The First Step Is Admitting You Have a Problem

Sometimes the thoughts that pop into my head are so foreign and unsolicited that it feels as if they were put there by somebody else. I am pretty sure there is this other chick squatting inside of me, silently watching the drama unfold, waiting for some distracted moment to jump in and smack me upside the head with what she really thinks. A few weeks after my engagement, I am yawning at a stop sign, searching for my break in an endless parade of cars, when over the relentless clicking of the turn signal she suddenly utters: Well, I guess you’re never going to be single again. Better start figuring out what you want in a relationship.

Wait. What? Where did that come from?

At first I’m indignant. The “Yes” has already been whispered, the ring photos uploaded and subsequently “liked,” the congratulations envelopes emptied of their contents. The decision has been made. And now is the time to start figuring out what I want? It’s a little late for that.

I do see where she’s coming from, though. I have a history of getting into relationships and forgetting that I have opinions; in love, I fail to participate in making decisions that affect my own health and happiness. I can trace this habit all the way back to my (loving, supporting, wonderful!) family of origin. Along with an infamous punctuality deficiency, my parents, siblings, and I all share an inability to make a joint decision on even the most mundane matters. A typical Friday night in our house during my youth:

“Well. Nobody feels like cooking. Should we have Chinese or pizza?”
“I don’t care. Ask Dad.”
“Oh, it doesn’t matter. What do you want?”
“I dunno. Maybe pizza?”
“That’s fine, I guess. But didn’t we have pizza last weekend?”
“Okay…so…Chinese, then?”
“I guess. But what do we order?”
“Don’t ask me. Ma, what should we get?”
“Oh, I don’t care. Just…anything.”
“General Tso’s?”
“Well, we had that last time. But get whatever you want.”
“Maybe we should just order a pizza.”

(My fiancé Mark is baffled by this waltz of non-decision. As a point of comparison, his mother recently sent us both an email entitled “Gift Hints for my Birthday.” Her birthday is nine months from now. She just wants to make absolutely sure she gets what she wants.)

“Okay,” I say to the squatter inside my head, “so my family had take-out problems. So I’ve played the doormat in a relationship or two. That was then. I have since grown up, gotten a master’s degree, gotten all feminist, and gotten over it. Right?”

She reminds me about that time our friends recommended a “great” apartment on a one-way dead-end street in Northeast Philadelphia. (You had to park the left half of your car up on the sidewalk, and drive out in reverse if you wanted to leave. Just in case you’re curious.) I kind of had some vague sense that this might not be our finest idea, but I ignored any qualms and deferred completely to Mark. That little voice remained silent until exactly one week after we moved in. It was a sunny Sunday morning when she finally spoke up, as I stood examining the bloody gash in my right index finger, searching for the shard of glass that had slipped inside as I swept up the shattered evidence of my car’s midnight robbery: You should have looked at more houses before signing this lease. She’s a sage, that little voice, but her timing really sucks.

Okay. So I’m a lot better at figuring out whatever it was I wanted after it’s already too late. We walk into the noisy dive bar with the terrible cover band and I realize I just wanted to stay on the couch tonight. We blow a grand each on airplane tickets I was pretty sure we could have gotten for half that. We watch the neighbors deal drugs on our old stoop in Philly and I remember that I once had a bad feeling about this place. Given all the trouble it’s caused, you’d think I’d have learned by now to speak up sooner. But here’s the thing: having no opinion is a way of never being wrong. Oh, dinner tasted like garbage? Well, don’t look at me: I never said I wanted pizza in the first place.

For the sake of sanity, partnership, health, and happiness, it’s time to kick the habit.

Being engaged doesn’t mean it’s too late to start figuring out what I want. Engagement is not a contractual obligation to remain in the exact same relationship we were in at the moment the question was popped forever. In fact, this is the perfect time to lay out the blueprints for this marriage. We’ve already decided to be together, but there are so many other decisions to be made: What city or town are we both going to be happy living in? What words are Never Okay to use during a fight? And seriously, whose job is it to do those dishes? It’s not that these things won’t be amended throughout the course of our lives together: every day of a marriage is a new decision on what direction the relationship will take, whether its participants realize it or not. It’s just that forever is an awfully long time to wish you’d had something to say in how this would all begin.

