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I always go to lunch with a friend from work. We have at least 6 places where we regularly eat, with 2 of them being the most common.

Sometimes I get bored of the same place, and I ask him where to eat. He will always answer "anything", "whatever" or a similar response. Thus I end up deciding where we'll be going, but then he sometimes objects to my choice with various reasons.

How can I get him to give a meaningful suggestion when I ask? This can either be stating where to eat (rather than me always deciding), or stating the restriction/preference ("I want cheaper lunch this time", "I want something that can get me full") before I decide where to eat. (I've asked about these before, but it's always "whatever" until I decide)

Note: We are both male.

  • 83
    I'm usually the one saying "Anything", so I'll read this and its answers with interest :-) – Rand al'Thor Oct 5 '17 at 13:31
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    If I understand correctly, do you not mind being the one asking every time? You're just tired of getting the "Anything" answer? – Tycho's Nose Oct 5 '17 at 15:43
  • @Tycho'sNose yes. I'm always the one asking. There's been a case he asked first, and when I suggested one, it happened. – Vylix Oct 5 '17 at 16:22
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    Since I can't answer yet here, I'll add one more comment. I think the problem is he's bored with all 6 places and has problems with all of them. He doesn't want to take responsibility for the fact that he won't be happy with any of them. So when you pick, and he's inevitably bored with the same damn thing, he can blame you - which makes him feel better. :) To get yourself out of that, I'd use @Thørbjorn's response. With the ping-pong. – Diagon Oct 8 '17 at 19:14
  • "Sometimes I get bored of the same place" - if that's the driving force then isn't it up to you to come up with somewhere that isn't boring? It might be that your coworker is also bored, but finds boring food easy and preferable to an effortful renegotiation or change every day, and resents you forcing a change and asking him to enact your change. e.g. "I got sick and tired of having to decide what kind of dessert I was going to have at the restaurant, so I decided it would always be chocolate ice cream, and never worried about it again" - Richard Feynman / Surely You're Joking Mr Feynman. – TessellatingHeckler Oct 9 '17 at 19:23

12 Answers 12

85

First of all, you've stated you asked 'where do you want to go' and that if he answers 'Wherever', you have asked if there are restrictions/preferences on his side. I don't know how you asked, but sometimes, what I call 'the toddler approach' might work best: Offer them two choices, and have them pick what they want. So:

Where do you want to go today? I'm hungry for McDonald's or Pizza Hut, where would you like to go?
Well, if it doesn't matter to you, do you want a cheap meal or one that leaves you full?

This narrows down their choices a bit. It might be that your co-worker is just struggling when there are too many things to choose from. I've noticed the same thing happening before.


If that doesn't work, here's a bit of a mean solution, but since you're not specifically asking for a nice one... I've been here before when I went to Disneyland with my brothers. They had the annoying habit of not picking a ride to go on, but when I said 'well, then we'll go there', they suddenly had better ideas.

After 2 days of these situations, I got pretty fed up with them. I asked them where they wanted to go (no reply), if they wanted to go on the rollercoaster or visit a show, and they said they were fine with either. So I picked the show, and suddenly they had to go on a completely other ride.

What I did was just say:

No. I've picked the show now. I'm going to visit the show. Feel free to come with me, but I'm done with me picking things and then being told by you to go completely elsewhere.

And I followed through and visited the show. Nice thing was, initially my brothers were very mad at me for behaving like that, but after I had visited the show and they were left to their own devices for a while when we met up again they recognized that they had been a little wrong as well.

After we had all apologized (me for overreacting, they for annoying me and not immediately making clear their preferences) the next 3 days went very smooth: If I offered 2 choices, and they were thinking about a third, they would say so immediately, and we managed to visit all the rides and have a awesome time!

