What Do I Want?

The Scientist has proposed a 30-day experiment. He says I need to practice doing what I want to do. He says, in addition to being good for me, it will help him to get to know me better. We’ve known each other for 28 years, so this feels a little late in the game for getting to know each other better. And yet . . .

What really intrigued me about his proposal is how it might help me get to know myself better. If you’re a long time reader, you might remember that last year I wrote about how much difficulty I have figuring out what I want. I often haphazardly make minor decisions, only to find I’m unhappy with the results. Here’s an example, the one that sparked the idea for the experiment:

I tried out a new recipe for dinner last week–a light summer mix of fresh tomatoes, red onions, squash and fried okra from the farmer’s market. When The Scientist tasted it, he said the flavor was too strong for him but he’d make some pasta to toss the veggies with. Since I was already cooking, I made the pasta, and for some reason I mixed all of the veggies with the pasta instead of setting my half aside. The resulting pasta dish tasted okay, but it wasn’t what I had in mind when I chose the recipe.

After dinner I was feeling gloomy, silently perseverating. As we were sitting down to watch TV, I blurted out, “I have no idea why I ate that. It wasn’t what I wanted.”

The Scientist, surprised by how upset I was, asked why I ate it if I didn’t want it. My answer: “I don’t know.”

A longish discussion ensued. The next day. Because we’re slow to process things. One of the conclusions we came to is that I sometimes do things to please other people at the expense of own preferences. Strangely, this seems to be more of a reflex action than a conscious choice.

So the experiment is this: for 30 days, I’m supposed to do whatever I want. This is alarmingly vague.

What do I want? Decision making–even the simplest decisions–can tie me up in knots. My primary decision-making strategies:

1. What do you want? I’ve noticed that other people often have stronger preferences or are more aware of what they want or like than I am. If what they suggest isn’t objectionable to me, I’ll go along with their choice. Decision making by proxy. Simple. Efficient. And probably one of the main reasons I have so much trouble figuring out my own wants and preferences.

2. I don’t want A. By default I must want B. If someone says “do you want Chinese food or Pizza?” it rarely occurs to me that I actually want a burger.

3. This is too hard. I give up. When there are too many options, I don’t know where to start. I choose the first option that isn’t terrible. These are often the choices I end up feeling most ambivalent about.

4. I want A but it’s too much work. I’ll just settle for B. This is how I made decisions when I’m overloaded. I would love ice cream right now but going out to get it sounds exhausting so I’ll have this peach instead.

5. I want this thing and nothing else. This sounds great. It’s not. What I want is often imaginary. In my head it’s this perfect thing. In reality, it turns out to be a pale shadow of what I anticipated.

6. I want A, but I can tell you want B. If one of us has to be disappointed, I’d rather it be me. This makes me sound like such a martyr. Honestly, Β it’s an annoying reflex response that I need to cure myself of. Done too often, it breeds resentment.

Writing this out helps me understand better why I often feel ambivalent or unsatisfied with minor decisions. I need new strategies. The Scientist says to try just feeling it. This is hard. I’m used to making decisions based on logic and reasoning.

But . . . 30 days of being with this question of “what do I want?” might change that. We’ll see.

91 thoughts on “What Do I Want?”

      1. I think I could do it ok with “What do I want to eat?”, but “How do I spend my time…?” That one is tougher. As the most “planning nimble” person in my house I usually assign myself the task of being reactive to everybody else. Sometimes it works out fine, other times it doesn’t.

  1. good luck, I know exactly what your talking about. I work in a school, the holidays have just started and everyone thinks I’m so lucky. But I hate my routine being taken away, sometimes end up sitting watching TV all day because I can’t decided what I want to do, then spend the evening racked with guilt feeling depressed because I’ve wasted the day. A list sometimes helps. Being a mum makes it a whole different ball game too!

    1. You’ve described why I’ve always found random days off (like bank holidays) so stressful. It’s Monday! I should be working! All that free time is scary and then I just end up feeling guilty for wasting it. Frustrating.

  2. The sentence “What do you want?” was enough to make me feel incredibly anxious, even though nobody asked me that question, they asked you!

    I wouldn’t have a clue how to go about doing what I want. Of course, I also have a lot of responsibilities that I can’t get out of, like showing up for work, and I don’t have a live-in partner who can take a share of that responsibility.

    I hope writing your decision making process down can help you figure out why you make decisions the way you do. Good luck!

    1. I’m pretty sure I looked absolutely panic stricken when my husband proposed this because the first thing he said was, “it’s okay to be intimidated – no one really knows what they want.” Then he started talking about how hard it was deciding what to do with his life and I was like, “but I don’t know how to decide what I want for lunch!!”

      I rely a lot on structure and obligations to decide things too. I probably should have added a #7 that says “this is what I usually choose.” I’m trying to challenge that as well because I think routine makes it easy to avoid thinking about what I’d prefer versus what I always do or what’s easiest.

      Your comments are always so thought provoking! πŸ™‚

  3. I can’t wait to see how this works out. I saw myself in a lot of your thoughts in this post. I liked the pizza or Chinese paradigm. Often I’d just accept that the only options were pizza or Chinese and being extremely rules-based it would never occur to me that there are other options, including just not electing for either if I’m not really hungry. I’m in awe of people who can navigate this question without even realising it as it remains high on my list of things I’d like to be better at: figuring out what I want and then understanding how to promote it.

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    1. That’s a good point about the possibility that I don’t want anything. I often go along with the group – if everyone wants to go eat, even if I’m not very hungry, I end up ordering a meal so I don’t seem odd or whiny or uncooperative or whatever. Wow, this is going to bring up a lot of issues, isn’t it?

