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The Ditherer

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"Sandurz, Sandurz. You gotta help me! I don't know what to do. I can't make decisions: I'm a president!"

Decisions are odd things — as kids, we long for the freedom to make our own, but when confronted with one, many of us are inclined to panic. All but the most impulsive of us want time to make big decisions and don't like being forced to make a shotgun choice. That's understandable — especially if the decision in question is life-changing (should I propose? Should I go to college? Should I move to a different country?) or irreversible (Should I sacrifice my life to save this person? Should I tell my child that they're adopted?) and especially if they are both (Should I murder that bastard and hide the evidence? Or should I kill him and then move to another country?).

But then there are people who struggle with all decisions. Don't ask them what they want for dinner unless you have an entire day free in your calendar. Don't make them pick which film you're going to see, because by the time they've decided (reluctantly) which one to pick, the cinema will have closed. In essence, this trope is the Logical Extreme of Desperately Needs Orders. This individual doesn't just need instructions for one situation or crisis. They need guidance for everything.

They are hugely frustrating in friendships, and even more so in relationships. Interestingly, in fiction, this character is more likely to be female in most contexts — but in romance, it's usually the male character who "can't commit." These characters can also be frustrating to the audience, particularly if they are the main character. Expect to yell at them to get their act together as they start Navel-Gazing for the zillionth time.

The Ditherer comes in a variety of types:

  • The Wishy-Washy: The character is basically spineless, and their inability to make decisions or take responsibility is a hallmark of their general cowardice. Often selfish to some extent — the basic reason for their indecision is that they want to have their cake and eat it, and choosing one thing may mean rejecting another.
  • The Cloudcuckoolander: Decisions are a bit too reality-based and permanent for them, and usually a warning signal of Growing Up Sucks. Thus, they consciously avoid them.
  • The Ditz-erer: Decisions for a simple-minded character will be a challenge for them. When given too many decisions, or when asked even simple questions, their minds go on a blank space and may take time to think while occasionally uttering long filler sounds to process any answer.
  • The Empathic Fence-Sitter: Decisions might offend or damage someone, and that's not something they want to deal with, so they dodge decisions where possible.
  • Just Plain Lazy: Decisions involve effort, which is to be avoided at all costs. Leaving it alone, as someone else will deal with it eventually.
  • Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny!: The character is too easily distracted to focus on any kind of decision.
  • The Insecure/Submissive: They don't trust their own judgement, and/or aren't willing to take responsibility should their decision backfire. They might make a decision under pressure, but have no confidence in it. Will often cling to someone who will make the decisions and take the responsibility from them.
  • Too Many Trees: They see all sides of the issue, and can't stop weighing the pros and cons long enough to make an actual decision. Also, they're getting way too obsessed with the minor details while losing sight of the overall goal or plan. Likely to overlap with the Empathic type.

All except the Wishy-Washy and "Just Plain Lazy" types have a degree of sympathy, but in societies that value self-direction and assertiveness, the inability to make decisions quickly is A Bad Thing, a hallmark of immaturity or lack of character. Societies that favor thought and reason, however, tend to be more sympathetic, as long as it is clear the Ditherer is really thinking about it and not dodging the issue (which would make them a Wishy-Washy type).

Because men are supposed to take action, men perpetually dithering may get less sympathy than women. Particularly so in romance genres, when a woman's indecision may be played for Moe points. The character who plunges headlong into a situation without any thought is more likely to succeed than the character who prepares a dissertation on the issue, unless a "look before you leap" Aesop is being enforced.

In general, the protagonist of a Harem Series, when not a Clueless Chick-Magnet who doesn't even notice the girls' affections, will often be one of these (usually of the Wishy-Washy variety), to explain why he never makes a choice about which of the girls he wants to be with.

A person of one of these types may occupy The Conflicted position in a Four-Philosophy Ensemble. In a choice between siding with good or evil, a neutral character will have a problem judging which side is preferable, especially if he's looking for personal benefits. Because of his indecision to morally shift, this will cause both sides to no longer sympathize with him and give him the Neutrality Backlash. Has nothing to do with graphics programming.

Note: One highly stressful decision that causes dithering does not make this trope. However, a pattern of indecision, even if they are all arguably important issues (i.e. a character who "coasts" because they can't decide what they want out of life) does.


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  • This gag is sometimes used in adverts for Variety cereal, with an assortment of single-serving packets of cereal. When a young boy is pausing over which one to have, his mother says "Do you want me to choose for you?", prompting the boy to huddle all the boxes close to his chest.

