How do you respond to "Where do you want to go?"
April 9, 2019 4:11 AM   Subscribe

I tend to freeze, delay, and deflect when people I want to spend time with ask me things like "Where should we meet?" or "What do you want to do when we meet?" I need ways to either interrupt my rumination and anxiety over responding, easy responses that work for you, or some combination of the two.

So as I'm learning what the extent of my social anxieties are and how to approach them, one trigger that I run into with almost every interaction is "Where do you want to go?"

I'm sure this is a hard question for a lot of people. Plenty of people must have no issues just saying something, but I can't imagine how. I get caught up thinking about questions like:

"What if I suggest a food/location they don't want to do?"
"What if they don't want to spend money?"
"If I suggest an activity, what if it's boring/they've already done it?"
...And so on.

And then if I try to think of a way to suss out their interest in something, I get stuck trying to phrase the inquiry in a way that won't come across as passive-aggressive, pushy, or like I've unilaterally decided and am only pretending to suggest something (again, I know this is all very extra, but it's the thought process I always seem to have).

A lot of this is tied up with the baseline assumption that people don't want to spend time with me, they have better things to do, or that my interests are not shared by other people. I know all of this is non-productive negative self-talk, but dealing with that is a much bigger process than the quick strategies I need to just respond promptly when making plans. This stress often leads me to delay responding until it becomes rude, or even to avoid contacting other people to initiate plans in the first place.

A friend and I agreed over a week ago to meet this evening, and now I'm looking at a message that says "Where should we meet tonight?" and I'm totally stuck in a loop. This is a regular occurrence. This is also getting very old.

So what are your strategies for responding or for interrupting your unhelpful thought patterns when it comes to this situation?
posted by wakannai to Human Relations (22 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I like suggesting a category or parameters like “I good at a bar or restaurant but I want it to be quiet enough for us to talk.” Or “my car has been acting funny so anything close to the bus line works for me” or “I’m trying to watch my budget so somewhere on the lower end of the price range.” That way they can come up with things that work for them but I can still have my needs heard
posted by raccoon409 at 4:21 AM on April 9, 2019 [11 favorites]

I don't really have significant anxiety about this question, but my various food issues have made the question somewhat of a landmine. I always have a list of places in my head, so that I'm never surprised by the question. In fact, I have menus saved to my computer, and know what menu items I can eat at what restaurants. I think making a list of possible responses would be a good first option.

To the question, I almost always answer, "How do you feel about burgers?," or "How do you feel about Mexican?" or whatever, and suggest something off my list based off their answer. It puts the ball back in their court somewhat, but I'm still choosing. And maybe my friends and I are boring, but we almost always start up a routine of going to our favorite places again and again, so it doesn't hurt to suggest somewhere you've both been before and liked!
posted by backwards compatible at 4:24 AM on April 9, 2019 [6 favorites]

If you suggest more than one option, it makes the question into more of a discussion than an up-or-down rejection of a single plan.

“Where do you want to meet up?”
“Some ideas—that new sushi place on Elm St? Or McFarley’s? Pizza Pia?”
“Oh I’ve been meaning to try that French place on Elm St—what about there?”

If you’re talking to another person who’s shy about making a plan, you can explicitly say “how about I pick three options and you pick the winner?” If you’re talking to someone who shoots down all your suggestions, just ask them to suggest a few places.

If you’re still anxious, think of it this way—refusing to brainstorm or participate in the discussion by contributing ideas is forcing the other person to do all the planning work. That’s much more annoying than you suggesting a restaurant that the other person might not like.

Also, you are not responsible or to blame if someone accedes to your suggested plan despite secretly not liking it. Just as it’s irritating to have a friend who will never suggest a plan, it’s irritating to have a friend who won’t speak up and just say “oh, I don’t like that pizza place, can we go somewhere else?” This is much less frequent the older I get.
posted by sallybrown at 4:26 AM on April 9, 2019 [13 favorites]

I used to have that problem. What really helps for me now is that due to food intolerances, I'm limited where I can eat. So I'll say "I can eat at X, Y and Z" and let them chose or if they aren't fussed, they let me pick from those choices.