  4. Tying in the thoughts on social obligations from earlier, I feel like when I’m asked to choose that it compells a decision – I wouldn’t want to be rude or appear so by not choosing. Since I am often so focussed on something already working on, I’m resistant to even consider this new set of options and feel easily overwhelmed since they are unlikely to be related to what I’m currently so consumed by (no matter how crititcal that is). It’s an interesting question, figuring out what I want, when it’s something I haven’t thought about, don’t feel prepared to start thinking about (since I tend toward turning even the simplest of decisions into giant research projects) and don’t think I’m too invested in either option if the desire I am aspiring to isn’t really a practical option.Β I can’t wait to read your updates to this post.

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    1. I know what you mean about having to set aside something interesting to make a choice that someone else is presenting. I don’t think that’s as much of an issue for me as the really simple daily choices are, like what to eat and when to go grocery shopping and other stuff that really has to get done. I have no idea why these seemingly little choices become so paralyzing and such a source of unhappiness after the fact.

  5. Your post makes me think. Sometimes it is a mother’s way to give up what they want for what someone else wants.
    I’ve learned that if someone gives me an option, I will pick the one I want – if they didn’t want that option, they shouldn’t have suggested it.
    It has taken me years to learn that it is okay to ask for what I want. It doesn’t mean that I can always have what I want, but it does mean that what I want is valid and it is okay to let others know of my desires.

    1. Yep, that mom instinct is probably a big part of it. And again, that sounds all martyr-y but it’s what we do, isn’t it?

      I’m going to keep what you said here in mind because these feel like important points to remember and touch on some of the underlying issues that can make me hesitate when I do have a preference but sense that it’s not in line with someone else’s. And wow, the emotional stuff that’s starting to bubble up as I reply to these comments is kind of intense. Interesting.

  6. Wow. I was just thinking about how I need to finish projects (specifically, artwork) but other things always destract me and off I go, leaving me with a failure feeling.
    Thank you for posting this. And thanks to the Scientist too. πŸ™‚
    And, the above post is a goof sorry. If you can, delete it please?

    1. Deleted it. πŸ™‚

      I hadn’t even gotten around to thinking “what do I want?” in the larger sense, but your comment reminds me that I should think about that too. I’ve been wanting to put together some of blog posts and expand on them in book format but I keep putting it off. I guess that’s making a choice too, isn’t it? Choosing not to do things that are important to us is a choice, though one that’s harder to recognize sometimes.

      1. I’m going to try this too, and yet I have so many thoughts on this I don’t know where to start.
        Wait, that is part of it too. So, it’s about re-training the mind to commit to a course of action of my choosing and then not re-thinking the thing.
        One of them is I think it is worth making a whole book or blog about. Another is, per #6, I do that all the time too: not the martyr thing with me either, it is avoiding speaking. I dread the expenditure of energy in asking others about what the next decision (e.g. “scrambled or soft boiled?”) should be, which leads to too much talking and to people saying I’m being a martyr, or to ask me to decide, which goes in a circle as it’s what I was trying to avoid in the first place.
        The process of decision making for financial issues is put off as long as possible due to not knowing enough, not being able to research thoroughly or to my satisfaction.
        This is something I could talk way too long about. (!)

        1. I was thinking about that this morning – how difficult the follow through can be and getting past the doubt whether a decision is the right one.Even on something like grilled cheese or hamburger, I can go back and forth a half dozen times before choosing! Sometimes the verbalizing is a factor for me too. It can feel like too much work to ask or answer the necessary questions required to come to an agreement. This is usually the case when I’m overloaded.

  7. I have those primary decision making, with a strong undercurrent of anxiety about, “Is this a trap?”

    Because I never know when someone’s asking me, “Do you want X?” and they mean “Please do/eat/take X” vs when they mean “Do you want X?” Answering honestly is thus risky.

    Safer are questions like “What do you want to do?” but even those aren’t safe since depending on my mood, I might honestly say something that seems odd or is a one-person activity. If the other person is asking, “What do you want to do?” when they actually mean “What do you want to do with me?” answering the first honestly because I don’t pick up that they meant the second can get me in trouble or hurt the other person’s feelings.

    The final part, is that some people ask, “What do you want to do?” when they mean, “Let’s negotiate a compromise and find something we both want to do!” Which is fine, I’m all for compromise… but they ask “What do you want to do?” so that’s what I hear, and then I’d get confused and upset when their reply is, “I’m not in the mood for that. How about X instead?” and if I defended my choice as a kid, I was chastised for being bossy, self-centered, and domineering. Now, when they answer on a good day, I realize that I misinterpreted the meaning behind the first question and move to my “negotiate activity” flow chart. On a bad day, I still get confused and upset, but I’ll just cave to whatever they want because I don’t want to be called bossy and domineering. Add in that, as a kid, if I didn’t cave to what my little sister wanted 100% of the time, my parents would chastise me until I did because her temper tantrums were worse than my meltdowns and shutdowns so it was easier to give her what she wanted all the time than to fulfill their promises to me (this, actually, is why I never ask to go to museums, even though I’ve always loved museums… as a kid, if someone said, “sure!” I would inevitably be disappointed when my sister started throwing her, “I don’t want to go to a museum! Museums are boring! I want to go to the mall!” tantrum and my parents gave in – I should vote museum next time because my friends are much better than my parents were about that).

    For those reasons, the above are less “decision making strategies” for me and more defense mechanisms. Also for the above reasons, I was accidentally socialized rather heavily to not think about/advocate for what I want to do, so I’ve lost the ability to identify what I want under pressure. On my own, I can do stuff I want to all the time. When someone’s asking me, my average response is something along the line of: Shit, trap or real? Trap or real? Well [Person] doesn’t normally ask trap questions, but it’s kind of out of the blue so they might already have something in mind but usually they’re pretty laid back unless they have their heart set on it. Crap. What was the phrasing again? Any clues there? No? Shit, shit, shit, I’m taking too long aw fuck it just ask what they want.