    Anime & Manga 
  • In From Eroica with Love, penny-pinching James is a ditherer of the wishy-washy "I want it all!" type, usually when it comes to money.
  • In early Gantz, the main characters are forced to make weighty moral decisions. In the anime version, this leads to entire minutes of dithering.
  • Hetalia: Axis Powers: Italy (Cloudcuckoolander/Insecure type) doesn't like being in any authoritative or decision-making position — he leaves that to Germany. Japan (Empathic/Insecure) prefers just to follow whatever the superpower du jour wants to do.
  • Hidamari Sketch: Yuno (Insecure) doesn't have much faith in her own decisions — she prefers to negotiate with her housemates.
  • Kimagure Orange Road: Making decisions isn't one of Kasuga's Psychic Powers.
  • Macross Delta: Heinz Windermere is a fence-sitting type. Windermere has started a war in the name of galactic domination; and since he is the king, Heinz cannot afford second thoughts but doesn’t entirely agree with the idea of aggressive expansion. Unfortunately, because he is more useful as a Wind Singer than as an authority figure, he has to defer to Roid for the actual ruling of Windermere. In the later episodes, he makes his choice and boy, is it a wrong one.
  • Godai from Maison Ikkoku, to his own detriment, Kyoko's continual annoyance, and great comic effect. As he matures and goes from high school graduate to college student to job seeker (the series spans seven years), he never quite grows out of it, but he learns to take responsibility for the choices he does end up making.
  • This is played as a gag with Elma in the Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid anime. She is shown to have a problem deciding which flavor she wants when ordering food and ends up buying all of the available options. She is even frustrated about choosing what toothpaste to use when all three options are fruit-flavored.
  • The band of Sound! Euphonium has a serious problem with dithering — and the more talented or important the student, the more likely they are to dither. The show comments on this, as several characters get called out on their "selfish" indecision.
    • Protagonist Kumiko is the Wishy-washy / Insecure type. Whether it's talking to someone or committing to a task, she usually needs someone else to kick her up the backside in order to get anywhere. She didn't want to join the band...but wandered into joining anyway because her friends did, after an episode of indecision. She wanted to play something other than the euphonium she'd played until then, and pretends to be a beginner. That almost works...until an old friend outs her as an experienced euphonium player, and the bass section leader, Asuka, easily bullies her into resuming her old role. This reflects that she's neither a go-getter nor a slacker in terms of her music — she just goes with the flow.
    • Speaking of Asuka, despite being bossy and charismatic, she maintains that she's the Too-Many-Trees variant, refusing to take a side in any dispute. It's hinted that this might be a ploy to dodge responsibility, though.
    • Club president Haruka is the Empathic / Insecure type. She feels badly suited to the role of president since tough decisions scare her, but someone has to do it. She has a good reason to be wary though — she saw first hand what happens when the wrong or controversial calls are made.
    • The whole band can turn into a bunch of music-playing ditherers when decisions have to be made. When they choose a goal, very few are actually committed to their decision, and, when Kaori and Reina re-compete for a solo and they are given the power to decide, only four people have the courage to actually make a call (two of whom are the usual ditherers!). This is despite the fact that the only reason the pair had to re-audition in the first place was that the band kept whining about the teacher's original decision until he decided to put it to a vote.
  • Aaeru from Simoun spends the entire series refusing to choose a permanent sex. Simoun is an unusual case because the dithering is portrayed as a valid response in and of itself to the options Aaeru has.
  • Tsubame from Kaguya-sama: Love Is War is a Insecure/Submissive type. One of her issues is that she gets very nervous and stressed, and doesn't know what to do when she has to make important decisions like after Ishigami seriously confesses his feelings to her. She asks the people around her, like Kaguya or Shirogane's father (who works as a fortune-teller and online relationship adviser), for advice and is easily influenced. Unfortunately, her indecisiveness leads to questionable actions, like not willing to commit to a relationship yet offering Pity Sex to Ishigami, which he rejects as he doesn't want her "half-assed love".
  • Yuu from Bloom Into You tends to fall into the Empathic Fence-Sitter category. She takes a month to turn down an old classmate's Love Confession, since while she liked him, she didn't feel anything special toward him. She also is slow to decide on a club; she only ends up joining the student council at the start of the series because her teacher asked her, and had previously joined the softball team in middle school because her friend Natsuki invited her. Yuu's sister Rei comments on this tendency of hers, which lessens as Yuu undergoes Character Development.
    Rei: That kid's fine once she puts her mind to something, but when it comes to decisions, she gets so wishy-washy. (thinks) It'd be good if she could find someone to pull her forward.
  • In So I'm a Spider, So What? this is the biggest flaw of Gyurie, stretching back all the way to the fall of the ancient civilization. He can never bring himself to make a decision when it really counts and so can only sit on the sidelines and watch as things fall apart. At first this was due to his inability to choose between his people and Sariel, but now he doubts his own decisions so much he can never make any.
  • Yo-kai Watch: Draaagin is a Yo-Kai that makes people very indecisive.

    Asian Animation 
  • In Season 7 episode 19 of Happy Heroes, Careless S. becomes one after an incident where he has to choose between saving a hostage from Big M. and Little M., helping a pregnant woman who is about to give birth, talking to a man whose heart has been broken by his girlfriend who dumped her, going to Miss Peach to claim a prize, and singing a birthday song to a little girl. By the time he finally decides to help the hostage, he quickly discovers the problems resolving themselves... all except that last one since the girl's birthday cake melted before he could sing to her. The girl's negative response leads to him struggling to make even the simplest decisions, even deciding which foot to step with first to cross a street; he resolves this when Ambassador Wang suggests flipping a coin to decide, which he relies on for most of the episode.