  • 5
    Though I can imagine I'm using the last method for anyone else, I'm sure I won't use it for him ;) I can imagine it won't work for him or against me, too, as we can have lunch separately (it's been done before quite often, and we have no objection). Still, I wonder why I haven't thought the "two choice"! +11111 – Vylix Oct 5 '17 at 7:48
  • @Vylix I also like the version of the choices approach that spells out the qualities inherent in each choice — cheap vs. filling, etc. You can keep a mental record of what he likes and doesn't like, or even do it explicitly: "Okay, what do you like about McDonald's? What do you dislike?" Once you have a sense of that, you can propose new places: "I think you'll like X because you get a big portion for what you spend." If he rejects, refine. At first you'll be doing all the thinking, but this is a practical way to do LinuxBlanket's suggestion, and gradually lead him to know what he wants. – Euchris Oct 5 '17 at 13:01
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    McD vs PizzaHut, which one is the cheap and which one leaves you full? – Mindwin Oct 5 '17 at 13:27
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    @Mindwin pizza. Always pizza. – Vylix Oct 5 '17 at 16:22
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    Your second solution doesn't have to be done meanly. A little warning makes it much better. When they say, "Anything," say something like, "Are you sure? We have this discussion a lot. This time, I'm not changing my mind once I pick something, and you might have to go somewhere else without me." That's kind of firm, but I wouldn't call it mean. (Disclaimer: I have not tried this, although I frequently have the dilemma of trying to pick something with someone who doesn't want to provide feedback.) – jpmc26 Oct 5 '17 at 20:05
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+300

I think what your friend doesn't understand (and that many other answers are missing) is that it is work to figure out where to eat, and he's passing that work off to you every time.

Sounds like you'd agree with Captain Awkward here:

I had a partner whose answer to “What should we have for dinner?” was almost always “Whatever you want!

Over time, that answer transformed into what what it really was, “I don’t care.”

On the surface, how accommodating and easygoing he was!

Over time, it was totally fucking irritating. Because “I don’t care” meant that I had to do all the work of coming up with the plan. There’s actually a lot of mental work that goes into figuring out budgets and groceries and recipes and going to the store and then making the stuff and cleaning up afterwards. There is mental work in picking the restaurant, in making the plans. Not ever having or expressing an opinion means that you are always the passenger and the other people always have to be the driver. They want you to be happy, so they do the mental work of trying to figure out what will please you. Sometimes (as you’ve found out) it’s awesome to be the passenger.

I've heard other people call this "mental labor" or "mental overhead" or sometimes "emotional labor".

My solution: tell him this directly: "When I ask you where you want to eat today, I'm not just asking about your preference, I'm also asking you to contribute to the work of coming up with a plan that will work for both of us."

Lots of other answers have good ideas for practical methods (one person chooses 3 options, the other person eliminates 1 or 2, etc.), but I think this discussion around the "mental labor" has to happen first.

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    This. I really hope he will understand that deciding a place to eat is a mental work. I don't mind I do it, but at least don't reject the result if you haven't even contribute anything! – Vylix Oct 5 '17 at 16:42
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    @Vylix Have you ever countered with putting the burden on him? Often times for me, my thought pattern is "I'm not particularly picky; and I feel like this person is more concerned about where we eat, so I'll try to be accommodating" only to realize when given a suggestion, I'm really not feeling as accommodating as I thought. Instead, if the person also replies with "I don't really care either"; it immediately turns into a brainstorm session. Although they are placing the burden of "mental work" on you, it might just be because you shoulder the burden; so now it feels normal. – JMac Oct 5 '17 at 18:12
  • "I think what your friend doesn't understand (and that many other answers are missing) is that it is work to figure out where to eat, and he's passing that work off to you every time." - the question says "Sometimes I get bored of the same place, and I ask him where to eat." - is it really 'passing the work off' in that case? Isn't it more 'passing the work' when one person decides they are bored but wants someone else to decide? – TessellatingHeckler Oct 9 '17 at 19:07
  • @TessellatingHeckler It is clear from the question that the status quo is that OP decides where to eat 100% of the time, and his friend decides 0% of the time. That's an uneven balance, it's not unreasonable for OP to desire that his friend share the responsibility more fairly, maybe 80/20 or 60/40. – BradC Oct 10 '17 at 13:36
  • @BradC I don't think it's clear - "Sometimes I get bored of the same place" suggests they always go to one place, "at least 6 places where we regularly eat, with 2 of them being the most common." says they go to varying places and it's unclear who decides which and when. Do they go to one place by default, but only visit the other 5 if OP prompts? If they always change around between the 6 regularly with OP being the one who decides, but sometimes wants a different place - wouldn't the question be "I get bored of deciding all the time" rather than "I get bored of going to the same place"? – TessellatingHeckler Oct 10 '17 at 18:10
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Probably, he really does not know what he wants to eat; he may need some more time to understand what he really wants to eat. You could anticipate him by playing his same game:

Today I'm out of creativity, I don't know what I want to eat. Do you mind deciding where are we going to eat today?

