resolving miscommunication: “nothing” girl edition

yesterday this happened in the comments from one my of female readers:

When I say “nothing,” it means I don’t want to talk about it. Plan and simple. Maybe I’ll want to talk about it later. Maybe it’ll still bug me while I’m not talking about it. But “nothing” means that, for whatever reason, I’m not ready to talk about it right now–or that I know it’s just going to blow over in a few hours and I won’t care anymore.

that is straight up honest and i understand the intent behind it.  lord knows, we’ve all been there.  and by we, i mean i gold medaled in the delivery of “nothing”.  however ladies, if you want to drive your man Silence of the Lambs crazy, then say “nothing” when he asks you what is wrong.

he knows something is wrong, you know something is wrong, everybody within a quarter-mile radius knows something is wrong.  with guys, “nothing” is usually nothing.  with girls, “nothing” is almost always something.

withholding communication has no place in a healthy relationship.  even though your “nothing” means “leave me be for a while” to you, it’s actually a passive aggressive tactic that is completely unnecessary.  it will cause frustration for your man every time.

every.  time.

if you are okay with that, then you need to look a little deeper at why you feel the need to make a power play like that.  because that’s what you’re doing.

saying, “i really can’t talk about it yet” or “give me some time to chill out” is more effective and easier on the relationship.  just make sure you let him know that it doesn’t have anything to do with him.  trust me, guys are more than willing to back off when they think an emotional outburst might be in their immediate future.  but it’s just cruel to leave them hanging with a “nothing”.

if it is a problem you have with him specifically, you are going to have to tell him.  maybe not right that second, but within the hour.  you can use the same phrases from above, but you need to set a timer on your down time.  do not, do not, do not, do not let it go on indefinitely.

a guy would rather be punched in the face with unreasonable, than be left twisting in the wind while you won’t talk to him.  if it’s a legit gripe, he’ll respond…and being freaking relieved he can apologize and make it right.

moral of the blog, when asked, “what’s wrong?”, don’t ever use the word “nothing”.  it’s a lie and it really is passive aggressive whether you mean for it to be or not.

guys, if she will talk but starts devolving into a pile of emotional rabies, do not panic.  read these two past posts for advice on how to handle that:

it starts early

don’t be mr. fixit

ladies, have mercy.  guys have a hard enough time figuring out what you are trying to communicate to them without you lying and refusing to speak to them.  again, have mercy.

guys, how do you feel and what are you thinking when you know something is wrong and she throws out a “nothing”?

ladies, what are some other alternatives you think you could use instead of “nothing”?

what size shoe do you wear?


30 comments on “resolving miscommunication: “nothing” girl edition

  1. visitingmissouri says:

    This is very true. Hearing nothing’s wrong, makes me want to get the tension away. I can handle ‘not now’ (as long as she brings it up, every now and then, even just to let me know she’s still thinking about it), but I’ll turn a nothing into crying. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not that big a douche, but I’ll suggest taking a walk, grabbing a bite or whatever makes her say, ‘Why would you even suggest that? Don’t you know…’ And there we go. Let her get it out. I’m not proud of it, but that ‘nothing’ has to get out of the way as soon as possible. Just an illustration of how right I think you are.

    • you’ve found a way around it, i won’t fault you for that.

    • Bethany says:

      That assumes that there is definitely going to be some big emotional blow-up. Sometimes people just need time to think. Why is it that women are always told to not make men talk about their feelings, but a woman isn’t allowed the same consideration?

  2. “a guy would rather be punched in the face with unreasonable, than be left twisting in the wind while you won’t talk to him.”

    Love that line. It’s so true. I think it often gets overlooked that not knowing what is wrong actually does bother dudes as well. We don’t really shrug things off as much as we appear to.

    But don’t tell anyone I said that.

  3. This is solid advice and actually something I have started doing instead of saying “nothing”. That is what I would say and, you’re right, everyone within a quarter mile radius knew it wasn’t accurate but I just did not want to talk about it right in that moment. And I know by admitting there WAS something, I would not be left alone until I spoke up. But I really just didn’t want to talk about it; not for a power play but because it’s something I felt was insignificant or my issue and not theirs. However, now, I do say, I’ll talk about it later. Though, the timer you mention is probably a good plan because I get asked about every 15 minutes, “ready to talk about it?” ha.

  4. El Guapo says:

    I have no problem when my wife says Nothing.
    I can usually see how serious the problem is by her expression.

    Either way, when she says that, I give her a kiss and a squeeze, tell her I love her, and find a way to occupy myself. Every so often, I’ll pass her and give her a caress or another kiss.

    Eventually, she comes out of it, or talks about it. Either way, I just let her know I’m there if she needs me.
    It’s a routine developed after several instances of each of us being frustrated with Nothing answers.

