Yes really! Really!
May 27, 2016 7:04 AM   Subscribe

Have you experienced relationships with people who respond to (what feels like) everything you say with, “Really?...” or with some variation of (benign?) incredulity?

“I made dinner!”
“Oh really? You made dinner?”
(pause) “yes… really.”

“I’m going out for lunch!”
“You are?”
“Uh huh!” (thinking: Yes, that’s what I said).

“I fixed that thing”
“Oh, you fixed the thing?”
“I’m not lying about fixing it… so… yes.”

What kind of response is this? I feel as though it always makes me work twice as hard to say ANYTHING, even though I know, logically, that the person who does this isn’t TRYING to make me work harder, or trying to communicate incredulity. It’s just a tic that makes me work harder due to having to repeat myself all the time.

Any suggestions for how to address this? Or am I being toooooooo…. Something?
posted by Dressed to Kill to Human Relations (72 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
When someone says this to me, I assume that they are thinking "I need to show that I heard this comment and leave space open for the other person to continue, but I do not know what to say", and so I just continue with additional information. (I mean, as long as they don't sound like they are genuinely shocked or sarcastic.) I too find this an uncomfortable and slightly anxiety-provoking formulation.

"I made dinner."
"Really?"
"Yeah, and I sprang for a Hen of the Woods mushroom at the farmer's market, so that's in the risotto!"

"I fixed the washing machine."
"Really?"
"Yeah, it turned out that it just needed to be drained."

I try to think of it as meaning "oh, tell me more".
posted by Frowner at 7:10 AM on May 27, 2016 [65 favorites]


It does sort of sound to me like they have poor conversational skills and this is the coping mechanism. It's the same reason my preschooler asks "Why?" after every statement by me. He doesn't really want or need to know why, he just doesn't know of any other way to continue the conversation.
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:12 AM on May 27, 2016 [17 favorites]


I do this. Generally, I'm either asking you to explain or, as in the case of the first two, trying to figure out why you're telling me that without trying to come off as rude.

"I made dinner!"
"Oh really? You made dinner?" (which could be read as "...and?", but that's super rude)
(to which you might respond) "Yeah, it's stew. It'll be ready at 7 if you want some!"

or

"I'm going out for lunch!"
"You are?" (which could be read as "am I invited?" without having to explicity ask for an invite)
(to which you might respond) "Yeah, going to the Thai place. Wanna come?"

The third is more likely me just trying to make conversation, so:
"I fixed the that thing"
"Oh, you fixed the thing?" (which could be read as, "how did you fix it?")
"Yeah, it was easy -- just super glued the widget to the teapot."

I'm extremely Guess (as opposed to Ask), so I'm scared to actually ask you "am I invited?" "how did you fix it?". I want to figure out WHY you've opened the conversation in this way before I make it awkward by assuming.
posted by AmandaA at 7:12 AM on May 27, 2016 [14 favorites]


When I do this it is just to confirm that I am hearing correctly and on the same page as you. I don't not believe you, I just want to make sure that I understand what you have said before I begin the next phase of the conversation.

A linguistics professor once referred to this sort of interaction as "testing the channels of communication". It is the same rationale as why people remark on the weather; yes, we obviously both know it is hot, as we are both standing outdoors in the same geographic area. We're not really conversing, we're testing the communication mechanism. Conversation happens after that.
posted by chainsofreedom at 7:13 AM on May 27, 2016 [21 favorites]


This is pretty common...it's an open-ended response indicating interest and inviting you to talk more.
posted by bearette at 7:15 AM on May 27, 2016 [4 favorites]


Okay not going to threadsit - but is it weird to wonder whether the person couldn't try to offer something back in their return-lob of the conversation?

"I made dinner!"
"Thank you! Smells great!"

"I'm going out for lunch!"
"Oh where are you going?"

"I fixed the thing"
"Whew! I was trying to get around to it... thanks!"

you know?
posted by Dressed to Kill at 7:20 AM on May 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


I used to do this when I was too intimidated by the person talking to me to express any of my own thoughts. I was broken of the habit when someone I idolized openly mocked me for it.
posted by jon1270 at 7:20 AM on May 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


(That was also the point at which I permanently ceased to idolize him.)
posted by jon1270 at 7:25 AM on May 27, 2016 [16 favorites]


These kinds of responses drive me crazy too and I think they are much more typical in people who are indirect rather than direct communicators (or Askers vs. Guessers, in local parlance).

Since this is something that bothers me and not them, I feel like it is on me to bear the responsibility of directing the conversation in a way that is less aggravating to me. My solution to this problem, as someone who prefers direct communication, is either to phrase myself in such a way that I give them an out to not respond at all OR ask a question to prompt a specific type of response. Using your dinner example, if I use the first approach, I might say, "FYI, I made dinner, it's on the table for you" so they don't feel like they must respond, since I'm just relaying information. Or, if I want to use the second approach, I might say "I made dinner, are you ready to eat?" thereby asking for very specific information from them.

Both of these approaches work quite well for me, but I do know some people who are unwavering indirect communicators who will respond with vague question-like answers no matter what. At some point, if I value the relationship enough, I have learned to just deal with it and not expect directness from them.
posted by scantee at 7:25 AM on May 27, 2016 [7 favorites]


It's a conversational quirk, and not meant to be responded to literally. It doesn't necessarily require you to elaborate; I've had a lot of exchanges that went roughly like this:

“I fixed that thing”
“Oh, you fixed the thing?”
“Yep.”
“Cool, thank you!”

Or:

“I’m going out for lunch!”
“You are?”
“Mm-hm.”
“Okay, see you later.”

I can understand getting annoyed at someone who responded to every single statement with “oh really?” or “you are?” but getting annoyed at the construction in general is sort of like getting annoyed at adverbs. Conversation isn't meant to be efficient.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:26 AM on May 27, 2016 [9 favorites]


I've also seen it as something like a time-buying tactic/autopilot function while they shift their attention (or in some cases they're not going to pay attention to you, they're just pretending to).

I.e. you walk in, say "I fixed dinner!" and they say "Oh really" while they finish up the page they were reading before really processing what you said. Basically, they're going to pay attention to you, but want to wrap up their thought process (or just half-heartedly pay attention to you, they're really just going to keep reading the newspaper).
posted by ghost phoneme at 7:27 AM on May 27, 2016 [17 favorites]


Yes, you either have someone who is passive aggressive or lost in their own thoughts. Either way it is an indication that you are not their loving priority. Stop cooking for them.
posted by myselfasme at 7:33 AM on May 27, 2016 [11 favorites]


I have the same problem with my husband. He claims it's a Midwestern thing. I have no solutions I have tried everything from calm acceptance to bursting into tears sobbing when he Oh really'd me one too many times while I was PMTing.

I can relate to you so much because it feels like they aren't listening, it feels like it's just a noise they make so they don't have to fire up any neurons & process what you actually said & you start to wonder why you bothered saying anything to them at all. This is something my husband & I are still working on, well mostly me because when I tell him how I feel he tends to respond "Oh really? & think it's funny.

Having said that the communication style of the part of the Midwest I'm now living is very much "guess" and I'm from a "tell" culture and it's pretty common with many people I know around here. I am starting to suspect the neutral place holder comment somehow ties into the whole not committing yourself until you have further information which you have yet to determine as you need more clues as to what the person talking really truly means school of communication that is rife around here.

