I hate to make decisions. I’ve always hated to make decisions. I used to hyperventilate in our doorway when my mother said “in or our, in or out.” And though analysts have tried to pin my decidophobia on two failed marriages and the trauma of having my first sexual experience in an Edsel, I’m pretty sure it all started with crayons.

When I was a kid I liked the box with only seven crayons. There was one brown, one green, one red, and anytime I wanted to color a tree it was a straightforward affair—brown bark, green leaves, red apples, no sweat. Then one afternoon my mother brought home that steroidal box of sixty-four crayons: the CRAYOLA colossus!

For many, this unabridged assortment of colors remains a cornerstone of childhood delight; for me, it reigns in memory as a gift from hell.

Staid colorer of trees that I was (what sunflowers were for Van Gogh, Norwegian pines were for me), I remember innocently opening the flip-up lid to look for my reliable dendrological shades only to find a Pandora’s box of verdant choices, a Glocca Morra of green—lime, moss, shamrock, emerald, pea, avocado, olive (there might even have been a fungus green): in effect, enough greens to make even St. Patrick queasy and more than enough to set me up for the first of many forays into decision-anxiety.

No matter what shade of green I chose to top off a tree or bush there would inevitably be some friend who’d look at it and say, “Leaves aren’t that color!” The implication clear as a slap: I had made the wrong choice, a bad decision—I had failed!

If my phobic dislike for decisions wasn’t born then, it was certainly borne out when I made the transition from girlhood to womanhood. At that life juncture, I though the only choice I had to make was between a pad and a tampon, right?

I couldn’t have been more wrong if I had boiled sushi.

Suddenly I was faced with decisions that made Solomon’s seem like choosing between vanilla and chocolate. Was it a “light day” or was it a “heavy day?” Did I want a regular or a super? A maxi or a mini? Looking back, though, those were the good old days; the choices escalated with each passing year. Periods were becoming profitable. A multibillion dollar industry was soon thriving between women’s legs by leaps and bounds and turning a simple shopping task into a mind-numbing nightmare! Today, I consider PMS a dawdle compared to outfitting myself for the main event.

Aisles in the supermarket literally tower with feminine hygiene products, and every month I find myself more and more in doubt about which is the right one for me. Do I want a slim maxi? A thin maxi? An ultra-thin maxi? A super-long, ultra-thin maxi? An extra-absorbent, super-long, ultra-thin maxi with wings? Straight, curved, or wraparound? An all-nighter! How about a weekender? I’m ready to just hitch up a mattress once a month and let it go at that! I know all women aren’t created equal—but how different can we be?

Not all that different. Oh, sure, some of us might love too much or work too much or eat too much, but all of us are pretty much alike when it comes to sex chromosomes and preferring partners who bathe—which is why I think that, for the most part, distaste for decisions is a female thing.

Admittedly, it’s an acquired distaste, but it’s easy to understand why so many of us acquire it. Men make decisions easily; not correctly, necessarily, but easily. (Hey, it wasn’t a woman who came up with “New Coke”!) For instance, a man will buy a dress shirt that is pinned and wrapped—totally sealed in cellophane, with only color, collar, and cuffs showing—and never give a second thought to doing it. For a woman, this is an unthinkable act, tantamount to meeting the ex-husband‘s new wife without makeup. A woman wouldn’t buy herself an expensive blouse without trying it on. At least once. And, even than, chances are she’ll still wonder if she’s made the right choice when she gets home. Second thoughts are our genetic onus.

Women have to make more decisions in a single day than most men make in a month! Guys can go on date after date without ever having to consider whether they should wear a skirt or slacks, heels or flats, fake it or forget it. And then there are meals. In most instances, a woman has to decide not only what to cook for dinner (including what to serve before and after it) but what to wear for dinner, as well as what to wear with whatever it is she’s wearing for dinner. This is known as accessory angst and is definitely a distaff difficulty; definitely, because women innately know that choosing the right accessories for an outfit is as important as the outfit itself, although defciding which accessories are “right” can often be more time consuming than choosing an outfit and preparing a meal combined! And dining out is no easier, not for women.

Men make reservations without reservation, at least with other men. (“Hi, Stan. How about Mexican tonight? Casa Rosa, seven o’clock.” “Sounds great, Hal. See you at seven.”) When a woman is involve3d it’s a different story. And when more than one woman is involved it’s an ordeal in gustatory accommodation that can kill you appetite, like that!

Eight words that unfailingly put me in anxiety mode are: “What are you in the mood for tonight?” I have yet to have dinner with a female friend without this query surfacing like the dorsal fin of a Great White, creating an equivalent acceleration in heart rate. My usual response is, “I don’t care, anything is okay,” which is, of course, (a) untrue, (b) unsafe, and (c) unacceptable as an answer. What follows is a grilling that I wouldn’t wish on a war criminal. It goes something like this:

“So, do you want to have Chinese?”
“That’s fine,” I say. (But is it?)

