November 3, 2010
Great post from Elizabeth Bernstein in the Wall Street Journal on ambivalence and how, in the age of social media, ‘maybe’ has become a default answer to invitations issued online. various theories about as to why ‘maybe’ is more frequently used than a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’. We don’t want to disappoint, we are waiting for a ‘better offer’ to come along, we forget. The thrust of the article implies that it’s the person interpreting the ‘maybe’ that has the issues and not those who offer it as a response. I guess there’s truth in that too – but if someone consistently offers ‘maybe’ as an answer to invitations and is consistent by their absence then I guess ‘maybe’ does mean ‘no’.
Some of my favorite people are chronic hedgers. I gave up decades ago on getting a firm response from my mom to any request. It took me two years to figure out that when my best friend says “maybe,” she unfailingly means “no.” And recently, one of my oldest friends declared me to be “high maintenance” for insisting on a firm ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the following question: “Are we on for dinner tonight?”
Our fear of disappointing is the piece that interests me – why are we so afraid of being a disappointment to others? What might they think of us? and this of course includes the fantasy that if we are ambivalent and say ‘maybe’ we keep the door open to their opinions of us – they can’t be disappointed if we keep that possibility open. I for one in work and personal settings prefer the clarity of ‘yes’ or ‘no’ both in answering as well as asking – but then again, I’m not afraid of disappointment.
“It makes me feel like my feelings have been discounted,” says Amanda Collins, 39, of Phoenix. One of her best friends answers every invite with, “I’m not sure. Maybe.” The owner of a marketing and communications firm, she has come up with a strategy: Every time her friend hedges, she calls him “Maybe Man” and demands a firm answer.