Sorry I can't offer any direct solutions, but I can sympathize oh so very much.
posted by wwax at 7:36 AM on May 27, 2016 [4 favorites]


Just....very different conversational styles. It irks me to talk to people like the person you describe, not gonna lie. If someone told me that they had made dinner, my first reaction would be to ask them what they made. Or to say YAYYYY thank you because that meant that I didn't have to do it. If someone told me they were going out to lunch I would ask them where they were going. If they say they fixed the thing I would say "yay thank you" or "I'm glad, was it a pain to fix it?" or "you rock" or something to that effect. I think having someone respond to your opening conversational gambits with constant low grade incredulity would be incredibly annoying. Like...my god. I would probably just stop talking altogether, that's how much it would bug the shit out of me. Sooooo I really sympathize with you. I hear you. That's my thing though...I am a very very very good listener. I gots some skills. Sounds like this person does not gots the skills I gots.

Also, it should not be on you to once again reiterate what you said, or elaborate on what you said, because someone else doesn't know how to comment, or ask a question to get you to say more. You already said something. It's on them to find out more if they want to find out more. What is so hard about saying "What did you make?" instead of 'Oh really"? Working overtime to get someone to talk to you and watching how you carefully word everything that comes out of your mouth to get some kind of reaction besides OMG YOU DID??? is kind of close to emotional labor for me and it sucks, and drains the fun and enthusiasm out of talking. It also makes you feel like your words are not valued. Which in turn makes YOU feel not valued.
posted by the webmistress at 7:40 AM on May 27, 2016 [8 favorites]


It's an acknowledgement that they heard what you said and aren't ignoring you. Kind of like saying "Okay" or "Okay, thanks" except that a lot of people think just saying "okay" is rude and shuts down the way for further conversation, whereas saying "Oh really?" can leave things open for you to continue talking. But both types of response communicate no content or ideas themselves and are only communicating the fact that the listener has heard what you said. And sometimes it can be annoying when that's the default response. When I get "oh reallys?" all the time from the same person I tend to just stop responding to them. And then they tend to stop doing it.
posted by Polychrome at 7:44 AM on May 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


A friend of my husband's does this, and it drives me batty. He'll say things like "do you guys watch [TV show]?" and if we say no, he says "REALLY?" as if us not watching the show is not even a thing he considered could be possible. He mostly does it regarding popular culture and internet meme type topics, but he does it so much that I eventually break and reply sarcastically with something like "no, obviously I am lying about having never seen that cat video." My father-in-law also does the really? thing all the time and I am pretty sure it literally raises my blood pressure.

I do not think sarcasm would work in your scenarios, but I like some of the suggestions above to reply as if they said "what did you make?" or "how did you fix the thing?" instead of "really?". I am going to try that the next time my father-in-law responds with incredulity to almost everything I say.
posted by bedhead at 7:46 AM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


There are lots of reasons why they could be doing this, some benign, some not so much. If it's bothering you, I think it's time to have a conversation about it. It may be a conversational quirk that they don't even notice, and it's never occurred to them that you might find it annoying. It might be them trying to deliberately undermine your self-assurance by subtly questioning even your most uncontroversial statements.

Of course, if they're trying to undermine you (knowingly or not; I find that a lot of undermining behavior in relationships happens without the perpetrator really being fully aware that that's what they're doing—they often have an internal rationalization that makes them feel like they're doing nothing wrong) they're unlikely to just cop to it. What will be telling is whether they say "Oh I'm so sorry, I didn't realize I was hurting you!" and then find a way to adjust their conversational style so as to be less irritating, or whether they turn it back around on you with a "Jeez, don't be so sensitive—I'm just making conversation" type gambit.

Of course there's a spectrum of responses in between those two basic ones, but my point is you need to talk to them and if they care about you and are interested in being a good partner, they'll see that they have an easy opportunity to here to relieve a minor but recurrent source of stress on the relationship. If they're not, they'll act like you're making a frivolous accusation and that it's your fault for being bothered by their behavior.

There are other types of responses too. They may care about you and simultaneously have a hard time understanding that what they're doing is bothering you in which case you need to be more explicit, or they may act defensive because they've been attacked a lot in the past about little things like this (and this is a little thing in and of itself, the bigger issue is whether they care about fixing it or not once it's brought to their attention) and they're just reflexively defensive, in which case you need to work past that with compassion and understanding. Or who knows what else they might do, because people are complicated and don't always react rationally when challenged about their behavior.

Basically though, you need to get to a point where they know that this is bothering you and that you'd like them to find a different standard way of responding in situations like this, and then if they're worth anything as a partner they'll work with you there to find a solution that leaves you both feeling OK, which shouldn't be hard if both people are engaging in good faith.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:52 AM on May 27, 2016 [5 favorites]


I have a variant of this with my spouse. He asks questions of me to which, had he given any thought to the question, he would know that there is no reasonable expectation for me to know the answer. I'd say 'no', and he would basically repeat the question. It used to go like:

'What is VW going to give us for the TDI when they buy it back?'
'I don't know'
'Well, do you think it will be less than a new Golf'?

I've told him this drives me nuts -- the lack of thought in the question, expecting me to be his personal Wikipedia or Google, and that when I just say "don't know!" he REPEATS THE QUESTION like I just didn't understand it, or like I was withholding the answer because I'm coy like that? Anyway, I eventually developed the following:

'What is VW going to give us for the TDI when they buy it back?'
'I really have no idea whatsoever'.

So basically, if I emphasize how very devoid of knowledge I am, he recognizes that he's doing That Thing and he needs to not ask the next (same) question. It's our shorthand.

But he still defaults to a conversational style of ask-me-questions. There's a part of this that I know is just his way of trying to initiate conversation, to show interest, so I also recognize that and try to play along. Even though it does drive me crazy.

When people do the "REALLY?" thing with me, which also drives me crazy, I turn their question back on them for them to clarify (and really, to point out that REALLY? is so vague as to have no meaning):

“I made dinner!”
“Oh really? You made dinner?”
"Are you asking whether I made dinner, or what I managed to find in the fridge to make dinner with, or had you wanted to go out?"

thank you for letting me vent
posted by Dashy at 8:14 AM on May 27, 2016 [15 favorites]


I suspect I do this sometimes. It's massive amounts of social anxiety, such that "try to offer something back" is something I literally cannot do at that moment. My brain goes blank and the options are basically 'say something generic as in your examples', 'stare blankly and say nothing while the wheels spin in my brain and you stare at me awkwardly', 'cry or run away or something'. Saying something awkward is the least-bad option when my brain is being spectacularly unhelpful.

It's most likely to happen in a situation where the conversational ball that's just been tossed to me is something I couldn't expect or prepare for - like, say, an "I'm going out to lunch" announcement or "I made dinner" if it's not something the other person would typically do. I spend more time than someone outside my head could possibly imagine preparing for even the most innocuous conversations - what might the other person say or ask? What might my response be? What might theirs be?" It's the only way to participate in conversation like anything even resembling a 'normal' person. So if you throw me what feels to me like a curveball, even if it feels to you like 'fun chit-chat' or 'a nice break from the workday', it's difficult and maybe upsetting and there's only so much social grace I can muster up to handle it. It doesn't feel like you've tossed me a conversational ping-pong ball, it feels in my broken brain like you've tossed me a live grenade and I'm trying to figure out how to get rid of it without blowing either of us up.

I do think/hope that my generic responses are maybe not quite tinged with the specific type of incredulity you're seeing here, but they may be, so I'll offer my experience up as a possibility.

