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Let's say I have an important decision to make and I can't decide between two competing things (like break up with a girl or not break up with her). What would be a word/idiom to express that?

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You've got a lot of nice suggestions here. I think it is important to note that some of them have very different connotations. For example, vacillating and waffling imply that you keep flipping back and forth between the choices; quandary and dilemma imply that the choice is extremely difficult (and usually all available options are painful or costly); ambivalence means having both positive and negative feelings about a single person or thing (rather than having difficulty deciding between two competing options). –  John Y Jul 12 '11 at 22:08
    
I believe his decision, and the fact he said that he couldn't decide, inherently makes it an extremely difficult decision for him. I agree with your comments about the other choices, but I still believe his position as he described it falls nicely under the term quandary. –  Rachel Jul 13 '11 at 2:04

14 Answers 14

up vote 32 down vote accepted

Here are several choices: on the fence, indecisive, vacillating. I would use each one a little differently in a sentence.

I am still on the fence about breaking up with her.

or

I am indecisive about breaking up with her.

or

I am vacillating between breaking up or staying with her.

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I think "undecided" would fit better in the second instance, since it's a specific case. I'd use "indecisive" to describe someone who is unable to decide on things in general, not just about one particular thing. –  Bill the Lizard Jul 13 '11 at 3:07
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Maybe you could vacillate her while you decide. –  Matt Joiner Jul 13 '11 at 15:30
    
I don't like indecisive at all. –  FumbleFingers Jul 13 '11 at 20:50

What about this?

I am torn between breaking up or staying with her.

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+1 that's what I would say. –  Andrew Lambert Jul 13 '11 at 2:03

In this case, you can say one of the following.

I am undecided about breaking up with her.

I am in two minds about breaking up with her. (BrE)

I am of two minds about breaking up with her. (AmE)

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Would your second example be "I am of two minds..."? –  simchona Jul 12 '11 at 19:31
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You get +1 for 'undecided', it's actually quite amusing that none else suggested it :-) Plain words are normally the best -- pick the Attic over the Asiatic. This is especially true concerning recommendations to non-native speakers (not sure if the includes the OP). –  jaybee Jul 12 '11 at 22:27

You have a dilemma, and you might even be on the horns of a dilemma if you want to be a little more fancy about it.

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+1 for the horns of a dilemma. –  jimreed Jul 12 '11 at 19:45
    
@alexg Just curious, how do you decide if "horns" is approperiate? Is it arbitary? Like e.g. is "spikes" less approperiate than "horns"? Or is this a fixed phrase? –  Jake Jul 13 '11 at 8:58
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It has to be horns. The phrase can be traced to medieval Latin argumentum cornutum or syllogismus cornutus, where the image is that the problem is like a charging bull where you can avoid one horn only to be gored by the other. –  alexg Jul 13 '11 at 12:21

I would say that you are conflicted.

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I would say that you have a "quandary" on your hands - which means a difficult situation!

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If the reason for lack of a final decision is that you keep switching between the two choices, you can say you're ambivalent.

If you aren't managing to endorse one decision or the other even briefly, you're undecided - or maybe you could say the matter is still in abeyance (because you're not dealing with it).

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Ambivalence can apply in this situation (he could be feeling ambivalent toward his girlfriend, if he's not sure whether to break up with her), but I would not say it means switching back and forth. –  John Y Jul 12 '11 at 22:14
    
@John Y: Well the origin is Latin ambo:both + valentia:strength. Leading to the standard meaning of being [unstably] caught between conflicting urges of equal force. If you understand the word differently I can't do much about that. To feel ambivalent towards someone is a colloquialism meaning you can't decide if you're positively or negatively disposed toward them. Because you have both reactions equally strongly, and keep switching between them. –  FumbleFingers Jul 13 '11 at 0:23
    
The primary implication of ambivalence is the two conflicting feelings, not whether you flip between them. Merriam-Webster, American Heritage, Wikipedia, and my own experience indicate that these opposing feelings are simultaneous, though M-W does give as its second definition (2a) "continual fluctuation". You keep using the phrase "standard meaning" as if there is some ultimate authority, but you never give any citations. –  John Y Jul 13 '11 at 4:19
    