    Comic Books 
  • A tragic version in Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth; the doctors are trying to get Two-Face to stop relying on his coin to make decisions, and have managed to wean him off the coin and on to a pack of tarot cards (which present more options and are thus closer to the complexity of a free choice), but at his current stage of the treatment, he's hiding under a table and ends up wetting himself because he can't decide whether to go to the toilet or not. At the end, Batman gives him his coin back and tells him to decide whether Batman should go free or not. Two-Face immediately becomes commanding and authoritative again and also disregards the "choice" the coin made, deciding to release Batman on his own.
  • The Transformers (IDW):
    • In The Transformers: Regeneration One (which is an alternate continuation of The Transformers (Marvel) that ignores the events of Marvel's Generation Two comics), Optimus Prime has become a particularly pathetic Wishy-Washy type. Following the destruction of Unicron and the exile of the Decepticons under Bludgeon, Optimus has taken to sitting in his own tower and is content to let The Last Autobot (an immensely powerful Transformer who helped exile the Decepticons by bringing the entire massacred Autobot army back to life) act as a deterrent. Even when Kup brings evidence that a group of "Neo-Decepticons" are trying to stir up trouble, Optimus refuses to make any sort of decision. As a result of his dithering, the Neo-Decepticons seize control of an orbital defense satellite and use it to atomise the Last Autobot. Worse, in the 20 plus years since the Decepticons were exiled, it's revealed Optimus never bothered to check in on Earth. When Kup and his team arrive they find the planet in ruins (among other things, the oceans have been boiled away) and most of humanity wiped out at the hands of Megatron, who has been broadcasting a message to Optimus to come and stop him... and proceeded to ratchet up his atrocities when there was no response.
    • It gets worse when it's revealed that Megatron kept Ratchet (the Autobot chief medical officer and Optimus Prime's old friend) in a horrific state of half-death and used his medical knowledge to lobotomise the many comatose Transformers who were left aboard the Autobot spacecraft the Ark (both Autobot and Decepticon) into a zombie army. After Megatron's defeat, Optimus tries to apologise to Kup for ignoring him, only for Kup to cut him off and tell him to offer his apologies to the countless human and Transformer dead instead. note The surviving humans likewise hate his guts for bringing the war to Earth, then just leaving them to fend for themselves. Several of them express the desire to just shoot him dead and leave his corpse to rust.

    Comic Strips 
  • The Pointy-Haired Boss in Dilbert is a perpetual ditherer of the lazy variety, because he knows if he dithers over a decision it will often go away on its own and he won't have to do anything.
  • One Garfield comic opens with Jon ordering chocolate at an ice-cream stand, to which Garfield comments this isn't like Jon. Jon then devolves into indecisiveness which ends with him trying to decide whether he or the girl running the stand should decide.
  • Peanuts: Charlie Brown, who is often referred to as wishy-washy.

    Fan Works 
  • Hard Reset shows Twilight 'coping' with the results of the story, and breaking down into a Too Many Trees/Shell-Shocked Veteran version of this.
    'How did I ever stand living like this, where everything I do is so bucking permanent?'
  • In a million miles of fun, Zaheer is that guy who takes his sweet time ordering, for reasons that seem closest to "can't see the forest; too many trees." It's implied that this is par for the course for him.
  • Infinity Train: Blossoming Trail: Chloe starts out having this sort of problem. In her case, her Insecurity this stems from two underlying issues:
    • Everyone expects her to follow in her father's footsteps and pursue a career involving Pokémon... but she's not interested, having grown resentful of Pokémon due to how her father and Childhood Friend pay them far more attention than they have her. She has also been forced to help out as an assistant despite that lack of interest, preventing her from exploring other interests.
    • Complicating this further is that she feels she needs to hide the interests she does know about, namely her taste for the macabre. She already has to deal with being teased and pressured, and fears that would only get worse if others realized how 'abnormal' she really is.
  • Elizabeth in the For Better or for Worse fan comic "Foob’s Paradise" realizes that she’s become one, drifting through life and regressing into high school by moving back to her hometown and dating her high school boyfriend so she doesn’t have to make any serious choices or fully be an adult. She starts getting her life together by breaking off her engagement, reconnecting with her ex Paul Wright and taking a teaching job in Hawk Creek. While she reconciles with her family and ex and visits Milborough, she chooses to live in Hawk Creek and later marries Paul.

  • Mars Attacks!: President James Dale's first scene has him going around the Oval Office asking everyone (two generals, his Press Secretary and his wife) their opinion on what to do, rather than making up his own mind about the Martians.
  • The Mayor in The Nightmare Before Christmas has a catchphrase of "I'm only an elected official, I can't handle this by myself!" and seems to leave all the decision-making to Jack.
  • Princess Aurora (Wishy-Washy) of Sleeping Beauty cannot make up her mind about meeting Philip again or not before deciding on letting him come meet her at her home. Later, after her true heritage is revealed, while she clearly does not want to be a princess but would rather be with the 'peasant' boy she met, she lets the fairies take her to the castle anyway.
  • As the page quote above demonstrates, President Skroob from Spaceballs.
  • Carly, one of the subjects of Jigsaw's traps in Jigsaw, was a purse snatcher who let a woman she stole from to suffer an asthma attack and die; she could have saved her (as she was only a few feet away), but she instead chose to run away with $3.53. In the barn game, she's told that she was injected with poison, and has to choose between one of three needles to cure herself before all the victims end up being hanged: antidote, saline solution or acid. It's implied that she knows which one is the correct answer to not choose the one with a 3.53 number on it, but she's too frightened to do so. As the chains around her and the other subjects' necks begin to pull upwards, another subject, Ryan, injects all three syringes into her. They are freed, but Carly painfully bleeds out and dies for her troubles.
  • Georgy Malenkov, Josef Stalin's deputy as the leader of the Soviet Union in The Death of Stalin, vacillates all the time on every decision, including even which portait of himself to use to be hung up in Soviet government offices. This is intentional on the perpetually paranoid and utterly ruthless Stalin's part, as he routinely initiated mass purgings of perceived enemies so as to stop any attempt at toppling him from power — having a tepid and pliable person as second-in-line ensured he wouldn't face a threat from an obvious direction. After Stalin dies Malenkov takes over as provisional leader, but it's clear he's at best a Puppet King, and both Nikita Khrushchev and Lavrentiy Beria seek to use him for their own political machinations to seize control of the Soviet government.

