Skip to main content

Never Quite Sure What to Do With “If You Want to” For an Answer

·500 words·3 mins

“Hey do you want to have spaghetti for dinner?”

“If you want to.”


“Should I start a load of laundry?”

“If you want to.”


I don’t know if I’m alone in this, but I always have a hard time with this answer. I’m never quite sure what to do with “if you want to.” Interestingly, I combed the Internet for more information about this conversational pattern — and most of what I found was very gendered. It had the person asking the question as male and the person answering “if you want to” as female.

In my case, it’s the exact opposite. I’m a woman, and I get this answer when I ask men questions. I don’t know why, but it’s been a lifelong problem.

I suppose they’re just trying to be polite — by giving me an out. But since I’m asking the question, you would think that I was at least somewhat amenable to what I’m proposing. After all, why would I ask if I was completely against it?

When it comes to something like what we should have for dinner, I’m asking because it’s something I’d like to have (although usually I’m flexible on alternatives if the other person isn’t down). So it’s like OF COURSE I want to.

But it gets even stranger when I’m asking about a chore. If I ask, “Should I start a load of laundry?” and someone answers “if you want to,” and I take them literally, I would never do chores. Because I don’t like doing chores. They aren’t a desire. Chores aren’t something fun or entertaining for me, something that I really want to do. I only do them because they need to get done and I enjoy the outcome (a functional daily life and a tidy home).

It’s quite maddening. Never sure what to do with that. How to interpret the answer. Historically, I’ve tried being direct, explaining the situation, and asking for advice on what to do with that answer from the folks who say “if you want to.” But inevitably, that approach, the direct followup, doesn’t work. They’ll usually give me a shrug at most. Change the subject.

I’ve also tried taking it very literally — especially when I’m on a mind-reading diet.

I think that’s the hard part about trying to make communication more direct. That’s something folks don’t talk about. People usually have reasons for being indirect (sometimes hidden to them or ones they simply can’t/don’t want to discuss with others). And there are times when you can’t simply make communication more clear by approaching an indirect communicator directly, no matter how skilled at direct communication you may be. There are absolutely times when the other person will simply continue as much of an indirect approach as they can.

Not out of bad faith or malice, mind you. But because that’s the way they’ve learned to deal with the situation. And directness on one side doesn’t necessarily result in directness on the other.


PQ 6.5 — Do I look for hidden meanings in other people’s words? Do I bury my real meaning?
·440 words·3 mins
Communication Family of Origin PQ Series
You Can Be Conditioned to Expect Communication to Be Full of Tricks and Traps
·1327 words·7 mins
Communication Relationships Survival
My Number One Kink Is Direct Communication
·1369 words·7 mins
Communication Relationships