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Old 02-04-2010, 12:17 AM   #1 (permalink)
I have eaten the slaw
 
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"What are you thinking about?"

Recently I've been asked this question (on more than one occasion) and it got me thinking. It seems it's almost exclusively asked by women of men, and that the sexes have completely different views of it.

Women: Why do you ask this question? How do you hope a man will respond? What kind of responses do you get, and what's your reaction to those responses?

Men: What do you think of this question? How do you respond when asked what you're thinking, and why? Do you ever ask this question?


When I'm asked what I'm thinking, I'm usually not thinking about anything. I'm just relaxing, and the questions comes as an intrusion. I have to fire up the speech recognition brain cells to process the question, then fire up the putting-thoughts-into-words brain cells to respond. The fact that I have to un-relax for something so trivial seriously harshes my mellow. My response is always "nothing." Even when I'm thinking about something, it's either something I don't feel comfortable sharing, something so trivial or complex that it's not worth the effort of translating it into words, or some train of thought that I don't want to interrupt by explaining.
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Old 02-04-2010, 12:23 AM   #2 (permalink)
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... but I'm a man. You know I can't answer this question. It is my job to be the emotional equiv of the eight color box of Crayolas.

...

InBOIL, this is a totally gnarly-awesome thread topic and I'm glad that you posted it. I was going to, but I didn't wanna talk about it. *rimshot*

...

Yeah, the much-dreaded ubiquitous naggy wife question of "What are you thinking about?" always seems to come up when you're gathering wool, cranky about something unrelated to your relationship, or tuned out completely. The answer is almost always "Nuthin'" because of the reasons you mentioned above: conflict avoidance and the annoying necessity of providing context.

As a typical knuckledragger, I only ask this question to my partner when they are visibly distressed (and I notice). Usual signals are tears or crying although I've sometimes gone as far as to put on my detective cap and picked up on things like pacing, fingernail biting and infidelity. The difference is that men seem to use the "What's wrong?" question far more often. Honestly, I don't really want to have to gently interrogate my partner to know what they're thinking about. If they want to share, they'll share... right? I want to know if there is a problem so I can (wait for it) be a man and take action and fix it. Otherwise? Let's just do stuff. It isn't that men don't want to talk... we talk all the time. We just want to talk about stuff other than our thoughts in that context... or the context of "Did I rotate my tires that last oil change or the one before?" and "Whew, her roommate's ass sure is looking good lately."

If women didn't ask the question, relationships would be... god, I can't imagine a world where this question wasn't asked of me at least four times a day. It would be nice to be left alone for those few moments, but at the same time and given the lengthy history of this particular notorious inquiry... I would be uncomfortable if my partner didn't needle me like that once in a while as a way of showing they were thinking about me. Much like the all-important doing of the sex, when the innocent little Facebook-esque status questions stop... something is broken in the relationship. A useful red flag maybe?

Your response is totally on target:
Quote:
Originally Posted by InBOIL, the Destroyer of Slaw
When I'm asked what I'm thinking, I'm usually not thinking about anything. I'm just relaxing, and the questions comes as an intrusion. I have to fire up the speech recognition brain cells to process the question, then fire up the putting-thoughts-into-words brain cells to respond. The fact that I have to un-relax for something so trivial seriously harshes my mellow. My response is always "nothing." Even when I'm thinking about something, it's either something I don't feel comfortable sharing, something so trivial or complex that it's not worth the effort of translating it into words, or some train of thought that I don't want to interrupt by explaining.
Harshes my mellow. Oh, indeed. And that's totally it. I think men are impatient in conversation because our conversational toolbox is different: more hammers than paintbrushes. Men are more mission-oriented in their conversations, women are all about those damned thoughts and feelings.

...

Note 1: I notice that I use the "Nuthin'" response quite often to respond to the "What are you doing?" question as well.

Note 2: Place your bets on how many times "nag" or "nagging" will appear in this thread. I'm expecting at least a dozen hits.

Note 3: I wonder how this thread will be viewed... as an innocent inquiry that women make or more toward the there's-a-relationship-problem side.

Note 4: I'm sure the stage of the relationship between the man and women involved plays a part in this question and its perceived nag-itude.
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Last edited by Plan9; 02-04-2010 at 01:00 AM..
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Old 02-04-2010, 02:05 AM   #3 (permalink)
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*shrug* I don't ask this as much as I used to, because frankly, I got too many answers that I'd rather not have heard.