  • Chaim Potok's Asher Lev stories have a more sympathetic ditherer: much of the time, Asher (Empathic/Insecure) seems to let things happen to him rather than making an active choice (the Rebbe is behind most of Asher's "life choices"), but that's because whenever he does make an active choice, he knows people will get hurt. By the second book, he's so browbeaten by his family, his community, and life in general that he seems unable to make the decisions that will preserve his own happiness.
  • The villains of Ayn Rand novels tend to be of the Wishy-Washy or Empathic Fence-sitter variety.
  • The Berenstain Bears: Discussed by narration in the Big Chapter Book And the Great Ant Attack — it's mentioned that Mayor Honeypot just doesn't seem able to make decisions and keeps putting them off. However, in this case, he gets a rather painful bit of encouragement to do so when an ant bites him on the rear.
  • The backstory of A Brother's Price includes a civil war that was caused, partly, by a ditherer. The society has sororal polygyny, but at one time, the eldest princesses took one husband, and the youngest princesses took another. (This is described as "splitting the family"). It turned out that the husband of the eldest set of princesses was infertile, so the youngest wanted their daughters to inherit. The problem could have been easily resolved by divorcing the infertile husband (who, at that point, asked for it, as he didn't want to be responsible for war) and marrying one who was fertile, but the woman on whom the decision hinged dithered so much that it came to war. Apparently, she was a habitual ditherer, and couldn't make a decision to save her life, literally.
  • Confessions of Georgia Nicolson — the titular character likes to think she's assertive, but when confronted with any decision more complicated than "which shade of lipstick do I wear," she promptly becomes a wishy-washy / too-many-trees type.
  • Oswald Nelvil, the main character of Corinne, is the Insecure type. The death of his father leaves him deeply depressed tormented by the notion that he was a poor son to the man. This causes him to become apathetic and withdrawn, fearful of offending his dead father, and therefore unwilling to act on his love for the titular Corinne, a woman he is certain the elder Nelvil would disapprove of.
  • According to Flashman this was the defining personality trait of General Elphinstone during the First Anglo-Afghan War. Had he committed to any course of action, he could have saved at least a part of his army. Dithering while under a constant assault of by enemy forces proved... less than productive.
  • I, Claudius: Claudius is a bit of a ditherer. In any other situation, he'd be a wishy-washy type...but Claudius has good reason to be wary — one wrong move could get him assassinated in the wasp's nest that is his family. One of the few instances where avoiding decisive action pays off: the more "manly," assertive characters all end up dead. Especially if they were competent or nice in any way.
  • Extreme Doormat Bertie Wooster is the Insecure/Submissive type with shades of Cloudcuckoolander. He typically lets Jeeves handle his decisions and run his life for him, which leads to a Lampshade Hanging from Aunt Dahlia in one story: "What earthly use do you suppose you are without Jeeves, you poor ditherer?"
  • Lieutenant Hornblower has the weak-willed first lieutenant Buckland launched to Acting-Captain when the insane Captain Saywer is incapacitated by a fall. Buckland is completely unprepared and hesitates to make any decision that he'll have to accept responsibility for, vacillating and running to the safest option at every opportunity. It takes a lot of persuasion from Hornblower (and even prodding from Bush) to make him commit to a decisive course of action.
  • Andromeda from The Mark Of The Tala. After their rather violent Meet Cute, Rayfe appeals to the princess to comply with their families' treaty and return with him to Annwyn. He then uses all (hard-nosed) attempts available to him, from Talking in Your Dreams to Storming the Castle, to move her to decide whether to join him willingly or be Kidnapped by an Ally.
  • Much Ado About Grubstake: The remaining prospectors of Grubstake (especially Arley's boarders) are mostly insecure, worn-down men who are easily flustered and take a lot of persuading to make important decisions. Many of them go back-and-forth on whether they want to sell their mines.
    Prairie Martin couldn't make up his own mind about anything and was forever asking Arley what her opinion was, facing her to have one even when she really didn't. In fact, he'd arrived in Grubstake as a result of getting on the first train that pulls into his station since he couldn't decide which one he really wanted to take.
  • The second Mrs. de Winter in Rebecca is extremely indecisive - one short scene shows her unable to decide on a menu for that night's meal, after becoming mistress of the whole household. She's an insecure type (or a wishy-washy one, if you're feeling less generous) who generally bows to the wishes of her husband...or, more dangerously, her malevolent housekeeper.
  • This is Questioning Quail's schtick in the Sweet Pickles series. She's properly introduced fretting over how to spend a dollar: she really wants a yellow bracelet, but she needs a new sugar bowl, but maybe she'd use a red scarf more, but that bracelet is just so pretty. And on and on in endless circles, with it getting worse as other townspeople add their input.
  • Gray Wing from the Warrior Cats arc Dawn of the Clans has trouble making decisions. He repeatedly changes his mind over whether to follow the Sun Trail and has a hard time deciding to ask his crush Storm to come and live in the hollow. This comes back to bite him when Storm gets together with his brother Clear Sky, and later dies.
  • Interesting variation in Watership Down: Fiver looks like a ditherer: he's twitchy, he's an oracle who has trouble getting people to believe him, and he knows everything, making him a prime candidate for the too-many-trees version. However, Fiver always knows exactly what they should be doing - it's the other rabbits who dither until either Hazel or Bigwig bites the bullet and makes the call.
  • Archie Jones from White Teeth is so indecisive that he often resorts to flipping a coin.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Martin in Absolute Power (BBC) is the lazy version; it's Charles's job to make decisions.