Oh, and for dinner tonight? I want sushi. Most definitely.

Featured Sponsored Content

  • “Engagement is not a contractual obligation to remain in the exact same relationship we were in at the moment the question was popped forever.” Yesyesyesyes! Deciders have to grapple with this too. It’s a little harder for deciders (myself included) since we so definitively decided on the initial path.

    • I think this can be a hard concept to grasp, especially with social media (I’m looking at you, Hollywood). It can be difficult to come to grips with the idea that you will change. I think this is such a great idea, to actively decide what you want with full knowledge that you will both change!

  • My husband and I are both “whatever you want is fine” types, which leads to some long conversations about where to go for dinner. But wedding planning really helped us learn to state our opinions when we care about something and just go ahead and make a decision together when neither of us really does. Which doesn’t mean I’ve worked out my doormat tendencies overall, but it’s a start.

    • The decisions about the things you don’t care about are the hardest. Which seems backwards because there’s no baggage there, so it should be easy, right? Except it’s easy to stand up for something you care about and fight for it if need be while being all assertive about something I don’t give a rat’s bum about feels silly.

      • CJ

        I concur wholeheartedly about the things you care least about being the most difficult. I think my astounding unspecificity of desires likely comes from being the second oldest of six kids (girl-boy(me)-girl-girl-girl-boy, in almost perfect biennial steps). There was not much hope of my opinion counting for much, so I learned how to be content with virtually any outcome.

        Definitely went through a doormat stage, there, but eventually I learned how to be content while still having opinions. Everyone in my family *loved* homemade hamburgers and french fries; I loathed them. One day when we were having the infinity-and-a-thirdth hamburgers and french fries supper, I finally snapped (gently but firmly). I told my parents that I’d just find something else to eat. That’s when something *utterly* *shocking* happened: They were *fine* with that!

        Fast forward many years, and now I’m having to learn that while mb is also very accommodating, one thing that is apparently rather important to *her* is that *I* can make decisions (including, or perhaps especially, the insignificant ones). She’s learned that I really *am* perfectly content with eating pretty much anywhere, and I’m learning that when she asks me where we should go eat, she’s not looking for the perfect answer, just *an* answer. If it’s an answer that’s “wrong” for her at that moment, she’ll say so and we can go on from there, but reenacting the vulture scene from Disney’s Jungle Book (“So, what we gonna do?” “I don’t know, whatcha wanna do?”) is very frustrating to her.

        I’m gradually accepting that my engineering background doesn’t mean everything has to be optimal, and I’m discovering internal ways I can choose from a plethora of statistically equivalent choices — everything from “Hmm, today’s date is divisible by five, so I’ll suggest Five Guys” to “It’s Thursday, which reminds me of never getting the hang of Thursdays, which reminds me of the liquid almost but not quite exactly unlike tea, which is a good description of coffee, which is in her favorite tiramisu, so how about Carrabba’s” to puns the depths of which I will not burden you with.

        Making insignificant decisions (however arbitrarily) doesn’t mean that I’d be any less content with any outcome whatsoever, but if it makes mb happier and is irrelevant to me, I’ll gladly do it. Plus, the more I do it, the more convoluted the internal justifications can be, which entertains me to no end. Sometimes I even share the reasons with her, — they tend to get me some *really* funny looks. :D

  • KEA1

    OMG. I needed this today.

    Uhhhhh, actually I needed this years ago, but who’s counting? THANK YOU for this! %)

  • Sam A

    “..having no opinion is a way of never being wrong.”
    This, so very much this. I am… opinionated. I speak my mind, when in some cases, i really should just be quiet. But – never thought of it this way. Here’s to being brave enough to risk being wrong – especially when it comes to marriage and our relationships.

    • Jeanine

      “But here’s the thing: having no opinion is a way of never being wrong. Oh, dinner tasted like garbage? Well, don’t look at me: I never said I wanted pizza in the first place.”

      I have been hiding behind this for years!

  • Granola

    This post is excellent! My extended family also does the waltz of non-decision for Sunday night dinners. We’re also about to find a new apartment, so your suggestions are timely, as well as charming.

