinions, feelings and thoughts don’t matter if they don’t conform to a view of the world that doesn’t let them look like heroes and you like a cultural cliché.

            That being said, I am always happy when I get to tell people that I don’t answer that question because the answer gets me stereotyped and it keeps us from getting to know each other as individuals. Whenever people accept this answer, I know I am dealing with human beings who understand their goodness as a constant learning process. That’s the way to go. It is really really worth it for people in all possible situations to understand being ethical as something you need to work on and not as something you already are by default and need no guidance and no dialogue for.

          4. “I just wanted to add that in my experience as a POC in a white majority country it’s mostly been well-meaning people who have made me feel discriminated against. To them I am this exotic other they feel entitled to treat in a certain way because their goodness and its expression is more important than my real and complex experience as a human being.”

            YES, THIS. They’re so “nice” and “interested”, they can’t possibly be racist/microaggressive! I always answer with [local Canadian area], because it’s 1) true and 2) not at all the answer they’re fishing for (although I sometimes? have a Canadian accent that some USians pick up, and I don’t mind if people ask if I’m Canadian). And then you get people who let it go there and people who keep fishing (“where are your parents from?” etc etc because they think it’s impolite to ask WHAT are you, but they really really want to know, so they know what stereotypes to assign you, as you said, or even because they’re “just curious”, like you’re an object).

          5. Those of us who are white have a hard time grasping the sheer weirdness that tends to go into this stuff.

            A professor I studied under said she, without thinking about it, had an automatic habit of spotting people likely to do that “oh I’m so nice to your differentness” type of racism and trying to run interference to keep them from saying that crap around her grad students. As a young black woman in the US, she of course had been steeped in spotting such people her whole life.

            Her example story of failing to ride herd on rude white people sufficiently involved being at some luncheon or other with a couple of her grad students from India. The professor went to the restroom. Later the grad students said the table turned to remarking on the professor as soon as she was out of earshot, including their surprise that she could be a professor of engineering. Which is odd, because if anyone has an aura of genius around them, she does. Anyway, the grad students said one woman asked, “How do you think she got like that?” and others nodded with pursed lips, agreeing that there was something wrong there.

            I’m still seething. She got “like that” by working three times as hard as everyone else and being three times as smart as everyone else. Assholes.

            That’s the kind of bullshit that is so often behind the “oh I’m so nice to your differentness” behavior — belief that you shouldn’t be what you are, and that you probably did something not right to get there. It’s not over-sensitivity when people react to it — they’re reacting to what they know is likely to be underneath it.

          6. “That’s the kind of bullshit that is so often behind the “oh I’m so nice to your differentness” behavior — belief that you shouldn’t be what you are, and that you probably did something not right to get there. It’s not over-sensitivity when people react to it — they’re reacting to what they know is likely to be underneath it.”

            Oh, yes, white supremacy/racism in action. I mean, they might not vote for an actual white supremist, but that belief is definitely lurking there (like, even if they don’t vote for an out-and-out white supremist, they still have the belief that white people are leadership material than poc); and they might not say these things to your face, but they will do/say things that prop up “model minority” nonsense (eg, anti-Blackness in the presence of other racial minorities) and are nice only as long as you stay in your place and don’t challenge them — as long as you don’t call them out or challenge their perception of what poc can do, as in your example. And they tend to be very very very sure of what counts as racism (nothing they do/say, of course), with an overlay of “you should be grateful I am nice to you” to wrap it all up. I don’t find it weird, I think it’s just whiteness — and the safest thing to do is presume white people are going to be like this to some extent, until they prove otherwise.

        6. What the letter-writer is doing seems a bit like foreign people not grasping at first that Americans don’t expect “How are you?” to be answered literally.

          Or autistic natives; I know this one intellectually, but I still have a lot of trouble remembering in the moment that it’s usually not a real question, and I’m also unsure how to respond when I do remember, because I don’t like lying, and “I’m well/fine” is usually a lie for me.

          1. I like to use “Oh, you know, just some of the usual weekend stuff. What are you doing?”

            Unless I’m doing something unusual, it’s true; it’s wonderfully vague and gives no information; and I get to immediately turn the question back on the asker (which often leads to a better conversation anyway.)

          2. The one my family goes with is “Surviving”.
            “How are you?”
            “Oh, surviving, surviving.”
            It’s technically true and covers pretty much any emotion you might be feeling.

        7. “You don’t sound like you belong here” isn’t really the friendliest way to get to know someone, even if the intentions are good. It kind of sucks to be going about your business and then people remind you that you don’t fit in.

          There’s a world of small talk out there that doesn’t Other a person, and being “genuinely curious” is not a justification for anything.

      2. Yeah, I get that it is a soft invitation, but it also feels that the “hard” invitation has been tossed into my lap. It is one of my pet peeves. “We need to have lunch soon.” Okay, then invite me, and don’t hint for an invitation. “Call me.” Does *your* phone not work? “Let’s get together.” But you have never issued a direct invitation to me in your life.

        Honestly, about 90% of *soft* invitations to me fall flatly to the ground because I don’t pick up the work of planning, timing and reissuing that invitation.

        Just my experience.

        1. I, personally, issue a lot of soft invitations because I actually don’t want to go to the trouble of planning something with someone who doesn’t want to hang out in the first place?

          “We should hang out sometime soon!” Is something I expect people to either reply “yeah that would be fun” or ignore/tell me they’re swamped but wish they could do as a no.

          I then fully expect to be the person who takes the next step of saying “yay! Ok so I’ve been wanting to go to this play, I was thinking of going to the Friday night show or the Saturday matinee, would you be interested in one of those dates?”

          I don’t know many people who issue “we should hang out soon” with the expectation that the recipient is then supposed to plan an event if they agree?

          1. Agreed– I don’t think that the question signals the other person should do all the planning, i think it’s a way to judge how willing and able they are to hang out sometime in the immediate future. The asker might want the invitee to give some input on what they’d like to do, but that’s not the same as expecting them to do all the planning.

          2. “Soft invites” in my friend circle are more just a mutually understood shorthand for “I value your friendship so I’m going to express a genuine desire to hang out even we’re both depressed and introverted and therefore the likelihood of this actually happening is pretty low.”

          3. Threading has run out, so replying to your top comment, spd – please try to avoid using the word ‘spazzy’. I know it is super common usage as a general term for silly / disorganised but it’s actually an ablist term which a lot of people with disabilities have had thrown at them as a slur. I also used to use it a lot until a friend pointed out this problematic history, so paying her work forward.

          4. Can we not use ‘spaz’/’spazzy’, please? It’s very jarring to see that thrown around when it’s a nasty slur here in the UK

          5. I do have friends who have trouble planning things for various reasons and often say things like “I miss you” or “We should hang out more” without doing anything to make it happen. I sympathize with their reasons for having trouble planning, but I also do find it a little irksome that they only initiate actual plans once a year for their birthday while still making all the sounds about wanting to hang out. It feels like they expect me to put in the majority of the effort, and it would be nice if once in a while instead of saying “I don’t see you enough” they would say “Would you be up for meeting up at the coffee shop on my town on Saturday if [their issues] allow?” But it’s not something that’s going to change, so I smile and nod at their noises and continue to plan things with them at exactly the rate I feel like doing so (including making extra effort if they’re going through a really tough thing).

            [Note to my friend who also reads CA, this is not you 🙂 ]

            I tend to do direct invites, sometimes with a range of possible dates, but I have occasionally done the “We should do [X] sometime!” and had months go by without getting around to organizing [X], even if I’ve extended other invitations to the person also interested in [X]…

          6. Sorry about that! I have never had it used against me as an ableist term, but I will use a different word in the future.

          7. I also ignore “We should hang out soon!” It doesn’t replace actually reaching out to me and trying to set up plans. I honestly don’t even know why people say it at all when I’ve never seen a follow-up to it.

          1. I was going to say, my experience with “We should hang out some time!” and the like are that they’re more of a social gesture. It’s a way of saying “I enjoy spending time with you” in a general sense, but without any plans to actually do that.

            With new acquaintances, we’ll often exchange “We should hang out/get a drink/whatever sometime!”s multiple times over a period of a few weeks or months before one of us says, “Hey, I’m going to Event on Friday, do you want to come?” It’s an intermediary step between “I just met you” and “Let’s hang out one-on-one at my request.”

            Could be specific to where I am, though. I’ve heard it’s a very Southern California thing and that people from other places are annoyed by it.

        2. I think one way of dealing with this is to explicitly put the hard invitation back in their court. When I issue a soft invitation I am often not sure if the person wants to hang out at all, and getting a ‘Yes, get in touch and let me know when you’d like to do something’ would encourage me to go on and do the planning whereas ‘Yeah, we really should’ I would be more likely to read as ‘I don’t really want to do anything’. I think we can get trapped in endless circles of soft invitations where neither person ever gets the push to move forward, so I’ve tried to get more into the habit of being explicit about a desire for the other person to act.

        3. I actually have an answer for this one. The comment is sometimes a small talk, meant to affirm that we like seeing each other, and sometimes a prequel to an invitation. The conversation can go like this either way and be appropriate and you not be on the spot either way.

          Them “We need to have lunch soon”
          You (if you are up for it potentially) “yeah, that’d be fun”
          Them (if it was an invitation prequel) “would Thursday at noon work for you?”

          Them “We need to have lunch soon”
          You (if you are up for it potentially) “yeah, that’d be fun”
          Them (if it was small talk) *moves on to a different topic*
          (In this case it was never exactly meant to result in actually doing anything)

          Them “We need to have lunch soon”
          You (if you are not up for it, whether the reason is actual business or not wanting to at all) “oh, I wish I could”
          Them “no problem, I hope things are going well for you”

          Of course both people will vary from the scripts with personal style and the situation, but that is the general way it can go.

          1. There’s also

            Them: We should have lunch soon.

            You: Yeah, we should. This week is bad for me, but next week I’m free except Tuesday. The week after is all good. What works for you?

            (If they meant the invitation) Them : OH! Thursday is good for me.

            (If they didn’t mean an invitation)
            Them : Ah, then I’ll get back to you (They never get back to you)

        4. IMO the correct answer to “we should get lunch some time” or “let’s hang out” is actually “sure, Saturdays are generally good for me” or “I’ve been meaning to see Black Panther”. If someone just says “yeah” that tells me they’re not actually that interested. Like if I can magically guess the exact time they’re free and what they want to do with literally no input from them I guess I win hanging out with someone who wasn’t that enthusiastic with the suggestion that we make plans?

          1. I was never taught that was the correct answer. I really thought that an invitation was going to come later. Well, now I know?

          2. That’s a way it can work, certainly, but why is it “magically guess the exact time they’re free and what they want to do with no input” if the person who first said “let’s hang out” is then suggesting a time or activity, but something other than magically guessing if the person who first said “let’s hang out” and is told “yeah, we should” is the one saying “Saturdays are good for me, how about you?” or “I’ve been meaning to see Black Panther”?

            As far as I can tell both “we should hang out sometime”/”let’s have lunch” and “yeah, we should” can translate to “you are a nice person I have run into on the street” or to “I want to see you, let’s make plans.”

            I suspect some of the people who are giving a vaguer “yeah” to the “let’s hang out” have answered what they thought was an actual suggestion with “Saturdays are good for me” and gotten “um, er, I’m kind of busy these days, I’ll call you” and never hearing back.

            Unless you’re at the stage of an established friendship where you have agreed to get together for dinner every other Saturday, or are discussing plans for the next visit to your long-distance sweetie during this visit, any actual social plan is only going to happen after someone risks discovering that the other person is less interested than they are. If I always have to be the one reaching out, that can feel either like the emotional and planning labor are being taken for granted, or like they don’t actually care whether they see me. But “people should take turns” is different from “someone else should always go first” (or “for gendered/other status reasons, I should always go first”).

      3. “(Seriously? This is about the blandest, most banal small talk question I can think of.)”

        I think that’s why it can sometimes be difficult to answer? It’s not a question I like either, some of which is due to manipulative/pushy people angling for my time/energy like in the letter, and some of it is due to feeling like I have to feign excitement or a more interesting life in order to keep the conversation going, which is draining (IDK if this is an introvert vs extrovert thing — or like how some people seem to have no trouble filling the conversation or making their lives sound interesting; I am not one of those people). And sometimes it’s due to the other person not grasping the soft no/non-answer to drop the conversation (generally people I am not already friends with, like the one bank teller who keeps on asking* — and that I do find nosy/irritating).

        I can deal with “how are you”, since that has an easy script for answering even if it took me a while to memorize it, and “where are you from…. I mean, where are you REALLY from”, but “what’s up” is harder, since “nothing/don’t know” tends to elicit a “why not?” or “you should be/do more fun!” …And I don’t know what to say to that, because “no” just seems rude and I didn’t invite them to “improve” my life. And it happens often enough, with friends/family/acquaintances, that it can get annoying, but I generally don’t jump straight to “why do you ask” unless they’ve previously over-stepped in presuming my time was theirs since I’m doing “nothing (that I want them to know about or feel like talking about)”.

        *Him: Hello, how are you?
        Me: Fine, thanks. You?
        Him: Good. Going back to work? [I often go in around lunch time.]
        Me: Nope.
        Him: Doing anything fun today?
        Me: Nope.
        Him: Nothing at all?
        Me: Nope.
        Him: You must be doing something.
        Me: Nope.
        Him: What are your plans for the weekend?
        Me: Working.
        Him: Doing anything else?
        Me: Nope.
        Him: Nothing fun?
        Me: ….No.

        Something like this happens every single time. Everyone else usually stops after the how-are-yous are exchanged. I get tempted to make stuff up like “join the circus” or “sky diving” or whatnot.

        1. I find mildly-but-not-entirely-absurd stock answers to be a good distraction. “Vacuuming the cat” or “shaving the yak”* or something. And then deflect back on to them.

          “What are you doing tomorrow?” “Vacuuming the cat. What about you?”

          *Both of which are also used as shorthand for all the things you need to get done before you can do the thing you actually intend to do, which is often an accurate description of my evenings. Yak shaving is a programming term, although I’ve also seen it in other contexts. I’ve seen cat vacuuming most often as being what you do before you can sit down to write.