  • On the surface, Jeff Winger from Community is cool, collected and confident, hence why people treat him as The Leader — however, not only is he practically the poster boy for the Just Plain Lazy version of the trope but once you look further under the surface, it's pretty clear that he's never really committed to anything meaningful in his life and takes the easy way out (or what he thinks is going to be the easy way out) of every situation: it means he doesn't have to take a stand or risk anything. It also soon becomes apparent that his supposed leadership skills are mainly just the veneer over a needy Control Freak who manipulates everyone purely so that he can be the centre of attention and have everything the way he likes it without needing to commit himself to anything.
  • Cheers: In an odd version of this, Diane Chambers. While normally pretty rock-solid on what she wants, and completely unwilling to listen to any outside opinions on what that may be, when it comes to her relationship with Sam, she's right in here, especially during Season 3 and her engagement to Frasier. It gets to the point she actually has a severe psychosomatic allergic reaction to the idea of commitment, and eventually panics and runs away at the altar.
  • Family Matters: The episode "Who's Afraid of the Big Black Book?" sees Carl passed up for promotion to captain in favor of the Police Commissioner's son. The new captain is a nice guy, but utterly unable to make decisions for himself or the squad, which leads to trouble when a brewing gang war threatens to erupt into violence. Though Carl, who's understandably bitter about losing the job, is tempted to let the captain fail, he ultimately chooses to do what's right and helps him devise a plan that averts disaster. The captain then tells his father that Carl was the real hero and acknowledges his own dithering, and the impressed commissioner promotes Carl after all.
  • Wembley on Fraggle Rock is the Insecure/Submissive version. In fact, his name is used In-Universe as a verb for indecisiveness. In the episode "The Secret of Convincing John", John reveals to Wembley that, beneath his fast-talking self-confidence, he's another wembler; the reason he can convince anyone of anything is because he can see all sides of the issues.
  • One of the band members of the Quietschbeus from Hallo Spencer. Typical quote: "Well, on the one hand... but on the other hand..."
  • The second series of Horatio Hornblower is based on Lieutenant Hornblower, with the weak-willed and indecisive Buckland propelled to Acting-Captain. He's much the same as he was in the book: vacillating, unwilling to take risks, and jumping for what looks like the easiest option. The show also adds a good bit of unhappy self-awareness at his mediocrity and a lot of envy towards his subordinate Hornblower's quick mind and natural leadership.
  • There's an episode of House where the patient's first symptom is that she literally loses the ability to decide. While helping to run a three-card monte scam. And from there...
    • Another episode featured a weaker example of this trope in a woman who obsessively blogged about her life. Unnervingly exhibitionist, but harmless; until it becomes apparent that she leaves all her major decisions up to her internet audience instead of making them herself. When she seemingly determines a course of medical treatment based solely on the opinions of her audience, he reaches his breaking point and flips out at her to actually make her own decision based on what she thinks and believes. (It's not so much a question of the choice itself, as it's a case where each option has a potential major drawbacknote , but rather that she's placing the opinions of strangers on the internet above actually considering how her choice fits into her own life and desires.)
  • Keeping Up Appearances: Hyacinth is normally extremely decisive. However, she has moments of being unable to make up her mind, while her long-suffering husband Richard panders to her ever-changing whim, especially in this scene when his husbandly duty includes opening the car door for Hyacinth, just before they offer a lift to an elderly lady whom Hyacinth is keen to impress.
    (Richard opens car door)
    Hyacinth: Perhaps I should stay in the car.
    (Richard begins to close the door)
    Hyacinth: No, no, perhaps I should meet her at the door.
    (Richard opens the door, Hyacinth gets out)
    Hyacinth: Then again, I don't want to look too eager: perhaps I should stay in the car.
    (Hyacinth gets in)
    Hyacinth: (sharply, just as Richard closes the door) No, no!! (Richard opens the door) I think the best thing would be for you to ring the bell, and when she opens it, she'll find me admiring her garden. A subtle compliment, without going too far.
  • The titular character from Merlin is a variety of dithering types, but mainly a Fence-Sitter. He's given one job and ten years to do it: groom Prince Arthur of Camelot into the type of king that will legalize magic, unite the kingdoms, and usher in the Golden Age. None of this actually happens, largely due to Merlin's inability to face up to the truth and reveal his own magical abilities.
  • Michael Scott of The Office is, depending on the individual decision and the particular point in the series, some combination of all of the types listed above, save the "can't see the forest, there are too many trees" one.
  • Sid Dithers from SCTV is the Cloud Cuckoolander variant. It doesn't help that he is short, hearing-impaired, and near-sighted.
  • The Good Place: Chidi, mainly of the "can't see the forest for the trees" variety. Flashbacks show that he is unable to make even the simplest decisions, from picking teammates for soccer games to ordering at a restaurant because he's terrified of how it can be perceived, how he will be judged and the consequences and it costs him relationships, jobs, and friends. It's his Fatal Flaw, literally, as it turns out; he died when he was crushed by an air conditioner falling down on his head while deciding what to do. The first season finale also reveals that this is why he's in the Bad Place as his constant inability to make any decisions made everyone around him miserable. In the Season 2 finale, he is given a test to simply make a decision between two hats. He is told he failed and when he asks why, the Judge snaps "It took you eighty-two minutes to pick a hat!"
    Chidi: Did I at least pick the right hat?
    The Judge: There was no "right one"! They're hats, come on, man!
  • Lt. Norman Dike in Band of Brothers is referred to as a bad officer not because he makes bad decisions, but because he makes no decisions. In combat, he actually freezes up until Spiers takes over and leads the men out of trouble.
  • The Colbert Report: The early episodes have David Cross as recurring character Russ Lieber, Colbert's liberal nemesis. Just as Colbert makes snap decisions based on his "gut" and refuses to change them in spite of all evidence to the contrary, Lieber is unable to take a stand on anything because of all the baggage and uncertainty each decision carries with it. Each characterization is a parody of conservatives and liberals of the Aughts.