    *shrug* “I dunno. What do you want?” Crisis averted.

    “You never choose what we do! You decide this time!”

    Or not. Probably real then. Crap, what do I want? I don’t know, I was thinking about it before they asked but I can’t remember! Doesn’t matter, blurt something normalish out!

    “Wanna see a movie?” Argh, bad call! Too bright and loud for today! See if you can take it back!

    “Okay, sounds great!”

    Too late.

    With people I know, I’m either more on edge or less, depending on the person. With my mother, I get total analysis paralysis since she’s very fond of trap questions and so I can never trust whether what she’s saying is what it seems like she’s saying, and her response to me answering honestly if I misread her is usually to berate me at full bellow for being rude, lazy or self-centered. Thus, I usually answer her questions with another question. “Do you want me to?” if she’s asking something specific of “What do you want?” if she’s being vague and I’m worried she somehow expects me to divine what it is she wants psychically. Those two are the case far, far more often then her actually wanting to know what I want, so it works out mostly, but if she does actually want to know what I want, I’ll get berated for being indecisive.

    With my partner, he’s very straightforward with me, so I don’t have the panic response and can just respond somewhat normally (mind you, I assume all “what do you want to do?” questions mean “what do you want to do with me?” because I know that’s usually what he means, but beyond that, I don’t have to worry that he’ll say something when he means something completely different.

    1. “What do you want?” without any sort of boundaries terrifies me. My default reply is “what do you want?” because I’ve learned that the other person inevitably already has something in mind and that narrows my options. I think there’s also the element of avoiding a trap involved, but the people I interact with most aren’t given to playing games like that so that instinct is probably an artifact of early days.

      Like you, I take questions like “what do you want?” at face value and so often that’s not the case. Which makes sense, in a way, because relationships are about compromise and we all have our own interests and preferences. It’s easier if the other person says, “I want A or B, what do you want?” because then I know that they have a preference and compromise/negotiation will ensue. Fortunately, I have a partner who’s pretty straightforward with this stuff. The problem is, I don’t tell him when I want something different or I’m not excited about his choice, even though I’m telling him to go ahead and choose for both of us. So in a way, I think I subconsciously set up a trap for him. Hmmm, something else to think about.

      1. Yeah, it’s nerve-wracking to me, too, because depending on how contemplative my mood is, I might in all sincerity answer, “Fundamental understanding of the inner workings of the Universe,” or something similarly arcane. Which is fine with my partner, who will take that and run with it. Not so fine with some of my relatives who will roll their eyes and mutter something about how they can’t ever get a normal answer out of me.

        I cope to some degree by having person specific rules. I assume my mother’s questions are traps unless proven otherwise and always ask clarifying questions to get at what she means (What do you want? -> What do you mean?, Do you want X? -> Do you want me to X?, etc… but I have to be careful because if I screw up tone of voice, I offend because I come off snide). I assume my sister’s questions are traps if she’s asking me about a specific activity, since when she’s asking about an activity that means she wants me to do it with her, etc.

      2. I am so excited and interested to see what comes of this 30-day experiment! I’d love to see a calendar with key moments posted in each time something unexpected happens! (lol not that I’d really ask you to do that much work for us – just saying “what I want” hehe)

        And this convo with ischemgeek is so on point. I thought I was the only one who would get a sick feeling in my stomach when people ask me what I want…. I never quite articulated to myself why I feel that way, but you both outlined it perfectly. ❀

        Thanks for the inspiration, maybe I will try being more assertive in the coming days as well, and claim my right to engage in solitary activities, and to eat where and what I want to….Oh boy, I see pissed off friends & family coming my way! *yikes*

        1. I’ve started keeping a sort of abbreviated journal to record how it’s going and to hold myself to experiment. So your wish may come true. πŸ˜€ I would love it others tried this out as well and shared the outcome. You should probably warn everyone first though!

          1. Awesome! Please do remember to share it when the month is up πŸ™‚
            Haha warn them…I hadn’t even thought of that – Good Call!

      1. Thanks.

        I have a tendency to overanalyze my social interactions and pick them apart after the fact, especially if something was unexpected or went wrong – case in point: New guy at tabletop session yesterday => me analyzing, “Was I too fidgety? Did he think it weird that I was out of my chair that often? Damn, why did he have to come on a fidgety day! I should’ve taken a run that morning so I wouldn’t be so fidgety, I knew there was a new person coming and that always stresses me out, why didn’t I think of it then? Man, I should’ve got a new pair of headphones, the noise got to me, which probably had a lot to do with my fidgeting” etc etc.

        Which I think makes it easier for me to describe what’s going on in my head. Only in writing though – I couldn’t do that verbally. I’m more fluent with writing than with talking. Stutter + lisp means I have to divert a lot of brainpower from “translating ideas to words” to “getting words out coherently.” When I’m talking, I’m always concentrating on getting the words out without stuttering or lisping… buuut I have to not concentrate too hard because getting too tied up about it makes me stutter more, so I also have to divert brainpower to monitoring my concentration level. Which means I have a lot less brainpower left over to devote to stringing the words together in a way that expresses what I actually mean. By contrast, I can type unconsciously. Very little brainpower thus gets devoted to my typing, leaving more for translating my thoughts to words.

        I’m also an amateur fiction writer, so I’ve learned a bit about how to string together believable dialog that way.

        (and here I am overanalyzing how my social overanalysis might lead me to be able to articulate stuff in a social interaction online and how my speech impediments might play into that! XD)

    2. ischemgeek-

      “Trap or real? Trap or real?” YES! That’s the question I’ve had about this. There are people who really want to know what you want to do, while others are just asking what you want as a nice gesture to show that they’re including you in the decision-making process (when they really just want to do what they want to do lol) and yet another person could ask this to trap you into saying what you want to do, only to say, “you seriously want to go there again?! Let’s not.”