I've found everyone is really happy to have it so narrowed down. People really seem to prefer a limited set of choices.
posted by kitten magic at 4:44 AM on April 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

So you might not have my reasons for narrowing it down so much, but I think you'll find it's still a useful method.
posted by kitten magic at 4:46 AM on April 9, 2019

Making the decision is the hard part for everyone, and going to a less-than-perfect place is a non-issue. Think about what YOU want, take into account what you know about your friend, and anything you pick is doing them a favor.

Another thing: it can be helpful, with close friends, to say at one point, "I always get nervous about picking things. If you ever don't love my idea, just say so; I won't be offended." Trusting the other person to say "I'm not in the mood for sushi" means you can suggest what you want without worrying you'll disappoint them; it removes the fraught element from the situation.
posted by gideonfrog at 4:51 AM on April 9, 2019 [7 favorites]

Making social decisions like this is very hard for most people I think. They probably don't get the level of anxiety you experience but it's always kind of this tenuous push pull situation and nobody wants to make choices. So it can be helpful to provide limitations or parameters and not at all bad like you're telling yourself.

The easiest thing for me is to know when I'm going to be hungry and make a point to ensure that I will have access to food at the times I will need it. So like, if someone is going to be free at 7pm, I'm definitely going to insist a meal is involved. I'll say something like "I need to eat around then, where would you like to meet for dinner?" Or, if it's something like a 4pm meet up I'll say "Sounds great but I can only hang out for a couple hours and then I'll have to get dinner, so where can we go that's [within tenable distance for that] [doesn't involve food]?" This can really help narrow down the activity at least.

So do some thinking about what your priorities are. Do you need things that fit your budget? Do you really want to explore your local community or conversely try to get out of town more often? Do you have limited free time and your activities need to have set beginnings and ends? Maybe you need to stay away from alcohol, or need to be somewhere quiet, or crave being outdoors. It can help so much to express your needs to someone else like that, because I guarantee you that they're nearly as afloat as you are in this process and having a starting place is invaluable.
posted by Mizu at 5:15 AM on April 9, 2019 [4 favorites]

When I'm asked where (and when) to meet, I'll identify any restrictions I have and present 2-4 concrete time/venue that meet my needs and any of theirs that I know of, and then as a parting line say "other suggestions are welcome" so if they don't like anything it becomes on them to counter-propose.

This is also how my partner and I choose movies to watch, etc. One person will come up with 3-4 suggestions that they'd be fine with, and the other person picks -- or is responsible for coming up with their own counter-proposal list.

People love deciding among short, simple lists rather than just having the world set in front of them with a "what to you want to do?" "I dunno, what do you want to do?" like them vultures in The Jungle Book.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:16 AM on April 9, 2019

Imagine you're talking to another person with social anxiety. It would suck for them if you always deflected responsibility for choosing onto them, because they also hate having to choose. You're not making things easier on them by making no decision - you're making things harder. The kindest and simplest thing is to take on the burden of deciding so that they don't have to.
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:16 AM on April 9, 2019 [5 favorites]

Having been this person and been friends with this person for most of my life, I have to say that what takes away some of the anxiety for me is knowing that most of the people I interact with like someone to make a decision way more than they care about what the decision is. So if you suggest somewhere, they're free to either accept it ("Whew! That's a load off my mind!") or suggest an alternative, ("I just had pizza for lunch, so how about that pub near the pizza place instead?"). From what I've experienced, many people just want the ball to get rolling, so "Where should we go?" is the start of the discussion, not a locked-in choice you're making for them. They want to know the parameters of what you'd suggest.
posted by xingcat at 5:18 AM on April 9, 2019 [8 favorites]

When I'm asked that question by someone I don't know well, I'll offer up a few suggestions - an inexpensive but good hole-in-the-wall, a more expensive, nicer place, and something adventurous. It doesn't cover every possibility but I think it lets others know that I'm not hung up on going to a particular type of place and usually they'll pick from my list anyway. (Also, I always say that I'm fine with trying something not on the list).
posted by bunderful at 5:23 AM on April 9, 2019

You might find the suggestions in this thread helpful - in particular the 5-3-1 method
posted by crocomancer at 5:30 AM on April 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

I deploy a few strategies. As xingcat said above, sometimes the question of where to go just gets the conversational ball rolling. I like to answer with “Hmmm, any cravings?” which gives the other person an opportunity to say what they want, even if it’s that one place two neighbourhoods over that only serves peanut butter and pickle sandwiches.