If you sat me down for a "hey, this really bugs me and here is why" conversation I'd be temporarily mortified, but I hope that I could then be open with you about why I'm doing it, and maybe we could come to some sort of agreement where I try to do that less, and you try to be understanding of the fact that may mean awkward conversational pauses or other forms of me flailing around for a response.

I will say this is something that happens with friends or coworkers, not really with my long-term partner or family members, so I don't know if this explanation makes any sense if this is someone you have a much closer/longer relationship with.
posted by Stacey at 8:25 AM on May 27, 2016 [6 favorites]


I have a coworker who does this (though her go-to phrase is "Didja?", which is somehow 10 times more annoying to me). It bugs the heck out of me because, as you say, it sounds like she doubts everything I tell her. But I realized a while ago that if she said "Oh?" or "Mmm-hmm?" in the same places it wouldn't bother me near as much, because those are the filler words I use to indicate "I am listening to what you're saying but don't have anything to contribute right now - please continue telling me your story." "Didja?" is just her filler phrase.

So now I try to mentally translate "Didja?" as "Oh?" and instead of answering it like it's actually a question, I just keep telling my story.
posted by darchildre at 8:27 AM on May 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


I do this, mainly when I don't actually care about what's being said but the speaker is giving me the look that tells me they expect acknowledgement. There's nothing to offer back because it doesn't actually matter to me and the speaker is just fishing for validation. If you want a conversation, at least put the smallest effort into it beyond "I did a thing, celebrate me".

I will be the first to admit that I do it to irritate the speaker, because I'm irritated by their inanity and I like closing karmic circles.
posted by Sternmeyer at 8:37 AM on May 27, 2016 [12 favorites]


If I do this it's because I don't really want to talk to you. I'm Midwestern.
posted by sideofwry at 8:54 AM on May 27, 2016 [5 favorites]


Policing a harmless speach tick like this is not a great thing to do. Most people who do this either A. Do it out of habit or B. Do it because there's not another response that they feel is appropriate. A lot of people do it not to show doubt but to keep the conversation ball in your court.

I want to ask: would you be fine with someone responding with a quick "okay thanks" or "cool" in these situations? Because if the answer is no, you might want to examine if whether you're looking for a response, or approval.

Most people don't have the mental stamina to be glowing beacons of happiness and approval when being told something mundane. I mean, how does one respond to "I'm going out for lunch"? You didn't invite them, you aren't trying to start a conversation, they'r only options are to get you to explain or to praise you(which many people would find weird/awkward).
posted by InkDrinker at 8:56 AM on May 27, 2016 [13 favorites]


Reading your question made my blood run cold with memories of my former coworker. This was her, to a T. It made me dread going into work each day. Because she always spoke as if I had said something truly confusing.

The problem is that it puts the entire burden for the conversation on us. To try to figure out what next, to figure out if that want more explanation, less explanation, clarification, validation, reassurance, whatever.
"I brought some lasagna for the potluck."
"Really?" could mean: ooh I love lasagna; or ooh I hate lasagna; or dang, I forgot to bring anything; or what, you're going to her potluck, I can't stand her; or just about anything else.
Then it's on us to ask questions to figure it out.
I solved it to some extent by letting her know my frustration, and we agreed that if she was ever asking or saying something that she wanted my response to she would say my name first. That helped, but only to some extent.

A social worker explained to me that she was "processing externally," meaning doing all her thinking out loud. Which sounded like conversation but wasn't really.
I was sooo glad when she left.
posted by SLC Mom at 8:56 AM on May 27, 2016 [4 favorites]


I have definitely found myself replying to people like this, when they *constantly* speak in brief, unprompted statements. It feels like they are only saying these things so that I'll be forced to show interest and/or ask for more detail (because there is always more detail that they're waiting to add). When someone provides this kind of non-information all the time, I get tired of figuring out what to say, because it doesn't really matter what I say. It's much easier to say, "Oh, yeah?" or "Really?"

I'm not saying that this is necessarily your conversational dynamic, but still, you might try adding an extra sentence or any additional info after these kinds of remarks, so there is some explicit response requested, or just a bit more to discuss. It helps make it sound like you actually want to have a conversation, not just attention/applause.

"I made dinner! What time would you like to eat? I got wine, too!"

“I’m going out for lunch! I think Thai maybe. Or Mexican? There's this new taco shop downtown. Have you heard anything about it?"

“I fixed that thing. I'm so proud of myself. It was such a pain in the ass. I was using the wrong size thingamajig for hours, and I had to watch all these Youtube videos to figure it out."
posted by unknowncommand at 8:57 AM on May 27, 2016 [28 favorites]


My father-in-law does this so much that it's a running joke between my husband and me. The way he says it sounds kind of condescending, but I don't think he's intends it that way. It's just how he responds to things, irritating as it might be. I just reply with something like, "Yes, really" or "Yes, I am" and move on. (Rarely I'm feeling especially snarky, and shoot back with, "That's what I said", but I don't recommend that in most cases.)
posted by jenny76 at 9:07 AM on May 27, 2016


Hmmm see, I don't find the initial statements to be saying "I did a thing: celebrate me!" or full of inanity....

I think the things that are being said contain actual information that will be useful: dinner will be eaten... or I will be out of the house for the next bit... or I've fixed the thing so you won't have to.

So yes, in a sense, I'm looking for ... validation (although I'm not trying to manipulate someone into offering me more than they're willing to give) ... that (a) the person has heard what I said and registered that (b)there was some information that came out of my mouth that will impact the other person.

And yes, in almost EVERY case, a "thank you!" and a smile would be... like... omg my eyes well with tears of happiness at the thought...

It would be amazing if the response were more... interested maybe in my actions, process, thoughts and engaging in conversation.... really I'm looking for something that doesn't make me feel invalidated, less than, or unheard. Particularly because the person isn't trying to do these things (although I question whether they really hear/listen to me often).

So a thank you would be awesome. Is it rude to respond to a vague counter-question with an enthusiastic, "I knew you'd love it!" ??
posted by Dressed to Kill at 9:11 AM on May 27, 2016


I mean, how does one respond to "I'm going out for lunch"? You didn't invite them, you aren't trying to start a conversation, they'r only options are to get you to explain or to praise you(which many people would find weird/awkward).

I just want to point out that this isn't actually true. There are at least two other obvious options, the first of which is to acknowledge the statement. Sometimes you just want your partner to know that you're going out to lunch for whatever reason (like, so that they can plan their own lunch accordingly) and all you're looking for is acknowledgement that they have received the information so that you can go on with your day. That's where an "OK, cool" or a "Thanks for letting me know" comes in.

The other option is to see if maybe they really were trying to start a conversation. Many people, especially when talking to people with whom they are close, will begin a conversation with what seems like a simple declarative statement but which is actually an opening to a conversation! Depending on context, "I'm going out to lunch" could mean "I'm going out to lunch [with Horrible Person from work who we both know I'm only pretending to like because I have to]" and they're looking for an opportunity to talk about Horrible Person and maybe get advice on a plan for getting through the meal without doing a murder. In that case, a slightly incredulous "Really?" might be a totally appropriate way of signaling that you're open to having that conversation. That's the magic of context!