        2. Sounds like he’s a robot instructed to find out a fun thing the customer is doing later. Probably so he can finish the conversation with “enjoy [fun thing]”. Try repeating “Fine, thanks. You?” and see if he gets stuck in a loop.

        3. You obviously don’t have to do things any differently than you are, BUT if this conversation is frustrating and/or awkward, you may find that it goes more smoothly if you offer something up. It can be a white lie!

          “Doing anything fun today?”

          “No, just running some errands. Good old traffic, I’ll probably be stuck out all day!”

          or “Nope, gotta get the groceries, what about you?”

          or “Nah, looking forward to some peace and quiet, how’s your Wednesday looking?”

          In my experience small-talking cashiers/customer service people, giving them an opening to chat is the surest way to get out of having to fill the conversation myself. If the other person isn’t in a chatty mood, we go comfortably silent after a few pleasantries because the Small Talk Gods have been appeased.

          1. I have done that — “just doing errands/washing the car/housekeeping/taxes/library/walking the dog… you?” — and still gotten a “but are you doing anything FUN” follow-up question(s). Clearly, I am not giving him the answer he wants, but I don’t particularly want to keep having the conversation. It happens every time I get him as a teller. No other teller (in this bank, or others that I’ve been in) does this. Sometimes I think if I’m going to make something up it might as well be along the lines of “going to the moon” or whatever.

            (this might be a double-post, sorry!)

          2. @mangosteeen, I would pay money to see Nosy Teller’s face if you were to tell him you were flying to the moon some weekend! That’s a great answer!

        4. Okay, there is something a bit screwy with this guy. He doesn’t need to be that nosy about how you spend your time.

          What he sounds like to me is the dweebs in engineering school who would pull this routine. It generally meant that they had read somewhere on some really stupid website that you should try to get “the girl” you want to talk about herself, because “girls like to talk about themselves”. These guys then hope “the girl” will then respond with relating a fun anecdote, to which the guy will respond by asking a question or two to keep her talking, and then he’ll think, “Great! I ticked the following boxes: 1) had conversation, 2) got her to talk about herself, 3) gave her questions so she could talk about herself some more to make her feel good, 4) she was talking to me, AND I saw her smile! Jackpot! Now she’s supposed to go on a date with me if I ask for one!”

          And then they get all pissy because “the girl” is taken aback by being asked out so abruptly by this guy about whom she knows pretty much nothing except his appearance. So she says no. And then he goes around and rants to all his buddies that women are sooooooooooo shallow because she *wouldn’t* date him based only on his appearance (yes, I know the flaming illogic is bizarre).

          1. I don’t feeling he’s hitting on me exactly, though I am not answering in a way he likes/expects (am I supposed to be chatty bc I’m young-ish and female? IDK. I have not observed him asking this many questions to other bank customers, not that I hang out in there much, and maybe they give him more satisfactory/interesting answers). But I have wondered if I answer with “imaginary bf and I have x-plans,” if the questions would stop.

          2. I’ve seen too many nightmare scenarios of late, in the wake of the Aziz Ansari mess, that start out exactly like you are describing. It’s setting off the “Gift of Fear” sirens in my head.

            It’s also tripping flags in your head, which is infinitely more important. If you’ve never read, “The Gift of Fear”, the critical point is that niggling things like exactly this are the warnings that can save your life and that there is literally no better metric than that the situation is giving you that reaction, no matter how small or how you try to dismiss it.

          3. @Helen Huntingdon, that is good to know, re feelings and setting off yellow flags. Nothing obviously inappropriate has happened, I don’t think I need to talk to his supervisor (I don’t want him fired, it would just be nice if he’d back off on his own, but IDK if that will happen, or maybe he will transfer or change hours (I thought he had for a few months last year when I did not see him at all)). It’s a little more inconvenient to go to a different branch, but I do that sometimes, or mobile banking or attempt to time it so that I end up with another teller.

      4. If someone asked why I was asking such a “nosy” question, I would apology-barf all over them, then call my wife, my mother, and my best friend and ask them what I was supposed to do instead. I am on the spectrum, so I would anxiety-spiral about whether, once again, I missed a basic social skill everyone else learned in kindergarten.

        1. Yes, I know that is an inappropriate way to react. I think a more appropriate reaction would be to apologize once, politely, then go away and process what I did wrong by myself.

          1. This is probably part of why I am frustrated by this conversation, because by most conventional social norms, you are actually doing nothing wrong. You have actually internalized a very common social rule. People here may be disagreeing that it should be a normal social rule, but if you change your behavior to meet that, you’ll be ‘wrong’ by other standards.

            One of the costs of challenging social rules is that it makes it harder for people to learn them. Which for neurotypical types, is something that may not be hard to adapt to, but you’re kind of being set up to fail–because that kind of question is exactly the kind of thing you would have been taught to do in kindergarten. “What are you up to this weekend?” is an absolutely normal question and learning to use it is not a failure of yourself. People here are talking about changing a norm, but you have in fact learned the norm correctly, and I’m sure this whole conversation feels like slipping sand beneath your feet. And I’m sorry for that.

          2. If someone challenges me on something, my default response is to assume the other person is right and I am wrong. The only exceptions are: 1. The person is clearly saying something bigoted or 2. The person is saying something factually incorrect. I think this is an expected thing for women to do.

    2. #2 is a good point. My workmates and I ask all the time stuff like “what are you up to tonight/on the weekend?” and it’s almost never a prelude to inviting them to something, it’s just small talk sharing our lives. At the same time, someone can just say “oh not much” if they don’t wanna share, which is what I do if my plans that night are private eg therapy.

    3. Yep yep yep. It might be helpful to reframe this, because the vast majority of the time it’s not going to be meant as a high-pressure question. It’s either a soft opening for an invite or a general small talk question–and in both cases, “Oh, not sure yet, how about you?” is going to be one thousand percent fine. You don’t need to read their minds as to what they mean, suss out what they mean next, or throw up defenses against prying nosiness; most of the time, it will not be necessary. You just need to say, like, “Oh, not sure yet, how about you?”

      I am a Guess person, and that is not going to change (and I often feel annoyed at people who seem to think that it should–my brain wiring is okay, too!), but I can tell you that even from that POV, I generally have few expectations of this kind of question. I expect either “Oh we’re going to see New Movie/having a picnic/running errands” or “I dunno,” usually followed by “how about you?” It’s a low pressure small talk question, most of the time.

      1. To put it another way, I guess: this is such a normal way to open a conversation that being annoyed by it means that you will be annoyed by a wide variety of people, forever. You can do that! If you want! You can be annoyed by a wide variety of people forever. It doesn’t sound like a lot of fun to me, though. So the reframing may help. If it’s just a soft open to an invitation, you can be annoyed by it, or you can say, “I dunno, you?”

    4. Re #1, true that. I personally feel really pressured by the question simply because it puts me in the position of having to say yes or no before I even know what I’m saying yes or no to. It’s a lot easier (for me anyway) to answer when I know what I’m answering.

      As others have mentioned, if I say “yes I’m free” and then they offer something I don’t want, then I *really* feel the pressure to say yes because I’ve already essentially told them I have nothing better to do. Saying no at that point feels rude, and yeah some people have reacted badly. Like “oh you’d rather do nothing at all than do this activity with me, wow.”

      I wish I had better boundaries around that. I’d rather know the thing up front so I can answer it directly–“are you free” without telling me the activity feels like a setup. (Full disclosure: Whole in-law family are control freaks and this type of thing IS a setup with them. I’ve learned a lot of strategies.)

      1. It can be so hard to set boundaries with the inlaws! I wonder if some variety of “I’m really flattered that you asked and I want to hang bout, but I REALLY need to recharge this weekend, maybe we can set a time that works for both of us?” might be a good script?

        1. No, that is a very bad script with pushy family connections. It follows the script they want, which is that the person they are targeting needs their approval of their reason for pleading off.

          Just about the only good answer is, “That doesn’t work for me/us,” followed by, “Asked and answered,” when they don’t want to take that answer.

        2. I definitely would never say this to in-law oversteppers. Some variation of “we’re busy” or “we have plans” works better. It doesn’t matter if those plans are eating candy while watching Netflix with no pants on, they technically are plans.

      2. This is my reaction. It sounds to me like an attempt to take away my ability to say no. They think I can’t give a soft no because I’ve already said I’m not busy and I can’t give a hard no because I’m a woman. I usually respond “Why do you need to know?” unless it’s someone I really trust. Also I have learned to give hard noes. Trust issues and controlling family? Me? No way.

      3. When I have no plans I tend to respond with some variant of “Just chilling,” and then if the person offers something that I want to do, I can decide it’s more fun than chilling, but if I don’t want to do it, then it’s been a long week and I just really need that chill time, you know?

        It helps that at this point in my life I’ve stopped associating with people who don’t understand that sometimes you can only have so much fun and then you need some time to like, open all your mail and pet the cat.

      4. If the asker tends to demand stuff from me, I’m likely to claim I’ll be busy.

        Demanding person: Are you busy this weekend?
        Me: Yeah, I’ve got some stuff I have to get done.
        DP: No free time at ALL?
        Me: Dunno, but probably not. Why?
        DP: As you know, [ note, I do not know ] I need someone to [ renew my library book | paint my bathroom | walk my parakeet | clean my cat litter ] and I hoped you might help.
        Me: No can do.

        They typically push back.

    5. I think it depends a lot on context. If it’s someone from work that I have no personal relationship with, then “Any plans this weekend?” just sounds like office small talk, the forward-looking version of “How was your weekend?” If it’s someone I know personally, then “Are you doing anything tomorrow?” sounds like a way to try to trick me into agreeing to do something not-fun (because if it was fun, they’d ask outright). I don’t hear it much in my circles, and if it does come up I just say something noncommittal and wait for them to present a direct invitation or request if they want to. I don’t use it myself because I don’t like the way it comes across.

      1. Also on the specific wording.

        “Are you doing anything this Thursday night?” — whyyyy do you need to know?

        “What are you up to this weekend?” — sounds like small talk, though it obviously depends if the asker is a known power-player.

    6. I never thought about the fact that some people might be actually trying to relieve the pressure! And maybe just don’t think of the flip side where the question could potentially add more pressure.

      And I think for online dating purposes I’m going to assume #2 unless I get significant evidence otherwise. Thanks!

  5. I also find “why do you ask?” really handy as a polite way to signal someone is being nosy. In this case it has the added benefit of short-circuiting the “waiting for you to say ‘nothing’ so I can guilt you into babysitting” gambit.

    If someone just using “what are you doing on __” as a casual opening to issue an invite, it gives them the opening they need. And if someone is trying to open a debate about the validity of your plans vs. what they want you to be doing, it is a refusal to take the podium.

    I also love Cap’s “I need to check my calendar and get back to you” approach. In my case this is always 100% true because unless I literally have my calendar open in front of me I do not know what I am doing at literally any time on any day. But in the age of smart phones I also find “I’m going to have to check my email before I say yes to that, so let me get back to you” helpful.

    1. Yeah, I do the same. Unless I have specific plans that I want to talk about, my two go to answers are: “Oh, I’m not sure yet!” if I’m open to a suggestion from who I’m talking to; or “Oh, I’m not sure yet, why?” if I feel like they’re being nosy or trying to figure out what my schedule is so they can invite me to something when they know I’m free then put pressure on my if I say no (mother, I’m looking at you).

    2. In the age of smartphones I also often find that my calendar is inside the device I’m holding up to my ear 🙂 In theory I could ask them to pause the conversation while I check the calendar, but I haven’t yet found a script to actually get them to stop talking while I do that.

    3. Being one half of a couple is also very handy in this respect. “Other Half keeps the diary, I need to check.”

      In my case it’s also true (OH is much better at executive function than me).

  6. I’m with this LW—ask me to do a specific thing or don’t. If it doesn’t work with my schedule, I will tell you. Figuring out how my plans fit together is my problem, not anyone else’s. And just because my plans don’t include hanging out with anyone or leaving my home, it doesn’t mean that I am free or willing to cancel them.

    Another get out the LW could use is, “I’m still figuring out my plans for that day—was there something you wanted us to do together?” and then “Yes, that’ll work,” if you want to do the thing, or “Hm, I don’t think I can fit that in,” if you don’t—no need to specify that the thing that it won’t fit into is a day of sitting around in your pajamas and binge-watching things on Netflix.

    1. I like this, but I’d go maximum snark and phrase it as, “Is this about business or pleasure?”

  7. I say “I’ll have to check. Why do you ask?” It’s a polite way of communicating “WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME??” I had a boss once who sometimes wanted to know if I could work overtime on the weekend, but sometimes wanted to know if there was quirky events on that her daughter might be interested in. (And it also stopped me from being super-duper free to do alllll the weekend shifts.)

  8. This is one of those times where having a live-in or serious SO/partner/spouse is super convenient. Any/all such inquiries get an automatic “Unsure – have to ask my other half.”

    Sans that I’d just go with “Unsure. Why, what’s up?”

    1. Yessss exactly. Also my spouse and I have given each other full permission to use the other one as an excuse whenever needed. “Oh you want to invite me to happy hour [with a bunch of colleagues I hate when they’re sober let alone when they’re drunk]? Darn, my wife wants me home early [so we can watch Netflix on the couch with our cat].”

      1. Yes! The hubs and I do the same. Then we give a quick heads up to each other in the event that the person asking (such as mother-in-laws) will then turn right around and call spouse. We also told our children when they were growing up that they could use us as an excuse any time they felt pressured or uncomfortable saying “no” for themselves. Again with the caveat that you have to tell the person whom you’ve used as an excuse that you’ve done so!

        1. Yep, my wife and I too. “I’ll have to check with E and let you know” is super convenient. I also use “ooh, I’m not sure whether I’m driving my stepson to his Dad’s that weekend, I’ll have to check” for longer-term put-offs.