Or, similar to other posters above, I’ll say “What are your top 3?” which gives them an opportunity to narrow it down. As a life long people pleaser, this allows me to flex my decision making muscle. It may be uncomfortable at first, but you’ll get used to it. And after awhile it starts to feel good to actually go some place you want to go instead of always accommodating other people.

I keep track of new coffee shops, restaurants, and hot spots in my medium sized city. You can use Instagram or the small/alternative newspapers that still exist to stay on top of what’s happening in your town so you can have suggestions at the ready.

Yes, this does involve remembering your friend has a coconut allergy so you can’t suggest the new Thai place, but there is an underwater basket weaving demo happening on Sunday and you get to say, “Have you had a chance to check out that underwater basket weaving demo?”

Lastly, if they have a dog that you enjoy and you’re looking for something free/cheap, I often ask if they want to take the pup for a walk. People are busy and I’ve found they appreciate the chance to hang out with their dog AND their friend, combining two things in one. This also works for errands. “Do you have any errands you need doing?” “Actually I need to go to the post office.” “Okay! Let’s do it. Wanna grab a coffee after?” (Note coffee can also be a place holder for coffee OR tea OR fancy blended beverage OR a cookie. Don’t feel pressured into deciding what your friend wants to drink!)
posted by nathaole at 5:57 AM on April 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

- Reframe the situation. I used to feel the same way until I realized the person wouldn't be asking if they didn't want me to choose. You are doing THEM a favor, not inconveniencing them with your suggestion.

- Like some other responses, I like to give an "out", though I try not to be overly deferential, it is annoying. Something like this is fine: "What about (restaurant)? I'm also up for trying somewhere else."

- If it helps, come up with a default place that you feel comfortable with and always suggest that first so you don't have to think about it.
posted by beyond_pink at 6:04 AM on April 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

Try to remember that by deciding you will almost certainly make the situation better, and it's hard to make it worse. The worst-case scenario of making a suggestion is that the suggestion is rejected, and that just puts you right back where you started, no worse off.

Even if you suggest something you want and the other person agrees to go along with it even though the secretly hate the suggestion (and as others have suggested, you can often avoid this situation by making it clear that you are open to other suggestions), at least you get something *you* want, which is better than nobody getting what they want (also the other person at least gets the luxury of being able to avoid making a decision, which must have been some kind of a priority for them or they wouldn't have gone along with your suggestion).
posted by mskyle at 6:55 AM on April 9, 2019

Similar to the 5-3-1 above, my personal move is one person offers 3, other person has to pick from those, or veto and offer 1. First person can veto that 1, but has to offer 1 in return. Etc.

Realistically, it's just a method for starting a discussion, and only falls back on the "rules" if someone isn't being helpful.

(This actually just happened to me, though not a strict following of the "rules":
K: I'm sick of work. Let's go drink. Where should we go?
B: How about Fathom, Marina, or Harbor Town?
K: Eh, those are all in the opposite direction of home. [While not offering a choice, K does advance the decision, by establishing a criterion that is important to her, rather than just saying "I don't want to go to those places". Had she said that, B could instead say, "well, I put some places out there, your turn"]
B: Hmm.. Coyote Ugly has $2 PBR...?
K: Done!)
posted by booooooze at 6:57 AM on April 9, 2019

Try to remember that by deciding you will almost certainly make the situation better, and it's hard to make it worse. The worst-case scenario of making a suggestion is that the suggestion is rejected, and that just puts you right back where you started, no worse off.