You are probably not the problem here, OP. There are lots and lots of non-selfish, non-attention-seeking reasons for telling people that you're going to go out to lunch or that you made dinner or what have you (and also it's totally OK to seek attention or celebration sometimes in the context of a relationship—that's one of the things partners are for!) and I'm a bit mystified that there are some people here are coming down on you for making simple declarative statements to your partner. All I can think is that they must be a real bundle of fun to try to talk to. Don't be down on yourself about this, just have a chat with your partner about it and if everything goes as it should you should be able to resolve it.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 9:12 AM on May 27, 2016 [7 favorites]


Oh, just saw your reply on non-preview, sorry. I'd recommend against the "I knew you'd love it!" gambit that you propose, because what you're doing there seems like you're responding to an annoying question by giving an annoying answer. That way lies a big ol' pile of totally avoidable passive-aggressive madness. I know it's often tempting to give a stupid answer to a stupid question, but if you want your relationship to keep working you need to resist that temptation. Don't perpetuate the cycle by trying to one-up them in the Unhelpful Conversational Tactics department.

Just sit them down and say "Hon, it kinda bugs me when I make simple statements like telling you that I've made dinner and you answer them with 'Really?' It comes off to me as sort of incredulous and a little bit dismissive. I know you probably don't mean it that way, so in the interests of not making me feel like that's what you're doing, do you think you could try saying something else? A 'thank you' from time to time wouldn't hurt, either."

Then work forward from there.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 9:18 AM on May 27, 2016 [6 favorites]


Could be a long shot, but what's this person's relationship been like with their parents and/or ex-partners?

The people I know who sometimes do this have had parents or (ex-)spouses who expected them to divine the answer they wanted and respond accordingly. The "wrong" response (ie, one that the other person didn't want) resulted in yelling, the silent treatment, or smacking. So, these people have explained to me, they've basically been trained to respond cautiously and neutrally than potentially give a "wrong" response and get yelled at/hit/silent treatment.

Yes, it's unfair to you as a functional, non-abusive person, but it may be a deeply ingrained habit that you and the other person will have to articulate together and get to the bottom of, if it's going to change.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:18 AM on May 27, 2016 [8 favorites]


I do this, and upon reflection, I think it's my response when I am not 100% sure what the import of the speaker's initial comment is. It's more polite than saying "...and?" Also, just as a way of acknowledging what was said. So in the first example, to "I made dinner," I might respond "Really? What did you make?"The "really" isn't an an expression of doubt as though I need to be convinced you actually did make dinner - it's just a reflexive response. If, on the other hand, I bumped into my neighbor and he said, "We're making lasagna for dinner," or whatever, I would probably say "Really?" because I'm not immediately sure whether he wants to talk about the great new recipe he is using, wants to invite me over to try it, or what. The "Really?" is a way of acknowledging the statement while providing an opportunity for further clarification.

It sounds like in your case you're getting this response from someone with whom you are quite close and for whom your intent should be fairly obvious. However, in your second example, if my partner just said "I'm going out to lunch," I would probably say "really?" because I want more information but don't want to pry. Like, are they telling me this because it means I shouldn't wait for them for lunch? So that I don't wonder where they are? If they said, "I'm going out to lunch so don't wait for me," my response would probably just be "Ok," since the purpose of the statement is clear.

On preview, I also think hurdy gurdy girl is right that it can also be a verbal coping mechanism from past experience with difficult people.
posted by Aubergine at 9:21 AM on May 27, 2016 [8 favorites]


"Really" is worse than "oh, cool" because it turns the burden on the first speaker, without showing interest. "Oh, cool" shows you were listening but the exchange is done now. "Oh, how did it go?" is an active conversation. "Really?" adds nothing, and is hostile/challenging if you interpret it literally; a brush-off if you don't.

I think you do need to tell your partner (I'm assuming it's your partner, otherwise you'd just have stopped talking to this person by now) that "oh really" is making you insane because you don't know how to respond to it, and you'd appreciate it if he could try to either listen to you and respond meaningfully, or to let you know if he's too tired/occupied to have a conversation. Either way enough with the "really."
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:24 AM on May 27, 2016 [5 favorites]


The initial statements are the sort of things people say when they have some followup they intend to say next.

"Really?" doesn't translate to "whaaaat!? you made dinner!? i'm shocked and astounded!" It's "ok, that's clearly an opening, so go ahead and say the part with content so I can respond to that."

I wouldn't personally use "really?" in this context, but I'd say "oh yeah?", which is similar.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 9:25 AM on May 27, 2016 [17 favorites]


My partner does this in the form of repeating my statement back to me as a question. So,
"I think I'll go mow the lawn."
"You're going to mow the lawn?"
and so on.
It has the effect of repeating what I say back to me as a question, so I end up thinking if they heard my statement, why do they need to repeat it back to me. It's like being in an echo chamber where your conversational bids come back at you on a rising inflection.
"Your statements come back to you as questions on a rising inflection?"
Yes, I just said that.
It's never been clear to me whether they are making conversation in a somewhat perverse quirk or simply haven't engaged their processor in any real way so this is the automatic output.
posted by diode at 9:26 AM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


It seems like an annoying verbal tic. I currently work with several people who end every sentence with, "
...you know what I mean?" when they're never saying anything particularly deep and most monkeys know what they mean.

Verbal tics are annoying AF.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 9:50 AM on May 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


So...here's my second long shot idea. Is English this person's first language?

The reason I ask is that when I took a beginner Italian course, our teacher (native Italian speaker) taught us the term "davvero" that we could use as an interjection, sort of to grease the wheels of conversation. It translates literally in English to "really", but he told us it could be used as a way to indicate you'd heard the other person and were encouraging them to continue.
Person A: [in Italian] I went to a great restaurant last night!
Person B: [in an encouraging tone] Ah, davvero?
Person A: Yeah, it's called _______ and has the best ______ I've ever eaten!
My classmates and I ended up using it a lot.

Like I said, it's a long shot, but could this person be transliterating from their own language where this isn't necessarily a dismissive response? Again, this is not to downplay your irritation or say you shouldn't have a conversation about it, but is it a possibility of cross-cultural difference?
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:55 AM on May 27, 2016


From the OP's follow-up, I think this is more than a verbal tic on the other person's part. It sounds like the OP has a partner who is dismissive, rude, passive-aggressive, and trying to shut down conversation. The OP's statement that a "thank you" or a smile would make them cry with happiness moved me. This is sad. I think the problems go deeper here than having different communication styles.
posted by cartoonella at 9:56 AM on May 27, 2016 [6 favorites]


I do this with a particular co-worker. She talks a lot, but she doesn't really consider the other person's half of the conversation. I often feel like there is no "natural and easy" response to what she's saying, so I insert, "Really?" and she often continues.

It took me a long time to learn this, actually, but in conversation, the proper and graceful thing to do is to make it as easy as possible for the other person to respond to you. This is not taught or emphasized enough explicitly in our society, but it absolutely should be. This is like the number one absolute best thing you can possibly do to make yourself more suave and socially skilled. Not enough people do it, but when you meet someone who does, they seem incredibly charming and amazing. You do this by anticipating all possible responses and even streamlining the actual words of their response for them, if possible. If you are not asking yourself, "How could this person respond to this easily?" before you say literally anything, you are not as socially skilled as you could be.

You know how when people send out wedding invitations, there are two little boxes that say, "I accept with pleasure" or "I decline with regret?" Those are there to make it absolutely easy and streamlined for the other person to respond. Or, you can think of it like practicing tennis or something- except your goal should not be to lob the ball so the other person can't hit it. You want to lob that metaphorical ball right at them, in the easiest possible swing you can. And then you want to smile big when they hit it and hit another easy one back. That's how good conversation should go.

Some 101 ways of doing this: Ask questions. Ask yes or no questions. Be very specific. Offer choices and make the choices easy, so all the other person has to do is pick.