      It’s even more awkward when both people genuinely don’t know what they want, lol! Once, a friend asked me what I wanted, and I wanted to see what he wanted first. He ended up having no clue, so we were stuck for awhile asking each other, “What do you want to do?” and not sure what to do. I still had no idea what I wanted, but I knew I wanted to do anything but figure out what we wanted to do, so I picked a random thing to do and that was that!

      1. Yeah, I’ve been caught in that loop before.

        And I also hate the bullying-trap questions. “I’m going to ask you something that I know how you’ll answer so that I can make fun of or yell at you for it” is BS.

        My mother does this, asking me if I’d “like to” do something she knows damn well that I hate. As a kid, she’d do it to me if I wanted to do something she disapproved of that day, like go to the library so I could look up clouds or something instead of doing social stuff like my sister always did

        She’d ask me if I’d “like to,” say, vacuum the floors. I hate vacuuming and have despised vacuums with a visceral hatred since early childhood. So I answered honestly by saying, “No. I hate vacuums.” And then she’d have her excuse to ground me from doing what I wanted to do because I had a “bad attitude” or was “talking back.”

        Kids at school would do it, too, by being nice to me for a little while so I’d drop my guard, then asking in public about something I liked doing or whatever, and then making fun of me for how I answered. If they could get me to say something unintentionally insensitive, so much the better, because then they could beat me up in front of the teacher and claim I started it when I had no idea why it was wrong to be honest when I said I didn’t want to play with them because they made fun of me a lot.

        Big part of why I hate trap questions so much. Also a big part of why answering preference questions honestly makes me so anxious. It was a common tactic of an emotional abuser (my mother) and my school bullies.

        1. THIS. This is why I still hate the question “Guess what?” with a passion. If you guess correctly, the person asking you will go all frowny and disappointed because they wanted to impress you with their idea and you stole their thunder. And when you guess incorrectly, it will allow them to make fun of you for not able to guess whatever brilliant thing they had in their heads. Bugger that. I’m not playing your game.

        2. The “would you like to vacuum” part really resonated with me. I remember being asked sarcastically by my fourth grade teacher if I’d “like to play with my markers out in the hall” when he thought I was taking too long to put them away after a free period, and I answered “Yes” and then he got mad at me for being honest. People are weird.

          And I’m sorry to hear about the bullies at school. I wish there was some kind of warning or class that could’ve been given to kids like us, because I think that is a common situation and personally I never knew what to say or do and as you explained, no matter what it just seemed to make it worse.

          I hope there is at least one person you can be honest with about your preferences now. Someone who honors your choices.

        3. This whole “trap or real” matter, especially the bullying-trap is just so painful to read about because it’s so familiar. I think this is a major reason, apart from having to rush because most of the time you have to make decisions quickly, that I have adopted strategy nr 1: finding out what the other wants first. It’s just the saftest option. In case I really don’t want that option, I can still try to say no (if I find I have a ‘suitable’ reason to diverge).
          Urgh. I really hate that people have been able to warp me this way. This is where the social interaction problems and phobia come from.

    3. A combination of Musing’s post and your reply is exactly what happens in my head. I especially understand the part about being ‘socialised,’ the mantra in our house was ‘I want, doesn’t get!’ Also, the whole trap/real thing – oh yes!

  8. I’ve noticed that I am very good at decision making as long as it has nothing to do with personal preference. I was the director of my college ballet company for a year and I had no problem making executive decisions on a daily basis. I can figure out what is objectively best or theoretically best for another person, and occasionally I can make decisions based on my own needs, but I have no way to gauge what my wants are. I can often figure out things I dislike, because I am so repulsed by certain things (not like grossed out, just like magnetic repulsion), but I just don’t know what I like or what I want.

    A huge problem for me is that I feel like if I want something, it must be bad or wrong, and far from “normal” which is what I am supposed to be aiming for. I know that’s a little warped, but it’s been drilled into me. So on the rare occasion I think I can identify something I want and could potentially make a decision, I break down with guilt. Yesterday all it took was deciding I wanted a quesadilla for lunch. I wanted one, and I didn’t really want anything else, but I had eaten a quesadilla for dinner the night before, and I knew that “normal” people don’t eat the same thing two days in a row. The guilt of not being able to choose my meals “normally” makes me want to hide and skip the meal entirely, but I’m supposed to be doubling my calorie intake, so that’s not an option, and that just piles on more guilt!

    The whole thing is so silly! Why should it be so challenging to make this kind of decision?

    1. I have the same disconnect between personal and professional decisions. I’m generally decisive in work decisions because they’re based on data, experience, statistics, etc. I can analyze what’s in front of me and confidently decide the best course of action. Like you said, though, personal wants are a whole different animal.

      “β€œnormal” people don’t eat the same thing two days in a row.”

      I totally get this! I also have some weird rule against ordering the same thing as anyone else at my table at a restaurant. And when I’m a regular at a restaurant and the servers figure out that I always order the same dish, I start to feel like I should change what I’m ordering so they don’t think I’m weird. That can lead to me going to a place less often, even though I like it. It’s all very silly indeed.

  9. Never came into my mind to relate my inability of wanting somenthing with aspie. This is one of my major problem, being unable to say what do I want. Usualy I answer with: nothing. But starting a 30 day exercise it is a very good ideea. I’ll try to make an every day list with what I want. Now I start thinking of that and cannot find anything. And suddenly I am very tired.

  10. This sounds really interesting. What are you planning on doing for the 30 days? Do you have specific things you want to try to do each day, or are you just generally trying to keep what you want in mind?

    1. The first thing I’ve been focusing on is being mindful. Before I make a decision, I’m trying to check in with myself and see how I’m deciding and if that’s the best option. Like yesterday, we decided to get takeout for lunch and my husband wanted sushi. In the past I would have just gone along with it, but I decided to get something from Chipotle instead because I’d been wanting to try it for a while now. It was a mix of strange and good.