“Or how about Italian?” “That’s okay, too.” (I think.) “Do you like Mexican?” “Sure.” (I’m not sure at all.) “Wait, what about sushi?” “Sushi’s good.” (Maybe, maybe not.) “How do you feel about Greek food?” “Love it, “ I lie. (Or do I?) “We haven’t had Indian in a long time.” “Then let’s.” (Then again, let’s not and say we did.) “But you’d probably prefer French, right?” “Right, French.” (At this point, I’d prefer never having agreed to dinner in the first place.) “But it’s so rich. What do you say to Spanish?” “Sì,” I say, hoping to truncate the volley before arrhythmia kicks in. “Sì, Spanish.”

And then, just when I think the inquisition is over, I’ll hear: “So, do you want to go to that cute little cantina in the village or the place my sister told me about on the Wet Side? Or there’s this new restaurant that the Times gave four stars….?”

Generally, I make it a point to steer clear of Chinese restaurants and Greek diners; eateries that offer a choice of more than fifty entrees could seriously compromise my mental health. It’s difficult enough for me to make decisions in restaurants, period. I’m always the last at the table to order, and, when I finally do, my sigh of relief is invariable premature. Just when I think that I’ve aced it, the waiter will aski if I want potato, past, or rice? If I say “potato,” I’m suddenly on the spot again: “Baked, French fried, home style or au gratin?” Then there’s the salad dressing gauntlet: “French, Italian, Blue Cheese, Vinaigrette, or House?” I never even look at the wine list; it’s enough that I make the choice between red and white without palpitations.

I’m all for options, but when they increase pyramidally on a daily basis, it’s scary. I remember when choices at the conclusion of a meal—and standard offering on airlines—were coffee, tea, or milk. Now if you say “coffee,” you have to, at the very least, specify regular or decaf. And if you’re offered a selection of flavored blends, decidophobia can really start percolating. Where once there was merely the alternative mocha, today there’s moca-vanilla, mocha-almond, mocha-marshmallow, among mucho-mocha others. Say “tea” and you leave yourself open to facing the option of herbal brews, which come in a conundrum of combinations, none of which nature ever intended. Not even milk is just drinker-friendly “moo juice” anymore, not with the choices of one percent, two percent, skim, soy, whole, long life, low-fat, no-fat, fat-free, to say nothing of chocolate and cherry-vanilla. All I have to do is look in the dairy case and I find myself craving a beer—a craving, needless to say, that disappears instantly when I reach that aisle.

The more things are supposed to simplify life, the more they complicate it. I remember when there was only one telephone company and I could make a call without thinking twice about whether or not the person I was phoning was in or out of my circle of friends. I’ve changed phone services more times than Liz Taylor has changed husbands, and, like Liz, I’m still not certain that I’ve made the right choice.

Packing for a trip, even a longed-for holiday, is a stress test for me. It doesn’t matter whether it’s three days or three weeks, deciding what—and what not—to take makes me feel as if I’m deciding the fate of a nation )or, at least, a vacation). I run every item through a scenario of permutations. (Hmmm. Evening dress. Okay, we will be whitewater rafting most of the time, but if we stop somewhere I might need it. I mean, you never know. So I’d probably better pack a pair of heels, a couple of pairs of pantyhose, earrings, a clutch bag, the beaded sweater, maybe my trench coat in case it rains….) And when it comes to first-aid equipment, I’m a traveling triage unit. All I have to do is say to myself, “You never know,” and the whole medicine cabinet comes with me. My husband has often questioned the tourniquet, mustard plaster, andemetics—particularly when I’m just going to L.A. on a buisnes trip—but it’s less of an emotional strain to schlep them than to decide against them.

Some of my worst moments come at nail salons. The pressure of choosing a single polish from the enormous collocation of colors—in the space of an appointment—is enough to give me the bends (to say nothing of raising the specter of that old CRAYOLA colossus). In fact, it’s endurable only because the alternative would be to select one polish for use on a permanent basis, a radicl decisive move that I am not yet ready to make.

But I have decided (sor of) that I can keep my decidophobia at bay by cultivating a decidophobia-phobia, a fear-of-the-fear of making decisions, creating confidence by default. This isn’t easy, but than neither was learning the lyrics to “In-a’Gadda-da-Vida.” Meanwhile, as I wait for the phobia-phobia to kick in, I don’t even glance at multiple-choice quizzes in magazines; I avoid Cineplexes; I restrict eye exams to when everything I read looks as if it’s printed in Russian; I never ask for the remote control; I shun salad bars; I eavade all either-or-situations. And, of course, I keep myself as far away as possible from crayons.

--Hester Mundis, Crème de la Femme: The Best of Contemporary Women’s Humor, 1997, Random House


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