@John Y: I think we've reached the limits of my ability to discern fine conceptual/cognitive distinctions. I don't know any other way to have conflicting feelings, without "flipping between them". I only have one conciousness, and at any given instant it would either be in one of the conflicting states, or thinking of something else, and thus not aware of either. I wrote [unstably] indicating that aspect might or might not apply. You agree M-W gives 'fluctuation' as a connotation, but your first comment ruled against "switching back and forth". Which is all I'm defending. –  FumbleFingers Jul 13 '11 at 15:41
    
But your answer says ambivalence is flipping between two choices. Let me make it simple for you: Someone can truthfully answer "yes" to both the following questions: Do you love your mother? and Do you hate your mother? This is ambivalence toward the mother. If someone says I'll have the chocolate ice cream, quickly followed by No, wait, I'll have the vanilla instead, possibly followed then by No, sorry, give me the chocolate; for real this time: That is waffling or vacillation between chocolate and vanilla. –  John Y Jul 13 '11 at 21:27

You can also be "at sixes and sevens." (Slightly BE)

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+1 just to keep the phrase alive! –  Matt Эллен Jul 12 '11 at 20:56
    
Isn't this actually an example of Cockney Rhyming Slang? –  T.E.D. Jul 14 '11 at 16:56

Trying not to repeat other answers:

You may be waffling (if you find yourself deciding and then changing your mind), or you may be wrestling with a {decision, dilemma, quandry}.

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I've never come across that usage of waffle before. And after a quick search, the only place I find it on the internet is this Wiktionary entry which also gives the unusual meaning wave/waft [a hand]. Do you really use it for vacilating? It's not a widespread usage, I feel. –  FumbleFingers Jul 12 '11 at 23:35
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"Waffling" is extremely common in US political analysis. Politicians waffle between positions. It's highly uncommon in general parlance for everyday situations, e.g., "Forced to choose between scrambled eggs and waffles, he waffled." You just don't see that. –  The Raven Jul 12 '11 at 23:41
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Waffling has a entirely different meaning. Politicians waffle, but to do so means to speak without coming to the point. –  jaybee Jul 12 '11 at 23:49
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I can see how the standard meaning of refuse to be clear about intentions could morph into be unable to decide one's intentions. I just didn't realise it had already done so. Now we can assume waffling politicians are just being honest when they won't say what they think - it's because they don't actually know what they think in the first place! –  FumbleFingers Jul 13 '11 at 0:32
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@FumbleFingers: From Merriam-Webster: intransitive verb 1 : equivocate, vacillate <waffled on the important issues>; also : yo-yo, flip-flop –  John Y Jul 13 '11 at 4:12

My favorite word for this is dithering.

This implies a person is going back and forth between two or more possible decisions, but can never settle on one. A person who is described this way is by implication a rather flighty individual.

This is similar to Monica Cellio's waffling. The main difference is that someone who is waffling is by implication a really bad leader. In other words, both words are a bit pejorative, but you are better off to use dithering for someone whose indecision primarily affects themselves, and waffling for someone whose indecision primarily affects others.

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+1 for dithering. –  Monica Cellio Jul 13 '11 at 14:01

Depending on the potential modes of revenge of said girlfriend, you could be caught between Scylla and Charybdis or trying to decide between two equally unattractive options that will result in death.

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I like the Greek mythology, and that you mention death as a consequence. Break up with the girlfriend and die shortly thereafter in a bloodbath? Or stay with her and die a slow, lingering death? ;) –  John Y Jul 13 '11 at 21:46

Stymied.

"Dude, what's wrong with you? Decide!"

"Can't. Stymied."

You are then left alone, to be stymied is to be uncomfortably unable to decide.

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That's not what the word means. To be stymied is to be stuck or hindered by some sort of obstacle. –  jaybee Jul 15 '11 at 8:19

The word that springs to my mind is to procrastinate. When I'm stuck deciding on what course of action to take, I can often get nothing achieved because I'm too busy procrastinating.

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I'm surprised no-one has mentioned swithering. To swither between two options means to be unable to make a decision between then.

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