There are 201 and higher level ways of doing this (anticipate what the person feels best talking about and wants to share, make them look good) but you should master the basics first.
posted by quincunx at 9:58 AM on May 27, 2016 [12 favorites]


I hate this shit, and I dumped a therapist for doing it. It's not always just a harmless conversational crutch or a method to keep a conversation going. It can definitely sound annoyingly incredulous because it is annoyingly incredulous.

I have no advice on how to cope with this, but you're not crazy for thinking it's a real, obnoxious, somewhat invalidating phenomenon.
posted by Coatlicue at 9:58 AM on May 27, 2016 [4 favorites]


Cartoonella makes a good point. OP, if you feel generally validated and appreciated by this person, this one issue can probably be solved by an explicit conversation about how it makes you feel.

However, if this person doesn't do much in general to make you feel appreciated and valued in other ways, I think this problem goes beyond one particular style of communication, and you've got a bigger, more in-depth relationship conversation in store (or some serious decision making on your part on whether there's a point to continuing to work on it).
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:04 AM on May 27, 2016 [6 favorites]


Your examples are all without any context or any real content. I wouldn't even know how to respond, certainly wouldn't say "thank you" which your followup says you'd love to hear.

So you made dinner. What did you make? Did you make it for me or just yourself? Is there some reason you did it today? Do you not like the way I make X recipe? Are you saying you were annoyed that I didn't make dinner?

So you're going out to lunch. Ok, are you inviting me? Where are you going? Why should it matter to me? Why are you telling me this? Was I supposed to pick up bread or something? If it's because you're going to be unreachable for the next hour, then say "I'm going to be unreachable for the next hour because I'll be at X." The lunch thing throws me off unless that's what you're saying.

OK so you fixed the thing. Again, you're telling me this why? For a thank-you? Then say I fixed the thing for you. Or even say "hey give us a kiss for fixing the thing!" Or was I supposed to fix the thing and you're annoyed that I keep putting it off so you finally did it yourself?

In all three examples, I can see saying "Really?" or similar as a "tell me more" prompt that means "What are you telling me that affects me, when you say that?"
posted by headnsouth at 10:17 AM on May 27, 2016 [20 favorites]


Hey, I just read your update.

It sounds like what you really want is to be thanked, either for telling this person information that they needed, or doing something that will benefit them.

I think you are reasonable to want to be thanked for fixing things around the house or making dinner.

However, I think you are unreasonable to want to be thanked for telling someone you're going out for lunch. Although, if you're living separate lives and come and go as you please and your (husband/boyfriend?) shows no interest in where you are and what you're doing, ever, that's not a great sign. Going out for an hour to lunch really doesn't require much more than an "okay" though, which is why I think your expectation is a little unreasonable. Lunch happens every day and isn't that interesting unless you're doing something unusual, such as a new restaurant with a new friend.

As for the other person showing interest or curiosity- well, this may be really blunt, but I think you would be more reasonable to expect interest if you actually have something interesting to say. I'm sorry, but making dinner, going out to lunch, and fixing things are all pretty mundane and uninteresting topics. It's not like you're talking about novels or movies or a new dance you're learning.

But, as I said, you are reasonable to want to be thanked for making dinner or fixing things. I agree with you there. I don't think the way you're going about getting thanks is the right one, though, and it's not about conversation, it's about gratitude. So just sit your husband down and tell him you feel he doesn't thank you enough. Just be really honest. Don't fish for "thank yous" in a roundabout way.
posted by quincunx at 10:17 AM on May 27, 2016 [4 favorites]


I suspect I respond with "Really?" or "Oh, you did?" a lot, and I generally do it to indicate, "That's delightful! Tell me more!" I also suspect (hope?) that I am conveying that intention through my non-verbal communication -- smiling, making eye contact, looking interested.

As others have said, if it's being used dismissively, it's unlikely that policing the word "really" is going to fix the underlying dismissiveness. It may be worth examining whether you're reading dismissiveness into the situation when it's not actually present, or if the other person's dismissiveness (rather than language) is the actual problem.
posted by lazuli at 10:19 AM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


I never before realized that there were so many people who did not take "Oh?" and "Really?" as short for "Oh? Do go on." and "Really? Do tell me about it."
posted by Zalzidrax at 10:33 AM on May 27, 2016 [11 favorites]


The initial statements are the sort of things people say when they have some followup they intend to say next ... It's "ok, that's clearly an opening, so go ahead and say the part with content so I can respond to that."

See, this is a thing that really (REALLY!) is annoying. If I just said "I made dinner" or "I'm going out to lunch" -- that is, actually, indeed what I meant to say. I do say the words I mean. I'm not waiting for permission to follow up with what I really meant.

Ignoring my statement for "lack of content, or waiting for "real" content" is REALLY! condescending and dismissive.
posted by Dashy at 10:55 AM on May 27, 2016 [5 favorites]


Honestly the person you're talking about sounds like someone I knew a long time ago that used "really" to mean "cool story bro." It wasn't nice.
posted by Pax at 11:16 AM on May 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


Well, person isn't experiencing an ESL problem, and has not been abused in the past. So those qualifiers, while they totally make sense, don't apply.

Hmmmm.... okay "thank you" doesn't work for everything either. Of course I wouldn't expect a thank you for going out to lunch, but a thank you for telling my partner where I'll be for the next hour I think... is pretty normal? And DEFINTELY "Okay" is better than, "Oh really?" because yes, indeed, I am. It's not farfetched or bizarre or out of character. It's just a thing.

I also take issue with the idea that what I'm saying isn't real "content." Or that I have to be totally interesting in order to expect a "thank you" or an "Okay" or "10-4, Roger that." I'm not asking for a 2 hour conversation about how I prepared dinner, I just want an acknowledgement that the words went through the ears and through the gears... especially after preparing a dinner and I'm tired. The act of eating the dinner I've prepared is sort of how it would impact him, so I was thinking that would be the impetus to say something a little more generous than "Oh, really?"

Also, how easy do I have to make communication for my partner? I know that if this is my annoyance, I will have to deal, but do I really have to worry about rolling out a red carpet of communication in order to make my partner feel like the things I have done, or things I am doing, are interesting? Or consider how to frame my statement "I've made us dinner" easier for *him* to respond to?

I will talk with my partner for sure. You've all helped me to articulate the problem, and have given me ideas for how to approach it sensitively (because as I've said, I don't think he appreciates that it's bothersome to me). And some suggestions for alternatives could be "Thank you!" "cool" "ok thx" "how?" "Have fun" or "tell me more" or "sure thing" or "10-4" or "You rock" or "okey dokey" - to me, any of these are preferable because

-they don't put the burden of the exchange totally on me
-that let me know that what I've said was heard
-doesn't drain the exchange of enthusiasm or fun
-doesn't make me repeat myself
-doesn't translate into either an aggressive or incredulous question (literally) or dismissiveness (figuratively).

I think this is all very helpful.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 11:21 AM on May 27, 2016 [8 favorites]


I use "really" as shorthand for "really? Do tell", "really? tell me more", "really? how cool" "really? I don't know what to say here but I am encouraging you to go on".