    What I’ve really worked at in our relationship is learning how to state an opinion kindly and clearly and both of us not take it personally. I can get so worried about saying the wrong thing that I freak out and say exactly the wrong thing, which doesn’t exactly create a safe space for, say, trying a new recipe. No one wants to bear the brunt of the bad decision.

    On the flip side, I’ve started making more of my own decisions. (I tend to canvass for other opinions because I really want approval and reassurance that I’m doing the right thing.) Lately, I’ve been gut checking myself “Do I really need another opinion on this? Is this actually something someone else can have a useful opinion about? Will anyone else be affected if this goes a little wrong? Do I really just want reassurance because I’m avoiding pulling the trigger?”

    What you said about an engagement not being a contract to never change is spot on! While there’s a lot of cultural chatter about “not trying to change” the other person, I think it would be great to explore the (often positive ways) that we can grow and change and be better in our relationships.

    • Amanda L.

      Lately, I’ve been gut checking myself “Do I really need another opinion on this? Is this actually something someone else can have a useful opinion about? Will anyone else be affected if this goes a little wrong? Do I really just want reassurance because I’m avoiding pulling the trigger?”

      All of the above! Somewhere in my childhood I learned that I needed everyone to agree on my decisions, and then needed to be congratulated on making them. I am going to start personally ‘gut-checking’ myself to see if I can stop that destructive behavior (I’m sure my husband and friends will thank you!).

      • Granola

        It’s actually been kind of gleefully fun in a “Look at all this power I have! I don’t need anyone to tell me what to do!” way.

  • Diane

    Yes, I can totally relate to trying to deal with one’s overly conciliatory nature, and have been working on being more assertive in our marriage. Back in December my husband had to take a Myers-Briggs test for work. When he told me about his results I decided to take an online version and it was pretty enlightening. Turns out we’re polar opposites on their scale (ISFJ and ENTP).

    I did a lot of reading about our different personality types. Basically, I learned I too easily play the doormat role and this probably annoys my husband. Thus I decided I needed to be more assertive and make my wants/needs more clear to him. Sometimes this is as simple as me being really clear that I want to do whatever my husband suggests so that he knows I’m not being a doormat (YES I do want to get out of town this weekend). Other times it requires me to be willing to face conflict (NO I am not happy you forget to pay the garbage company again and we need to work out a better system). I often have to remind myself to say what I’m thinking/feeling but you know what? It feels pretty good to let stuff out and if there’s one person who should know what I’m thinking and feeling it’s my husband.

  • Oh my god. I think your squatter is also inside my head, because YEAH.

    Also, this? But here’s the thing: having no opinion is a way of never being wrong.

    I never acknowledged that until just now. And it’s true. Oy,

    • yes, sometimes. and i do have to be careful of that one – it slips in sometimes. but as a dedicated non-decider, i feel the need to defend a bit.

      i find that this is what everyone assumes i am doing when i fail/refuse to make a decision. there is an unspoken assumption that everyone has an opinion about everything at all times.

      sometimes that’s just not true (a great deal, for me). and i have never seen a reason to manufacture an opinion if it’s not there. the big difference, though, is that if you don’t have an opinion about the decision being made, you need to be prepared to be clear that no one was wrong (because sometimes the pizza is just crappy, and that’s not the fault of the person who wanted it – and because there doesn’t always have to be fault).

      to be fair, it took me a while to find that balance, and i did a lot of “having no opinion [as] a way of never being wrong” in the process, which is entirely unfair. but i have to stick up for my decision to be indecisive; i think there are ways of doing it honorably. (i spent a long, long time convincing my wife that “i don’t care” means “i don’t care” rather than “i care, but expect you to know what i want without my saying it” or “i don’t care…oh, but not that!”)

      • meg

        This is so key: i spent a long, long time convincing my wife that “i don’t care” means “i don’t care” rather than “i care, but expect you to know what i want without my saying it” or “i don’t care…oh, but not that!”

        I finally cracked my partners code: Sure = Yes, Maybe = No, I don’t care = I don’t care.

        But when you genuinely really don’t care, if it doesn’t work out, you usually just shrug. Why? You don’t really care.