Still...I do ask. Because I'm honestly curious. If it's something silly or trivial, that can lead to fun discussions. If it's deeper than that...um, deeper conversations, obviously. If I get a "nothing" or "I don't know," I'll usually just let it drop.

I dated a guy who asked me all the time what I was thinking. I was okay with that most of the time, but he couldn't accept that there were things I didn't want to talk about...or things I wanted to mull over myself for a bit before discussing. If that was the case, I'd better damn well make something up, or there'd be arguing and pouting. I even started coming up with answers beforehand so I wouldn't go completely blank when he asked. (obviously not the healthiest of relationships.)

Really, there isn't any ulterior motive. If I'm dating someone, that means I'm interested in them, and therefore, interested in what they think about the world in general, too. Crazy, huh?
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Old 02-04-2010, 03:40 AM   #4 (permalink)
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When my wife and I were first dating we would ask each other this question quite a bit. Usually while naked.

I can't remember the last time we asked each other this question. In fact, the last time it was more likely to be my wife asking me the question with a load of exasperation...

The answer to the question asked like that is: Clearly I wasn't thinking.
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Old 02-04-2010, 04:19 AM   #5 (permalink)
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I get asked this question all the time by thirdsun. Maybe it is people who daydream a lot who get asked it...I tend to drift off into thought now and again. It never occurred to me to get put out by it.
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Old 02-04-2010, 04:44 AM   #6 (permalink)
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It's a question that doesn't get answered in any thorough way. Our thoughts are not simply transformed into speech - especially upon request. So why ask it? I don't.
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Old 02-04-2010, 04:55 AM   #7 (permalink)
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worst. question. ever.

Well, depending on the situation, I suppose. Asked randomly, it will typically yield either "Nuthin'" or wild results. If there is an activity otherwise engaged, it might be different--like, say, you're out shopping for televisions.

I'm under the assumption this question gets asked randomly more often than not. Every time I've been asked it, it was by a female and it was random: my answer every time was "nuthin'." I admit it wasn't true, but what do you respond with? The mind thinks at a speed much greater than speech, and the mind can multitask. There is the conscious mind constantly delving into the subconscious mind, and then you have the rapidity at which our thoughts come and go.

It's funny though. Despite often thinking important things, much of the time is spent in random thought---thoughts so random and mundane it wouldn't be conversation-worthy. If you want to get someone to talk, ask directed questions. Try, "What do you think about....[subject, issue, event]?" Is it that difficult?
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Old 02-04-2010, 04:56 AM   #8 (permalink)
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What get's me is when someone says...

"Can I ask you a question?"

...and I'm thinkin' ....um, you just did

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Old 02-04-2010, 12:40 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Yeah, I ask this question, either of men or women, because I refuse to play the "mind-reading" game, which is probably the most insulting of all human games.

I don't presume to read another person's mind and when I truly care about that person, I enjoy listening to them talk and express what they are thinking about. It's another way of saying, "I care about you and I want to know what's on your mind."

Inflection and tone of voice are also important when asking this question.

With MM, I often times ask it in a very playful tone, or in a tone dripping with sexual innuendo. It then becomes a signal or prelude to foreplay and/or sex talk.

So there. I don't think it's a dumb question at all. I think what is inane to presume what somewhat else is thinking.

Peace
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Old 02-04-2010, 12:53 PM   #10 (permalink)
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- OR -

Geezeus K. Reist!

It's the friggin' conversational equiv of Tweeting. If you don't have something to say, don't talk. If you have something to say, say it... we're not Ms. Cleo.
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Old 02-04-2010, 01:00 PM   #11 (permalink)
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sex.

And I NEVER ask what someone else is thinking without framing it like "What do you think about ..." you see, my mind is so dank and rotten and such a mind can only assume all other minds are like it. I fear the answer.

EDIT:
Quote:
Originally Posted by Plan9 View Post
- OR -

Geezeus K. Reist!

It's the friggin' conversational equiv of Tweeting. If you don't have something to say, don't talk. If you have something to say, say it... we're not Ms. Cleo.
I completely agree. Nowadays no one is comfortable with silence. Silence makes people awkward. I personally in the company of others prefer to be silent and just enjoy what is happening around me either a movie concert or watch people walk out the window.