But, I have been the recipient of "really?" As well. Sometimes it is just communication shorthand, which I'm great with, but sometimes it is a very annoying judgement or disbelief. So, to me, not all "oh, really?"s are the same.
posted by Vaike at 11:47 AM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think perhaps it is a very ungenerous interpretation of her motives (and more importantly, the motives of people in your own lives) and what they want from you when they say things like "I made dinner", and you immediately assume they are fishing for something. Why choose to believe that they are patting themselves on the back and want you to as well? Why not, you know....use your words to communicate with them? Like....you know. Talking. Bonding. Interacting. It's why we can talk. I think it's weird that someone would take the opportunity to view "I made dinner" as a brag, and then say something like "Oh really" as a dismissive way to say, "Yeah I heard you but you're just bragging so I'm not gonna give you any acknowledgement". One interpretation of that sentence: if I tell my husband I made dinner, what I am basically saying is, "I just made dinner so you don't have to worry about it, because I love you and want you to relax". And yes, he usually responds with some kind of "Wow yeah, it smells great in here", or "So what's cookin', hot stuff"? Not a "Really?" and then walking away. If you think people that say things like that may be fishing for compliments, that's your problem and maybe something that needs to be addressed.
posted by the webmistress at 12:46 PM on May 27, 2016 [5 favorites]


"Have fun" or "tell me more" or "sure thing" or "10-4" or "You rock" or "okey dokey" - to me, any of these are preferable because

-they don't put the burden of the exchange totally on me


They are saying those things, in a different way. You are putting the burden of exchange on them with your initial phrasing in their view. You're making incomplete statements that seem to require a response, an "and..." response. That's what they're giving you.

As some have pointed out, your statements give the minimum of information.
Make more complete statements. "I made hamburgers, it's ready when you are".

If you feel you are making complete statements that aren't shifting the burden to them, then why are you waiting for the correct reply and disappointed that you're not getting it? "I made dinner" and walk out. I tend to view your statements as passive aggressive.

People communicate differently. Doesn't mean it's wrong.
posted by bongo_x at 1:05 PM on May 27, 2016 [8 favorites]


I didn't know making dinner and fixing things and letting my partner know or telling him where I'm going is burdensome. That's a bizarre interpretation to me, but people seem to agree with you so I will try to consider it that way...
posted by Dressed to Kill at 1:36 PM on May 27, 2016 [4 favorites]


I don't think it's burdensome in itself, I do the same thing. But I'm not expecting a specific response.

"I made dinner" can be taken as a short declarative statement (which I do all the time, and yes it confuses some people) or as a mysterious comment meant to elicit a follow up question.

But since you seem to want a specific response and you're not getting it maybe you need to rephrase so that the other person has something more specific to respond to. If you say "I made mac and cheese and it's ready now" and want to hear "thank you" then you need to tell the other person that if you're not getting it. Make sure you're being clear first, then be clear about the response you want. There seems to be a lot of guessing going on.

To me "really", while annoying to me, is much more interactive and shows more interest than "OK". It seems odd to interpret it as a brush off. To me it's someone trying to engage in an awkward way.

I'm just saying that you seem to have a classic "I keep doing the same thing over and over and not getting the result I want. What is the other person doing wrong?" situation going on.

Of course I don't know you and could be totally misinterpreting your meaning. I think the question might be; would you really be OK with "OK" as a response, or are you looking for more? If you're looking for more you need to phrase differently. If you'd be OK with "OK" then your partner just has a communication quirk that's annoying to you. Join the club.
posted by bongo_x at 1:58 PM on May 27, 2016 [4 favorites]


I can't tell if this is part of a pattern of behavior that makes you feel generally unappreciated, or if it's just this word or type of response that bothers you. If it's truly, wholly the latter, you could try prefacing your statements with "Just so you know..." and see if that helps.
posted by unknowncommand at 2:02 PM on May 27, 2016


My ex would often respond with "IIT." It stands for "interesting if true." This went well beyond passive-aggressive, and its seriously irksome, insulting, and hurtful. I'm hearing from you that your partner's emotional laziness is having the same effect on you. Ponder whether he should be your future partner, if this is a sign of all emotional laziness. Having a good partner means having someone capable and willing (even eager) to do his share of the emotional heavy lifting (and even light lifting).
posted by Capri at 2:07 PM on May 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


In my experience, people who have trouble with small talk for one reason or another also tend to get really tetchy when people make declarative statements to them and are also the same people who act as though all indirect communication is manipulative to some degree. These people sometimes can't manage a response better than "Why" or "Really?", even if they want to come across as more engaged. It's a communication style that's associated with being dismissive or even controlling, but sometimes people like this simply can't do better and don't seem to understand that the way they respond to people can be seen as annoying and invalidating.

When you're dealing with people like this, it can be helpful to make sure that you communicate in a way that they not only recognize as a bid for attention, but with a structure that makes it easy for them to respond to what you say. In practice, it means talking to these people a lot less than you otherwise would, and places a lot of cognitive burden on you to choose your words carefully. That said, this is seriously exhausting to do in the context of an intimate relationship, and in my experience, this sort of difference in communication styles makes it really hard to maintain intimacy over time. Just a thought.
posted by blerghamot at 2:37 PM on May 27, 2016


Quick note regarding the "diagnosis" of if this is just an involuntary quirk/someone who's a bit awkward, or if the other person is being passive-aggressive or emotionally disinterested : you didn't mention their body language and tone when they say those responses - do they look at you (either while they're saying it, or towards the end, let's say if they were reading something before)? Is their tone enthusiastic, with the inflection rising at the end of the question? Or are they turning away from you, not looking at you, saying those things in a monotonous voice ? This could maybe help understand better what's going on, a conversational style difference, or an emotional/relationship problem. Personally, this is what changes completely the "vibe" I perceive coming from the other person.
Reading between the lines, it seems like you seem frustrated not only with the conversation, but with the lack of appreciation from your partner (or your difficulty understanding their style of showing appreciation, which sometimes happens because of different styles).
posted by kitsuloukos at 3:18 PM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


I say "yeah?" sometimes when I don't really know what to say. It's absolutely not a literal expression of doubt, and I strongly suspect your examples aren't literal expressions of doubt, either.

If your conversations aren't interesting enough, that's an issue, but a different one than raised by your question. It's not necessarily fair to put the burden on you, but try figuring out what what they're interested in talking about, since it may not be these things.

If you're not getting enough appreciation when you do things for others, again, that's sort of a different issue, but try having an honest conversation about that (if,for example,it's your significant other).

If this is all your partner, you have to have a much longer conversation about your relationship.
posted by J. Wilson at 3:38 PM on May 27, 2016


Or consider how to frame my statement "I've made us dinner" easier for *him* to respond to?

He could be wondering if you're meaning:

I've made us dinner so please immediately set the table.
I've made us dinner, yay!
I've made us dinner, and now I'm pissed that I had to do it.
I've made us dinner, because I love you so much!
I've made us dinner, because I knew you were going to forget to pick up the take-out I asked for, you idiot.
I've made us dinner, because I knew you were going to forget to pick up the take-out I asked for, you lovable lug!
I've made us dinner, and you're late, and now it's ruined.
I've made us dinner, and you're early, and now the surprise is ruined.
I've made us dinner, so why the hell are you eating something else?
I've made us dinner, but if you want to eat something else, that's fine, too.
I've made us dinner, and I need you to sit down immediately because it's getting cold.
etc.

John Gottman talks about this is his A Couple's Guide to Communication, which might be helpful to you. Providing more context/information doesn't have to be about keeping him entertained, but just about giving him a better cue for what response you're looking for or your frame of mind (and it's absolutely a reasonable task for the person communicating to do).