        • Sheila

          OT but I am so confused… is this really Meg? Meg, you don’t normally write in all lowercase and last time I checked you didn’t have a wife. Just wondering if there was a bug in the comment system.

          • KC

            Pretty sure Meg is quoting the comment she’s replying to, just without quotation marks because there are a bunch in the quotation already?

          • Sheila

            Oh, thanks KC! Don’t know why I didn’t notice that. Move along, nothing to see here…

      • Amanda

        We (I) have outlawed the term “I don’t care” in our household. Even though I should not do so, I take the term very personally. “Would you like me to cook X for dinner?” followed by an “I don’t care” is viewed in my mind as not caring about how *I* feel about cooking X. It’s a little ridiculous, I’ll agree, but it’s how I feel. Can’t invalidate that.

        However, your comment makes me take pause for a second… maybe he really doesn’t care about what we *eat* for dinner. I know he cares that I care enough to cook it!! Oh boy, this needs some more thinking… perhaps I need to find a way to let go of the feelings and emotions attached to the term “I don’t care”. Good food for thought (pun, intended).

        • H

          I personally like, “I don’t mind,” better than “I don’t care.” I’m with you that I don’t care sounds more like not caring about anything. Not MINDING means, I won’t complain about whatever you choose.

          • Katie Mae

            When I was little, I made my best friend cry at our fake tea party. I asked, “would you care for some tea?” and when she said yes, I set down the teapot. I thought the affirmative answer was “no” because in my experience, “I don’t care” meant “fine, sure.”

            There are definitely some confusing phrases with the word “care!” I agree that “I don’t mind” is more neutral.

      • Oh, of course. There are things I generally don’t have an opinion on, and that’s fine.

        But reading this through made me confront that fact that often times I do this shirking-of-opinions because I don’t want to be “wrong.” And “wrong” also means a lot of things for me, mostly having to do with how another person (my partner, my mother, my friends) will view me. I don’t often have trouble making decisions when I’m alone, or when they strictly apply only to myself. Widen those parameters, though, and suddenly “Oh, whatever you want is fine…” starts trickling out of my mouth entirely too often.

        (Not to mention it annoys me when I don’t make any input on a decision, and the results are the opposite of what I want, but I cannot complain as I never voiced my damn opinions!)

        Yikes. Working on it.

        • Katie Mae

          “often times I do this shirking-of-opinions because I don’t want to be “wrong.” And “wrong” also means a lot of things for me, mostly having to do with how another person (my partner, my mother, my friends) will view me.”

          Oh, Kelly, I’m right there with you. It’s a rough habit.

    • Copper

      I was just coming down to say the same thing.

      You ladies are better than therapy! Although now I’m confused because I relate equally to this comment and the one directly below it. Sometimes under the guise of making sure I’m not steamrolling my partner, I wind up giving up my opinion.

  • The joke in my family is that all the women are assertive-bordering-on-aggressive. I have strong opinions about Lots of things. It has taken me a while (and still I have to remind myself) to believe my partner when he says he truly has no opinion on the matter. It’s like I’m upset he WON’T argue with me. I don’t want to treat him as a doormat, so I want him to fight for his opinion, but he has reminded me time and again that if he really and truly feels strongly about something, he will speak up (and he does).

    So, slowly, I learn to just be vocal about what I think and roll on if I hear no disagreement, then check in on occasion to make sure I’m not steamrolling. (It’s usually easy to tell, cuz I get The Look)

    • KB

      I totally get this, and it goes both ways – the issue sometimes isn’t that you need to interpret the other person’s version of “fine” and “I don’t care,” it’s that you need them to be truthful when they say that or provide context – like “I have a slight opinion, but if you feel more strongly about this, I will defer to you” in lieu of “I don’t care.” Plus, I personally need to learn that I don’t need someone else’s opinion to be the wall that I bounce my ideas off of – I can formulate a well-informed decision without needing a real person to play Devil’s Advocate.

    • Granola

      Oh man this!

      My partner will say he doesn’t care about something, and it’s like pulling teeth. Do you really not care? Or do you not want to argue with me? Or are you being passive-aggressive now and later you’re going to say you wish we’d done something else.