      I’m also trying to verbalize and/or act on what I want more frequently. I have tendency to have something in mind, but to not ever get around to telling anyone about it or acting on it. And I want to try questioning certain habitual choices, which will be harder because I’m such a creature of habit.

  11. “What do you want?” Answering this question is still pretty hard for me. I never have any idea what I want when people ask nor do I know what I want even when it’s obvious to other people! My mother told me that I would stare at something for a very long time, but never actually try to get her to buy it or do anything about it. She was pretty sure that I wanted that item. Plus when I was about 10, I was pretty slow to realize that I liked a boy this whole time I was in the same class with him. I also did the same thing here-kind of looked his way every now and then but really just thought nothing of it. I think he was interested this whole time too. But by the time I realized what was going on, my family had to move. It’s still one of my most treasured memories anyway. :p

    1. Oh yes! If I’m in a store and I keep touching or picking something up, my husband will ask, “do you want that?” like I’m a five-year-old.

      What a nice childhood memory. I bet he noticed. Wouldn’t it be cool if, somewhere out there, he still remembers too?

  12. SO. MUCH. THIS. (Again!)

    If the decision is minor and the options are indefinite (e.g. the example you gave about what to have for dinner), I need it to be phrased as a multiple-choice question to narrow it down. Otherwise, all you’ll get out of me is “asdfghjkl I don’t mind I don’t mind SORRY sorrysorrysorry”. This probably explains why if we go out for dinner I tend to stick to one of around three or four “usual suspects”. Or maybe that’s just because I really like lasagne. πŸ˜›

    I can also really identify with telling people what they want to hear rather than my actual opinion – it’s getting to the point where people are working out whether or not I mean “yes” or “no” by the enthusiasm (or lack thereof) with which I say “yes”. It’s really not ideal.

    Coming to think of it, “telling people what they want to hear rather than my actual opinion” sounds a lot like the sort of thing people tried to drum into me as a kid because TACT TACT TACT YOU HAVE TO HAVE TACT. It’s just reminded me of this thing we did in an RE class once (no idea why) where we had to get into groups and discuss how we would deal with difficult social situations. One of these was something along the lines of “your aunt has bought a new hat for a party and it’s hideous”. I was the only one in the group that wouldn’t tell her up front. It then emerged I was the only one in the whole class. So apparently, you DO have to be honest and assertive and state opinions, unless the majority disagree, in which case SHUT UP AND BE TACTFUL. Or something. Ugh, people.

    1. “So apparently, you DO have to be honest and assertive and state opinions, unless the majority disagree, in which case SHUT UP AND BE TACTFUL.”

      Okay, this is genius! Because I think you’re really onto something here. Maybe we stop having opinions about stuff, expressing likes and dislikes, etc. because it’s so confusing when we’re young? I remember saying things that I was later publicly embarrassed by adults for, which made me less likely to want to say stuff that might result in a repeat of that experience.

      Also, I’ve more than once said that the thing about wanting something is that it sets me up for being disappointed at not getting it so having low expectations is a defense mechanism and one that I’m fond of.

      Wow, the comments on this post have my brain going in all sorts of directions. There will definitely be follow up posts to this to dig into these ideas some more.

  13. I have a question, as an “outsider” to the autism spectrum, but one who wants to learn. Do you think it’s hard for you to figure out what you want because it’s hard to get through the sensory challenges of every day to access what you are wanting, or is it just because you spent so much time ignoring your own thoughts/feelings/wants growing up?

    1. Realize you’re prob directing this question at Musingsofanaspie but I’d like to respond. For me I think it’s the latter. Believe it or not, I have a difficult time forming opinions of any sort, probably because I tend to take things at face value and not read into things. It was exacerbated by impatient people who were wondering why I didn’t have an opinion. People tried to force one out of me (English class discussions….uggggh) but I am really slow to think about one, so other people might speak up first or tell me what they think is my opinion. So I was cut off from being able to figure out what I was thinking and at the time, I really had no idea that me seeing things at face value might actually count as an opinion. So I think I spent a lot of time either ignoring my own opinions or getting my thoughts interrupted fairly quickly.

    2. I’m going to go ahead and add my 2c as well. πŸ™‚

      For me, it’s not so much a trouble with having opinions. I have loads of opinions and I’m not afraid to let the world know. Where it gets iffy is when it concerns things that I might feel or like or prefer. Even the thought of having to articulate my own wishes makes me feel slightly panicky. Part of that might be my childhood, spending so much time trying not to get noticed, not drawing attention to myself. But it might also partly be alexithymia. Alexithymia is the inability to identify one’s emotions with words and is thought to have a fairly high overlap with autism spectrum disorders. I don’t know if I have that, but I have been told on more than one occasion that I never talk about my feelings. So talking about my wants could definitely be related to that.

    3. My answer: Um. Yes.

      Your question is phrased as a false dichotomy, so my answer is yes to both parts and to more than just that. Like Ine, I’ve always had a hard time identifying my emotions – usually after the fact, I can figure it out, but during the heat of the moment? Um, if you ask me a specific yes or no and are a person I trust to give me a honest choice rather than a trap, and I’m having an otherwise good day and my speech impediments aren’t acting up, I can probably narrow it down 20 questions style. I might also be able to get in the right ballpark (like, saying I’m annoyed when I’m actually frustrated), if I’m having an otherwise-good day. On a bad day, if you as me what’s wrong I’ll shrug at you helplessly because I know what I’m feeling but can’t connect it to a word at that moment. Ask me after I’ve calmed down, though, and I’ll probably be able to tell you. I might have to type it out first depending on the day.