        2. My MIL does that–she asks DH if we can come to dinner, and he says, “I’ll have to ask Toots.” Then she calls me and asks me, and I say, “I have to ask DH.” Really early on, she did this, and then laughed at my answer and said, “I asked him, and he said he had to ask you.”
          Then, I asked her, why did she ask ME? She had already asked him. Was he not getting back to her soon enough? Had it been a long time since she’d asked him?
          No, it had just been earlier that very day.
          So I said, “Don’t do this. Don’t ask each of us the same question. If one of us is dropping the ball about getting back to you, say so. But don’t try to play us off against each other. That’s not cool.”

        3. Yeah, my parents did that too. ‘If you don’t want to do something tell them you’re not allowed and your parents are really strict’ etc. Also ‘Go ahead and get your friends to hate me and think I’m mean, if it’s ever helpful to you’.

    2. Doesn’t work with friends / family obviously, but I have to consult my husband every single time when it comes to sales pitches / offers in retail / invitations from strangers etc.

      I’ve never been married.

  9. I have to say that I get — and have come to dread — the variant “Are we doing anything Saturday” from my mom, who will use it to mean anything from “I haven’t seen you in DAYS and I want to do something with you but don’t want to “impose” by actually asking” to “I have received an invitation to something but don’t want to desert you”.

    “Dunno, why?” is a very useful phrase.

  10. I use this regularly, as does most of my social group. It can mean ‘I want to make plans if you’re free’–which, for me at least, isn’t so much ‘plan it for me’ as ‘planning is hard, let’s establish if there’s even an open time slot before we nail down the details’. But it can also just mean ‘I love you and want to hear about things you’re doing that you’re excited about’; it comes up all the time with friends who live far away!

    I also come from an area that tends to do a lot more indirect communication than I think many parts of the US, though, and tend to prefer a softer communication style unless someone’s being either rude or unaware enough to force me into being blunt. This might just be a difference in communication styles.

    I also don’t hesitate to tell people, “I’d have to check my calendar, what about you?” in response to this kind of question! It’s a conversation starter, and it’s my choice whether I continue the conversation by answering or by reflecting it back at them. (I’d definitely use this for the likely-to-request-babysitting sister, for the record–any time you’re asking someone a favor, you lead with that, you don’t try to trap them into it!)

    1. Yeah, I ask this of people because I’m making conversation! And genuinely interested in what they’re doing! I would actually be pretty weirded out by a friend who a) felt this was genuinely intrusive BUT b) also would not actually tell me they felt this was too intrusive. If banal small talk that most people use is offensive to you, that’s on you to tell people, I think.

      1. I think LW is unable to separate people doing something that they personally find annoying, and people intentionally trying to annoy them.

        1. I think it’s more like, LW has a bunch of overbearing, annoying relatives who use this as a manipulation tactic, so she now sees it as one.

    2. I think w/ friends, if you’re open to the getting together, you can say, “Were you thinking of trying to get together?” in a hopeful tone.

      But really those friends should elaborate: “What are you doing this weekend? Maybe we could get together.” This sentence should never be solo.

      “What are you doing this weekend? Any fun plans?
      “What are you doing this weekend? I may need some babysitting”
      “What are you doing this weekend? Cousin Charles is having a party, and I think it would be good if you showed up.”

      More words, people, not less. Explain yourself; don’t make me drag it out of you.

  11. I’m a big fan of being super clear: “That depends, are you asking me out?” “I’m looking forward to some down time. I’d be open to a one-on-one hangout but just out of energy for any group thing, if that’s why you’re asking” “laundry…all the laundry. I miss you though, can we plan dinner soon?” And “I have a date Saturday, but I would love to get a phone call-catchup on the calendar if you’re free…maybe Sunday afternoon?” (These examples are all people I want to spend time with – I also use a lot of “swamped this weekend! What are you up to?” for those I am not interested in carving out space for.)

  12. I ask this question all the time. With friends, I might have the motive of finding time to hang, but often it’s just to find something to talk about. With colleagues especially, I’m not looking to hang out – just looking to connect on something, find out what they like about, get to know them better. Oh, they’re going to the movies on Saturday? Great! I can ask them on Monday how it was.

    Sometimes people respond in a very vague way (“oh just some family stuff”), which will tell me that it’s private or they just don’t want to discuss it with me and I’ll drop it and switch topics. If a coworker does this several times in a row, I sense they don’t want to connect with me on that level and stop asking. Sometimes friends do tell me they’re free, but if I suggest something, they might still say “nah, not what I want to do this weekend” – and that’s fine as well!

    I agree with the Captain that it’s all about boundaries. There’s nothing bad with setting them and enforcing them, and if you’re dealing with people who can’t respect them, the question itself is not the biggest problem in the relationship.

  13. As a lot of commenters have pointed out “what are you doing this weekend” can be asked in a variety of contexts with a variety of motives BUT one thing that has tended to work well for me is to just pick one thing I’m to talk about without mentioning when it is: “I’m looking forward to my birdwatching class!” or “Partner and I are going on a hike!” and then asking about their weekend. If they want to invite me to something I’m interested in and available for, I can say yes, and if it’s something I can’t do, I can say I have other plans, etc without it sounding weird.

    That said, you do have to be ok with saying no. I can’t quite tell from your letter if that’s the real issue, and I don’t think there is any answer to the weekend question that will prevent you from sometimes having to say no to things when the other person wants you to say yes.

  14. Another good script I’ve heard for when the person is clearly trying to invite you to something is “What did you have in mind?”

    If they’re small-talking, you can say something like “Hopefully relaxing and destressing. You?”

  15. Or ask when do you need an answer by as invitors do need to know for catering, planning and booking purposes.
    Why is receiving an invite considered such a “stressor” and it’s ok not to get back to the person. Others also have lives to plan and need to know (cancel event, find someone else, make other plans)

    1. Since LW was talking about very short-term questions, I certainly hope no one is asking because they need to tell the caterer!

      And asking someone what they’re doing is not the same as issuing an invitation.

    2. I would think that if one is up to the point of having to plan food, one would have also issued a direct invitation? Jumping from “Are you doing anything on the 3rd?” to “I need to know if you’re coming on the 3rd so I know how many pies to bake!” would be really confusing.

    3. I would think that any event for which one needs to book a venue and/or hire a caterer would also be the sort of event to which one sends some sort of formal invitation, which is not really the case for the situations the LW describes.

      By formal invitation, I’m not necessarily meaning an engraved invitation, like for a wedding or other fairly formal event. For example, I used to host (board and card) game nights at my home, and I’d create an event on Facebook, invite everyone who was part of this group, and ask them to please let me know as soon as they knew whether or not they’d be there, at least by the day before, so I could plan how much food I’d need to buy/make.

    4. “What are you doing this weekend?”

      “I dunno.”



  16. I am fond of: “Oh, you know how it is. Why, what’ve you got?” with a tone implying that weekends are always full of important adulting chores that I really don’t want to do, but adults gotta adult, you know? And then if it’s something I don’t want to do BUT it’s a person I don’t want to discourage, I can say, “That sounds like you’ll have fun! Next week, tell me how it went?” And then make myself a note to specifically ask about it.

  17. “What did you have in mind?”

    That’s my go-to when someone asks me what I am doing at some point in the near future.
    I immediately turn it around on them.
    I don’t give any indication as to what I am up to until they tell me what they are up to.

    1. That would feel like a very odd response if I were making small-talk with the question.

      “So, what are you doing this weekend?”

      “What did you have in mind?”

      “I… don’t know? I don’t spend a lot of time imagining what you’re doing over the weekend…”

      And then I would walk away thinking that was a really awkward conversation and wonder if that person didn’t like me or was fishing for an invitation to something or what.

      1. Maybe if the stress was a bit different? ‘Nothing very interesting. What did _you_ have in mind?’

        So if they’re just chatting you’ve invited them to talk about their own weekend, and if they are in fact leading up to an invitation, then you’ve been vague about whether ‘nothing interesting’ means lots of chores, or free time.

  18. “I don’t want to give you a rundown of my plans. They’re private and you don’t need to know them. I kind of resent that you assume I will tell you.”

    LW, this struck me as a pretty extreme response. Your feelings are your own and it sounds like “What are you doing this weekend?” has reached a point where hearing the question adds a ton of negativity to the interaction for you, which might be where this response is coming from? It might help to keep in mind that for most people, the question is pretty innocuous. They’re almost certainly not trying to pry into information you consider private! They’re expecting to hear “seeing a movie and doing some yardwork,” not “reciting my social security number out loud while treating my intimate medical issues” or anything else not normally shared with a crowd.

    You know the people you’re interacting with and their likely motivations better than we do, of course, and definitely use the Captain’s scripts and bat the ball back across the net with “I don’t know, how about you?” But I wonder if it would help to make these interactions less frustrating for you if you tried not to think of them as someone trying to get something from you that you don’t want to give.

    1. ….except I have a ton of folks in my life who literally ask this to trap me into doing things for them, so thinking their intent is innocuous after being shown time and again it isn’t, doesn’t necessarily fit the bill- specifically based on the reasoning LW gives. Suggesting someone’s internal dialogue over a situation is a “pretty extreme response” feels blame-y and a way to police someone’s (totally valid) feels.

      1. Thank you!!! It’s not extreme when your life has several of those sharks who ask that just to trap you. That question from certain people stresses me too! I’m glad for the above scripts!

      2. Lots of commenters here are noting that people ask about weekend plans as small talk. But I’m willing to bet that LW knows that, and the reason he/she feels annoyed with the people asking it in his/her life are because there’s a pattern and something bigger at work– like maybe people trying to get him/her to do stuff, or, as he/she noted, people who want to hang out, but with him/her doing all the planning work. I think it would be helpful for folks to give LW the benefit of the doubt that she/he is not taking the time to write in to an advice column over very simple coworker small talk questions. I have some friends who are really passive about planning things and it drives me insane — I have started actively responding “what did you have in mind?” and batting back all their attempts to make me plan the night. It’s tiring.

      3. Oh god then you might need to find less-jerky friends, probably. Because this is very much a “dumb conversation filler” question and it’s not going to go away anytime soon.

        People ask this to fill the time while standing at the break room microwave, not bc they want to trap you into revealing state secrets and hardcore kinks.

    2. Except LW specifically said that with the peer-friends who are not using it as entrapment, LW doesn’t find it problematic at all.

      LW was quite clear that the coercive uses of it are the problem that makes LW resentful, which is not at all an extreme response, but a healthy one.

  19. Once upon a time I had a “friend.” I don’t remember why anymore but at some point I agreed to share my google calendar with this “friend.” I think the idea at first was to make it easier to plan hangouts. But then she would ask me to babysit her toddler. Which sometimes was fine but not always. I decided we couldn’t be friends anymore after one time I told her I couldn’t babysit and she said, “Your calendar says you’re free. Be here at 6.”

    Now the only person allowed to see my personal calendar is my husband, who is completely uninterested.

    1. If ever there was a moment for the standard “Wow” script, this surely would be it. Wow is all I got. Just wow.

  20. I can vouch for this strategy! My mum likes to do similar things, trying to out me on the spot and pressure me to agree to things when I’m on the phone to her. I’ve now got a standard policy of “don’t know, I’ll have to check my calendar and get back to you”. It helps that she’s not as tech savvy, so I can get away with the excuse of “well my calendar is on my phone and I can’t check it at the same time as talking on the phone”, even though I can, she doesn’t know that. 🙂

    1. I used this to train my mom to use text/email instead, because 1) I hate phone and 2) a written message means much less chances of either one of us getting the details wrong.
      No more “Did I say sunday I meant saturday, now you have to change all your weekend plans” ever again.

      1. If anyone else runs into this, “I’m not free on Saturday, so I’ll see you some other time!” is a perfectly polite and respectful response. Your parent or in-law will not die if they can’t railroad your schedule. You’ll all be healthier and live longer if they learn some manners in how they treat you.

        1. Absolutely, this too.
          But when it’s a thing I -did- want to go to, it’s 100% better to ensure that I have made plans for the actual event and not have to deal with last minute “changes” due to someone’s mistake or mishearing.

          1. Excellent point.

            You’ve also brought up some generational preferences on communications. A lot of the people old enough to have adult children at this point still put phone communication on some kind of pinnacle in their minds, because that’s what they grew up with.

            Whereas a lot of us see the advantages, like the precision you noticed, to some form of rapid written communication that wasn’t around decades ago.

  21. to add: I think if there are people you’re close to who do this a lot, like your sister, you can just tell them it’s a small thing but it bugs you and can they please ask a different way.

  22. Can we not with passing judgement on the validity of the LW’s feelings about this phrase? The Captain covered it with saying the question isn’t going away. This isn’t a high-stakes issue like the LW that was abusing their partner. This is a different way of reacting to a social interaction. If you can’t imagine feeling the same way as the LW, that doesn’t make the LW’s feelings bad or less-than.

    1. Well, it is a basic level of “people-ing” that you need to get used to if you want to interact with other humans, yanno. For all that the “Your X is Valid” thing is trending nowadays, you still need to be able to have basic conversations with people, which includes stuff like this. If she has problems with overbearing family, then she needs to learn how to deal with overbearing family, but she’s still gonna have to function at People Interactions 101, which includes “what’re you doing this weekend.”

      1. It’s actually amazing how much supposedly required stuff you can avoid doing by just not doing it (sadly depending on your level of privilege; I’m speaking from a white cis-woman perspective)

        1. This is true, but it will almost certainly come with a cost. I have a colleague–straight white well-employed middle-class-raised Christian cis man, so about as privileged as you can get in America–who opts out of a lot of what he considers to be “optional” social stuff. And it absolutely has a cost, even for him. He sometimes vocally wonders why other teams and departments will go out of their way to help me with things but not him, and it’s because I respond to their small talk rather than shutting it down and gently rebuff social overtures rather than saying “No, I don’t want to get to know you better” or similar. I cringe sometimes because a lot of the “send awkwardness back to sender!” advice overlaps with the kind of thing he does… and yeah, it costs him. In ways that I doubt he even always notices.

          It’s totally true that you can opt out of those things. You absolutely can. But I think it’s… disingenuous? Unhelpful? To pretend that it won’t have a cost societally. It feels like a lot of ‘just Use Your Words’ advice is setting people up for a shock when they realize that their coworkers or acquaintances are offput by it.