      For me it’s a fine line that hinges on trust, and I tell him “I need to trust that you’ll speak up if this is important to you, because otherwise I’ll keep asking you about it and it’ll drive us both crazy”

    • Caroline

      “The joke in my family is that all the women are assertive-bordering-on-aggressive.”

      That is so my family. My step-father calls my mother “Queen Admiral”, and my fiancé has pointed out that when my mom, sister, and I get our heads together about something, it’s like a steamroller, there is no opposition. My fiancé has said he’s never met a family with so many strong women at it. (And when the three of us women butt heads, oh boy. Batten down the hatches folks).

      Therefore, what I’m working on is to listen to my partner’s needs, encourage him to speak up about him, and not steamroller them if they aren’t mine. Not easy, but nessicary.

      • The funny thing is, my family is full of strong women, but we work SO well together. Big family dinner in my grandma’s tiny kitchen? Practically seamless. However, we’ve almost been conditioned NOT to accept strong, helpful men. Because, according to my grandma (in practice, at least), heaven forbid a MAN actually help cook. Or clean up. Or be able to fix himself something to eat for lunch.

        Thank goodness my partner will tells me to let him help. And I’m still working on being okay with a household not kept quite to my grandma’s standards.

  • What if you’re the opposite of this problem and never want anyone else’s opinion? While I definitely have doormatty tendencies in regards to how I’ll let people treat me, when it comes to opinions, I’ve got no trouble having them. I just struggle when others want to give me advice or opinions on my biz. This fills me with rage because I don’t care what anyone else’s opinion is. Since my husband loves to give his opinion on everything, this has caused us conflict. I wish I knew how to be less opinionated. Especially about stuff (like what’s for dinner) that has little to no bearing on life or happiness.

  • pippip


    If you’re in a group or pair playing the “what do you want to eat? I dunno, where do you wanna eat?” back and forth game, try the 3-1 game (or 5-3-1, or 3-2-1 modified versions…3-1 just has the least futzing around).

    Rules for 3-2-1:
    The first person has to list three dinners (or restaurants/takeout, if you’re not cooking) they’d be ok to eat. The next person eliminates one option. Then it goes back to the first: eliminate one more. “I don’t care” is not allowed–if you don’t care, then pick randomly, flip a coin, whatever. No qualifying commentary is allowed on your turn: you just state what you’re cutting. So no, “well, it doesn’t matter to me, but let’s cut X”; you just say: “cut X.” Next time you play, switch who has to be the first player.

    If turn two person wouldn’t like *any* of the three options given in the first turn, then they become the initial list-maker, and have to take the first turn, listing three options. If anybody has strong opinions of what they’d like, then they just say so on their turn…but if that were the case, well, you wouldn’t have to play some stupid game to decide what to eat, now would you? This is just so the wishy-washy couples in the world don’t starve…not so much a tool for stating your opinion on decisions that you *actually* care about.

    (Oh, and it works the same if you do it 5-3-1 or 3-1 style, just that you have to cut two options out when it’s your turn.)

    • Nicole Marie

      I didn’t see this before I posted my reply below, but we use almost exactly the same system! Without it I’m sure we would spend the majority of our time sitting on the couch (starving) saying “I don’t know, whatever you want to do” back and forth in endless succession.

    • Carrie

      You are a genius.

  • That dinner discussion sounds all too familiar. I like your take on this – “Engagement is not a contractual obligation to remain in the exact same relationship we were in at the moment the question was popped forever.” Great point. I’m glad you’re deciding to listen to that voice and kick the no-opinion (or unstated opinion) habit. That’s a tough one for me too but working past it has made a HUGE difference in my life and relationship.

  • Nicole Marie

    Wow, I’m so happy to see that I’m not the only one who is like this! That conversation happened at least once per week in my house growing up.

    Boyfriend and I are both terrible at making decisions. It’s always “I don’t care” or “whatever you want”. But since SOMEONE has to make the decisions or…well nothing gets done, I took it upon myself to be the “secretary” in our relationship.

    Unsurprisingly, being the one who had to make all of the decisions really started to weigh on me after a while. Just as avoiding being the decision maker is certainly a way to avoid ever being “wrong”, being the one to ALWAYS make the decisions made me feel personally and individually responsible for how every one of those decisions turned out.