    • see, this is good. there’s understanding and no jumping to conclusions. if that works for you, awesome. and the showing affection periodically while she’s working through it is great advice for other guys.

  5. But some days it’s important to make him “Silence of the Lambs” crazy. Some couples bond over “Twister.” We prefer mind games. At least, I do.

  6. Aaron Reddin says:

    “a guy would rather be punched in the face with unreasonable, than be left twisting in the wind while you won’t talk to him.”

    I’d like to take a moment to correct you on this one. We would actually rather have our balls stapled to the floor. That’s all I got.

  7. Jenn says:

    Again you’re brilliant and so right! You need to get that on a t-shirt or something. As for my shoe size, 8-ish, depends, I’ve gone up to a 8 1/2 in a pair of stilettos because there was no 8 to be had in the city…

  8. My takeaway revelation of the day “…with guys ‘nothing’ is usually nothing. with girls ‘nothing’ is almost always something.” I’ve got nothing but respect for that insight….

  9. G Fresh says:

    Here’s a caveat to maybe add to both today’s and yesterday’s posts; when you ask the “what’s wrong/what’s bothering you?” question, don’t do it in a public place. If I’m having a bad day, people can usually tell, but if a friend of mine asks me what’s wrong and there are a dozen people around, I’m gonna say, “Nothing.” every time because I don’t really feel like airing my dirty laundry out within earshot of a bunch of people that don’t need to know.

    I don’t think I would do very well on a reality show. 😀

    • visitingmissouri says:

      I’ve got a friend that will call me out on anything. If I’m having a bad day, he’ll even get second opinions from other people around us. You would like him. I usually feel a lot better after humiliating him in front of the same people.

  10. jessi says:

    I’m quickly learning that if I’m processing something (work, conflict with a friend or family member, that $600 medical bill I thought was taken care of by insurance) and don’t want to talk about it, to do him the courtesy of specifying “it’s not about you or us.” It’s a lot easier for him to be sympathetic while letting me be silent if he knows he’s not on the hook for anything.

  11. I’m not too good at dealing with “nothing” as a response. If you answer “what’s wrong?” with “nothing”, you’ll typically get one of three possible responses from me:

    1/. I sulk or turn passive/aggressive myself. This then becomes my own version of the female “nothing”, and will be described as such. This is a tit-for-tat retaliation mode. Not helpful, I know, but I am emotional and moody like that, and there is a certain shameful joy in being able to turn around and say, “SEE?! How do YOU &%#$ like it?!” Like I say, not helpful or healthy, but it is there. Related to this, I may also say directly, “Well, if nothing’s wrong, then I’ll carry on like normal, shall I?!”

    2/. I panic inside, which leads to resentment, which leads to distrust and all kinds of bad stuff. If anything, option 1 is preferable to option 2, because at least with option 1 you’ll get (eventually) an indication that I am Not Happy. Option 2 just sets the timebomb ticking.

    3/. What I usually go for these days: a straightforward and unemotional statement of the fact that, “I don’t believe you.” Probably not ideal, but it’s all I’ve got. I don’t have the processing power to handle a situation where someone is obviously being evasive (and the other two options show you how badly I can deal with that). It’s just too dangerous to leave the question unanswered, so I pretty much don’t feel able to drop it. Any answer, no matter how brief or incomplete, will do just to stave off the negative reactions until we can talk about it properly.

    Incidentally, “I really can’t talk about it yet” or “give me some time to chill out” would not be helpful to me either: if anything, they up the ante for me. Because now I process that as “something REALLY REALLY BIG is wrong, and I don’t have a clue as to what it is”. Annoyingly, this is something I can see from both sides almost, because I’ve used those words myself. Thing is, when I use them, it means both, “I can’t talk about it yet” and “something REALLY REALLY BIG is wrong.” It generally also means “you’re not at fault here” (because if something that big was wrong, and it was your fault, then the only thing you’d get from me is “go away and leave me alone! Forever!” (I probably wouldn’t mean that last word, except that in that moment and that emotional state I probably would mean it). But I don’t trust anyone else to make that distinction with their communication to me, meaning that when I hear “I can’t talk about it yet” or “give me some time/space”, I end up in all-out panic mode (option 2 above – which as discussed is not helpful on any level for a relationship). I kind of have sympathy for the other person when I have to use those words, but I still have to use them. But even being aware of that, I can’t deal with it at all well when I hear them, I just go emotional.

    So the best thing with me is either, “It’s just something with [X], can I tell you about it later?” or “I need to process it for a while”. “Process” is a much safer word because it says that whatever it is, is coming under some kind of control, and that there’s going to be a resolution to the crisis. “Chill out” doesn’t have that effect for me, because I hear, “brush it under the carpet, until it’s time to blame you for something in a future argument” (which is a tactic that NEVER goes down well with me).