And I'm horribly oversimplifying, but there's also a concept from Transactional Analysis that says we all have three ego states: Child (fun, spontaneous, needy), Parent (caring, protective, punitive), and Adult (neutral exchange of information). It sounds a bit like you're making statements in the "child" mode of being fun and spontaneous and wanting a "parent" response, maybe, of approval? Or wanting a "child" response of equal fun and spontaneity? Or you're making statements in the "parent" mode of caring for him and wanting a caring "parent" response back? But he's assuming you're making statements in the "adult" mode and just giving information? The number of question marks in that indicate that I'm totally speculating, but it may be worth playing around with the idea in a way that doesn't automatically dismiss his intentions.
posted by lazuli at 4:03 PM on May 27, 2016 [6 favorites]


I have to say, out of the two people in the conversation, the one I would be most frustrated with is the OP. They give no context in which to give a response, which is why I assume the respondent is just replying, "Really?" In an effort to elicit more information.

You've just made lunch. Great...so what? Does that mean it's time to sit down and eat? Does it mean it's my turn to make dinner? Are you wanting thanks? Give the statement some context so the listener knows how to reply instead of placing the burden on them to figure out what you want, and then getting annoyed when you don't get it. It's just not great communication.

In this situation, I would probably say "Really?" too because after a while of this, my ACTUAL response would be complete annoyance at someone who doesn't express what they mean from the conversation yet expects me to be able to divine it anyway. Saying really is just being polite at that point.
posted by Jubey at 4:33 PM on May 27, 2016 [9 favorites]


Dresses to Kill, I'm sorry you took offense at my response. It was meant to be helpful, not hurtful.

If what you really want is validation that the person doing this is wrong and you are hurt, then okay. How is that going to change the situation for you, though? You could be right and he could be wrong and everyone in the world and on metafilter could 100% agree with you, and he could still keep doing it. If this is someone you are looking for permission to get out of your life (I.E., to break up) well, ultimately no one else can make that choice for you, but I can support you in getting this person out of your life if you choose to do so and it makes you happier.

There may be some solutions in between "just accepting it" and "breaking up", though. My suggestions to change your style of speaking or to have a frank discussion with this person about thanking you, were offered in the spirit of realistic things you can do to improve the situation, short of breaking up. You suggested in your OP that you start saying something back a little snappy or sarcastic. If you have your heart set on doing that, it is certainly one way of trying to bring your unhappiness to his attention. I support you if you really want to do that, but gently suggest that having an honest conversation about it might be healthier overall. If you really don't care, that's fine too.
posted by quincunx at 5:00 PM on May 27, 2016 [4 favorites]


This is one of those asks that has veered off into "are we even the same species?" territory.

OP, there's nothing inscrutable about saying "I've made dinner" to one's partner. There is a standard response, which is to acknowledge that dinner is made, state one's reaction to that fact, and state ones intentions with regard to the circumstance. "Let me put my stuff down and I'll be in in a sec." "Oh, I thought we agreed tonight was pizza, I already ordered one!" "Nice, what are we having?" "Ugh, I don't feel like eating." "I thought tonight was my night to cook!" "Awesome, I'm hungry, smells great!" -- any of those are on relevant responses, although some are nicer than others.

I don't know under what circumstances someone couldn't come up with an on point response to "I've made dinner" other than total cluelessness, or hostility. I feel like people are trying to twist themselves into pretzels to somehow blame you, OP, for not being rational, when in fact you're complaining about totally non-normative behavior. Bottom line: let him know it bothers you. You're not being unreasonable.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:25 PM on May 27, 2016 [8 favorites]


"I didn't know making dinner and fixing things and letting my partner know or telling him where I'm going is burdensome. That's a bizarre interpretation to me, but people seem to agree with you so I will try to consider it that way..."

Hi. Just wanted to give you some feedback that I disagree with many of the responses and I would point you to webmistress (1, 2) and fingersandtoes for excellent readings of your specific situation.

And, I sympathise.

Note: I've found AskMe is boatloads better when you can just take what you need and leave the rest; YMMV.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 5:34 PM on May 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


I have found myself saying "Yeah?" and "Really?" a lot in the following scenarios:

-talking to someone in a forced circumstance in which I have nothing to talk about

-being told information that I do not care about and does not affect me at all, and following up would make it look like I care which is not the impression I want to give

Yesterday I went to lunch with my boss for my annual review and I cringed when I started counting how often I said, "yeah??" after he told me something. I don't know enough to even fake caring about trucks, car parts, or yard work. I just don't.

At my old job, I had an extremely chatty coworker who would tell me things all day long that were so mundane it was almost physically painful. "My mom's birthday is tomorrow!" "My dog wouldn't pee this morning!" "I hate Thai food!" These were all non sequiturs, and it would have been rude to completely ignore her but I didn't want to encourage her.

I think even without context, "oh really?" means "we are not clicking as conversation partners".
posted by masquesoporfavor at 5:35 PM on May 27, 2016 [4 favorites]


"Really?" is not automatically a response that indicates total cluelessness or hostility. People may be pushing back against the assumption that it does. This is one of those questions where non-verbal communication and individual history matters a great deal, and the OP really hasn't provided information on either, so people are projecting all over the place, on both sides.
posted by lazuli at 5:35 PM on May 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


Given your updates, I would say (possibly wrongly) that there is a rather different question/situation lurking behind the “oh really” issue.

This in particular

I didn't know making dinner and fixing things and letting my partner know or telling him where I'm going is burdensome

makes me think that you’re possibly dealing with a situation that could be described as follows:

"I feel that my partner is uninterested in me and my life and takes me for granted. For example, after making dinner for us, he hardly acknowledges my effort, same if I fix something around the house we will both benefit from. He doesn’t really seem to be bothered if I’m around or not (for example, if I tell him I’m going to lunch he hardly acknowledges that). To add insult to injury, the tone he uses in his scant acknowledgement is one of disinterested incredulousness (“Dinner is ready” – “Oh, really!”). I don’t know if I’m more bothered by the fact that he responds with a stock phrase, which shows me that he didn’t even truly listen to what I was saying, or by him acting all surprised, he doesn’t consider me capable of doing what I just said I’d done, even though I’ve done that thing plenty times before."

So, I don’t know if this interpretation is correct or not, but if it is, I’d suggest that much larger issues have solidified around the “Oh really!” thing (which, BTW, I think explains the divergence in the answers you’re getting).

I’m also going to add another assumption to the above, namely that you do the lion’s share of heavy-lifting on chores as well as on other relationship-related things. Whether or not this is true would have a great impact on how to go about things.

My suggestion would be to completely get away from the “Oh really!”/ incredulity issue and to try to dig into what it actually symbolizes for you – which you have done to quite a large extent already in this thread. Maybe even try to read through the replies you didn’t like and which explain how that can be an innocuous verbal tick or have a different basis which doesn’t chime with your interpretation.

I’m not saying this because I think you need to revise your interpretation and come round to a different way of thinking about that phrase/ way of engaging in the opening exchanges of a conversation.

But I DO feel quite strongly, based on your updates, that, at the very least, you feel neglected, if not worse, in this specific relationship.

Let me explain why I think focusing on this kind of exchange is misleading: taking your fixing example, what if the response were changed to something like:

“I fixed the thing!”

“Oh, you fixed the thing?! Really? How did you manage that? I struggled with it for hours and gave up in complete frustration! You’re a star!”

This, too, contains incredulity, even more aggressively so, at the start, but it does so as a means to segue into admiration and gratitude, or as a way to express emotion through hyperbole (if we assume that in the world of emotions incredulity re. a thing functions as the hyperbolized version of whatever other emotion the thing evokes).