    Once we realized that making decisions felt like a chore for both of us, it was a lot easier to divide and conquer. We came up with a system for picking pretty much anything (movies, takeout, weekend activities, etc.): One of us will propose several options, the other will narrow it down to three, then the first narrows it down to two, then the other picks.

    Is this an efficient way of doing things? Heck. No. But it helps us share the burden of making decisions (the small ones at least), and share responsibility for how those decisions turn out. Having set the precedent that we are partners in all decision-making (big and small) helps keep us accountable for making our voices heard, and making sure that we are hearing and understanding each other.

  • I am such a deferrer with decisions, so this post hit home for me. For the past two weeks I have had to make a lot of decisions. Many for otehr people. ON Saturday I about cried when I got asked where I wanted to sit for dinner, because I didn’t want to make another decision becauase making choices can be SO EXHAUSTING. I suprised my fiance last night by saying that I wanted Pizza for dinner (a last hurrah of bread before the start of Passover, I am sure), and he let me pick what i wanted, order it, and after I stuffed my face full of pizza I was happy.

  • I don’t know if anyone else here reads Captain Awkward, but if not, let me point out this excellent column on having not having opinions, and the frustrations that it can cause, and some good solutions.

    • <3 Captain Awkward!

  • Jashshea

    I usually try to read more than the first para before making a comment, but sweet jesus if this isn’t hilarious and spot the hell on:

    “A few weeks after my engagement, I am yawning at a stop sign, searching for my break in an endless parade of cars, when over the relentless clicking of the turn signal she suddenly utters: Well, I guess you’re never going to be single again. Better start figuring out what you want in a relationship.”

  • I am very much a decider, so much so that I sometimes worry about coming off as bossy and do my best to make sure everyone else is being heard.

    Except when, like some of the rest of you, I actually don’t care. My fiance and I often do the “I don’t know, what do you want to do?” dance.

    What makes me the most uncomfortable is when I don’t know what I want, but I discover that I know what I don’t want. It makes me feel like I am being negative and not contributing when I can can do it weed out what I don’t want.

    • Nora

      My fiance frequently does not know what he wants, but knows what he doesn’t want. It has often been a point of conflict for us. How do you move forward with the conversation when one person knows that they have a strong feelings about the problem at hand but does not know what they want to do about it? If the issue is important to me, then I always have an opinion and can back it up. Not the same for him, and it baffles me to no end.

      If you have any advice for how a partner can be sensitive to the fact that you don’t know what you want, or how to help guide such a conversation to a useful place where you can actually come to an agreement and make a decision without one partner dominating, it would be very much appreciated!

    • KC

      I am also not sure what to do about those cases where you don’t have a specific thing you want, but you do have things you don’t want (either that you had not thought of, or that you know of).

      I have found that if I dislike more than one suggestion, I can sometimes (although not always) pull adjectives from that which I do or don’t want (okay, I want food that is not cold; I don’t feel like trying something new tonight) and either offer those up as potentially helpful criteria or get to a conclusion from there, like “Oh! I want comfort food!” and have an answer (or at least a domain). Pulling out and offering up the logic from what is *not* wanted is sometimes enough to demonstrate (to yourself and to others) that you’re not just trying to be difficult.

      But yeah, I hear you. :-)

      • I can often figure out that I want something light (so probably not Indian food, much as a love it) or something spicy (so maybe Indian food) or something sandwichy… The worst, when it comes with picking places to eat is when I am doing so when my blood sugar is low, because everything sounds terrible at that point. I’m getting better at discovering that, though.

        Right now, we are trying to make a decision about buying a house vs. renting and renting on our own vs. renting with my sister. Big questions, lot of pros and cons for each, and neither of us know the right answer. Both of us kind of want the other one to suddenly have a strong opinion. We had an offer in on a place, but it fell through. Since then we’ve looked at houses *and* apartments, and he says “maybe” and I say “No” to each of them.

        • KC

          On the blood sugar thing – a handful of pretzels or almonds (or, um, Trader Joe’s chocolate-covered almonds) for both of you (so one is not getting progressively more and more hungry, whether or not they have blood sugar problems), and waiting ten minutes (or whatever your magic number is), can often fix this. Not enough of a snack to make you un-hungry for dinner, but enough of a blood sugar boost to make it a smidge less urgent and also help your brain work well enough to decide.