    Incidentally, the two links for “what to do if she does want to talk”, are my automatic response to emotion in others. I do a LOT better with people who talk about it than people who tell me to wait.

  12. Chris says:

    If I get the “nothing” answer, and I know it’s something, it often turns into a slightly playful “tell me your secret!” fest. I might even get a smile in return. But if “nothing” was intended to get some distance and space, it probably won’t happen with me. 🙂 You actually have to say you want space.

  13. “Nothing” always means something with my wife, so I just harass her until she tells me. 🙂

    Of course, by that point, she’s REALLY pissed about me annoying her…

    And 11.

  14. Mandie Marie says:


    I’m reposting the crap out of this one.

  15. reneamac says:

    “When I say “nothing,” it means I don’t want to talk about it. Plan and simple.”

    Guys do this too, and not just when asked “What’s wrong?” in public, though that is excellent advice when dealing with anyone who tends to be more of a private person.

    Perhaps guys do it for different reasons, like wanting to protect us from their problems. I’ve definitely been on the receiving end of a well-intentioned, I’m-trying-to-protect-you “Nothing”, and let me just say, it only has the opposite effect: I’m left standing alone out from under the protection of his closeness.

    At any rate, I’m not trying to say us girls don’t need to stop this foolishness; we both do.

  16. Bethany says:

    Whoa, whoa, whoa. I didn’t say anything about pouting or holding a bitter silence over people while “nothing” is going on. Generally, I’ll continue to hold conversations about other things, work on other projects, etc. That something has upset me isn’t crippling. Like I said, I generally won’t even care about the upsetting thing in an hour or so because it’s not a big deal. Why make it into one? In most cases, if I’m allowed to shove it aside and move on, it will cease to matter in every way. A guy would be excused in doing this, so why not me? Because a man can’t figure out the social cues that go with “Let’s not talk about it right now”? I don’t buy it. Men aren’t idiots.

    The problem is, you assume that a “nothing” means there’s an impending emotional explosion coming, or that a grudge will be forged for all eternity. If that’s the case for you, then, by all means, talk. Please.

    Also, what on earth is a woman supposed to say when there really is nothing wrong? Sometimes we’re just deep in thought.

    • Bethany says:

      Please note that this is kind of in response to the original post and kind of in response to the comments above. I realize that you, Sharideth, did tell the guy I was responding to that men shouldn’t just keep things to themselves either.

    • Sorry, but

      Because a man can’t figure out the social cues that go with “Let’s not talk about it right now”? I don’t buy it. Men aren’t idiots.

      sounds a lot like, “Why can’t men just read my mind?” Or, for that matter, “why can’t women read my mind?” (for any genders doing the asking).

      You say that you carry on with other things (“hold conversations about other things, work on other projects, etc.”) while “nothing” is going on, and that’s fine, but if a guy is aware that “nothing” is going on then it is still a form of “holding a bitter silence over” him, because he knows something is up, and knows that for some reason you are being silent on that topic. In the previous post, Sharideth talked about how when a man says he’s thinking about “nothing”, women tend to think the worst. Men are really not that different. When not given something to hang their thoughts on, both men and women have the imaginative capacity to spin a story that blows something out of all proportion, and the tendency to do just that.

      The thing is, from where I am, the “nothing” that blows over and is gone forever in an hour or two looks a LOT like the “nothing” that means there’s a big disaster or grudge on the way. While visual and vocal communication are more important than verbal, the signals that go with a “nothing” are very often hard to interpret. Possibly because the purpose of saying “nothing” is nearly always “leave it/me alone” whether the reason is “I’ll get over it soon anyway” or “I’m too angry to talk about it now”. And possibly because the visual and vocal communication that preceded the “nothing” are at odds with the communication of “nothing”, and that is why they asked what’s wrong in the first place! So the “social cues” generally aren’t as clear as you imagine them to be, I suspect.

      Oh, and if you are “just deep in thought” – that’s what you say. Simples!

  17. […] Resolving Miscommunication: “Nothing” Girl Edition by Sharideth Smith. Ladies, don’t say nothing when you don’t mean it. And let’s face it, we rarely mean it when we say nothing. Just say what is on your mind! […]

  18. Welllll said.

    6.5 – I have carnie feet.

  19. Will says:

    I’ve had the “NOTHING” way to often. Many times for little or no reason. So now when she wants to talk (maybe days or weeks later) I’ll have no damn clue as to what has festered into a mountain from what was more than likely a little bump. So my response is, “you told be nothing was bothering you then, how can it be bothering you now?”

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