  • The Love Interest in Katy Perry's "Hot n Cold."
    You change your mind
    Like a girl changes clothes
    'Cause you're hot then you're cold
    You're yes then you're no
    (You) You don't really want to stay, no
    (You) But you don't really want to go-o

  • In Lady in the Dark, Liza finds herself unable to Make Up Her Mind between the Easter cover and the circus cover, and also between Kendall Nesbitt and Randy Curtis. She is forced to defend her fence-sitting before a circus court in the third Dream Sequence, which she does by means of a song called "The Saga of Jenny".
  • Aaron Burr is portrayed this way in Hamilton. Burr definitely supports the revolution, but wants to make sure he's on the winning side before declaring that openly. He tells Hamilton that whilst he privately supports the new Constitution, he's unwilling to help write the Federalist Papers in case they turn out to be "backing the wrong horse". He's supportive of popular leaders such as Washington and Jefferson, but offers them no new ideas for fear that they might be controversial. This contrasts him with Hamilton, who usually just barrels ahead until he gets what he wants.
  • This is one interpretation of Shakespeare's Hamlet. He's told right at the start of the play that his uncle had killed his father and Hamlet should avenge him. While his initial indecision was forgivable (how do you know if it's your father's ghost or a demon trying to get you to damn yourself by murdering an innocent?), when he had the clear opportunity to kill Claudius, Hamlet didn't take it because he thought his uncle was trying to repent of his crimes and he wanted Claudius to die in full damnation. "Now might I do it pat," he says, but never does until it's too late, and gets himself and nearly everyone else killed in the process. Laurence Olivier even prefaces his film version by saying "This is the tragedy of a man who could not make up his mind."
  • Val from Babes In Arms is constantly changing his mind and his philosophy.
  • 1776:
    • The entirety of New York's delegation, embodied by Lewis Morris who always replies that "New York abstains, courteously" whenever it was time to vote on some measure before the Continental Congress. John Hancock is not amused by this farce, Suddenly Shouting after one too many abstentions, "Mr. Morris...WHAT IN HELL GOES ON IN NEW YORK?!" The answer to that question, according to Morris, is that New York's legislature is always talking and never getting any actual work done, and so never gave the delegation any instructions on what to do in Philadelphia. (In Real Life, the final vote for the Lee Resolution that adopted independence for the Thirteen was indeed 12-0, but known records do not indicate whether it was New York who didn't vote for it. The writers assigned the non-vote to New York as a Take That! to the New York State Legislature's all-talk-no-action reputation, which was as strong in the 1770's as it was in the 1970's and still persists to this day.) Morris himself eventually subverts this at the very end of the play when it comes time to sign, as the Congress has received word that the British had landed troops in New York City, Morris' estate had been destroyed by them, and his sons have joined the Continental Army — "To Hell with New York, I'll sign the thing anyway."
    • The climax of the play pivots on the dithering of James Wilson, Pennsylvania's third delegate who is caught between independence man Ben Franklin and reconciliation man John Dickinson — Wilson prefers established precedence over the risk of new ideas. Usually, Wilson is just Dickinson's Yes-Man, but Franklin calls for a poll of individual delegates to leave Wilson on his own. Realizing he can be the man to sink independence or just another signature on the Declaration, Wilson chooses the latter. (This is Dated History — at the time, the writers couldn't find any writings to explain Wilson's abrupt switch. Now it's known that Wilson was an independence man himself who was waiting for information from his constituents to make sure they wanted it too.)