      The other two things are both something I alluded to above: One, I have speech impediments, and so have to spend mental effort on the act of speaking. It requires concentration for me to not lisp and for me to not stutter. If I lose concentration, I start lisping and stuttering, and even otherwise-okay people will tease you if you start lisping to them (on that note, I’m glad I’m a woman regarding my lisp because I’m sure it’d be worse with homophobia piled on it), and the same is true of stuttering. Teasing gets into a feedback loop and makes me anxious, which makes the speech impediments worse, which means I lisp and stutter more, which means I get teased more, repeat. On a good day, a layperson can’t tell I have speech impediments. On a bad day, I can’t get a sentence out. Like, literal cannot talk. Words are there, can’t get them out. It’s very frustrating when I hit that point. And hitting that point is like a red alarm light telling me I need to get away from people now or I’ll blow up at them and it might not be their fault.

      The other thing is that what kind of a day I’m having matters a lot. Case in point: yesterday was pure meltdown-avoidance for me. I didn’t talk a lot because I didn’t trust my ability to get words out reliably. When I did speak, I often used the wrong words – bookstore for bookshelf, for example, which isn’t connected to my diagnosed speech impediments (it might be part of an undiagnosed one, I don’t know), but I’ve always been prone to it when I’m upset. I couldn’t tell you what was threatening the meltdown (I have my suspicions today and have taken steps to correct it), all I knew was that I was on the edge of a meltdown and was clinging with all I could to my self-control so I wouldn’t blow up at work. Yesterday, if you asked me what I wanted to do, I couldn’t tell you even if I wanted to. Actually, the additional demand of, “Tell me what you want to do!” might have sent me into “must retreat now” mode because I was that on-edge. Likewise with, “You seem edgy today. What’s wrong?” which thankfully nobody asked, but I took the probing, “You’re quiet today,” at face value and just nodded in response. Yes, I am quiet today. I didn’t realize until this morning that the person in question was probably worried about me because I was acting unusually quiet and irritable. I was able to avoid a meltdown yesterday, but only barely, and I’ll be in recovery mentally from being so close to one probably today and tomorrow. Better than a meltdown itself, which might have me recovering mentally for a week or so and dealing with the social fallout for the next month or so. Still took its toll.

      Saturday, by contrast, was a pretty good day. If you’d asked me what I wanted, I probably would’ve been able to at least ballpark it.

    4. I think it’s a combination of things. I have difficulty identifying feelings in general (alexithymia) so that’s a big factor when it comes to questions like “what do I feel like eating?” or “what am I in the mood to do?” Executive function plays into it, in the sense that decision making requires higher cognitive processes and I seem to be subconsciously resistant to spending my limited EF currency on simple day-to-day decisions (which aren’t actually simple for me, but seem to be for other people).

      Sensory overload can be a problem, but that isn’t always the case. I think it factors in when I’m already overloaded and can’t summon the energy to execute the steps necessary to do/get what I really want. It can also be a problem in situations where I’m faced with a lot of choices in a busy or unfamiliar setting.

  14. This post and the replies (which are both brilliant) is sort of a trigger post for me. It makes me sad and mad. Because it seems like we are all having this problem with that simple question, “What do you want?” and you know why? Because the answer will define us as ‘normal’ or not.

    It makes me so angry. Over and over again there are people posting on this blog who write about this constant damn struggle to fit in, to be normal. I hate that we have this question in our head. I hate that we have to censor ourselves. Sometimes I hate that we have to talk at all.

    You know, I have discovered that the best way to function is just to pretend that I don’t have Aspergers. Don’t talk about it again, don’t share with my family the things I find difficult, or different. They don’t want to know, they just want me to be ‘normal.’ I got my diagnosis 8 months ago and already I feel that I have to pretend it never happened and that I am all right really, just normal, nothing to see here, move along. It comes packaged with shame, this difference, and it shouldn’t be like that.

    And I bet that the people posting here, the ones who censor their responses, who try to fit in, be normal, who are accused of being rude, insensitive, strange, I bet those are really wonderful, perfectly perfect human beings. And that each one of them, in their difference, would contribute something wonderful to the world. Except that they have to consider that question, “what do I want?” They have to think, is this response okay? Is this acceptable?

    And how wonderful is The Scientist, this man who actually wants to know. He wants to know you, the real you, the uncensored you. What a fantastic person.

    1. I could not agree with this more. I am so mad and so sad reading and thinking about all this. Seeing how many people (including myself) are really struggling to understand themselves because they feel like it’s wrong or unacceptable. That should really read “understand OURselves because WE feel” that way. I am hugely a part of this. In my comment earlier I mentioned how upset I got over wanting to eat a certain way because “normal” people don’t eat like that. As a general rule I don’t cry, but I cried in front of my boyfriend for the first time when I started to self-diagnosis and had all these unmanageable emotions and realizations, and I cried a second time in front of him last night about this post and comment thread. I don’t know if I am mad or sad or what, but I know it is completely unfair that so many people, with ASDs or disabilities or apparently “normal,” have it burned into their brains by well intentioned parents and teachers and loved ones that the way to be happy is to fit in and be normal. I do think feeling like you fit in and feeling included and knowing you’re a part of something is wonderful and for many people it is an absolutely essential part of life, but instilling in me or anyone else that the way to get that part of my life is to hide or change who I am at my core, and that I should be deeply ashamed if can’t hide or change it – it’s kind of sick. It’s twisted. It is really, really sad.

    2. Yes, thank you.

      I think we should move emphasis from teaching kids to fit in and to teaching kids how to find their people. Being part of something and a sense of belonging are both amazing. But what a lot of adults don’t get (especially those who’ve always fit in easily) is that those feelings don’t come from modifying you to fit everyone around you, they come from finding people who fit you as you are. If you modify who you are to fit those around you, all that happens is that you feel ashamed of you and you feel like a fraud and a liar. Thus, teaching kids to fit in hoping that it’ll make them happy and give them an easier time of things is actually counter-productive, because it teaches them instead to be ashamed of who they are and feel like a fraud.