Silence is good for you sometimes. If you have nothing to say, don't say it.

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Old 02-04-2010, 01:12 PM   #12 (permalink)
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I'm admittedly guilty of asking "What's wrong", because I too don't like attempting the twenty-question guessing game to determine the reason for an aberration in one's moods. As for "what are you thinking," I've always had an unique ability to select appropriate vocabulary very quickly. I generally answer this question very literally, and in very particular detail. I think it ends up teaching people that they don't ask unless they want to hear a rather verbose recounting of my previous minute or so worth of thought.

It is, quite often, random meanderings about something I've just heard or thought about, so often my response is something like "I was just thinking about how amazing Bernoulli's principle is, and that we take it for granted when we're flying through the air that if it weren't true, we'd immediately crash into the ground."
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Old 02-04-2010, 03:32 PM   #13 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ARTelevision View Post
It's a question that doesn't get answered in any thorough way. Our thoughts are not simply transformed into speech - especially upon request. So why ask it? I don't.
Indeed. At any given moment, my mind is blank, devoid of thought. Give me a query though, and then I'll start my mental engine.

But to ask me what I'm thinking about as a greeting, or when I'm relaxing, doing nothing, honestly, what does ones expect me give as a reply?
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Old 02-04-2010, 04:23 PM   #14 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CinnamonGirl View Post
Really, there isn't any ulterior motive. If I'm dating someone, that means I'm interested in them, and therefore, interested in what they think about the world in general, too. Crazy, huh?
Ulterior motive, huh? I guess my first question wasn't worded quite right. Perhaps it should have been "What provokes you to ask this question at a particular time?"
Quote:
Originally Posted by Baraka_Guru View Post
I'm under the assumption this question gets asked randomly more often than not. Every time I've been asked it, it was by a female and it was random: my answer every time was "nuthin'."
That's part of the confusion I get with this question; it seems to have an uncanny ability to show up at a bad time. It makes sense to be asked what you're thinking while staring at a wall of home theater options, thoughtfully stroking your chin. But just lying in bed at the end of a long day, blankly staring at nothing in particular, seems to pique most women's curiosity. Is there some look on a man's face that motivates the questioning? Does a man happen to be relaxing the mind at times and in situations that heighten a woman's curiosity? (I know I'm generalizing men and women here, maybe there's some other characteristic that more accurately distinguishes the askers from the askees.)
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Old 02-04-2010, 04:29 PM   #15 (permalink)
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That it is quite fitting that it is raining on Thor's day.

Thor, the Norse god of thunder. In Anglo-Saxon, thunresdæg, or day of thunder. Old English, thursdæg.
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Old 02-04-2010, 04:32 PM   #16 (permalink)
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I'm not sure of two things:
1) why this is such a big deal
2) why its being touted as this thing that 'women do'
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Old 02-04-2010, 04:45 PM   #17 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mixedmedia View Post
I'm not sure of two things:
1) why this is such a big deal
2) why its being touted as this thing that 'women do'
1) I'm not sure where you are getting that this is a big deal; perhaps to some, in that their answers to the original query is more elaborate than others, and more animated, but I don't see this phantom big deal about this particular topic. Merely, I see it as as a curious quirk of indiosyncrasies for those that would employ it (whatca doing?), and the differing reactions of those that are subject to it as well (nuthin'-ranging-to-something-outlandlishy-complex).

2) Also, this is another thing that I'm not seeing. A total of two members' responses three responses (missed B_G's post) address the 'womanly angle' at all, and if I were allowed the opportunity to wager, I'd assume 1 1/2 of those responses were fueled in response to the manner in which the OP outlined his query and the general bias it includes to assume that a majority of women follow this rule.
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Old 02-04-2010, 04:50 PM   #18 (permalink)
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Quote:
And I NEVER ask what someone else is thinking without framing it like "What do you think about ..." you see, my mind is so dank and rotten and such a mind can only assume all other minds are like it. I fear the answer.
This is much better than what i was thinking, "how many ways could I violate Sonya Kitchell"?