          And that goes triple if you’re less privileged. And sometimes the answer is “well but if they respond that way they’re not your friends anyway,” but we interact with a lot of people who are not our friends but who are important to our lives (coworkers, for example, or in-laws) and yet who can levy that cost.

          It’s okay to say “you are within your rights to do these things anyway,” because you are. But… yeah.

          1. That’s fair. And I agree that literally saying “No, I don’t want to get to know you better” is a bit off. Though I am at the point where if my coworker invites me to Toastmasters one more time, I’m just going to cheerfully say, “You know, I just don’t see myself ever being interested in that.” (Though I don’t think it’s likely in this case since the last invitation went something like: “Hey, if you’re interested, Toastmasters is going to be at [X] time and I’m going to be speaking”, “Great, have fun with that!”, “I know what that means.”)

            I think I’m just reacting to the comments that seem to me to have a “That’s just the way it is, you have to deal” vibe, partly because it seems to make sense that someone would write in for specific strategies of how to deal while getting as much of what they want and as little of what they don’t want as possible. And partly because, depending on exactly what one wants and what cost one is willing to pay, challenging the culture is how it gets changed. I’m thinking the letter we had a while back with mandatory no premade food potlucks is a glaring example of a culture that needs changed, but I would also like to see room in the workplace for people who are good at their work but are reserved/private/not interested in relationships with their coworkers outside of work. (FWIW, I’m not that extreme myself. Mild office small talk is fine with me, and I have a few coworkers who may become friends. But I’m not interested in any work-related socializing that eats into my personal life).

          2. @Kacienna: I’m saying that because in other posts, people have literally advocated for saying just “No, thanks!” to an overture like “We should get coffee sometime.” And I mean… that is not just going to burn bridges, that is going to blow them up, and not just with the person you’re speaking to–it’s going to look Super Off to observers and cost you with them as well.

            We can debate all day whether that should be true, but it is.

            I agree that it’s fully fair to say things like, “Oh, Toastmasters isn’t my thing, but thanks!” That’s exactly what I meant by a soft deferral. Same as being ‘busy’ all the time rather than saying, “No, I don’t want to hang out.” It’s the more… broad-scope? Flat? interactions that I think stand a significant chance of blowing up in peoples’ faces. And making things even harder, so much of this is tone–a chipper “Why do you ask?” to the above question is a soft deferral, whereas a flat “Why do you ask” may be offputting in a way that leverages a cost.

            And I mean, it’s legit to decide that you’re willing to pay the cost, that you’re okay with people deciding that you are unsociable or unfriendly or rude. But it is a cost. It means people will help you less, go out of their way for you less, give you poorer recommendations for your next job, and on and on.

            I am sure this is going to get attacked for scaremongering and concern-trolling, but I mean, yeah. It’s real. It happens, even, as above, to straight white cis etc. etc. men. It’s any individual’s choice whether the tradeoffs are worth it. But I think often we like to pretend that there are no such tradeoffs, and… that’s not helpful in the real world.

      2. I’m not talking about not dealing with this. I’m talking about the “OMG, how can you feel that way?!?” comments. Life is filled with lots of required thing that some folks loathe and others either like or don’t care either way. I’m saying let’s not be unkind to the LW for disliking or feeling stress about this particular social situation.

  23. I sympathize. I have only one person who does this, my widowed FIL, and it irritates me no end. It’s usually along the lines of “what are you doing on April 17th?” Of course I don’t likely have plans that far away, and I feel tricked into committing to be his date for some boring thing on a precious Saturday evening. I’ve got annoyed enough over this that I have been uncharacteristically assertive and told him that I don’t like being asked out like that and that I’d prefer that he just ask me outright about whatever activity it is and the date. Of course, he keeps doing it his way, so I just ask “dunno, why?” My DH reminds me when predictable events are coming up and advises me to “fill up my calendar”!

    Also, I don’t expect that the LW is bothered by every person who casually asks this question; I’m sure they can tell when someone is just making chit chat vs someone who is interested in spending time together.

  24. It took a long time to figure out that I could just cheerfully respond, “Why do you ask?” In a friendly middle-class-lady voice, (almost as if I hope they are going to tell me something wonderful!). That is my current standard response.
    As long as I sound friendly, folks who have no ulterior motive take it at face value, and the ones who are being invasively nosy, or hoping to trick me into something, are taken aback and sometimes given subtle notice that I will set boundaries…
    Mind you, I am white and middle aged and cis-passing, if not actually middle class OR a lady, so this may not work as well for everybody…
    Good luck!

    1. I find the amount of people suggesting this interesting. I ask “what are your plans for the weekend?” *overwhelmingly* more often because I’m genuinely curious: then they ask me, and we talk about our hobbies… (or I say “not much” and we agree that laying around is nice.) Someone responding with “why do you ask?” would basically make me instantly take a mental step back from that person in terms of comfort level. Like, OK, we’re not people who talk to each other about our lives beyond the weather and traffic, cool. (This could be walked back but it would require a decent amount of active displays of interest in me from the other person.)

      Obviously I’m talking here about people I’m friendly with, not friend-friends, but I can’t imagine having got to the stage of being friends with someone who was inclined to rebuff me expressing interest in their life.

      1. Yup, there is a trust relationship to be established, because as detailed above, this question is frequently used with a threat of violence attached. So the onus is on you, when talking to a new person, to communicate that you’re just interested in exchanging chitchat about what everybody did/will do over the weekend. So with someone new, “Did you do anything good last weekend? I had a two-day conversation with my cat about vacuums versus lint rollers. How about you?” might be more the way to communicate what you have in mind.

        1. I really like this point! If it’s just to bond, asking about past activities might be an easier way to accomplish this.

          But for the LW when it’s potential datepeople, I do find that, “Not sure yet – why, do you have something fun in mind?” has a pretty decent response rate. If they’re just curious, they can say so, if they want to invite you to something, it gives them the chance, and if you feel like engaging further, you can. It’s bugged me as an opener for a date until I found this phrasing.

      2. I find that “are you doing anything interesting this weekend?” can come across as less pressuring than “what are you doing this weekend?” Not only does it focus the question onto people’s hobbies/interests, but the answer “no, not really” doesn’t automatically mean that someone is free.

    2. I too have found that nobody seems offended if I respond with a cheerful: “Why?” Without answering their question at all.

      “What are you doing Thursday?”
      “I need you to babysit.”
      “Oh, sorry, I can’t.”


      “What are you doing Thursday night?
      “We’re having a party.”
      “Yeah I’m keen.”

  25. I honestly never get asked this question as anything other than innocuous small talk. On Thursday or Friday, it’s “got any plans for the weekend?” and on Monday, it’s “do anything fun this weekend?” I don’t think they’re trying to find it my deep personal secrets, it’s on the same level as “how’s it going?” or “wow, traffic was awful this morning, huh?” and I answer at that same level (“oh, this and that, how bout you?”)

  26. I understand commenters who don’t see this question as anything more than polite small talk. I get lunch with my coworkers on Friday and there is a lot of “so is anyone doing anything interesting this weekend?” in our conversation. In these cases, we are all just curious and looking for stuff to talk about. None of us see each other over weekends. But it’s all about context, and that’s not the context the LW is talking about. They specifically mentioned 4 contexts where the asker then does go on to invite them to do something or asks for a favor.

    I can also see how always hearing a particular question before being asked a favor is going to start getting on your nerves. There are a couple of questions my Mother asks that trigger a Pavlovian eye-roll from me because I know they are invariably followed by a request for a favor, to the point where if someone else asks me the same question in a totally innocuous way, I still react to it.

    My suggested response in to this question is therefore is just, “I have finished planning yet,” or “still not finalized” possibly followed by “what are you up to?” This is fairly similar to the “I’ll need to check my calendar,” suggestions and still works if you aren’t the sort of person who uses a calendar and you’re talking to someone close enough to know that about you. I like these types are answers because they have the benefits of: 1. always being true, 2. requiring zero thought (e.g. to invent some activity or decide how much to share), and 3.allowing you to then respond either positively or negatively to whatever suggestion comes next.

    You are never going to stop hearing this question from relative strangers and new acquaintances, but I think with close friends or family, you should be able to say to them the next time, “you know I’m a pretty straightforward person; if you want to invite me to something you can just ask me directly.” or some variation thereof. Not making it a big moan-y “you alwaaays ask that!” just an in the moment, “you know we’re close enough that we don’t have to do this dance” sort of thing. k.

    1. Yes, I think there’s a fairly clear difference between people who ask as small talk (for example, when you’re both waiting for the microwave in the staffroom, or waiting at the bus stop after work) and when it’s done how LW specifies. I have friends who do that, along with a SIL, and I also find it stressful/annoying. Especially as it’s usually done over text, which (to me) precludes the idea of it being small talk. So when I get a “what are you doing after work Friday?” text halfway through work on Thursday… just tell me what you’re going to suggest in the same message. I would much rather receive “hey want to check out the Frida Kahlo photography exhibit?” or “are you free to take the kids for a few hours??? picked up a shift” right off the bat. Especially if I have reason to suspect it’s just going to be some variation of “wanna hang out?” – if you have something concrete to suggest, lead with that!

      As a little anecdote… my ex-husband and I had just started attending a new ward in his church when a guy our age we’d chatted with a few times asked us what we were doing on Halloween. We cheerfully said we were free, assuming there was going to some festive get together and wanting to make friends. Instead we got stuck attending an MLM pitch. Which I guess was appropriately scary for the season?

      1. Heh. You know, I just had a *very* amusing misunderstanding with a facebook friend who was ranting about MLM (which I thought was the “wlw” type of MLM). Let’s just say there were a few comments along the lines of “look, if this ‘Pampered Chef’ isn’t your personal yaoi cup of tea, that’s fine, but do you have to be so judgy about what your friend’s into?”

    2. Exactly! I get the rude stealth favor askers too and it irritates. I’ve learned also that it’s ok to be a deer in the headlights if I’m caught off guard bc I can always invent something shortly after or next day and say whoops forgot I had x. Which I learned is a great policy to do with favor sharks. Always always have a plan I forgot about until next day. I used to feel guilty about that until I framed it in my mind that it’s disingenuous to ask about my weekend as entrapment instead of asking me an honest question

      1. You just reminded me of the ex-husband of a friend I used to know.

        One evening he bragged that he never outright asked anyone to do anything for him. He would intentionally just hint around until they offered. That way, he proudly announced, he never owed them a favor in return.

        And suddenly many things became clear. Not least of which, I never felt obligated to pick up on any of his hints ever again.

      2. Yup. Although I do the opposite: I’m ALWAYS busy/have to work, when certain people ask. and then if I do end up wanting to do whatever it is they want to do, suddenly my schedule cleared up!

    3. Yes, exactly. LW is pretty clearly not talking so much about people making casual small talk as people being roundabout manipulative. The kind of situation where someone finds out you are free that evening and then says, “Good! Then you can do x with/for me!” just blatantly assuming that if you are free, then you will obviously want to do this thing. They don’t ask if you want to do the thing and then you are able to tell them (and if you were busy, you’d probably mention that when declining). No, they just assume that you will want to do the thing. So finding out if you have plans at a given time becomes an underhanded way of tricking you into agreeing to something, like LW mentions in point number 2. There’s this implication that the only reason you would ever want to say no to their request is if you’re already busy, and yeah, that’s annoying.

    4. Yes! I used to get really annoyed with this question from my sister, specifically, for the reasons LW gives. Then one day I said to her “you know, when you ask me my plans without saying what you’re thinking of, it makes me really nervous because it feels like signing a blank cheque”, and she said “oh no, that wasn’t my intention at all, I didn’t want to make you feel bad by suggesting things if you’re already busy” – and now if she wants to suggest a thing, she tells me straight off what the thing is. It’s great!

  27. It never occurred to me to take this question literally. It’s an opener, like “Hot enough for you?” Or “How about that sportsquad at the sportsmatch?” The content of your answer is secondary to the dynamic of conversation.

    People use it for all sorts of reasons. They may be angling to invite you somewhere. And when I say angling, it might not be in a “cornering” way. They may just be an indirect communicator, and “Hey, want to go have dinner” might feel too abrupt without any conversational preamble.

    They may want to squee about something exciting, or vent about something they’re dreading, but they’d feel rude unless they ask you first.

    Or they may feel social pressure to make conversation in the moment, and don’t have any other topic at hand.

    There are several possible moves in response to this gambit. Mentioning your actual plans is one.

    The vague redirect is also a standard, recognized move.
    “A little of this, a little of that. How about you?”

    “Not sure yet. What are you up to?”

    “I’ve got some stuff to do around the house”, etc.

    Totally fair and perfectly polite. It’s not even really pushback. It’s just one of the normal options.

    1. Yes, people use this question for all kinds of reasons, as LW said. Sometimes it’s totally innocuous, as LW said. But sometimes it’s manipulative, as LW also said.

      1. Indeed. And LW is already handling the situation in the best possible way – by giving noncommittal answers. But they seemed concerned that this type of answer was not appropriate or that there might be a better strategy.

        It is, and there really isn’t.

  28. I used to get caught by this question. And found myself saying yes more often than I wanted to. Now, when someone asks, I reply, “I’m not sure what I’ll be in the mood for.” If someone responds with an offer of plans, I can then say, “Nice! I’ll let you know closer to the day if that’s okay.” If it requires more notice, I tell them to count me out. (And this is all, of course, assuming I don’t want to go. If it’s something I’m keen on, the answer is, “Woot! Let’s do it.”)

    I make it about my feelings for a bunch of reasons. More and more, I’ve been owning that I don’t ever have to say yes. That it can be based on something as intangible as a mood. And it’s hard to argue with. I can’t see into the future and neither can the people in my life.

    1. +1, I’m the same way. I get that I might not be asked to future events as well. I have close friends that I’ve been upfront with and say “I’m totally a hermit, but I do like to be invited to events and will make them sporadically. My “no’s” are not because I don’t like you!” Of course I only say that to the people I like lol.