          Good luck with the house/apartment thing! I hope it goes well!

          • Yes, that is basically what I do most of the time. I have come to recognize the signs, and I keep a Lara bar or two in my purse for some sugar w/o too much sugar.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      My husband and I had this kind of situation in choosing a reception venue. I had showed him some options I liked. He vetoed them for various reasons, like being too far from the ceremony venue or not having clean bathrooms. I showed him some others, which he vetoed for more ambiguous reasons, mostly “bad modern architecture.”

      It was our one wedding-planning fight because, yeah, I felt he was being difficult – shooting down option after option for reasons I couldn’t understand.

      I finally told him it was on him to find a venue, and we agreed that was fair. He had our budget and my not-ambiguous criteria (couldn’t require a bridge crossing to get there from the church, plenty of parking, no acoustic tile or sinks in the main reception area).

      Of course, finding a venue takes work, but I think the general principle holds that the pickier person needs to do the research and decision-making, or at least option-presenting – even for take-out.

      • OK, now I’m intrigued. Couldn’t require a bridge crossing?

        • ElisabethJoanne

          Welcome to the San Francisco Bay Area. There were 4 toll bridges within an hour’s drive of the church. So that restriction was in addition to the typical “can’t be more than x miles/y minutes from the ceremony venue.”

          [I’m agnostic on what x and y should be in general for weddings, but I at least didn’t want out-of-town guests to deal with the complication of a bridge. Incidentally, I have an etiquette book from 1958 with a fictional example of a wedding ceremony in San Francisco with the reception across the Golden Gate in Marin, so I guess etiquette doesn’t demand my “no bridges” rule.]

          • KC

            I totally agree that out of town people should either not have to deal with tolls or should be warned in detail ahead of time – that’s a super-considerate thing to do!

            (says someone who had “an adventure” dropping a friend off at an airport once. I knew there were tolls part of the way, but I was used to normal toll booths taking debit cards [which, in place-we-had-just-moved-to, hey, guess what? They don’t; cash or prepurchased widget only.], and I was used to tolls being under $6 or whatever, not tolls being over $20 in total. After using up all the loose change and cash in my purse and in the car and under the seats, etc., on the way home I ended up having to ask the last tollbooth operator who I had the money to pay where the nearest ATM was, which meant having to get off the toll road in an unknown random spot to eventually find an ATM tucked inside a scruffy-albeit-friendly convenience store in a really, really dodgy neighborhood [like, people hiding in the shadows of buildings making “transactions” and most people avoiding the streetlights dodgy] and then trying to find my way home from there, which worked eventually, but… yeah. Not so fun.)

          • Ah, avoiding bridge tolls makes sense. (I live in a state with no toll roads or bridges at all.)

            Part of me had been wondering if it were some kind of superstition. :)

  • Moe

    I read this on the train earlier this morning and thought “oh that’s cute. glad I’m not like that.”


    when I opened my email this morning there was a message and photo from my tailor making my wedding dress and I discover that my dress is all wrong. (less than3 weeks before the wedding)

    at this point I’ve become so weary of making decision after decision that I just want to lay down in the pile of vintage lace tablecloths I’ve collected and take a long nap. my first reaction to the dress was to say “well, that’s close enough. I can live with that.” I didn’t want to have a confrontation. I didn’t want to end up in an argument. I didn’t want to tell someone they were wrong. I didn’t want to have to speak up for myself and possibly be perceived as a Biatch.

    It’s so much easier to roll over or defer from making a decision.

    I spoke up, we’re working it out. But that article was so timely today and I didn’t even realize it!

  • Becca

    Ya know, it’s weird – I was also raised to have an opinion, to back it up, to not be a doormat. And yet I frequently am in everyday life. I don’t know if it’s just a part of my personality or the pressure our culture puts on women or both. This trait of mine was bad enough in the beginning of our relationship that my now fiance had a talk with me… begged me, actually… to speak up for myself, even if I thought he might not like what I had to say. Because he knew what I wanted mattered and he wanted me to be happy, and that just wasn’t possible if I only ever did what he wanted to do. I’ve gotten a lot better about speaking up, but I still feel that little twinge of “you’re just gonna upset your fiance/mother/friends/everybody” that split second before.

