I just recently told someone that dating him wasn’t going to work out, and that he wasn’t able to give me what I needed. Why? Because he was incapable of conversing and answering questions in a clear, non-passive-aggressive way. When I informed him of what he was doing, he told me that yes, he does have those problems… “But it’s possible that lots of people do that. Well, maybe I don’t really have those problems even though I already said I did, and well, ok, MAYBE I do that, but maybe I don’t. Maybe only sometimes. I’ll try harder to do better, but you need to monitor how I’m speaking to you and tell me when I’m doing things wrong — even though I might maybe possibly perhaps sometimes deny that I’m doing anything. And then it’s possible that I will change my mind again and admit to things just to get you to be quiet.” *throws self into the lashing sea* So, in light of this inspiration, I would like to talk about non-answers. Akin to “non-apologies,” non-answers often are composed of an impressive amount of words, all of which are not really related to the situation or question at hand, or which give no actual information and often make no sense in context. It’s like gibberish that still adheres to the rules of grammar and syntax. It’s a method of purposeful, although likely subconscious obfuscation, so that the passive aggressor can “respond,” without actually giving an answer. If you ask them to explain their answer, they can’t, and will continue to ride their delusional carousel around and around, whooping in faux delight, driving you closer and closer to a prescription for diazepam. They’re presented in a number of different fashions, but my personal bane is the “middle of the road” response, which aims to cover any and all sides of an argument in one fell swoop.
Why This Sucks:
Because you’re manipulating the other person. You’re not trusting the other person to respond in a way that’s comfortable for you. You might be worried that they will be offended or upset by your real opinion of something, or it might be a topic that you feel very strongly about, so you’re not prepared to handle any strong opposition to your stance. Therefore, you’re trying to control their emotions and response by only giving perfectly neutral answers. If you don’t give a definitive answer, they can’t take the opposing side. Additionally, they can’t be angry with you, because you didn’t actually say anything. This is a direct attempt to control the entire conversation, including anything the other person might want to say. “Do you think that there should be stricter regulation on unicorn hunting?” “Maybe. I mean, we should try to preserve the unicorns, but they’re also a really important magical commodity.” …AND? You just stated two sides of the argument. You did not take one, nor did you explain any alternate opinion you might have. You did not answer the question — you squeezed through the sliver of space in the middle to avoid confrontation.
Because you are lying. There’s a reason that lying by omission is considered a crime. Not that you’ll be arrested for being passive aggressive, but that should give you a hint that it really is an issue, and it really is, in fact, lying, contrary to many defenses. By not giving an answer, you’re not giving truthful information. Yes, yes, I know: you’re not giving untruthful information either, but I can’t even describe to you how weak of an argument that is. You are hiding the truth behind a musty, heavy velvet curtain of insecurity and distrust, while expecting the other person to be completely honest about everything they say. If you’re not secure enough in the situation to talk about your own thoughts and handle the situation well if someone disagrees…then what’s the point? What are you even trying to do? Are you just trying to gather information about that person, while concealing everything about yourself from them? What a terrible way to build a solid relationship.
Because you’re already blaming and judging the other person in your head — and we know it. You’re fully prepared for someone to unleash a torrent of brimstone and rage at you for your opinion, when there’s likely no evidence that they’re going to do so. By defending yourself from something that hasn’t happened yet, you’re indirectly, but by default, blaming the other person for what you think they might do. People are not stupid, and can pick up on these cues very well. You’re confused about why your partner is so upset when you’re “just having a conversation?” It’s likely because you’re deploying an unspoken line of defense which stands ready to attack at any flinch or wiggle in the other person’s story. You’re ready to be attacked and have drawn your sword, and in doing so, the other person feels they must follow suit, although they have no idea why they’re being threatened. Even if you have good reason to believe that the other person will attack you for your opinion or belief, it does not excuse being a passive aggressive coward. You need to either speak up and tell them how you’re feeling, or leave. If you’re interested in a more in-depth explanation of this confusing defense-against-the-offense-that-doesn’t-exist business, you can read about a related issue here. If you’re not going to give people the courtesy of honest conversation, then you’re probably not ready to date. If you’ve been hurt in the past by someone who belittled you, or if you’ve had a relationship which left you feeling smaller than you should, it’s understandable to take some time to build yourself back up. What is not understandable or acceptable, is allowing yourself to stay small, and pretending as though other people are going to kick you for it. It’s also important to note that passive aggression is considered to be emotional abuse — it’s not something to take lightly, as it can have crippling effects. Learn to communicate respectfully, and honestly. It’s not that hard.