      I have one dear friend in particular that has the busiest social life I know. I don’t know why she’s not a foreign diplomat with all the people she can bring together. She ‘gets’ what crowds people like and is on point with inviting me to the right events. I tell her every chance I get that I’m grateful for all the emotional labor she does with categorizing her friend groups.

    2. I love this response: “not sure what I’ll be in the mood for.” What sounds good on Wednesday is not always what I want to do on Saturday. I also think that most of the people I hang out with get this, and with the exception of more formal plans, would agree. So I love this response cuz it’s keeping it real! Also: owning that I don’t always have to say yes – I’m getting there!

      1. Speaking about sudden change of moods and plans, and friends getting you:

        Several years ago, at the phone, ten minutes before a scheduled meeting with my friends in a pub to watch the incoming results of the Brexit referendum.

        “Guys, sorry, I won’t be able to make it.”

        “Why? Something happened?”

        “The kitty I am catsitting has fallen asleep in my lap. I find myself physically unable of disturbing her. ”


        “I am in a cat trance. She looks so comfortable. I feel like letting her sleep is far more important than my social life right now.”


        “Sorry, I know it sounds like a stupid excuse…”

        “Shut up and send cat pics.”

  29. I ask that question so I won’t impose myself on someone by asking them to do something if they already have plans. If someone asks me the question, I am happy, because that means they are probably inviting me somewhere.

    1. I think the ideas people are getting at is that sometimes people want to reject an invitation not because they have plans but because they don’t want to attend. In that case, if they have already said they’re free, they might feel trapped into saying yes; I know I would. In fact there the joke of “can’t do that, I have to.. (silly excuse of having plans like go wash my hair) that day” – illustrating that sometimes the white lie of making up plans is an easy way to get out of doing something. I think it would be odd to preemptively take that away. Personally what works for me to feel non-imposed-upon is for someone to either tell me I have time to think about it, say “hey if you can’t I understand” or similar, and generally act like they care about my opinions, feelings, and consent.

        1. 🙂 It’s really cool to see how other people approach this stuff and I liked learning from your comment!

    2. I think my aunt asks this question for the same reason you do. And we do have fun and hang out occasionally. She’s asked like this a few times…

      Aunt: Are you doing anything this weekend?
      Me: Not much, maybe laundry or whatever.
      Aunt: Good! Since you’re not busy, do you want to go to [event] with me?

      If it’s not something I’m into, I feel pressure to say yes because she knows I’m not busy. And she might feel hurt that I’d rather do “nothing” than do something with her. It still feels awkward, even though I do not think she is trying to manipulate me or claim my time. So, I have learned it’s a lot easier if I answer “I might be working that weekend” (which has the benefit of being true, I do work most weekends) and then find out what she wants to do and decide if I want to go. Whereas it might feel more awkward/imposing for her, and less for me, to just ask outright, “Do you want to go to [event] on [this day]?”

      1. I can see where laundry might be a perfectly good excuse NOT to go with your aunt to somewhere you don’t want to go.

        A possible script: “Sorry, Aunt, if I don’t do laundry this weekend, I’m not going to have any clean clothes. Not much fun, but also not optional right now.” (Aunt doesn’t need to know whether your laundry has reached the point of “not going to have clean clothes to wear” or not.)

        Of course, YMMV, and you know your family and the situation better than I do.

        1. I feel like something mundane like chores will get some pushback, or won’t be seen as a task that takes up the whole day(s) off (if I do laundry Saturday, I can still go out Sunday! …that kind of thing), whereas work is seen as almost virtuous, as my family holds work/money in high regard, and my hours are unusual enough that no one can remember what they are.

          This has not happened to me, that I know about, but aunt has a sibling who does not hang out with the family much, for reasons that don’t need exploring at this juncture, and I have heard them say stuff like “I can’t believe she’d rather [wash her hair/go to the doctor/chores/etc] than have lunch with us.” or right out, “she’s making up excuses to not go out with us.” And some family members are they’re hurt by it and some just don’t get it. But no one argues against working!

          1. Makes sense. It’s aggravating, but it makes sense. Like I said, you know the people and the situation better than I, an Internet Stranger, do. 🙂

  30. Wow, dear LW, that was a great message and it certainly gave me good points to think about. I love organizing events and I confess to having asked that annoying question several times, mostly in order to know if a particular friend I would love to invite is available on that date. During this age of social media people get bombarded with Facebook invitations so much that they might very well ignore an invitation they usually would be interested in by accident (this has happened to me quite often; people would reach to me after the event and tell that they are really sad that they missed it). One of my friends always answered (very cheerily): “Don’t know! What are you planning?” and nowadays I find that a great answer. I was usually planning board game evenings and role playing games and I only tried to ask people whom I knew to be interested in what I was planning.

    Nowadays I usually use The Captain’s great script: “I do not know yet, I have to check my calendar. Can I get back to you later?” In truth that is an honest answer, my schedule would fall like a house of cards without my calendar and unless it is an emergency I truly have to check it. Also, that is very common; very few people I know can really remember everything they are doing for months ahead.

    I also agree that this is a loaded question and it also makes me on edge when someone I do not know that well asks it. When a friend asks and I find out that I am busy I often offer some other day to show them that I am interested in hanging out with them. I completely agree that when it comes to a duty (like babysitting) this question is somewhat unfair. In that case I would begin with the duty: “I need a babysitter. Would it be possible for you in [date]”.

    Being a grown up with a family, studies and a job, friends and hobbies my life is often busy – and so is my friends’ so we often use this website https://doodle.com/ – but then people always know what kind of an event we are trying to schedule.

    The Captain’s advice is great. It is perfectly ok to want some calm alone time or time with a cat watching Winter Olympics (that is actually great, our cats especially seem to love skiing) and no-one else really needs to know. The only tricky part I have encountered so far is if you actually say you are busy doing [thing] and instead have planned to watch the Winter Olympics with your cat, perhaps do not write an update about that to Facebook. With some people, though, perfect honesty might be the best solution if you expect them to follow you closely in social media: “Uh oh, that week is really busy and I am going to be very tired and stressed in [time]. I will probably just need some time to unwind, perhaps to watch the Winter Olympics with my cat.”

    We should definetely try to avoid stealth scheduling questions. Best of luck to you, dear LW! Take care of your boundaries!

    1. May suggest reversing the order of operations?
      “I’m planning an event on Day, are you free?”
      Then they can ask for details to make up their minds, or just shut you down with a no of preferred firmness if the event doesn’t appeal.

      Basically the thing you wrote about duties like babysitting, expanded to fun events. Any event. Any request for someone’s time, regardless of the setting of the “fun” variable in your mind.

      1. Nanani, that is absolutely true. LW’s letter got me thinking and i thought about using this kind of questions and realized that the only time I actually use them is with really close friends with whom I would just like to hang out or intend to make plans together. When I am planning an event I usually offer a description of what I have planned first and then we move to scheduling – but most of that is done in social media or by e-mail these days.

        I have myself been asked that question when relatives have been looking for a babysitter so that is why it especially resonated with me. I completely agree, it is always best to begin with the intention: “I need a babysitter”, “I am planning a board game evening”, “I would love to spend time with you and catch up”.

        Some other commenters have pointed out that sometimes people use this question as an conversation opener or in order to seem polite while they actually want to tell about their own plans. Here in Scandinavia using this question might lead to really strange conversations since people might assume that it is indeed a serious question which deserves a serious and thorough answer (though this varies between different countries and areas). Some people here do not really do much small talk, so even asking “How are you?” might lead to a long description of one’s health.

  31. Oh man….I think this sort of thing bugs me because my dad very carefully taught me to ask/invite people for a specific activity/time precisely to avoid this scenario. He taught me that it’s always polite to leave someone a face-saving way “out” of a social situation, so if you want to ask someone to go do something, give them a certain date/time, so if they don’t want to go they can say “sorry I have other plans” without anyone feeling awkward.

    And to this day, unless it’s a good friend with whom I know I can say “eh I just don’t feel up to what you suggested even though I’m not busy”, I get anxious whenever someone pulls the “so what are you up to on X day?” question.

  32. Sometimes I go with something like, “I’m already committed to a couple of things, but they still have to get back to me about when, exactly, they’re happening. How about you? Anything fun planned?

    That way they know I’m not just sitting around with nothing to do, so I haven’t just signed myself up for free babysitting or moving services. And the ball’s in their court if they were actually trying to set up something fun. Then I can pin them down on what, and when, without having pre-committed myself to some favor they were hinting at sideways.

    If they’re someone who usually only asks me to do fun stuff, I may say “Free as a bird, as long as I don’t have to plan on getting up too early. I really need to catch up on some sleep this weekend.” That way they know I’m not going to be up for a 7 am hike, or a 9am brunch, but if they wanted to do an early happy hour I’m probably going to be up for it.

  33. Hah. I usually reply with ‘Nothing’, in which ‘Nothing’ means knitting, crocheting or basket weaving and listening to audio books.

    If an invitation to something materializes at this reply, I have no problem saying ‘No’. And luckily the people asking me are perfectly able to graciously accept a ‘No’. Most of them, anyway. Certain relatives…

  34. This is such a common question, and I have a memory like a sieve, and once or twice replied “Nothing much” and accepted invitations which ended up double booking myself. I learned to say “I’ll see where the weekend takes me,” which leaves me open to accept invitations if I want to or to decline to work on Sunday if I don’t want to. Vagueing it up works for me.

  35. I was taught that if you are actually inviting people for something, it’s rude to do it by asking them what they’re doing that night first, because it traps them without a believable excuse for saying no. I live in a face culture, so saving the face of the invitee who wants to turn your invitation down is very important.
    I can see how ‘doing anything on thee weekend’ is small talk, but that would only count if the person is someone you are not on visiting terms with, like most of my colleagues.

    1. This is absolutely true; it IS rude to put someone on the spot like that. If you want to invite them, INVITE.

  36. That is a question I ask a lot, but its aim for me usually isn’t to exepect that if they are not doing things they will be free for whatever I want. Most of what I get out of asking that conversation is sharing of day to day stuff about what we both have happening and are maybe looking forward to [that I can be happy or excited about for them] or things coming up they are anxious about or having other difficult feelings about [that they can talk about if they want to, or that I then know they might be having a difficult time on Tuesday so I should give them a ring then and see how it went/offer support if they want to process through talking]. I think with the people I know it is fairly mutually asked for that reason. Although it can be asked in the ways LW talks about too, usually for me it is just a way of sharing life with friends and doesn’t have much motivation beyond that.

  37. “Man, that sounds great, but I know I’m forgetting something on my calendar. Can I let you know for sure tomorrow?”

    You can say that? You can say that!

    The other day I got into this conversation with a mum… I have to say mum colleague rather than mum friend, because her kid is in the same class as my kids and we seem to hang out quite a lot but she’s an extreme extrovert and I am really not, and I see more of her than I would really choose to if I had to seek her out. She asked me if we were doing anything on a certain day and I was like “I can’t think of what it is right now but we are definitely doing something that day.” She then mentioned a big thing that was on in town this week and yes, that was in fact the thing that we were going to, so I was like “Yes! That!” and she looked really pissed off, and I worried that maybe it sounded like I was looking for an excuse, any excuse, to get out of whatever she was proposing.

    I really wish I had some better scripts to deal with this stuff – how do I limit our contact with her to a level where the kids and I are still happy to see her, without pissing her off? We all walk the kids to school together and she started calling in at our house every. single. morning (and then bending my ear the whole way up the road, when if we were alone I’d be chatting to my kids, and we quite like that) to the point where the doorbell would go and my kids would be saying “oh god no, not them again!” and I’m shushing them, but feel exactly the same way. It sort of came to a head last week when I was on the toilet, and the kid came to the door, and my kid answered the door, and the conversation was like
    Her Kid: are you ready to come to school?
    My Kid: No (shuts door)
    Her Kid: *rings doorbell* again “my mum says shall we wait for you?”
    My Kid: No (shuts door again)
    And I’m feeling like, right, not only do I not know how to negotiate this myself, I also don’t know what to tell my kid to say in this situation. I grew up in the Guessiest Guess household ever – my mother once quit a job because they said they liked her work so much that they’d like her to do more shifts, and she was angry at being put in the position of having to say no – so I didn’t come out of childhood equipped with much of a toolbox for saying no assertively. I’d like to do a bit better with my own kids. Alternatively we’re just going to have to start getting out of bed earlier so we don’t run into them, but I suspect that if she realised we were doing that she might actually change her own schedule. Maybe actually I am just dealing with one of those people who force you to be blunt.

    1. This one calls for what I call the Gladys response, because I saw it articulated by a woman named Gladys. This is a whole lot easier to get if you see someone do it, but here goes:

      First of all, your manner while doing this will be constant big beaming smiles of absolute certainty, with big cheery extrovert gestures and rather loud but happy and beamingly-positive voice mannerisms. Every time you see Pushy Neighbor, you go into this mode.

      So in the next day or two, perhaps on some morning when you leave your house and she’s there waiting for you, you tell her, firmly but cheerily with giant beaming smiles that the morning walks will be separate from now on because those are for you to have conversation with your children. So of course, you tell her, you’ll all walk separately from now on (keep the cheery loud voice of happy certainty and smile hugely the whole time).

      (If she’s British, hopefully that will scare the crap out of her and she’ll leave you alone.)

      Anyway, that won’t do the job. She’ll show up at your house again, or track you down partway to school. This is where you really have to double down on the super-beaming positive manner of absolute assurance. “Neighbor! (huge smile) I told you that this is our private time and we will not be walking with you! (beaming smile) (speaking a bit slowly) So you go on (big cheery gesture) on your own because you’re interrupting our discussion time.”

      See, she’s trying to force you to perform niceness and capitulate because it’s hard to think of a way to get rid of her that won’t make you look like a “bitch” not performing socially-mandatory niceness. The Gladys response is a strategy where all anyone will ever see is you beaming at Pushy Neighbor, talking in a hugely positive way at Pushy Neighbor, and so on, but you’re still getting to tell Pushy Neighbor to back the fuck off.