You could ask him some time before actually going to eat, for instance during a coffee break, so that he can think about the answer with no pressure. In order to force him to make a real choice, you could also point out that your only condition is not to eat in the same place of the day before.

Asking this once or twice a week could train him to ask himself what he wants to eat and could change his ways of answering you.

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    While I like this answer, it won't work well since we can then wait until the lunchtime is over and then we'll miss our lunch ;) Beside that, this is very helpful! – Vylix Oct 5 '17 at 12:13
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    Sorry @Vylix, I don't think I got the point of your comment (non-native English writer here)... You think that he won't answer until the end of lunchtime, letting the two of you starving, or is the point another one? :) – LinuxBlanket Oct 5 '17 at 15:48
  • yep you got it right. I've done that unintentionally by keep working til he decided. We worked until three hours without lunch. (we can have 1 hour lunch anytime between 12 and 3) – Vylix Oct 5 '17 at 16:18
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    Ah, but you could ask him again about the lunch place when you're hungry! From what you tell, he seems very shy and introverted. Good luck with your lunches from now on! (And after all, since you have 6 choices, you can always roll a die and let it choose for the two of you :D) – LinuxBlanket Oct 6 '17 at 7:57
  • @Vylix "I've done that unintentionally by keep working til he decided. We worked until three hours without lunch. (we can have 1 hour lunch anytime between 12 and 3" - what happened after that? Did you force a decision or did he? Was he OK with not eating? Did he regret not acting sooner? – TessellatingHeckler Oct 9 '17 at 17:01
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My wife and I have had this problem for a long time. We rely on the veto system:

If you are fine with the same 6 places as normal, ask this question:

Where do you not want to go?

If you are someplace new or out of the ordinary or definitely don't want one of your normal places, ask this:

Which of the following do you not want to go to...

If she wants a specific place from the list she just picks that place.

She might list 2 or 3 things and then we have an easier choice to make. This also works well in groups of people fairly quickly.

Sometimes we'll do this after already saying "anything is good" instead of starting with the veto system.

  • 2
    I do this too. Usually we do "5-3-1", one person names 5 places, the other picks 3 of those, and then the first person picks 1 from those 3. And we'll modify it slightly if deciding in a group. Picking in the form of a negative - where you don't want to go - is a lot easier for whatever reason. – Joe K Oct 12 '17 at 19:37
  • We're more like programs than we like to think. If there are 3 places I'm ~equally willing to go to, I can't give an answer for what implied 1 place I want to go. But I can give a list of places I don't want to go to easily. – Erroneous Oct 13 '17 at 14:38
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Don't give them a choice.

"I'm going to xyz, do you want to come?"

If they don't, then they can openly state it, if they do, they'll join you. If they want to go somewhere else then they can, and you can choose to join them instead if you wish.

  • Yep, take the bull by the horns. It might even be coming to "I ate at xyz, maybe we can eat there together tomorrow." – MPW Oct 7 '17 at 5:16
  • +1 for if he doesn't care just go somewhere, if he cares make him choose. The OP's problem of where to eat lunch is so much a no-problem, a no-brainer. He wants lunch and likes to eat with you, just go somewhere already. Women, you can't eat with them, you can't eat without them. – Bent Oct 7 '17 at 21:29
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This happens to me and my friend a lot.

I think we're both the ones who will have "anything"; but then when we start listing restaurants, we both have slight objections to some options.

There's a common pattern in how the conversation goes.

"What do you want to eat?"

"I'm fine with anything."

"How about ABC?"

"I'm not sure I'm feeling up to ABC today, maybe something else?"

Then we often go back and forth for a minute until we agree on something we both really want.

Recently, I think we've made pretty good progress on skipping that step. Instead of asking:

"What do you want to eat?"

the question becomes:

"Is there anything you don't feel like eating today?"

I find this eliminates a bit of the useless conversation. There's still usually some back and forth about what we each want; but in this way, you should get a better idea of what will get shot down.

As other answers mention though, they may not know specifically what they want/don't want. You may suggest an option that they realize they don't want, even though they didn't mention it when asked. At least by asking before suggesting, you minimize the chance it's something that they won't want.

  • I've been asked on occasion this question and responded "anything but X" which was met with "I didn't ask where you DON'T want to go", so I turned it around and said "where do YOU not want to go?" If no answer, I said whatever I was thinking, which was invariably a place they didn't want to go. – Darren Oct 9 '17 at 13:06
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If he likes games, try to gamify it. Invent a point system, e.g. 3 points for a new restaurant, 2 points for a restaurant you've visited in the last 2 weeks, and 1 point for a restaurant you've visited this week. Then turn the "where shall we eat" dialog into a "how do we increase our points" dialog.