  • In The Transformers, this is generally the problem with the combiners (if they aren't completely insane). Generally, the combined mode can only take action if it's something all the component Transformers can agree on, and this is a problem because virtually all the combiner teams are made up of disparate individuals. It doesn't even seem to matter how intelligent the individual members are or how smoothly they work as a team. Some specific examples:
    • The Combaticon combiner Bruticus is explicitly a Ditz-erer. When given orders, he'll carry them out to the extent of his ability and so he's considered a model soldier. Unfortunately, when no one is around to give him orders he's prone to just stand by, even in the middle of a firefight. In comparison, the Combaticons who comprise him are generally portrayed as a competent, well-oiled team.
    • The Technobot combiner Computron is, in theory, a success in terms of combiner intelligence. He's neither insane nor stupid, thanks to being comprised of a team of highly intelligent, varied and competent Autobots. Unfortunately, he falls under the Too-Many-Trees variety. Before he takes action, he needs to wait for input from each of his component Technobots in order to calculate the most efficient/ successful course of action. His bio outright states that "while he'll come to the right conclusion, it will generally be much too late." He was even once defeated by his rival combiner Abominus because he was calculating the best course of action to engage Abominus... and meanwhile Abominus simply walked up to him and punched him in the face.
    • One notable aversion is the Seacon combiner Piranacon. While his component members are as diverse as any other team, they all share a strong love of the hunt and as a result Piranacon is a single-minded, intelligent hunting machine. Unfortunately, his love of the hunt is so strong he's never wants to stop, and so the Seacon commander Snaptrap has to set a timer to force the team to separate lest Piranacon grounds to a halt due to forgetting to fuel.
    • Combiners aren't the only Transformers to suffer from this. For example, Ultra Magnus is described as being an excellent soldier and leader... as long as he isn't in overall command. He isn't quite The Insecure, since he can and will take command if necessary, but he's happier to be the Sergeant Rock instead of the Big Good.

    Video Games 
  • Catherine: Vincent's (wishy-washy) inability to decide what he wants out of life drives the plot.
  • Io Nitta of Devil Survivor 2 is an empathic fence-sitter, eventually called out on it and learns that sometimes it's best to voice your own opinion.
  • Dragon Age II: Sebastian Vael spends most of the game in doubt and unable to choose any course of action.
  • The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind: House Telvanni's Archmagister Gothren never directly refuses requests he doesn't like; instead, he procrastinates over giving an official response until the requester eventually gives up and moves on, something that is a constant frustration to the comparatively younger and more determined Master Aryon. This is also an obstacle the Nerevarine must overcome to become House Telvanni's Hortator. No matter how many times you ask, all he'll say is that it's a big decision that he needs to think about for some time. If you manage to butter him up enough, however, you can coax him into finally... outright admitting that he has absolutely zero intention of naming you Hortator, for entirely petty reasons. At that point, your only option is to kill him, and since both Might Makes Right and Klingon Promotion are not only permitted, but encouraged in House Telvanni, that solves the problem quite nicely.
  • The mayor in The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask is caught in a squabble between the carpenters and the town guards in regards to the moon that is about to crash. The carpenters want the town festival to go on and think the people panicking about the moon falling is nonsense while the guards feel everyone should evacuate and the festival should be canceled. Meanwhile, the mayor hems and haws and is too hesitant to make a decision and when someone suggests that they should ask the mayor's wife for her opinion, he weakly objects to it. If you have Link attend the meeting while wearing the Couple's Mask, it gets both sides to be reminded of their loved ones and they wonder if they are safe. This causes the mayor to take charge and declare that staying or evacuating should be up to the individual and it's their choice alone.
  • This is Rindo's Fatal Flaw in NEO: The World Ends with You. His complete inability to make decisions (especially difficult ones) leads to him often taking a backseat role despite being the designated leader of the Wicked Twisters, and his Character Development revolves around him getting better about it. Apparently, he used to be even worse when he was younger, being totally indecisive about even small things.

    Web Animation 
  • The unnamed car-driving stick figure (likely a Blah Guy) from The Demented Cartoon Movie is one of these to the point of being Too Dumb to Live.
    Onboard computer: This is your onboard computer system. We are about to crash. What do you want to do?
    Stick person: Uh... umm... I can't decide.
    Onboard computer: Steering prevents accidents.
    Stick person: Well, yeah, but, uh....
    Onboard computer: Do you want to crash?
    Stick person: Well, not really....
    Onboard computer: Then maybe you should steer.
    Stick person: But I'm baaaad at that!
    Onboard computer: Do you want to crash?
    Stick person: Well, not really, it's just that—
    (The stick person's car crashes.)