      1. That is AMAZING and I love Gladys (and you) and that is going directly into my repertoire for Dealing With Those Extroverts. (Like, I’m the kind of introvert who is good with people but I know a few who are just exhausting and who drain my battery super quickly)

    2. “one of those people who force you to be blunt.”

      call it direct.

      Indeed, do say to her: “I’m going to ask you guys to walk to school on your own; trying to coordinate with your family is simply too much stress for us. But most of all, that’s my time with my kids, and I’ve realized that I’m missing it. I’ve realized it’s very important for us. We’ll see you at other time, but not in the morning.”

      See how that’s all about you, and your kids, and not at all about her?

    3. Must say I kinda love your kid’s response.

      My belief is that it’s easier to layer politeness onto a firm foundation of self-aware “no” than it is to find “no” after being trained to be obliging. Thaaat’s what I’m telling myself about my children anyway.

  38. I’m actually really surprised at how many people have expressed that they find this question neutral small talk and/or don’t understand why it can feel so loaded. Another interesting look at how varied cultural/regional norms and people’s own experiences can be.

    LW, in case you’re feeling that so many comments along these lines invalidate your feelings about the question or imply that you’re making a big deal out of nothing, I wanted to chime in to say that my reaction to reading your letter was an immediate “OMG YES can this question please die FOREVER?!”

    One thing I think might be getting lost a bit in the discussion is the distinction between asking “What are you doing this weekend” as small talk indicating “I’m interested in your life” (e.g. a coworker you don’t hang out with outside of work asking this question on a Friday”) and as a pre-request/invitation. It’s the pre-request that to me frequently feels almost manipulative or entrapping. I’m really only comfortable with this question in that context from very close friends who I can trust to react well to “Thanks, but I’m not really up for X.” Otherwise, the question makes me feel that I’m being manipulated into agreeing to something before I know what it is.

    Before people jump on this as reading too much into the situation, I want to point out that at in many, many cultures (I actually work on related research so I’m familiar with a lot of academic studies on the topic), the preferred way to refuse a request for help is “apology+reason” – e.g. “Can you babysit for me?” “Oh, I’m sorry, but I’m visiting my in-laws that day.” It can feel and be interpreted as quite awkward/rude/offensive/surprising to respond with just “No, I don’t want to” or “No, I’m not up for that” Of course it would be so much healthier if everyone we interact with had taken Captain Awkward 101: Accepting Refusals Gracefully, but the fact is, for many people it’s much more comfortable to offer an excuse to “soften” a no. The people who are asking “what are you doing this weekend?” before making a request are taking away the LW’s “easy out” – that is, by getting LW to admit that he/she/they are free, the option to refuse with “Oh, sorry, I have plans already” is no longer there.

    1. THIS. LW specifically gave examples of when it happens and why it annoys them, yet dozens of people are trying to ‘splain that this is just small talk in their part of the world.

      Read. The. Question. And take LWs at their word, maybe?

      1. I read the question; did all of you who are saying it’s only about the manipulative cases?

        Numbered point 4 specifically says LW doesn’t understand why people are asking this, hence the many explanations of different reasons people ask, and while the possible manipulation is noted in numbered points 2 and 3, it’s not the only thing LW is asking about, while point 3 suggests to me that LW may well be reading manipulation into cases where people are just curious or are actually trying to do the planning themselves (by finding out if LW is even available for a possible activity), not trying to make zir do the planning, as ze suspects. Point 1 also notes that LW apparently finds the small-talk aspect unusually invasive – ze doesn’t wish to share zir plans at all, while many people consider this to be a low-stakes social bonding ritual.

        1. That’s kind of taking it 4 out of context to say they don’t understand. It’s clearly related to the other ones, not just random strangers. Especially since they explicitly mention “friends, relatives, and people on dating sites”.

    2. Absolutely!
      I, personally, like to ask ‘what are you doing this weekend, something fun?’ when small-talking with my co-workers and friends, and I also hate this question with a passion when it’s a step to an actual invitation (two very different things!). That’s because I regard is as manipulative and I’m very surprised that some people consider it a way to make saying ‘no’ easier instead of harder.
      For me, it makes saying no so much harder. I’m a hardcore introvert, most of my plans are ‘sitting at home, not doing anything in particular’ and if I answer the question truthfully, and then there comes the invitation, I’m in a very tight spot… because I already admitted that I don’t have anything serious enough to warrant me declining the offer.
      To me, that’s pretty manipulative and when it’s done I generally conclude that it’s done on purpose. I’ m trying to understand the other side, all those people who say they do this to make declining easier, but it just makes no sense to me. If you already made someone admit that they do not have Serious Plans, of course at this point saying ‘no’ to your invitation is going to be so much more difficult, because it’s going to be rude! Or at least, it will be seen as rude by many people that I know and had had this conversation with.
      I guess it’s a cultural thing, I come from a non-English speaking country in Europe and here, I feel, admitting that you don’t have Plans-Plans, and then declining an invitation, would be seen as pretty rude. And I hate being rude, also – as a woman – I am hardcore trained to not ever be rude, so at this point – for me – sticking to my guns and saying ‘no, I can’t do that thing with you’ (even though this person now knows I technically CAN) is very difficult because it turns into: I don’t WANT to do this thing with you, and that’s a no-no (around here, I mean).
      I went to a lot of meetings I did not want to go because of this, ’cause I pretty much was cornered into it after admitting I have not set plans.. 😦 But I like to think that I’m better at saying ‘no’ now, even though people do sometimes react badly. Thanks to this blog, mostly ❤

      1. Yeah, I also don’t entirely understand how the question could be meant to make it easier to decline an invitation. Cause you don’t have to find out if I’m busy BEFORE inviting me to something or asking me for a favor. You could just ask. And then if I’m busy (in truth or not), I can say, “Oh sorry. I have other plans.” But if you just asked me if I have plans and I just admitted that I don’t, then yeah, it can look pretty rude or hurtful if you invite me to something and I have to decline. It gives the impression that I’d rather do nothing than spend time with you or help you with something (which may very well be true, but is often not a conversation worth having). And so if it happens to me, I wind up agreeing to the thing even if maybe I normally wouldn’t have, because now I have no “valid” excuse for declining. (I know that “I don’t want to” is in fact a perfectly valid excuse. But again, that often leads to a fraught conversation or hurt feelings that aren’t worth dealing with.)

    3. “OMG YES can this question please die FOREVER?!” OH ME TOO. I felt really connected to LW upon reading the letter! When it’s done as the pre-request, I get really annoyed that the person won’t just ask me directly. See also: people who won’t pick a restaurant, when the answer to every question is “whatever you want.”***

      ***I realize some people do not have strong preferences about things – I have read the CA letters about this very subject – and sometime it is okay to say you don’t have a preference, but it never hurts to actually engage in the decision making process instead of just dumping it all on another person. I myself often do not care what I’m eating because FOOD, but even if I have zero preference as to the restaurant, I will engage in the decision making process in order to help the other person out, and also because it gets us to food that much faster.

      1. OMG yes! I don’t have strong preferences but I do get hangry, so I’ve learned to step up and be the Designated Control Freak. This applies in other areas of life too. I’ve had a fear of seeming bossy or overbearing, but I’ve found in the past few years that people really seem to appreciate someone getting the ball rolling.

        1. Oh yes, this! I eat most things except Mexican, but with some people I have learned to just make the decision or we’ll spend so much time dithering that once we decide on a place, my lunch break will be over.

  39. I actually trained my mother out of this question by responding to every vague “What are you doing on X?” by saying “Tell me what you really want to know.” Fortunately, my mother is a reasonable person who understands boundaries, and mostly just laughed and said “Good point, Z is going on and I’d like to go and wanted company.” She also totally gets my introversion and that sometimes “I don’t have anything going on but I’d still rather not do Z” is a perfectly valid answer.

    If you have people in your life who you trust not to get offended at this exchange, definitely give this method a try. 😀

  40. Related – the person who just assumes you’re doing whatever they’ve planned for you because “it’s a family thing and you’re family” or “I asked Z and they said you were free*” or “What else would you be doing? it’s BANK HOLIDAY?”

    I’m working on this myself. and the goal is to just be ok with letting them down when they are the ones who have set an unagreed demand on your time. So, when they ask what you’re doing this weekend and seem likely skip ahead to “of course you’re going to my potluck and bringing the thing I promised everyone you’ll bring without actually asking you” and/or “so you can babysit ALL WEEKEND LONG”, be ok with letting them down.
    It’s really not you, its them.

    *In my case, Z has agreed to push the “Ask her yourself” button instead of passing messages along. Yay!

    1. Ahhhh the family stuff. My husband’s family is large and I generally love them, but sometimes I just do not want to eat little smokies and chips with 40 other people in a loud house with tons of screaming children. Luckily my husband is a Mega Introvert as well (sometimes more than me) and understands my feelings. I get annoyed when family members pose the invitation as “You’re coming to Gran’s on Saturday, right?” To which I’m like, “Uh, what’s happening on Saturday?” And they stare at me like I’m a monster for not knowing it was Sally’s third step daughter’s cousin’s middle school graduation they’re celebrating on Saturday.

  41. I’m an introvert that needs enough time in my week for quieter things around my own home without people. I have a friend that would ask me what I”m doing and when I say, “Nothing” the next thing is, “Well, let’s meet for lunch” and then irritation and shock when I say I’d rather not. (Like just because I have no plans, I must do the Thing she wants to do.” So I got in the habit of saying, “I have no plans and that’s just the way I like it. I love days where I have no obligations and I can go where the wind takes me.” So far, everyone I’ve said this to has gotten the message that I want an obligation free day.

    1. There is literally a meme that says “When you ask me what I’m doing today and I say “Nothing”, it does not mean I’m free. It means I’m doing nothing.”

      I’m 100% with you on this one.

    2. The first time I heard this, I wondered who opened my brain while I was sleeping and pulled the song out and put it in a movie soundtrack.

      There have been days when I could be found dancing on the couch and all over the house with this and “Bad Reputation” on a playback loop, both middle fingers proudly in the air.

    3. I guess I run with a very specific social crowd and it hasn’t occurred to me in a while that it’s not always doable to say “I’m going to do CRAFTS ALONE, it’s going to be awesome.” But I used to be in a grad program where people were super competitive, and if I said “oh my god I’m going to stay in this weekend, I’m so peopled-out” people would be lowkey mean about how I wasn’t networking/studying/running charity marathons enough.

      At least once I figured out that they genuinely *didn’t* need to know anything about me if they were going to behave that way I could default to “oh my god I’m so busy! what are you doing?”.

      (A couple of these people suuuucked like, I thought I was safe with “studying” until a couple of people started telling me that that was interesting because we were in the same classes and they just ~got the material better~ and didn’t need to study at all this week.)

  42. You can also be very vague, but leave the door open for follow-up if you want to share. (Like the ‘How are you?’ inquiries)
    “Oh, the usual, you?”
    “I’ve got a couple things going, do you have any plans?”
    “Nothing too exciting, I’ve got a bunch of things on my to-do list.”
    You can be too busy for a request, or have no conflict if you want. And if it’s clearly just conversation, (and you want to participate further) offer up something else,
    …that sounds fun! I’ve got…[an alligator to befriend, etc]

  43. I just had a talk with my DD about this- she will text me “do we have plans Saturday” I usually respond with “Why?” Obviously we have a different relationship than a friend to friend thing. But I explained that I feel like I’m being put on the spot- and I would prefer that she just ask me what she wants. because sometimes we have plans that can’t change. Sometimes we have plans that I can adjust if there is something she wants to do. Sometimes we don’t have plans, but that doesn’t mean I’m willing to just let her do any old activity.

    I’m trying to train her out of the habit.

    When I’m asked that question (by people other than DD), I usually go with “Why do you ask?”

  44. My go-to script for these (which I HATE) is an equally noncommittal, “Why, what’s up?” I’m not saying I do or don’t have plans, but I’m going to figure out why they’re asking me the question.

  45. This is something that consistently bothers me too although in my case it’s more just that I don’t want to answer that question with my coworkers ever. I know they’re just trying to be friendly but it gets exhausting that starting Wednesday I have to deal with “so what are you up to this weekend” and then AGAIN on Monday “what did you do this weekend?” (So I guess Tuesday is the only day safe from that question, ha. This realization is making me like Tuesdays more.) It feels invasive – what I do on my weekends is my business. I think part of it, too, is that I have mental health issues and physical issues so sometimes the questions make me feel pressured to have a “good” weekend. Sometimes I deal with anxiety all weekend and it’s hard not to judge myself for that.

    This is how I deal with it:
    1. Answer vaguely. “Nothing much.” (To the point where one of my coworkers will sometimes ask “What are you doing this weekend? Nothing much?” and I’m like yup! and get back to work.)
    2. Flip the question back on them. I’ve noticed that sometimes when coworkers as me what I’m doing they’re really just politely trying to start a conversation about the weekend so they can tell me all about their exciting weekend plans.
    3. Answer with small truths. “Catching up on sleep”, “doing chores”, “spending time with my partner”.

    And I try to be easier on myself for not having more exciting weekend plans. It’s okay that sometimes my anxiety is bad. It’s okay that sometimes I’m in physical pain and need time to recuperate. It’s okay that I usually watch movies/play videogames/read all weekend and those aren’t shameful hobbies. It’s okay if I don’t want to share the details of what I’m reading with coworkers. It doesn’t mean I’m not an interesting person or my life is less meaningful if I’m selective about who I share the details of my life with.

  46. I have a rule of thumb for stuff like this, which is sometimes with a passive aggressive person, I just aggressively pretend they asked me a direct question or made a direct statement, and will respond as though they did.

    So if someone said “What are you doing next Thursday?” I imagine they said “Would you like to do something on Thursday?”
    Then I’ll say “What’s up?” or “What’s going on then?” or “What did you have in mind?”

    See also, sometimes when someone is rude or difficult, I will pretend they said something nice or appropriate and respond with a total non-sequitur.

    1. I agree!! Skip the part where you say “I’ll have to check my calendar” or even “I’m not sure”–just go ahead and ask them what they have in mind!

  47. How do I know if my comment was lost or is just stuck in a mod queue? The first time I posted a little comment showed up saying that my comment was pending mod review since it was my first comment but I don’t see one of those now.

