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So this question is about something I every now and then generally am facing, but it happens especially frequent, when I am just getting to know someone better i.e. having a first or second date.

When I am asking about someones preferences it sometimes happens they want me to tell them my own first or being like "I don't care about it, you decide please.". What I find sometimes sort of problematic, not to say annoying. I generally have no problem with talking about anything related to me and also don't feel uncomfortable doing so first, neither do I have a problem with making decisions for others if they wish so.

But what I don't like is just being presented with an mirrored version of my own preferences, when actually in the phase of wanting to get to know that person. And that's what usually happens when a person is insisting on me answering a question first myself which I asked in the first place.

This could be for questions about favorite activities, interests or favorite things or what ever else. I think you know what it is I am talking about here.

To give an very extreme example that just happened to me recently:

I was spending a day with a woman I met a few months before at a regulars table. Since then we had been texting a lot for months, but that was the first time we met just the 2 of us.

So when I asked her what she would like for dinner, she just asked me what I'd like to have. We established before already that we were going to order something. I told her that it is really nonesense expecting me to make a decision here since I don't know what is available. So she started listing me all the delivery services they have in the city (and since she lives in a major city, it where quite a lot with so many franchises I haven't even heard of before). I asked her to just give me a handfull of her favorites and lets decide from that, what she declined saying: she wanted me to pick something I'd like and not go by what she likes. She was very insisting about that, and it took us almost an hour till I decided we can order from something that I would describe as a fastfood restaurant. She pointed out that's a great idea and it is only a foot-walk of 10 minutes away from her place so we could just walk there. So we did and I really liked it. A week or so later I asked her if she would like to meet with me again for dinner at the restaurant. So we had dinner there again and had a walk together after that. At the walk she started complaining how it already was so bad for her diet that we went to the restaurant last week and she will now again have to make up for this dinner the following days.

In the end, I didn't feel responsible for that, since it was her concealing that info from me to manipulate me into making a decision disregarding her own preference. But what actually is an annoyance here for me is, usually if I ask someone about their preference in what ever regards, I do so to get to know more about them.

Not getting an factual answer to that, makes me not getting a correct picture of the person. What then leads me to making wrong assumptions about them. And I face this also when it comes to favorite games, movies and what ever. Often I am being told after I explained what I like that they have very similar interests just to figure at a later point, that they actually hate such activity.

In general I don't have a problem with making decisions that disregard the other persons preference if the other person insists that's what they want.

But what I really have a problem with, is if I am manipulated into making such decisions, by technically speaking: being lied to, when all I want is getting to know the other persons preferences without even necessarily making any decisions based on that.


What I tried so far to work around such situations:

  • Not revealing my own preference until they revealed their own.

    • This usually just leads to an unnecessary back and forth, where ironically the others person final argument is "I don't want you to just adapt your answer related to what I respond, so I want you to tell me first." despite that is not my intend and rather most often what the other person is going to do.
  • After this has happened once or twice already with a person, I point out that I am not going to respond to it any more if I am supposed to answer a question first which I just have asked.

    • The result so far was, that the other person rather just avoided to answer a question I asked. What is sort of the same result... Leaving me with no meaningful knowledge about the persons preferences.
  • Trying to get at least a grasp idea of what their real answer would be by pointing out what a coincidence it is how similar our interests are.

    • What just leads to me facing surprised mimics, confirming how unlikely this coincidence must be.

How I think this could be solved:

Given that I have a habit of attracting the interest of insecure and shy women having often problems with their self-esteem/confidence I think the core issue is, they are scared of revealing their own interest/preferences are not compatible with mine. So I think I had somehow to make clear, that's not going to be a problem. But I can't really come up with a way of communicating this, which wouldn't feel weird and possibly awkward. Since it would imply, I am aware of them trying just to match me.

So how I can avoid being possibly manipulated by having to answer first, and still getting a relevant answer, when asking someone about their preference?

7

It sounds like you've already tried what would have been my first suggestion - stand your ground - and it didn't go so well. A valiant effort! I'll refer to the back-and-forth "you answer first", "no you answer first" exchange as "the ping pong game" in the suggestions below.

Two background observations and then some possible approaches to try.

  1. Decision-making is hard. People have a harder time choosing from many options than from a shorter list.
  2. At the same time, you are trying to learn about your companion, your companion is trying to learn about you.

Option 1 (before the ping pong game begins): Limit the choices offered

Give a list of three options you would be happy with and ask for a selection from that list. (This is the reverse of what you tried when you asked your companion to give you a handful of her favorites to choose from.)

Tonight I could go for Italian, Chinese, or even that really greasy diner that serves breakfast foods at dinnertime. Are you in the mood for any of those?

Why this works: Decision-making is hard. When someone is asked to choose from a list of every possible dinner option, paralysis can easily set in. Reduce the paralysis by reducing the options.

Upside: it gets you to dinner in under an hour (hopefully!). Downside: you only learn a subset of your companion's preferences. Over time, if you vary the choices, you can steadily build up a sense of their likes and dislikes. If they never pick the greasy diner, you know you can stop including that in the list.

Option 2 (at the first ping pong exchange): Gallantly yield first, then expect reciprocity

You said that you want to avoid answering first to avoid being manipulated, but consider doing just that, only phrasing it in a way that makes it clear you expect the same favor in return later.