Another system I use with my wife is to give her three choices. She can either choose one of the three or she can suggest somewhere else. That way, we both participate in choosing the venue.

3

I read this on reddit, I believe. A guy got tired of his girlfriend having no opinion or suggestion on where to go to eat, so every time they got in the car to go somewhere, he drove to Taco Bell. He didn't ask; he just went there.

Finally, one day, she said something like, "I don't want to go to Taco Bell. Let's go somewhere else." "Where?" "I don't know.." Back to Taco Bell!

Now when she wants to go somewhere to eat, she says something.

Why do I tell this story? Because this person is passively putting himself in a control position: I don't care where we go, but I'm reserving the right to veto your choice. The solution is, I believe, quite simple. "Where do you want to go?" "Anywhere" "OK, we're going to Flinger's" "I don't like Flinger's" "I'm sorry, next time you can pick a place you like. You're welcome to come with; we're leaving." And then you go to Flinger's. Or Chotchkie's.

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One possibility is to simply change your expectations of the interaction. Just maintain an ordered list of the places you're interested in eating and rattle them off until you get an affirmative on his part. If you go in expecting to name three or four places, then you won't be disappointed when it happens, and hey, if you like games of chance, you might just get a mini-rush from what amounts to a round on the roulette wheel.

This has the fringe benefit of encouraging you to compile a complete list of restaurants in the area, which might help you discover new places that you didn't previously know about.

  • We have a list of places that is suitable for our wallet, near enough, and we have okay-to-pleasant experience there (the 6 places mentioned in the question). While it is short enough to start from 1 to 6, that is the behavior I want to avoid. At some times, I'm too tired to decide and just want someone else to decide for me (I never objected before), or hit the random button. – Vylix Oct 5 '17 at 11:45
  • @Vylix Perfectly understandable. However, one trope I usually see on this SE site is that you can't change other peoples' behavior. You can try to push them in the direction you want (and the other answers have offered viable suggestions for that), but if those options fail, my answer was seeking to reduce the impact of the interaction on you. – bvoyelr Oct 5 '17 at 12:01
  • @Vylix The number 6 feels very much like a standard dice could be used to select the first choice from the list. – KalleMP Oct 8 '17 at 4:26
0

I have seen this suggestion before somewhere:

  1. First person chooses 5 places they like
  2. Second person vetoes 3 of them
  3. First person chooses between the remaining 2

This begs the question, who will pick the 5? Well, in your specific case you said there are "at least 6." So if it's that narrow, you could just have those 6 be the "base" and the "first person" alternate every other day. If the "first person" wants "anything" then their 6 are the base 6.

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    I think this is very similar to Eroneous's answer – Vylix Oct 5 '17 at 16:25
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One option is to have one person select the genre of food -- japanese, chinese, american grill, etc -- and have the other select a specific restaurant within that genre. In the 'anything' case, you could pick (or have them pick) the genre, and then have the other person to pick the specific restaurant.

That narrows it down at least a little, and if your friend is unwilling to contribute to either decision (but is still willing to eat with you), that tells you something about their friendship and decision-making. It also means that if there are objections, there's a concrete decision which the other has to provide an alternative for (e.g., 'Chinese', 'nah', 'ok, that was my idea, now you pick -- japanese, vietnamese, italian, etc ...').

-3

There are two ways to stop your friend: One is to make clear that you are not accepting this answer and creating negative consequences for your friend, two by ending the friendship. (That's the question you asked. You didn't ask how to get around this, or how to not be annoyed with your friend. You asked how to stop him). For (two) you won't need help.

Many ways. Buy a can of dog food. Next time he wants "anything" you produce the dog food. If he says he doesn't like dog food, which apparently would be progress, you offer to buy cat food. If he says he doesn't like that either, ask what he wants. "Anything" -> back to the start.

"We don't have 'anything'". That has been used by me, and against me, and usually works. Just don't accept it.

Call a taxi. Tell the driver that your friend is going to pick the destination. A running taxi meter will help with the decision.

"Ok, I don't want 'anything', so we'll have to go to different places". Treat 'anything' as a choice, which is not the choice that you agree with.

PS. Your friend apparently voted that you should do something different.

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