      As for how best to teach kids how to find their people, I have no clue. I lucked into finding my people, so I can’t really give good advice there.

    3. I thought this was going to be a fun little “look at my new experiment” post but it’s really hitting people hard. It’s difficult to read all of the reasons people have learned to suppress their opinions and needs and wants. It’s especially hard to read how much you’re struggling with your diagnosis because you seem like such a great person and I wish you didn’t have to experience that.

      What ischemgeek said about “finding their people” feels important. Unfortunately, I’ve always lucked into it too, so I don’t have much wisdom to share. Except that a lot of our people are here. πŸ˜‰ That doesn’t make everyday life any easier in a practical way but hopefully it helps some.

      And yes, I’m lucky to have married the guy I did. He’s been so supportive and is willing to keep pushing me to expand myself while always being there to reach for me when I fall. Oh, and now I’m getting all mushy.

      1. Omg, ischemgeek, so much of your statement rings true with me. At first, I really lucked out and managed to find my people, but then I moved to a completely different place, and I had absolutely no idea how to find them again. Still don’t! Or, if there really wasn’t anyone I thought would count as “my people,” I also had no idea how to at least find common ground with them so that there were things we could do together and things we didn’t (esp. if it violated my own values and beliefs). I certainly wish this was taught in schools! It would have made my life so much easier!

  15. This struck a chord because my wife and I have recently been discussing what I want for my next birthday. She appears to find it easier than I do to think of things that I</I would want!

    The decision making process you describe is very similar to my own in many ways, although I had never codified it before. What do you want? usually stumps me and I rely on the person asking to provide a few options. “Do you want A or B?” often elicits a yes/no response. In the event that it’s a “no” I tend to forget that I’m not necessarily restricted to the options presented.

    Too many options is a problem as well: when I go shopping for something like toothpaste or shampoo I just stand there staring at the shelves full of products wishing that there was just a single offering. I try to go for the same one I got last time but it’s not always easy to find amongst the scores of similar items.

    Being overloaded affects my decision making too: if the process of acquiring or preparing something involves too many steps I will opt for something simpler because just thinking about the process is tiring. It seems from my experience to depend on how many steps are involved and how much conscious thought I must put into performing them: if it’s a lengthy or detailed process but I’m so familiar with it that I could, as they say, do it in my sleep then it’s not a problem. Depends how much thinking is involved.

    But one of the biggest issues I have is idealizing the object of my desires. I get it fixed in my mind and I can see it, taste it… and then when it arrives and fails to live up to my expectations I come crashing down from eager anticipation to crushing disappointment. Sometimes it flips me into meltdown – my reaction is out of all proportion to the significance when considered coolly and rationally. Not that knowing this appears to help any.

    1. I’m terrible at the “what do you want?” as a present question. Usually my daughter will ask my husband for ideas.

      Shopping is made easier by just buying the same version of everything every time. Which explains why I still use the basic Crest toothpaste when there are fifty (possibly better) variations that have come out in the 25+ years that I’ve been buying toothpaste.

      The idealizing one is the hardest because the choice often feels like it’s between getting excited about something then being disappointed or just not looking forward to the thing at all. And you’re right, knowing that we do it doesn’t seem to be a mitigating factor.

      1. … I used to do that a lot as a kid. I adopted permapessimism as a defense mechanism. If I assume everything is going to suck, when it doesn’t suck it’s a pleasent surprise. Problem: That makes it hard to want to do anything new, because why bother since it’ll probably suck.

        But if the alternative is having a total meltdown if, say, the road is flooded so we can’t go do something my parents’ promised (or, say, getting punished for having a meltdown when my parents purposefully go back on a promise and favor my sister over me, as happened a lot), I’d rather be a bit more new-thing-adverse. Especially since if I trust someone and they say they think I’ll enjoy it, I can be convinced.

        Admittedly, it’s probably not as adaptive now as it was when I was a kid, so I should probably let myself get excited about stuff more.

        1. That’s spooky – I was just thinking the other day that I don’t get excited like I used to when I was a kid. It used to be that I’d be told about some great event coming up – maybe a day out or a new book or something – and I’d be bouncing, flapping my hands, all the good ways of expressing my excitement. And I realised I hardly ever get those feelings any more.

          On the bright side, I just had a great experience meeting up with one of my (very) few close friends who I’d not seen for months and I’m buzzing right now. Even managed to almost get my hands flapping in the old way… seems to be something wrong with my wrists these days!

      2. Well… it’s Colgate rather than Crest (because that’s the one my mother always used to buy). I sometimes worry that I’m displaying “brand loyalty” but I rationalize that it’s force of habit rather than believing that “my” brand is the best one. In fact I don’t believe there’s any significant difference between any of them. But I still feel a compulsion to stick as close as I can to the same variant. Do you hate it too when they change the packaging, or rearrange stock on the shelves?

        1. Ha, yes, it’s true … Crest is my childhood toothpaste too. New packaging hurts my brain. And I’m still complaining about how Target rearranged the store near me, which happened months ago. I shop on autopilot most of the time.

          1. I arrange my shopping list based on the order of products in the aisles (I keep a mental “map” of where everything is in the stores I visit regularly). It’s difficult when my wife writes the list but I’m training her to put things in order πŸ˜‰ She can be wonderfully accommodating at times! Or perhaps she just got fed up with the times I missed something on the list because it was in the “wrong” place – like putting bread in with fruit & veg.

            1. I have some things that are almost like OCD in that they have to be a certain way. I don’t react well when they aren’t, to say the least. It’s probably the major cause of my meltdowns which, I guess, is why my wife will work to avoid them. I try to explain but it’s hard to get across the importance of something to somebody who doesn’t think that way.