Well, if you insist, I'll go first, but next time, you choose... and you can't choose the same thing I picked, OK?

Then follow through. Next time the dinner question comes up, remind your companion "Hey, I picked last time. Tonight it's your turn to choose... anything but Italian because that's what I picked." By not allowing a repeat of what you chose, you can steer the decision toward your companion's preferences.

Alternatively, you can offer to make one decision in exchange for not having to make another.

OK, I'll choose where we go for dinner, but only if you agree to pick what movie we see afterward.

Why this works: You are both trying to learn about each other's preferences. Give some information in exchange for getting some information.

Option 3 (after many ping pong exchanges): Secret ballot

Propose that you each write down three options, secretly, without showing the other until you're both finished writing. Anything that appears on both lists is a winner. If necessary, flip a coin to decide ties (example: one list is A, B, C and the other is C, X, A. Flip a coin to decide between A and C).

Try to keep it general enough that there's a good chance of getting a hit. Use categories like "Mexican" or "burgers" rather than naming specific restaurants. If you don't get any hits, try again, or go to option 4.

Why this works: like option 2, it's a fair exchange of information.

Option 4 (at any time): Do something random

Throw a dart at a (paper) phone book or try http://www.restaurantgenerator.com/ to select a place that neither of you have a stake in.

Why this works: it's playful, spontaneous, and fun. If you happen to like the place you end up at, great! You've found a new spot that you can return to. If you have a terrible time, great! You've got a shared experience that you can both look back on later and laugh about. ("The food here is bad but not as bad as that time we went to ____.") By letting fate decide where you eat, you derail the whole dynamic of each of you wanting the other to make the decision. Neither of you is responsible for choosing the place, so neither of you can be "blamed" if it turns out to be a bad choice.

Important note

These techniques should work if your companion is well-intentioned. They can be thwarted if your companion is not well-intentioned. Examples of ways they could be thwarted:

  • Option 1: your companion refuses to make a choice from even the limited list of options.

  • Option 2: you made a restaurant choice; your companion insists on choosing that same restaurant next time because "it's my favorite".

  • Option 3: you write down three real choices; your companion turns up a blank list or one that only says "whatever your first choice is".

This would be very frustrating but consider: your goal is to learn something about your companion. If your companion is that resistant to telling you something about their taste in something as trivial as menus or movies... well... then you have indeed learned something about your companion.

The reluctance may stem from shyness or insecurity, or it could be something more manipulative; the underlying issue is not something you can solve. Remember that you can't change other people, you can only change how you respond to them. If you run into resistance even after simplifying the options and fairly exchanging information about your own preferences, then you have to decide where you want to go next. That would be a separate question.

Good luck!

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  • I really love this answer. Except for option 4 it all covers the core problem of my question. And your aftermath is on point, too. This way, even if they resist to let me learn more about them... I still would learn something about them. And that way I would already learn enough from them that I can answer myself that question where I would go next, then. – dhein Jul 30 at 5:56
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The problem here appears to be that others dislike making decisions and then complain about the decision being made. One thing that I've found in these kinds of situation is to change ownership of the problem.

You feel manipulated into making a choice and then having the choice disliked. This makes the problem yours.

The solution, rather than stressing about feeling manipulated, is to change ownership of the problem.

Some ways I've seen of and done:

  1. when we first got married, I vacuumed the house once and my then-wife complained that I didn't do it right. How you can vacuum wrong, I don't know. But I did. Rather than argue about how to vacuum, I just said "You now are the one doing the vacuuming." And for several years, when she'd ask me to vacuum, I told her that I didn't do it right, so I wasn't going to do it. The problem of my vacuuming wrong became hers to deal with, and she needed to find a solution. Eventually she came up with "If I promise not to complain, will you help vacuum?" I agreed with the solution and took on a lot of vacuuming.

  2. I read of a post on Reddit where a guy, whenever they went out to eat, he just drove to Taco Bell. Didn't ask where to go, didn't argue, he just went to Taco Bell. Eventually she said "Hey, I'm tired of Taco Bell. Can we go somewhere else?" "Sure, where?" "I don't know..." Back to Taco Bell! And when she suggested somewhere to go, he went there without complaining. The problem of deciding where to go became her issue, not his.

Yes, this sounds passive-aggressive, but I don't think that it is. What you do is make a decision and then take ownership of it and then refuse to take on someone else's problem. If someone disagrees with the decision, it's on them to make a new one. You've been asked to make a decision - just do it, and don't spend a lot of time agonizing over re-opening the discussion. Either the other party does so, or they don't. IF they complain about your choice, then respond with "then let's go somewhere else - you pick a spot and I'm sure I can find something there".

In a society were women are equal to men, there shouldn't be any reason why they can't be part of decision-making and personally, were I in the dating pool, I wouldn't want to date a doormat anyway.

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  • Well, it IS passive-aggressive, especially by the example. Still I like the idea and think it can also done none passive aggressive. Sadly this isn't directly addressing my question. I don't mind having ownership of the problem. Maybe the example I choose is a bad one. But what I mind is, when asking someone about preferences, if they try to give an answer that just matches with my personal preferences rather than telling me their preference, what I actually ask for. And this happens especially often when meeting some one the first times. On the long run this problem usually dissapears. – dhein Jul 30 at 5:47

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