  • jean

    Id just like to comment on this from the intro “What’s your opinion? State it firmly. Back it up. Leave it on me to debate if I disagree.” While I agree with this *in theory* I have to say that in practice it can be quite different. My partner comes from a very argumentative family. The kind of family where every single meal or conversation is just another chance to debate…sports, vacation plans, politics, life, anything really…and it tends to quickly escalate out of intellectual debate and into an entire other place. They yell and holler and then move on with their day cause thats how they were all raised and they’ve had 30 some odd years to practice letting it just roll of them. But now, as we build our baby family, we’re learning about each other and I’m frequently presented with things as if they are facts when they are not necessarily facts or even true. His mindset is similar to Meg’s…if you don’t agree, debate it. But when you’re dealing with sensitive topics, as one is likely to do when dealing with marriage, being forced into being defensive isn’t always helpful. I’m not a super delicate flower, but unless you are exceedingly careful not to hurt your partners feelings, or dismiss their feelings as trivial, or are the type that’s impossible to offend, setting a conversation up to be “agree with me or debate me” instead of “this is how I feel, how do you feel?” can lead to quite a lot of stress.
    For business, I’m all for that mentality. I, too, and am opinionated woman, and I actually work really hard to temper that with my partner, because two of us doing that would probably cause issues pretty quickly.

    • Granola

      Just wanted to chime in here because I also came from a family of loud and vociferous debaters, which is definitely not how my husband was raised.

      What’s helped us is that I clearly articulate “This is not an attack on you, but I disagree with the idea” which is good for me to learn how to fight fairly. I think that growing up in my family, there was probably a lot more grey area than I realized, and what seemed harmless at the time maybe wasn’t. We just all agreed on the big things, so our meanness wasn’t directed at each other. Now, having been on the other end of it (partly because being around my husband has mollified my attitude a bit.) I can see that it’s not always such a great way to be.

      However, I think learning how to have a strong discussion around an idea, and not taking that personally, which is what I think Meg is advocating, is really important.

  • This post seriously just strikes home for me. I’m a non-decider in the process of trying to transition to a more decider-y lifestyle. I always defer. Almost always. Sometimes, it’s because I actually don’t care about the outcome, but more often than not it’s a way to make someone else happy, which in turn, I believe will make me happy. But when it doesn’t…yikes. Then I’m kicking myself like you must have been doing while sweeping up your broken car door glass, and I know that the regret feels worse than I might have felt if I spoke up in the first place.

    The thing about trying to transition from non-decider to decider is that it’s easy to take a first step and say ‘WAIT! WHAT ABOUT ME AND THIS DECISION I WANT TO MAKE?!”. But once someone starts fighting back about the decision, then it gets really really hard to stick to your guns. Because on the one hand, you want your opinion to be heard and matter. But on the other hand, you’re a non-decider by nature…and your instinct is to go back to deferral. I’m still trying to figure it out (obviously) but I salute you for deciding to kick the habit. It’s nice to know there’s other people out there who feel this way, and that I’m not alone in struggling to carve out my own way!

  • Colleen

    Just wanted to say that this isn’t the first time I’ve read about Meg’s parents doing really great things that I now want to add to my Parenting toolbox. As a person who grew up in a family of non-deciders, I think that teaching kids–and especially girls–to state an opinion and back it up is invaluable. Thanks for this!

  • Heather V

    This post really hit home for me. I am a chronic non-decider, so much so that in high school, a boyfriend broke up with me because he got so frustrated that I wouldn’t voice my opinions! My problem is twofold.

    For one, I do have opinions, and I do voice them about big, important things, as previous posters have said. But most of the time, I’m pretty content no matter where we go for dinner, so I honestly don’t have an opinion on it or other seemingly insignificant (or really similar) things.

    Secondly, I am the type that wants to analyze every single option, weigh all the pros and cons, and make a decision when I have all the information I could possibly need so that I can make the RIGHT decision, whatever that may be. Most of the time, this just ends up exhausting me and I end up deferring. Thanks again for the great post, I’m definitely working on this problem, especially now that I’m planning a wedding!