although I do enjoy thinking about it.
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Old 02-04-2010, 04:51 PM   #19 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mixedmedia View Post
I'm not sure of two things:
1) why this is such a big deal
2) why its being touted as this thing that 'women do'
1) It interrupts either my relaxation or my train of thought. It's a bit like someone waking you up to ask what you're dreaming about.
2) I can't recall being asked by a man, unless in a situation similar to what Baraka describes (shopping for a T.V.) It would never occur to me to randomly ask someone else what they're thinking; the mind is a private place, and if they want to share their thoughts, they will. Perhaps my personal experience is more gender-segregated than average.
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Old 02-04-2010, 05:00 PM   #20 (permalink)
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Old 02-04-2010, 05:04 PM   #21 (permalink)
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I recall a news article within the last year regarding this very subject. Scientists, or psychologists, with some money to spare decided to answer this question. Add some MRI's, some willing lab rats, and ta da!, men actually do not think when when not engaged in thinking. So when you're not using your brain...you're thinking about 'nuthin'.
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Old 02-04-2010, 06:41 PM   #22 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jetée View Post
1) I'm not sure where you are getting that this is a big deal; perhaps to some, in that their answers to the original query is more elaborate than others, and more animated, but I don't see this phantom big deal about this particular topic. Merely, I see it as as a curious quirk of indiosyncrasies for those that would employ it (whatca doing?), and the differing reactions of those that are subject to it as well (nuthin'-ranging-to-something-outlandlishy-complex).

2) Also, this is another thing that I'm not seeing. A total of two members' responses three responses (missed B_G's post) address the 'womanly angle' at all, and if I were allowed the opportunity to wager, I'd assume 1 1/2 of those responses were fueled in response to the manner in which the OP outlined his query and the general bias it includes to assume that a majority of women follow this rule.
1) I'm not implying that the subject is being purported as a major source of strife. Only wondering why it bothers some people so much that people might ask them what they're thinking.

2) Yes, the OP was framed that way and the OP continued to frame it that way although he went on further to moderate his statements a little.

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Old 02-04-2010, 07:00 PM   #23 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mixedmedia View Post
1) I'm not implying that the subject is being purported as a major source of strife. Only wondering why it bothers some people so much that people might ask them what they're thinking.

2) Yes, the OP was framed that way and the OP continued to frame it that way although he went on further to moderate his statements a little.

Yes. Indeed. That is my exact state of mind right now.




-- (It hurts sometimes to think about the timeframe in a day I spend blankspaced, so I don't think about it anymore. Makes me more delightful.)
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Old 02-05-2010, 01:59 AM   #24 (permalink)
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I think that usually, this is a a question more women will ask than men. I don't see it as stereotyping but rather as a question that women often ask because there are a few differences in thought process between the genders. At least, in my experience, it does seem to be that way.

For a laugh, I have to share this comedy skit with you. You may find it annoying but I know I couldn't help but laugh:



I'll come back and answer the OP in relation to myself later.
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Our hearts are incommunicable still.
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Old 02-05-2010, 02:13 AM   #25 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mixedmedia View Post
I get asked this question all the time by thirdsun. Maybe it is people who daydream a lot who get asked it...I tend to drift off into thought now and again. It never occurred to me to get put out by it.
Same. Wife asks me when we're driving somewhere and I'm in the zone (driving) or zoned out (passenger). It's never a bad thing. We start lots of conversations that way. I don't typically ask, but I have a few times. Sometimes for me my brain is literally in random mode and even the thoughts are not coherent enough to put into words. That's when I have to say nothing. It really is nothing, or perhaps everything at once. Sometimes I'm trained on one thing, and then I have more to discuss. If asked, I usually reciprocate.
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Old 02-05-2010, 06:37 AM   #26 (permalink)
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My wife used to ask me. At first, I would say "nothing", because I wasn't really concentrating on wherever my mind had drifted off to. But then, I started to answer, along with the chain of random thoughts that had led me to that spot in my mind. I think that frightened her off, she hasn't asked for a long time.
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Old 02-05-2010, 07:30 AM   #27 (permalink)
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Kind of along the lines Cinn and MM suggested, I tend to be very introspective, and spend a lot of time day-dreaming or thinking about very odd topics. Often, I have views and thoughts that are just being formulated, and aren't yet "ripe" for discussion. My day-dreams are generally for my own consumption and not really intended to be shared (you wouldn't believe the number of times I've saved humanity from destruction!!!). Because of that, the question often does qualify as intrusive, albeit entirely innocently so. When that happens, I reply "nothing" instead of the more belligerent "that comes under the heading of my personal affairs" (or something to that effect).