      1. Hmm, just tried re-creating my original comment and that’s not showing up either. Maybe shorter comments go through immediately but longer ones need mod-approval? I’ll assume that’s the case and check back later.

  48. I’m also annoyed by these questions! I just want to jump in to point out that the medium of communication also matters! I’ve found that “Why do you ask?” comes across as a little cold or accusatory over text, but can be really warm/ friendly in person or over the phone. As such, I like to preface it with “taking care of some stuff. why do you ask?” when I’m texting or emailing.

    What is the stuff?? How much stuff is there? Why does it need taking care of?? No one asks or cares, but it’s as vague as the original request and helps facilitate the “DELAY!” tactic the Captain talks about.

    1. That’s my favorite response! It gives them nothing, and forces them to divulge their plans. It’s also pretty casual, and most people automatically reply to that question because it’s so common. If they play extra coy with me, I’ll just be extra cryptic in return.

  49. I automatically ask this without thinking about it pretty often. If I catch myself, before they respond l’ll clarify what my actual invitation is. I probably picked it up from my mom, who does the same thing. When she asks me what I’m doing on a particular day, I just say I’m not sure or I need to check my calendar until she tells me what she wants.

  50. I automatically ask this without thinking about it pretty often. If I catch myself, before they respond l’ll clarify what my actual invitation is. I probably picked it up from my mom, who does the same thing. When she asks me what I’m doing on a particular day, I just say I’m not sure or I need to check my calendar until she tells me what she wants. In a lot of cases I don’t think it’s meant to be manipulative, it’s just a verbal tic.

  51. [Reposting because it looks like my first comment was eaten.]

    I dislike being asked this question too, except in my case it’s more that I don’t want to be asked this question by coworkers, ever. I understand that they’re just trying to be friendly and make small talk but it still feels invasive. It gets exhausting dealing with “Got any plans this weekend?” starting on Wednesday and then “What did you do this weekend?” again on Monday. (So Tuesday is the only day safe from that question, ha. This realization makes me like Tuesdays more.) Part of it for me, too, is that a lot of my free time is devoted to managing my anxiety and physical issues (that I don’t talk about at work) and I feel pressured to always have a “good” weekend.

    This is how I deal with it:
    1. Answer vaguely. “Nothing much” (I have one coworker who now sometimes asks me “What are you doing this weekend? Nothing much?” and I’m like “yup” and get back to work.)
    2. Flip the question back to them. I’ve realized that people sometimes ask this question to start a conversation about the weekend so they can tell you all about their exciting weekend plans.
    3. Give small truths. “Catching up on sleep”, “doing chores”, “spending time with my partner”.

    And I try to be easier on myself for not having the exciting weekends I think I should be having. It’s okay that I struggle with anxiety. It’s okay that my body needs time to recuperate. It’s okay that I usually spend my weekends watching movies/playing videogames/reading and those aren’t shameful hobbies. It’s okay that I don’t want to tell my coworkers the details of what I’m reading and I get to choose who I want to share details of my life with.

    Just…it can be a lot sometimes. It’s hard to navigate things as “just small talk” when follow-up questions and comments quickly lead to territory I don’t want to discuss. I say “nothing much” and the other person responds, “yeah, it’s nice to be lazy sometimes, right?” And I don’t want to get into how no, it’s not lazy to need time to recuperate and our society puts too much pressure on needing to be constantly productive and not respect ourselves as people. It’s not lazy that I did X this week which meant I was in pain by Friday night. When I tell you I’ll be meal planning this weekend that’s not an invitation for you to tell me all of your diet ideas and which meals are healthier.

    1. I usually just say I’m doing laundry. Funnily enough, my co-workers are also doing laundry. Every weekend! Although I have one co-worker who apparently does laundry on weekdays sometimes.
      For me, laundry is a good excuse, because you can make it seems as small or as big as you’d like. Maybe you have a mountain of laundry and it takes the whole weekend, or you are just doing the laundry inbetween other activities.

  52. My response to that is usually a sassy “Depends, why?”

    I get a bit awkward when people ask me that question too, because of the whole half-agreeing to plans before they’re actually exposed (I never considered it nosy personally but I can see how it might come across that way). My nightmare would be something like this:

    Them: “Hey, you free tonight?”

    Me: “Yeah, why?”

    Them: “My 6 year old daughter and her class are putting together a full rundown of the classic opera La Traviata in the original Italian and it’ll end at 11PM on a weekday. It’s great that you can come!”

    Me: “I uh…have to shave my cat…”

    Them: “But you said you were free!”

    Me: “I said that, didn’t I. Dammit.”

    So, since my unspoken fear in this situation is that I’ll have revealed my availability for an activity I don’t want to do and that I’ll be too polite to outright say I don’t want to go, I figured I might as well express it, even if jokingly.

    “Depends, why?”, even if said with humour, does tell the asker that I might be open, but that it’ll depend on the contents of the invitation. I might be up for casual after work hangs but not going clubbing in that sketchy bar across town. It leaves me an opening to decline politely once everything has been said.

    Like “Sounds great but tonight wouldn’t work for me” or “Yknow what, I’m pretty tired, I could have made something shorter work but that play will just be too much” or just “Hm, nah. Thanks for the invite though!”

  53. I hate this question too because like…I don’t always pick up on it! Early on in dating the boything, he would ask what I was doing that night in a way that made me think it was small talk…so I’d say “oh, I’m working on [project] probably, or I might just have an early night.” And then he would assume I wasn’t free, whereas if he would have said “hey do you want to have dinner?” I would have been on board.

    So nowadays I’ll say something like “I’m probably going to do [X], but that’s not urgent if you want to hang out instead!” or “I need to do [X] but I have time for a quick dinner if you’re interested.” (People who are not the boything get “oh, I’ve got laundry” because there’s almost nobody else I’m willing to make same-day plans with. My introvert self doesn’t like last-minute extroverting.)

    1. Uggggghhhh flashbacks to a previous boything of my own. Our college was selling cheap tickets for an outdoor ice skating event. He didn’t mention it at all, and he wasn’t big into ice skating in years past, so I assumed he probably just wasn’t interested. One morning when we were together he asked, “So what are your plans for tonight?” I said, “Oh I don’t know. Probably just working on some homework.” He said, “Oh yeah?” and just went on, no indication that he was asking for any reason other than general curiosity.

      Later that evening I find out through facebook that HE went out ice skating, with several of our friends, and he had never even mentioned to me that he was going, let alone asked if I wanted to come too! When I asked him later, “What the heck? You went out and you didn’t even invite me?” he said, “Well I asked you if you had plans and you said you were doing homework!” Well yeah, because I had no other plans at that time because you did not indicate to me that there were any other options!

      There were several problems that led to the death of that relationship, but communication (on both sides) was for sure one of them.

  54. When I was a teen or an adult who looked like a teen, I was very fond of, “I’ll have to ask my mother.” I had as little to do with my mother as possible at the time, but I noticed this response was great at making creepy guys shrivel up and slink off.

    On the other hand, that was a while ago. I’m not sure it would work on modern creepy dudes.

  55. Oof this is hard, because how you deal with it can and will vary so wildly depending upon who’s doing the asking of you. Is it a throwaway social nicety, or a veiled attempt to get you to accept a task or invite?

    I used to preemptively dodge any potential “would you like to / can you do X” follow-ups by making vague allusions to being busy upfront (PASSIVE), and then I’d weakly paw away their insisting that I can/should be able to do it because THEY think I have the time to. UGH. I hate it when people tell me what’s best for me (more plans! MY plans!) after I’ve made my piece clear.

    BUT! after reading a ton of CA’s archives I feel comfortable telling people, “I’m up to nothing both Saturday and Sunday, and I CANNOT WAIT. Boy, do I need it. How about you?” If they push after that, they’re admitting they’re either not listening or not respecting my feelings. And if I run into “but surely you don’t need BOTH days to yourself?” I’m also prepared to retort with something like, “Maybe you don’t, but I’m very excited for two days to decompress. I know what’s best for me.” If they continue after that, they’re super pushy and rude and I’ll say as much. (I’m looking at you, mom, and you too, aunt.)

  56. I wish that just once I had the wherewithal to respond to a manipulative “invitation” like LW describes with the classic Phoebe Buffet line:

    “Oh, I wish I could, but I don’t want to.”

  57. I kind of like your signature line as a response!

    Them: “What are you doing this weekend?”
    You: “Oh, I have a few plans but I’m free for the good stuff!”

  58. This is my first time commenting because so much of this rang true. My family are a bunch of hyper-social weirdos for whom my introvert-ness is very confusing. It took a LOOOOONNNNGGG time to train them out of, “What are you doing this weekend? Nothing? COME TO LOOSE PLAN HANGOUT THING THAT I’M INVOLVED IN OR ELSE YOU MIGHT SHRIVEL AND DIE!” and they had the best intentions. (My brother and sister in particular also had to learn from both their friends and myself that, just because they love me and love them doesn’t mean that we’re all friends) I could only imagine if that question were followed by an expectation of service or freedom to assume I was going to a thing.

    I also trained myself to say, “Oh just marathoning *show I like*” or “I picked up a new book and can’t wait to dive in!” which they translate to “doing a thing.” (I suppose they thought that before I responded that way.

    And I have an aunt who, when I was younger, my preferring to do nothing plans often translated in her head to free babysitting for her boys. So yeah, I feel that part too.

    1. BLah, I realized I didn’t finish the thought, “I suppose that before I started responding that way they thought I was sitting alone rocking back and forth in the dark.”

      1. I think you nailed it with that last bit, to an epic degree. There’s an element of contempt to it, that this is what you would be doing with your time.

        But the female-seeming among us get hit with that kind of weirdly-broken thinking by our families and others endlessly in American and other western cultures. Because our society’s patterns absolutely will not let anyone think it could be possible that what I, for example, would be doing with that time is letting my brain process the mathematics that will lead to an invention that most of us will never hear about, but it will make all of our lives better. There’s just no way, you see, that this is what a woman’s mind does, what she is for.

        What’s she’s for is waiting on and attending to others, and without an opportunity to do that, she must be sitting alone rocking back and forth in the dark. (Women with STEM doctorates especially get constant streamers of this kind of contempt from their families.)

        1. Interesting. I am definitely not math or sciencey, just like my me time, so that wouldn’t have occurred to me. The pushback on needing brain time though makes sense. There’s also nothing wrong with the sitting alone in the dark rocking back and forth, it just seemed a good description of the void my mother thinks “no plans” equals.

          Seriously, both she and my sister are true extroverts, bless them, which is why I use the term “hyper-social weirdos” to describe them. As unfathomable as it is to me to want to be out and about with other humans pretty much every night, it is unfathomable to them to want to spend a whole weekend under a blanket with a book. Which is why we’ve all learned to use our words, though it takes some learning and there are still occasional misunderstandings

          The genered expectations in our family are much more of the “women do the planning” variety which can get super annoying when we’d like to just go along for the ride every once in a while.

        2. PLUS ONE MILLION.

          I’m relearning advanced math as an adult because it seems fun and I’m bitter that I grew up in an atmosphere that discouraged me from learning. My cousins with kids are trying to push their 8-12 year olds on me to tutor them and I’m like “1. it’s differential equations, 2. I have less than zero interest in tutoring kids that have no interest in the subject. I want collaborators, not pupils. 3. Your kids are loud. No.”

          The kids DO like my origami and I was able to get in some geometry pointers with that. But that was fun and consensual for both parties.

        3. Does that mean that these women would get constant requests for free tech support? I’ve been known to do that to friends, since I’m one of those people who freaks out when I hit the wrong key and the computer does something unexpected. At least I’m bright enough to stay out of the control panel and remember my passwords.

        4. OMG THIS SO MUCH

          This comment has clarified a thing for me. Many of your comments in this thread have, in fact.
          Rock on, Helen.

  59. People on a dating site who ask what you’re up to on Thursday are not literally asking what you’re doing Thursday. They are asking whether you want to go on a date with them on Thursday. Answer accordingly.

    1. If it’s as specific as Thursday, that’s true, but I find when it’s a larger stretch like ‘the weekend’ or ‘the holidays’ it’s just as likely to be an attempt to get to know you and learn about your hobbies, interests, routine, etc, and find out if you have anything in common/have a life they find interesting/etc.

  60. After some reflection, my normal version of this (me asking) is “You free this weekend? Wanna do something?” or “You free Saturday? Thinking of seeing [movie]”. This way I’m letting them know why in the same breath, and giving them a potential out. Plus they have the freedom to say “Nah, can’t on Saturday, but I’m free Friday” or whatever.

    Also it varies on friend… one friend, if I ask him if he’s free Friday, we both understand that means beer and movies until the early hours, by default.

    1. Your tactic of combining the two points is the right way to go, I think. I like your point that it does actually give people the “out”–you’ve put it in their minds that they can say “I’m busy.”

      It’s what I do–though I often try to say the “thing” first (Want to go to a movie? or are you busy?)

      1. eh, my mother does that. “Want to go to the turnip festival with me or are you busy?” Well, I’m not busy but I also don’t want to go to any turnip festival ever. Mother likes to trap me. I like to piss her off so I’m honest with her. Don’t do that to a friend. Lead with the actual invitation.

        1. In every group I’ve been in it is socially acceptable and expected that you can say you’re ‘busy’ for whatever reason you want. Unless your friends are kind of jerks they won’t interrogate you about your exact schedule.

  61. There’s an important underlying truth here that I think we all have trouble with:

    We are not required to answer every question put to us.

    Once we own that, and stop feeling guilty, etc., it becomes easier to seize the power, and it becomes easier to think of what we ARE going to say.

    1. Nailed it.

      It’s all back to the lines of dominance and power again. We teach children that they must answer questions put to them by adults, that they have no choice in the matter. We do this so thoroughly that we then have to figure out how to re-train them so this doesn’t put them at greater risk in the presence of predators, and we don’t do that re-training thoroughly enough. leaving them vulnerable to all kinds of predation as teens and young adults.