Doing this has helped me a lot. Just realizing that it's stressful not to express a preference. And also there are usually places / activities that everybody likes. Few people will turn down nachos.

Also, being vegetarian helps because other people aren't always sure how to accommodate that. They appreciate it if I say "oh, I can't get much at the rib joint, but this pub has a good veggie burger."
posted by mermaidcafe at 7:08 AM on April 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

I am just good with the line, "make choices for me"
posted by PinkMoose at 7:39 AM on April 9, 2019

As someone who has spent most of my life missing opportunities because of indecision, I'm convinced the right answer is just to pick something. It will definitely not be perfect, but that's okay. Being wrong is fine. (Giving your friend two choices isn't a bad strategy. More than two or three probably won't work.)

Spending time with friends in a bar that's a bit too loud and serves mediocre food is often better than not spending time with friends. Ask yourself, "what would my most arrogant, non-thoughtful relative do if they had the same aesthetic tastes as me" is a start. You don't have to live like them, but occasionally pretending to be them is useful. Think of it as theater.
posted by eotvos at 7:43 AM on April 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

One thing that's helpful to me is that I keep a list of restaurants on my phone -- both new places I want to try out and favorites that I go to often. That way, instead of wracking my brain to think of someplace to go, I can just pull up the list. If someone asks where I want to go, I usually look at my list and propose three places that I'm interested in(of varying price ranges/neighborhoods) and let them make the final decision.
posted by tangosnail at 10:28 AM on April 9, 2019

I get like this even with my bestest best friend, when he knows darned good and well that there are four places I love to eat and a few others I might be up for if I'm in the right mood, and that I'm more likely than not to have a panic attack if he asks me the question about where to go to eat. I'm like, why the (*&@)&$ are you even #@*)%$@( asking me this right @#%)&(*@ing now!?!?

So there may or may not be an upside to having a conversation in advance, and outside of any MAKE A DECISION RIGHT NOW situation, about "Hey, Friend'o Mine, when you ask me where to go, I have a massive panic about where to go, whether you'll like my idea, what you'll think of me after I make the suggestion, and on and on. I might be really okay for a while if you just said 'why don't we hit Panera?' or 'I'm thinking sushi tonight, you down?' instead of asking me."
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 11:47 AM on April 9, 2019

To extend a little on what eotvos says: would training yourself to handle your anxiety by allowing yourself to "fail" actually help, ultimately?

For me a lot of the anxiety I feel in situations like these is actually just fear of the unknown. To use the examples in your OP:
Q: "What if I suggest a food/location they don't want to do?"
Q: "What if they don't want to spend money?"
Q: "If I suggest an activity, what if it's boring/they've already done it?"

A: I don't know, but I'm sure it'd be *awful*, right?

Would it, though? Picking a restaurant or activity you're doing for enjoyment is relatively low-stakes, and anybody who would judge you for your choices probably isn't worth hanging out with anyhow.

So next time, as an experiment, allow yourself to fail—pick a random place/activity and roll with it. Do it again a few times. Sooner or later, you'll pick a dud. And you'll probably see that while yeah, that choice was definitely a "miss," nothing that bad actually happened. It was disappointing maybe, and a little embarrassing, and maybe your friends even teased you a little. But did they berate you, or refuse to hang out with you again? I doubt it. As others have mentioned, they're most likely focused on the fact that you spent time together, not the specifics of the location/activity.

Recognize these "feelings of failure" as they happen, and you're likely to realize they're not such a huge deal. Which, in turn, might mean they won't be such an anxiety-causing experience when they happen. You're kind of de-sensitizing yourself to your fear of failure.

It might also help to have a few standby things to say (with a smile) when you pick your inevitable dud. "Well, THAT kinda sucked, sorry, everybody" or "I'd be A-OK with somebody else picking the place next time, haha." Chances are, your friends will assume that you wanted the best for your outing and think nothing of it. And that was for places/activities you randomly chose.
posted by Rykey at 9:14 PM on April 21, 2019

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