I realise that often it's less a desire to have me share exactly what I'm thinking about at that moment (do you really want to know that I'm doing square roots of random numbers as I drive?), but that it's more an invitation to start a conversation. Knowing that, I often have a fall-back topic of conversation that I can offer as a plausible train of thought.

And yes, in my experience, it's asked by women over 90% of the time (other than in foreplay/post-coital situations). Men can spend so much more time in friendly silence without concern that it's rare to hear it from another guy.
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Old 02-05-2010, 08:40 AM   #28 (permalink)
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Ugh, I think if I asked my boyfriend "what are you thinking?" he would laugh at me and ask me when I turned into "every other woman on earth."

If you're not communicating, a "what are you thinking" (which sounds like a really dumb open-ended question to me) isn't going to help.

And, if one is uncomfortable with silences and the other knows silences are to be expected, you have a lot more to worry about than if the other person is thinking about a bacon cheeseburger or if they're obsessing over their undying passionate all-consuming love for you. (Which, it isn't healthy to have that kind of obsession nor is it healthy to NEED that kind of obsession.)

But I'm not normal.
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Old 02-05-2010, 09:18 AM   #29 (permalink)
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I think that frightened her off, she hasn't asked for a long time.
Yessir, this is going in my tactical toolbox.
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Old 02-05-2010, 09:26 AM   #30 (permalink)
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after I got married, I just started answering a question (like this) with a question.

it seems to work well.
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Old 02-05-2010, 09:29 AM   #31 (permalink)
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after I got married, I just started answering a question (like this) with a question.

it seems to work well.
Such as?

Gucci's Harem:

- "What are you thinking about?"

...

Gucci Responses:

- "How do you feel about screwing in the kitchen right now?"

- "Do you think I should get my appendix removed? It doesn't hurt, but it's just so useless."

- "Do these pants make my ass look fat?"
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Old 02-05-2010, 09:50 AM   #32 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by guccilvr View Post
after I got married, I just started answering a question (like this) with a question.

it seems to work well.
"What should I be thinking?"
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Old 02-05-2010, 09:56 AM   #33 (permalink)
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I don't bother with this question. My guy is the strong and silent type, generally speaking, and I don't mind being silent. Sometimes I will say, "Penny for your thoughts," and he's perfectly free to say, "Nothing", though usually he comes up with something patently ridiculous that makes me laugh my ass off. But usually, comfortable silence is fine.
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Old 02-05-2010, 10:08 AM   #34 (permalink)
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You don't say "What are you thinking about?" but you do say "Penny for your thoughts?" I'd say that's exactly the same thing.

When someone says "What are you thinking?" I hear one of three things:

1) "Hey did you know that if you want to communicate with another person, you can transmit your thoughts via sound waves in a method called 'talking'? I wasn't sure if you knew this or not, so I thought I'd remind you."

2) "I wish to start a discussion with you, but (at the moment, at least) bring nothing to the conversational table. Could you pretend you were thinking about a topic of mutual interest that will entertain me?"

3) "Based on current circumstances, past actions, or whatever conversation we were having before this pause, you should be thinking something specific, and I am checking to see if you are. Please use dark marks to bubble in the correct answer with a number two pencil."
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Last edited by telekinetic; 02-05-2010 at 10:11 AM..
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Old 02-05-2010, 10:09 AM   #35 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by telekinetic View Post
You don't say "What are you thinking about?" but you do say "Penny for your thoughts?" I'd say that's exactly the same thing.
I should have said that it's a pretty rare thing. To be honest, I've gotten used to comfortable silence. I would say he asks what I'm thinking more often than the reverse.
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Old 02-05-2010, 10:23 AM   #36 (permalink)
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I always seem to get asked, "what were you thinking?"
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Old 02-05-2010, 01:35 PM   #37 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by telekinetic View Post
... 2) "I wish to start a discussion with you, but (at the moment, at least) bring nothing to the conversational table. Could you pretend you were thinking about a topic of mutual interest that will entertain me?" ...
This.. this is why I love just being quiet.
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