Anyway, the point is that if you can see my example as a (possibly really annoying) way to express x positive emotion, I’d argue that it’s not JUST the incredulity of the reply that upsets you (or which you find disconcerting), but rather that which it seems to stand in for (lack of engagement, dismissiveness, taking you for granted, neglect).

If this is the case, you'd probably want answers to a different question.
posted by miorita at 7:37 PM on May 27, 2016 [6 favorites]


I do this frequently. It conveys neither incredulity, nor dismissiveness, nor conversational laziness. It's intended to positively respond to the speaker's bid and elicit more information in a pleasant, low-key way. Most of the time I follow the "Really?" with a question or story of my own.

In my native communication style, dropping a one-liner like "I made dinner" or "I'm going out for lunch" or "I fixed that thing" is actually the faux pas! I consider these statements borderline rude!

Here's why: It doesn't convey the speaker's intention, so it's hard to suss out the proper followup behavior. Do you want me to thank you? Help you? Validate you? Simply acknowledge your existence? Go with you? Share a story? Feel a feeling? Are you just narrating like some people do, wanting a witness to your life but needing no response?

From my side, you laid out a mundane and predictable fact which may or may not be a cloak for passive / unstated expectations. Now the burden is on me to "read your mind" by sussing out what, exactly, you meant.

Yes, the dinner is happening, every day there is dinner, either you make it or I make it or we go out to eat. What am I supposed to do with that? Your opening bid isn't exactly the stuff of sparkling conversation either. You could have said, "Oh my god, I just prepped the most incredibly mindblowing salad, you have to try this vinaigrette! Better thank Your Sovereign Chef, you lucky girl!" Then I'd know you were conveying enthusiasm and wanted me to be excited and grateful. But you didn't say that, so it's up to me to play Detective.

My cultural background also downplays the cult of personality and emphasizes hard work without reward. So, when I hear you talking about "thing I just did," it sounds braggy and self-congratulatory. Of course I appreciate your effort! I do my best to say so and hold up my end of the labors. Conversely, if I'm not thanking you enough, please tell me straight out!

But, when I think you want affirmation but won't say it, it sounds to me like you're fishing for compliments. And that's a no-go, because in my book you either A) do the work without expecting to be thanked, or B) ask for what you want directly.

Of course, I know my conversational style carries it's own baggage, and you probably have a really different perspective! That's why an "Oh, really?" is so great. 9 times outta 10 it's the most neutral thing I can say to figure out where a person's coming from. I think in this case, you're just that wily other 10%, Dressed to Kill :)
posted by fritillary at 9:03 PM on May 27, 2016 [7 favorites]


I definitely say "Really?" a lot, myself.. though perhaps not quite as often as my main similar-meaning standby "Oh yeah?" (said the exact same way my father does, I'm told).

It's just me responding positively to something that is said to me, and me being friendly. Me wanting to know more.

Just this evening, I was out for a quick hike with my husband, who at one point exclaimed that he saw a bird of prey dive sharply and fast toward the face of a steep cliff!

Me: "Really?!!"

I was excited to hear more about what he had seen! It's just... what I said. He knows it's a thing I say, and what I mean by it. And indeed, he elaborated! It was something to talk about. It was a nice moment.

So yeah.. I think it's something that some of us say when we want to know more. Maybe try saying more things about the topics you are bringing up when met with the "really" response.

I'm also surprised no one has suggested a regional/cultural component to this.. I feel like what I described above is a very common usage/meaning/attitude toward this turn of phrase in my western Canadian part of the world. So much so that I'm honestly finding the wide range of answers above to be rather eye-opening!
posted by wats at 10:09 PM on May 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


This confuses me: They are saying those things, in a different way. You are putting the burden of exchange on them with your initial phrasing in their view. You're making incomplete statements that seem to require a response, an "and..." response. That's what they're giving you.

As some have pointed out, your statements give the minimum of information.
Make more complete statements. "I made hamburgers, it's ready when you are".


I can't envision a relationship with anyone in my life that would be fulfilling to me if my partner felt that requiring a response is somehow too much to ask, when the thing that is being said is a body if information relevant to my partner.

I really can't.

If I walk into a room, and my partner says, "I saw a bug on the floor!" there are a million things I could say.

I don't find it a burden to ask, "WUUUUUU!?? WHERE ISIT?!@?!?" or "Did you get 'er?" or "did you rescue it!?!?" or "Let's name him bobo!" oooooor..... "thanks for letting me know" or "10-4 roger that".

Maybe they need a response, and the response "oh, really" (especially without any follow up) is heard by me as either dismissive, half-hearted interest, or half-hearted non-interest or just a noise to fill time. So I need to tell my partner that. And I want to know - really know - what he means by "oh really," and respect that.

This is what I'm learning from some of the comments here: some people above say "Oh really" when they DON'T want to talk, some say it when they're not interested, some say it for the OPPOSITE REASON and to mean "go on!", some do it to irritate their partners because they're not providing them with enough information, or they believe they're fishing for compliments (as if OMG a compliment is the worst you could ask from your partner), or somehow *manipulating* them into an exchange that "celebrates" the initial speaker....

It's fair to say that it's a vague statement that - in this relationship - needs to be given our OWN context. A new context. Or a different approach. And my husband and I are sensitive and generous enough to do that.

I'm really... uncomfortable with the amount of bad spirit in some of these responses. Even at the bare minimum, I felt the question, and my clarifications were fair.

I will never be happy in a relationship where, upon entering the room, I say to my partner "I fixed the thing!" and their first thought is "how does this impact me" or "so what?" or "yeah... and?" or "you're really just saying "celebrate me". Like, oh my god... it sounds horrible.

Anyways - eye opening responses, and thank you for your time

***RESOLVED!****
posted by Dressed to Kill at 8:28 AM on May 28, 2016 [7 favorites]


Count me in as someone who uses "really?!" to mean, "go on, this is interesting!"
I use it when people say things like "i just saw the new Star Wars movie" or "I'm going to Prague over the weekend". Not necessarily the dinner thing. My husband does it, too, thank goodness.
I never even realized it annoyed people, though I do remember one or two times someone would answer "yes, I did", and I was confused why they would reply literally.
I like to think my tone conveys what I mean more successfully than my words. But your AskMe has given me something to think about.
However, my guess is that when you get annoyed you're picking up on the disonterested/incredulous/automated tone of the "oh really" and it's not just the words themselves.
posted by Omnomnom at 3:56 PM on May 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


Sounds like maybe they are trying to repeat stuff back to you to confirm that they heard you correctly? Sometimes people develop this habit if they having hearing loss or auditory processing problems.
posted by Jacqueline at 8:40 PM on May 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


Is it possible that your partner is interpreting your opening sentence as a conversational bid and attempting to divine your full meaning, in order to respond more appropriately? See: this Gottman article.
posted by lieber hair at 5:09 AM on May 31, 2016


Even with your update, someone like me doesn't find those openers to be leading to a conversation. If my husband came into a room I was in and said, "I saw a bug" I would definitely say, "Really?" or "And?" because what is the point of that sentence?! If it were me I'd be like, "oh shit a bug! KILL IT!" or "I saw a bug, and then the dog came and ate it." or "I saw a bug. It was gross as hell!" The examples you've given all sound like fishing to me, and I guess I'm stubborn but I don't want a conversation to be like pulling teeth; I want it to be a back and forth.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 12:28 PM on June 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


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