    Western Animation 
  • 101 Dalmatians: The Series: Two-Tone loves yard sales. Or hates she yard sales?
  • In the PBS animated series of The Berenstain Bears, when issues are brought before the town council, the response from the person leading the meeting is always as follows: "X is of great concern to our town council and I can assure you we will reach a decision on the matter at the appropriate time..."
  • Gadget of Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers has trouble settling on one decision in "Gadget Goes Hawaiian."
  • In one episode of Courage the Cowardly Dog, the Thinker turns out to be one of these.
  • Fluffy Gardens: Monty the goat is very indecisive about everything. When he goes to a restaurant with Mavis the pony, it takes him several hours to decide what to order. Before settling for two fried eggs, he goes back and fourth between ordering something and taking his words back. When he wants to paint a boat, it takes around a year for Monty to settle for a green boat.
  • Adventures of the Gummi Bears: Believe it or not, Tummi Gummi actually fell into this trope in the episode "The Fence Sitter."
  • The Legend of Korra: Mako has this problem, of the "can't commit" type, being torn between Korra and Asami and of just avoiding confrontation in general.
    Cousin Tu: Really? That again? Ya know, it seems like you're so afraid about disappointing anyone that you end up disappointing everyone.
    Prince Wu: Truer words have never been spoken... HIGH FIVE!
  • The Mike, Lu & Og episode "Flustering Footwear Flotsam" had the natives of Albonquetine discover footwear, each of them facing a problem now that they have the option to wear shoes. Wendel's problem is that he is unable to decide which of the two pairs of shoes to wear.
  • From Mixels is Camillot. Being heir to the throne, he's always had servants take care of himself, but his father, the king, decided the only way for him to rise to the fore was to try and make decisions for himself...which took him a while, as he could hardly figure out what foot to use for his first step. However, throughout the course of the episode, he's forced to make quick decisions, which thankfully end up saving the day.
  • Fluttershy, in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is a sympathetic Empathic/Insecure type, whose rare assertions/decisions are usually followed by an apology. Unless it's one of "her" episodes. Twilight shows occasional symptoms of the too-many-trees type.
  • Over the Garden Wall: Wirt is an Insecure ditherer; the Whole Episode Flash Back "Into The Unknown" especially showcases this and even demonstrates how his indecisiveness and fears got him and Greg lost in the Unknown. A major part of Wirt's character development is getting over his fear of being decisive, and his tendency to blame others (especially Greg) when it gets him in trouble.
  • Razzberry Jazzberry Jam: Juan from “Genre-Busters” is completely indecisive. His very first lines consist of him going back and forth about whether the House Of Jam is better than the Jamporium, and the plot of the episode revolves around him being unable to determine what genre “Can’t Pin Me Down” is supposed to be played in- cajun? Classical? Bluegrass?
  • Ready Jet Go!: "Commander Cressida Begins" explores Mindy's indecisiveness on where to go next in space. Luckily, she learns that just like Commander Cressida, she can explore space one adventure at a time.
  • Played With in the Thunder Cats 2011 episode "The Duelist and the Drifter" with Eccentric Mentor the Drifter, who vacillates between wishy-washy, lazy and insecure while constantly appending ambivalent qualifiers to his speech, including "...or don't, I don't care," and "take it or leave it." Peculiarly, whatever advice he offers is always pertinent in spite of his noncommital delivery, and his repeated insistence that he doesn't care is undermined by the aid he gives while saying so.
  • Rodimus Prime from the third season of The Transformers is an Insecure/Submissive-type. As the Chosen One and bearer of the Autobot Matrix of Leadership following the death of Optimus Prime in Transformers: The Movie, Rodimus is painfully aware of the responsibility he bears and how his Leeroy Jenkins antics from when he was merely Hot Rod will have far more serious consequences now that he's leader of the faction. At times, he's so desperate to escape his responsibilities that he leaps at any chance to give up leadership, like when he immediately ceded command to a revived Optimus Prime despite evidence something was wrong with him note .

  • Western Zodiac: The "dual" signs are usually described as ditherers. Libra is notorious for this, supposedly due to a combo of too-many-trees/empathic traits. Pisces gets it too, but that's usually blamed on wishy-washy/insecure traits. Gemini is usually given the nastier, more calculating side of the ditherer - they're supposed to hold out until someone hands them both options on a plate.

    Real Life 
  • According to Myers–Briggs personality test, the NE cognitive function might have more trouble than the others deciding what to do, as they see many more angles.
  • People who lose the ability to experience emotion (often due to some sort of brain damage) have been observed to suffer from the "too many trees" variation of this. Because they literally can't have a preference for, say, where to go out for dinner, they just keep on comparing and contrasting the options until someone steps in and makes the decision for them.
  • People with generalized anxiety disorder often have trouble making decisions under the too-many-trees variant because they fear making the wrong choice. In trope terms, they believe everything is Serious Business, and rarely act impulsively out of the aforesaid fear.
  • This can be one of the symptoms of The Peter Principle where someone promoted beyond the level of their competence is unable to make a decision, even if the reason they were promoted is because of their decisiveness. This could be for a number of reasons, such due to suddenly being aware of how many people are now under their responsibility, or now having access to so much information they're unable to process it all.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): The Indecisive


Susan Collins

Our Cartoon President portrays Susan Collins as SO committed to not making decisions or taking a stand for anything, she'll go to absurd lengths to avoid people when confronted.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / TheDitherer

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