      Plus, young women and girls aren’t stupid — they know that most people will view them as being at the absolute bottom of the dominance pecking order and will resent it if they don’t answer questions put to them. They see how often — constantly — males can throw a tantrum about how they’re being bitches, where the male’s only complaint is, “I asked her questions, and she refused to answer!” — That alone is enough for him to feel justified in escalating the threats, anger, violence. Young women and girls are not stupid. They know this.

      So the LW’s anger at nosy questions is more than justified. LW gets that this is all tied up with threats of violence. LW gets that we all know this, and should be less friggin’ bigoted about shoving our nosy questions at a population for whom nosy questions are constantly tied to real threats of violence.

      Rock the anger, LW. Don’t for a second feel guilty about judging a nosy male as no good if they ask nosy questions and show any sign of caring if you don’t answer.

  62. LW is a better person than I; I would be tempted to say, “I desperately need to re-grout the bathroom and weed the garden. Hey, don’t you owe me one for babysitting last Onesday? You can help!'”

  63. I use the phrase “same old stuff!” In this situation. It is handy because it has a friendly tone of “I don’t want to go into detail” while still participating in the conversation. It can be all consuming, leaving no time for asker’s invitations or request, or totally flexible and cancellable if there is something you would like to do.

  64. My current boss is a total jerk. He’d ask me what I’m doing for the weekend and when i started to tell him a selection of my actual plans he’d cut me off while I was talking to make fun of how boring or lame I am or some other stupid comment. Now when he asks I say “party like a rock star”. He hardly ever asks anymore though.

  65. I think it’s interesting how LW is talking about what seems to me to be a specific social paradigm/situation that a lot of the commentators do not share? Like I also find ‘what’re you doing this weekend’ to be pretty normal but also can feel very intrusive, but if I had people in my life like the LW’s who were using it to try to make me do things I didn’t want to do while making it seem like they were not making me do things it’d get to be a really irritating and hair-trigger question pretty fast. And with some people it is pretty transparently a question with the subtext of ‘let me mooch off of your free time’ and/or ‘the things you do in your free time are stupid and wrong’.

    LW, one of the things you could do is take a hobby (or pretend to) and have that as your ‘backup plans’. Like, say you pretend to take up crochet, and designate ‘working on my crochet projects/gifts’ as your backup plan, and so when people you know are assholes about this ask you have the backup plan. You always say ‘I’m working on my crochet projects this weekend’. Or you pretend to suddenly get involved in learning new cooking recipes, or working on your car, or doing competitive chess, or something that isn’t a once-a-month kind of hobby. This way, you are always busy when those people ask. (You could also just say ‘no’ and keep going, but that can cause conflict with them, which you might or might not want.) You an also use it to deflect people like the commenters who are entirely not malicious, because it can serve the same purpose of filling small talk, providing a topic of easy conversation, and/or signaling that you are busy but flexible to people you actually like.

  66. I usually list a few of the things I’m doing and treat it as a conversation starter, i.e., ask them about their weekend.

    I’ve never found it made any difference at all for invitations – it’s not like I told them how much time each activity I’m doing will require or what other boring chores I will also be doing. If it is in fact a lead up to an invitation or request I can always either find room for it or say I don’t have time.

  67. My answer to this question is almost invariably “Not sure yet, why?” or “Haven’t quite decided, how about you?”

    This might elicit a “Well I was just wondering if you’d like to…” to which I will respond, “That sounds better than what I was planning, count me in” or “Hmm, thanks for thinking of me but I don’t think I’ll be able to this time. If you need an answer right now then I’m gonna have to say no.”

  68. I’m surprised to find out this is annoying, I guess, because I am such a “What are you up to this weekend?” asker when I want to hang out. It’s mostly me trying to figure out a friend’s general level of free time and not impose if they’re busy or dealing with a crisis. When we nearly got evicted from our housing situation, I was critically busy trying to find an apartment for me and the housemates, and it kind of annoyed me to have friends pinging me like “Heyyy, I miss you, can we get lunch this week,” without finding out if I was actually available first. But different cultural norms! I get that.

    1. I guess turning down invites is probably just a point of stress for me though, because people have historically gotten annoyed at me for being busy and turning down their invites, when it’s just like… “Please find out if I’m actually available first so you don’t take it personally that I can’t hang this weekend?”

      1. I think it goes back to the same annoyng assumption – there are people who assume your time is theirs.
        They need to stop it.
        Specific questions and order thereof aren’t quite the point. The underlying assumption, is/.

      2. here’s what i don’t get: why would it be a problem, in the scenario you’ve given, to say, “eh, i wish, but i’m swamped this week, shitYXZ’s been happening, i’ll ping you next week tho”

        what about this would a person take personally????

        1. You would think, right? But a couple people have African-violeted me over this. I think that with my previous friend group culture, a “sorry, I’m REALLY busy for the next few weeks” gets taken personally as “I’m too busy to maintain our relationship,” even though I’m trying to, um, not be homeless? I do have a preference for having the “What are you up to Friday?” question asked first though because I appreciate that they want to respect my schedule—whenever I book hangs with my good friends, we let each other know what blocks of time are going to be rough to fit each other into and know not to ping them too much during those times.

  69. LW here. Oh my goodness I didn’t even realize this was posted and then it took awhile for me to read through all of the responses.

    1. Thank you! There were SO many helpful suggestions in here.

    2. To those who are wondering why this is such a big deal when it’s just a social pleasantries thing: I *almost* put this in my original questions but left it out for length and (I thought) irrelevance -The question does not bug me at all when people ask at work or social functions as a way to make conversation. It’s all the other situations I listed that bother me – the ones where I don’t always know the purpose of the question / true intent of the asker, or I suspect it’s to get me to do something. So I get your point, and that’s definitely not what I was asking about.

    3. To those who suggested building better boundaries with my family: Good advice. Thankfully, the discomfort is mostly on my end at this point. I do have quite good boundaries with my family (after years of building them) and definitely only babysit when I want to. Getting this question still stresses me out because I feel like I have to work 100x harder to set and enforce said boundaries than if people just asked up front. I suppose it’s more of an emotional labor thing? I really appreciate the feedback from the Captain and other commenters about the need to own my time and feel more confident in my right to respond when and how I want to. I also like the advice to just tell people I interact with regularly that I don’t like that question. Thanks!

    Kind of a random revelation after reading everyone’s advice and responses: I think this is up for me right now because I”m new to the online dating world and, because of my past experience with my family, I am having a hard time telling if the question is of the innocuous kind (like when co-workers ask my plans for the weekend), a soft opening to trying to ask me out, or the kind of manipulation that I’ve, for better or for worse, learned to be on alert for. So mostly I just want the question to go away lol, but since, as the Captain said, that’s not likely to happen any time soon, I thought I’d try to learn some better ways to navigate it, and again, all of your responses have been extremely helpful! (I’m a lady dating ladies btw, if that’s relevant, though I have also dated men before and my experience is definitely colored by some of the emotional labor / potential gender-related danger issues some of the commenters pointed out – that’s spot on).

    Cheers everyone, LW

  70. ‘What are you doing Thursday’ is a way to start a convo gently and without losing face, giving the answerer has the option of answering negatively, positively, or neutrally. It’s only a trap when the same people use it repeatedly to rope you in to doing something you would otherwise be able to avoid gracefully.

    “Why do you ask”, “why, is something happening”, and “why, what’s up” are different answers that extend the convo while not telling porkies. Although you risk hearing all about the questioners plans.

    “Thursday is awful for me – rushing all day” invites the questioner to drop the topic, and “Nothing, how about you” invites the questioner to ask you to the fun thing.

    Which has been said in other comments – and is important enough to say again.

    1. Nah, “Why do you ask” is generally pretty safe to take literally. Overwhelming majority of the time, someone who says “why do you ask?” wants to know why do you ask. Relatedly, this is not an impolite thing to say. People who act like or claim that it is impolite are exhibiting the “things I don’t like must be rude/mean” fallacy. If those people have sufficient ability to cause difficulty or danger if they are displeased, it may not be advisable to say to them — but not because it it rude; because those people cause problems when things don’t go their way.

      The same is true for both indirect hinty inquiries like “doing anything on the weekend?” and direct invites like “Are you available for X chore/ Y funthing Saturday between 2 and 5?” Or noncommittal responses like “dunno, maybe” or definite responses like “I will make time for a few specific fun things within specific timeframe, otherwise I am unavailable.” None of these is universally rude; any/all can be considered presumptuous, pushy, passive, or otherwise inappropriate to specific circumstances or relationships (and fine/desirable for others), and any/all may result in added difficulty/danger if they are spoken to a person who has the ability to cause problems if displeased, and are not what that person wants to hear.

      I find looking out for the people who cause difficulty when things don’t go their way, is more useful than trying to figure out all the numerous different ways common interactions could be interpreted and trying to use the “right” one for every situation.

      1. There are at least two distinct “why do you ask?” which are sadly distinguished only by tone.

        There is a normal-question-asking prosody, where the words get successively higher in pitch. That’s just the question it looks like.

        Then there is the Miss Manners rebuff, where the pitch is level until the final word is raised.

  71. Why do people ask? Two main reasons that I can see:

    1) They want to get to know you better and talking about how you like to spend your weekend is often a great way to do that. It gives you a window into each other’s lives and invites you to share something about yourself.

    2) They are thinking of asking you to do something with them but are fishing around first because they’re afraid of asking directly right out – either afraid of rejection or sometimes afraid of putting you on the spot or sometimes they just feel like it sounds too abrupt and unnatural to just without some chat first.

    It sounds like you find the second uncomfortable or have had bad experiences with people misusing it to manipulate you.

    If they mean well then they will try to stop when you explain that you prefer to be asked directly.

    If they really are trying to manipulate you then I’m afraid having just the right words won’t fix it… you will probably have to say no directly when they finally get to their request. You may feel uncomfortable doing this (which is their goal) but you always have the right to decline a request. (Whether there will be some negative family fallback I don’t know). You can try to head it off by always responding with some activity you’re doing that could theoretically make you busy if it turns out you need to be busy… But frankly if someone is trying to manipulate you then you have a manipulative person problem, not a specific question problem.

  72. I’m lucky because any “plans for the weekend?” questions are just small talk (i.e. no one tries to rope me into something). I like to respond with “Doing nothing. Just how I like it :)”

    For small talk, I like to ask questions where the answer can be simple. That, or non-questions. For example, “Looking forward to the weekend?” or “I hope you get to relax this weekend.”; My take is that if they wish to continue the conversation, they will do so, but if not, they can reply with a Yes/No.

    On the other end, I have a tactic for weekend planning. It took some practice, but I always try to give an “out” for people, especially since I have a group of Japanese friends where they’re used to giving a “soft no”. Detailing the event and a specific date is best.

    ME: Hi [Friend], I’d like to plan a karaoke night with you, are you free [date] or [date]?
    FRIEND: I am available [date]!
    ME: Great! Is it OK to invite the usual people? / Is it OK for so-and-so to tag along?

    ME to GROUP CHAT: [Friend] and I are planning karaoke on [date] 🙂 If you are available and interested, please let me know by [date] and I’ll reserve a room!

    The method that has been the most successful for me is to ask one person if they’re available/interested in an event, work out a date, and then specify such event in a group chat. If people can’t come, you still have plans with the one friend!

  73. Oh LW this might be one of my very biggest pet peeves. My friends do it alllll the time. I get “what are you doing this weekend?” or just “what are you doing?” on a Saturday morning. Like now? Right now? I have actually thought about writing in about this one as well. I wish people could just say “I want to do (thing) do you want to do (thing) with me?”

    All I can tell ya is what I have been doing for years:
    Silly Friend: “what are you doing this weekend?”
    Silly Friend: “do you want to do (thing)?”
    Me: “yes!” or “no, sorry. Can’t”

    This will not go away. At least, it never has for me! I don’t think my friends are trying to put me on the spot at all. I’m super introverted and have medium to high levels of anxiety, depending on the situation. It almost feels like if they just sneak up on me with some super fun plans I might say yes more often. Please note, I’ve explained why I often say no and that I’m very much a loner. These are my 2 best friends for over 20 years each! That’s just how some people ask I suppose. Good luck!

  74. I have a couple of friends/acquaintances(sp?)/co-workers, who usually uses the “So what are you doing this weekend?” as an opener to telling me all the awesome stuff they’ve planned for themself for the weekend.

    1. Yes, this. Most people would rather talk about themselves than anyone else, so turning the question back to them will almost always divert them from further questions about what I’m doing.

  75. I actually get this a lot from people who are actually trying to start conversations, rather than invite me somewhere. Just kind of wanting to converse by text or something. I understand they’re looking for an ice breaker, but it’s not that interesting to talk about “I’ll probably get to laundry if I’m not too lazy.” I wish there was another common conversation starter among people you already know. Or else, I’d rather people not start a conversation unless they have something specific to say, unless it’s somebody like my sister who I know well enough to talk about “nothing” and enjoy it.

    I know this is a small complaint, in the grand scheme of things, and I usually handle it by changing the subject to something I’m interested in if I *do* feel like conversing.

  76. Hello, there’s a related phenomenon of *cashiers who don’t know you* asking the question. For example, while my wife and I are paying with a credit card after having Saturday morning breakfast, and while the receipt is printing out, the cashier will say, “So, you guys got any good plans for the weekend?”

    This strikes me as so strange! It’s just in the past year or so that it’s cropped up — repeatedly, with different people at different establishments.

    Is this just aimless small-talk? I’m sure it’s benignly intended — but it’s intrusive. I’m in my late 50s and, frankly, my plans for the weekend are likely to be boring to this younger inquirer.

    How should I respond? Amusing to think of borrowing a line from upthread: “Well, it sounds like you’re inviting me to something interesting! Tell me more!” Of course I would never do this — it would be returning the aggression — but it’s a real puzzle to me.

    Love you Captain.

    1. It’s just small talk! These people aren’t trying to “gotcha! you said you had no plans!” you into babysitting or helping them with yardwork, they just want to ask you a fun, low-stakes question. You can answer a pleasant: “Nothing much!” or “You’re looking at it, breakfast was great!” or “I hope you get some free time later today, the weather is lovely!” without worrying about it at all.

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