            2. I arrange my shopping list, when I write one, by type of item. Fruits, veg, junk food, meat, fish, dairy, grains, and drinks (coffee for me and cola for my partner).

              I would organize by store location, but it’d be pointless since the stores in this city move everything around about once a month. It’s aggravating.

              There is one store that put stuff where it makes no sense – coffee in with baking supplies – and it irritated me so much I won’t return until they change it back. Because I think it’s fairly reasonable of me to expect that stuff in an aisle should have at least some relation to each other. Cleaning supplies should go in the same aisle. So should toiletries. Coffee could either go with the other drinks, or in the cereal aisle because it’s something people have with breakfast. Those make sense. Coffee in with baking supplies makes no sense. There are very few things you use coffee for in baking.

              Though I suppose I should be grateful they didn’t put it in with the Asian food or the cleaning supplies or something like that. I mean, you can have coffee with dessert, and most people only bake desserts nowadays (which is a damn shame because how to make good bread is a dying art). So it makes more sense than with Asian food or cleaning supplies. Still.

              What can I say? I like stuff to be organized in a way that makes sense. Signage in the stores where I live leaves a lot to be desired, and in such a case, I think you should be able to glance down an aisle and know exactly what’s down it by what type of thing is in said aisle. That way you don’t have to waste 30 minutes on a 5-minute trip to pick up pasta or something wandering around hoping you’ll stumble on the dried pasta.

              Another pet peeve: When they block like half the aisle with a standing display that also blocks your ability to see what’s behind it. One of my favorite snack foods was stuck behind one of those once, and I spent thirty minutes wandering in increasing frustration until I finally asked the store person.

              Also on that note: How the hell do people with vision impairments manage in my city, I wonder? I can spend hours in the supermarket looking for stuff, and I have sight corrected to 20/20! Accessible, these stores are not. Come to think of it, I doubt the aisles are passable in a wheelchair when they have those displays up, either.

              1. Coffee / tea –> coffee creamer –> sugar –> flour! At least that’s how my supermarket does it and to me it makes sense. However, I agree with you that “drinks” would be far more logical.

                Then again, it drives me bonkers that canned tomatoes are no longer with the other canned vegetables and fruits, but are now in the pasta aisle. I use canned tomatoes for loads of things (soup especially), not just for Italian food!

                Laughing at going off on a supermarket tangent. πŸ™‚
                NT people will probably be scratching their heads right about now, asking themselves what we’re getting so worked up about. πŸ˜›

  16. Really interested to see how you go with this. I found your strategies very familiar, though I’ve never had any AS diagnosis.

  17. This is a great experiment.
    I too find it very difficult to figure out what I want. I suppose it’s also to do with the fact that I/we have learned to have to make decisions really quickly, because the rest of the world is always so impatient. Strategy nr 1 just so effectively reduces the options and makes it easier, that that has become a major way of dealing with all kinds of decisions. Just figure out what others want and see if I strongly disagree.

    1. Sorry, I think wordpress ate my original reply. The 30-days of the experiment ended this past weekend and I’ve realized that it needs to be an ongoing thing because decision making is hard to learn. I know what you mean about feeling pressured to make decisions quickly. So often I’m the last to decide in a group situation. ;-/

  18. Oh my god YES!

    I have just discovered your blog. I am trying to figure out if I am an Aspie. Everything you say is me, comes from my mind, my life!

        1. Same here!

          I got a hint of it when I was listening to people with ADHD but a lot of their stuff didn’t fit with me, then I met a few people who were on the spectrum, and I just kept thinking, “Are you me?” XD

  19. My son also has massive difficulties with communicating choices and preferences, or making decisions. I am aware that I also need to adjust my way of asking/offering… so this is interesting πŸ™‚

    1. It’s really challenging but I’ve been learning new strategies that are helping me be both more decisive and more active in communicating my choices so it’s definitely something that can be learned.

  20. For me, the opposite of this is true. I’m so good at knowing what I want that I’m unable to tell what other people want from a question. I think it’s because I was raised without religious or political influences, and I had to come up with these things by myself. If I didn’t know what I wanted out of life, I probably never would have discovered that I was transspecies, and I definitely wouldn’t have discovered my interests in transhumanism, robotics, and brain-computer interfaces, all because I wouldn’t have known that I really wanted a dragon body.

    But when I think about it, I realize that it serves functional needs rather than just an intense but unspecific desire. Species dysphoria is the direct cause for the majority of my clinical depression, so a dragon body would definitely help to cure that. My Asperger’s wouldn’t seem so invisible and conflicting with social norms if I wasn’t expected to act like a neurotypical human, and I could deal with my driving anxiety simply by flying to work each day instead of taking a car and trying to read people’s intentions on the road. If I’m willing to settle for a robotic surrogate (think Avatar, only real) that I control with an MRI machine, then the only remaining question is “Where am I going to get the money?” I was raised to manage my money well, so if I just throw enough money into a savings account for a long enough time, I’ll be able to make it happen, right?

    Now that I think about it, none of my transspecies friends express what they want as a question, ever, and I don’t think any of them would interpret such a question that way if they saw one. We’re all very direct about expressing wants and desires, and we all know very strongly what they are. There’s a lot of numbers 3, 4, and 5 here going on with them, though, but that’s probably because it is a lot to ask for. A lot of them rationalize not seeking out what they want by citing fears of social stigma if they were to obtain it.

  21. Reblogged this on Merely Quirky and commented:
    Strategies 1-6 are my life. Does not work out terribly well. No focus. College was nicely structured, but things since have been one long downward slide.

    1. I’ve made some progress, slowly improving on both recognizing what I want and asserting my preferences. I’ve definitely come a long way from when I wrote this, but there is still some room for improvement.

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