Slightly Broken: Making Decisions

I’m not a very decisive person. That might not sound very honest to anyone who knows me. I can make decisions for others – about work, about improv, but for myself? It’s hard.
It’s like this – it’s related to the awful tension I feel inside. When I winnow it down to the causes, it always leaves the decision itself lying in wait under all the prevaricatory chaff I try to drown it in. I’ve muttered about this before, in relation to accepting what is offered to me and taking always the easiest choice, or the one with least prospect for conflict. In part it’s just easier – folk offer you stuff and you say yes. The onus is on them. All you’ve done is try to please them, done the thing that they wanted. Wouldn’t want to hurt their feelings or cause a scene. It’s when I chase down the reasoning that it all starts to feel horribly familiar.
I find this difficult to break down meaningfully – there are lots of decisions I have cause to make, both professionally and personally. The work-related ones I find quite painless – occasionally I’ll later worry about a decision I’ve made, some selection or other, but generally I don’t. I think it’s because I don’t really care – it’s only work after all. It’s not me, it’s not (usually) about people I care about. They are also decisions that I’m forced to make – I have deadlines and other work and people to fit in and it’s just easier to make a decision, quickly and get it done. It’s still the easiest path. It avoids the conflict of failing to do something, and frankly it’s such a backward organisation that even making a wrong choice is virtually undetectable and probably still a better call than what the directors would come up with. Sigh. Basically: work-related decisions are zero-consequence and easier than not to make.
So – what else is left? I have a genuine horror of planning for the future. I don’t know quite when it came to feel so overwhelming. And I’m not talking about career path or family planning (Cthulu forbid the thought!) I mean the simple things – plan for Christmas, plan to see a friend, think about a booking a day off, decide what to have for tea. It sounds absurd when I bring it down to that level, but they all generate the same sensations inside me – a void of fear opens in me. I’m struggling to understand why. There have been events which sounded really cool that I so feared a confrontation about whether to go to it or not that I just let the date slide, unspoken until it was past and there was no decision to make: I relaxed again. I don’t think it’s fearing that I’ll make the wrong decision – some of these actually don’t have a wrong decision component. If we eat sausages instead of burgers, who gives a toss right? Well, I think I imagine that someone else does. I think I imagine, and anticipate conflict – whether or not a conflict is inevitable, or even likely.
I’m also aware that I feel much better and happier when a decision has been made – when a thing is fixed and true; agreed and approved. I can then just get tense about getting there on time and with whatever we need… it takes a long time for an event to become routine enough that I don’t have to worry about it, or to worry about what I need to take with me. Improv shows are a great example of this. I happen to keep all of the mics, camera, whose lines and flyers and countless objects of improv ephemera – therefore it is my responsibility to bring it. For a long time I’d worry about that, about forgetting things. I had lists for a while. Eventually it became so routine for me that I no longer give it a third thought (yeah, I know).
For those events and choices which are not routine I believe I’m caught between two opposing and potentially quite daft concerns. On the one hand I do appreciate that sense of the future as being ripe with possibility – once I’ve made a decision that possibility is gone. Sure, whatever I’ve managed to plan might be great, might be awful, but it’s determined (more or less). If I don’t make a decision that wondrous sense of potential just keeps carrying forward while I do nothing when it finally rolls around. The best thing about this is that the potential keeps pushing on. Until age, or the awareness of ageing catches up to me, compounding the fear of planning with the fear of not planning anything. What an incredibly stupid clusterfuck of a Catch-22.
The other concern that grabs me (with those things I do give a toss about because they concern others I care about) is that of imposing my will on others. I don’t have any desire to make you do something that you don’t want to. The very thought guts me. I don’t want to make a choice that fails to meet the needs or expectations of someone else – from what to eat for dinner to choosing to see some friends three weeks from now. I’m acutely conscious when faced with a decision that it impacts on someone else. And it physically pains me. I imagine the face of disappointment (or worse), the pained resignation to the consequences of that decision, the argument that must surely follow revelation the decision itself that needs to be made.
Sounds like a mess, huh? Well, it is. And it really does hurt me. I’ve become much more proficient of late at accepting the gifts of others, making a decision at someone else’s behest (of things that I do want to do). That’s a good start – it’s sort of easier than saying no and risking their disappointment, but it’s also skipping a step in my head – the agony of discussing a decision: it’s made, deal with it (in a nice way). That’s progress, but I need to stop imagining the suffering of others, maximise my own desires in decision making (without transgressing genuine barriers), and reap the satisfaction of having a future which I have control of.
That’s important – I don’t have control. Ever since making the false decisions of my teenage years to not speak out, to not refuse – decisions made in fear of the consequences, both real and imagined – I had to deal with the consequences. I made a choice to say “yes”, a decision that nauseates me now, and did then. It was the only choice I had, and I made it because I was alone, in the flat of an adult in a foreign country, with family or anyone I knew hundreds of miles away. But I made that decision, limited as it was – to say “yes”, to let it all happen. Then I made a further choice, to stay silent, to not speak out in fear of the controversy, the trouble it would cause – a fear of not being believed, the conflicts that might arise I stayed silent. I made the easy choices (even though I acknowledge, and know for the first time that these were not real choices), and suffered for them. But survived. And this is how I make all decisions – I prevaricate until events overtake me and nullify my sense of agency, or agree to the easiest way despite it not being what I want, content in the knowledge that I have at least not forced my will upon another.
Now though, I have a glimpse of the future. It’s never felt real before. It’s fucking scary, I can tell you. That future can only be defined by the making of decisions. I’m bound by my past, by a past forced upon me by someone who would never make the decisions he inflicted upon me. I’m trapped, lying under the weight of those ideas that have sunk into my unconsciousness – never force someone against their wishes, never take responsibility for something I don’t want. It’s backward and fucked up. These are things to reject.

Third, by Portishead – particularly the tracks Magic Doors and Small – background to tonight’s considerations.


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