To most who know me, this will come as quite a shock! Normally I am so assertive in what I want to do, where I want to go, etc. (Is the sarcasm font I downloaded working?)
Okay, so, this isn't exactly a new development. Anyone who has ever asked me where I want to go to lunch has been invariably met with "I don't know, where do you want to go?" or some similar sort of sentiment. Now, I have come to realize that this is pretty normal. Pretty much any time I ask a friend where he or she wants to dine, or what movie to see, I am met with 'I don't know, what do you want to eat/see/watch/etc.?' This type of indecisiveness seems to derive from politeness. When I say 'I don't know, what do you want?' I usually have a secret thing I actually want, but don't want to say I want, in case the other person doesn't want that or has a secret thing that they want that isn't what I suggest... And, I've been met with "That's what I wanted, too!" enough times to know that I'm not the only one who does this.
Sure, there are friends that are more assertive--they will tell you what they want, where they want to go, when they want to go, and often times why. I'm not saying they're any less polite, they're just more assertive. And, as my mom and dad always used to remind me: the squeaky wheel gets the oil. I can't exactly be genuinely mad if someone asked me what I wanted to do, I said I didn't know or care, and then that person selects something I didn't want. I like my assertive friends, and I like my passive friends--though making decisions with assertive friends is always easier.
Anyway, it's become fairly obvious that this sort of indecisiveness is pretty normal, and appears to be socially driven. We don't want to appear bossy or unwilling to compromise, so we offer the choice to someone else, and they, in turn, offer it to us, and we go round and round until we come to a mutually agreeable decision.
But, I have come to realize that my indecisiveness goes a lot deeper than that. I came to this realization a long time ago, but recently it's felt more burdensome (or maybe it has gotten worse? I'm not sure).
A week ago yesterday, my boyfriend and I went to the South Los Angeles Animal Shelter because I saw a dog online that I thought I might want to adopt. We ended up spending 2 hours there, while I tried to decide whether or not we should adopt this little dog. At one point, he was ready to adopt her--and I held us back. 2 hours later, we eventually decided against it, and went home empty handed. Yesterday, we were back at the shelter, 30 minutes before it closed, looking at a different dog that we had seen the week prior. This time, we had her information at the counter, and were getting ready to pay, before I decided I was just too unsure.
I kept thinking about money, about whether our existing pup would have his feelings hurt, about whether they would get along, what if she is mean to Cash when he is having a seizure, in general: what if it didn't work? The questions were endless, and we ended up walking away empty handed again.
But, that's okay, right? This is a big decision--a 10 year commitment, at the least. So, of course I would be indecisive. So many people would be--fair enough.
For dinner after we got back to the shelter, we ended up trying a burger restaurant around the corner from us called The Counter. They have pre-designed burgers, but they also have a little form where you can choose your own burger! You can choose the bun, meat, sauces, sides, toppings, etc. And, oh! What choices there are! (see photo below).
It took me a good 10 minutes longer to decide what burger I wanted than it took my boyfriend, and in the end, I was much less adventurous in my burger choice than he was (he chose a burger with feta cheese, apricot sauce and crushed peanuts--while I chose a burger with honey dijon sauce, mozzarella, lettuce, pickles, tomatoes, and a side of grilled pineapple). I've always known I was indecisive--but that perspective, sitting at The Counter, feeling utterly overwhelmed by decisions about a burger, is when I knew that it's probably a
little lot more serious than casual indecisiveness. It's a burger. And I couldn't decide what I wanted on it. I could not throw caution to the wind and get ginger sesame dressing with carrots and grilled pineapple. And you know? That kind of upset me. I feel like my indecisiveness has come to a point where it actively interferes with how I live my life.
A few weeks ago, I had to make another decision--and the process left me so completely exhausted that I curled up and slept on the passenger's seat on the way home. And I ended up changing my mind, and we had to go back and go through everything again.
I know that my indecisiveness is definitely linked to other parts of my personality. For instance, I can see how it closely relates to my incessant need to plan everything. I am not spontaneous in the least, and I like to have a plan for everything (including time of departure, arrival, and some general idea of who will be there, what will happen while I am there, etc.). I can't just randomly go to a friend's house, unless I prepare myself for at least 24 hours (though I would prefer a few days to a week, so I can plan everything around it). I also know that this need for planning everything, is at least partially related to the fact that I am an Introvert, and being around people for long periods of times depletes my energy, and I need time to recharge.
But, my indecisiveness has gotten to a point where it is frequently exhausting. Knowing where I got it from doesn't help matters any, either. (Hi, Mom!). In some ways I feel like it has grown into this nebulous entity that I can't control, and which will continue to affect me in unknown and surprising (usually not good) ways.
When people consider a decision, they probably consider a few factors--most people, anyway. I'm sure there are people who just decide and worry about the factors later. But, when I make a decision--any decision (see Cheeseburger story above for reference)--I think about so many factors that I can't even list or control them all. And then I think of consequences of that decision.
For instance: Do I want red relish on my burger as a sauce? What if I don't like it, as I have never tried it before? What if it is too pickly, or too ketchupy, or just gross in general? If they put it on my burger and I don't like it, then I will have a burger I can't even eat. If I scrape it off of the burger, will I still be able to taste it? I want to have a burger I enjoy, and I don't know how I would like any of these odd toppings on a burger, so I don't know what to do.
Etc., etc., etc. etc., etc., etc.
Nowhere in my thought process do I stop to think that it is just a burger, and if I didn't like it, they'd probably let me get something else (or if that thought did cross my mind, a whole new set of stream-of-consciousness worries/questions would come with it). And, while the burger analogy is just a small sampling of what I deal with (imagine big decisions), I am constantly worried about making the wrong decision, which usually leads me to make a safe decision, or worse, to make no decision at all.
(For decisions not related specifically to things that will only affect me, I have other questions I consider: What will _____ think? (usually family, friends, parents, etc.) How will _____ act if I choose this? What if _____ doesn't want Mexican food?)
Sometimes, I'm able to make decisions fairly easily--but more often than not, I'm stuck hemming and hawing about what I want to do/eat/see/watch/be/learn/know.
While certain parts of this are funny--yes, many who know me are shaking their heads and saying 'Oh, Natalie, you're so indecisive,' and sure, it's funny to watch me not be able to decide what flavor ice cream I want... there are other aspects of this that are really scary, and real, and harmful. Sometimes, not just to me.
And, the thing is, I have no idea how to fix it. How do I, after 27 years of shying away from decisions, do I suddenly learn how to become decisive about little things, about big things, and how do I teach myself to not always make the safe decision?
As with most things, I think I'll try to start small-- I'll choose toppings on a burger, or ice cream, and I'll try to do it without considering the [seemingly endless] consequences. If I can master that, or at least get better at that, maybe I will try to make unsafe decisions--choose weird toppings, and hope for the best. Realize that it's just a burger, and just $9, and not the end of the world.
Maybe someday I'll make it to big decisions. Maybe...