What We’re Really Saying When We Say Something is “Off the Table.”


I’ve been thinking a lot about when we say something is “off the table.”

The first time I used it was when I was talking to a friend of mine about this guy who was wrong in all the right ways. We laughed and I shrugged a shoulder and said that it didn’t matter anyway because, come on, he was bad for me and I knew he was “off the table.” And then I proceeded to not so secretly carry a torch for him ever after.


By banishing him ‘off the table’ I never had to actually get to know the real him. He was bad for me, I’ll be responsible and keep my distance. Of course, this distance, coupled with his taboo ‘off the tableness’ equalled me creating a fantasy version of him that was just a hair shy of Han Solo with Captain Wentworth rising.

Being ‘off the table’ meant he never faced any scrutiny and was able to remain idealized. I never had to see him for who he actually was and the ‘relationship’ was never unmasked for the absolute train wreck it would surely be. I also never had to investigate why such a man would be attractive to me, because I was denying that he, in fact, was. By saying that he was ‘off the table,’ he was never under the same deliberation I used to navigate a friendship, book a hotel or even map a route to work.


SIDE-BAR: Of course, when dealing with shitty people, things being ‘off the table’ is more about keeping safe and setting boundaries with someone who has none. So, all of my philosophical musings are off the table (heyo!) in those instances.

What I started to notice was that there was a sliver of something deeper when I would slide something or someone ‘off the table.’ There was something I didn’t want to see, admit or acknowledge was in play. There was a reason I didn’t want to get into the details.  There was a reason I didn’t even want it to be up for discussion.


Are levels of success and happiness off the table because we’re too scared and vulnerable to hope? (“I know becoming a supervisor is off the table, but I could maybe ask about a promotion in my department.)

Do we draw lines in debate and argument, categorizing things as ‘off the table’ because the alternative is too scary to even think about.  (Moving is off the table, I just can’t start over again.) 

Is there a dream we can’t talk about, for fear that any scrutiny at all will 1)make people think we’re ridiculous for even thinking we COULD achieve it or 2) make US feel silly that we’re planning for something that certainly could never happen.  (I don’t want to pigeonhole myself just yet.  It’s still just an idea, so making a plan is off the table until I get an agent/go back to school/get in shape…) 

Is there something we can learn, but pride, ego (and fear) is standing in the way. (No way.  I did not misread the situation. That’s off the table as the reason this went sideways.)


Moving forward, I need to watch when I won’t even entertain a conversation about something or someone.  Why am I hivey from someone asking me what success looks like? Who am I pigeonholing actually writing down the things that make me happy? Why won’t I even consider asking for more money? Why won’t I press that one friend who never wants to make solid plans, insisting we always “play it by ear.”

Because putting something or someone ‘on the table’ makes it real.  We’re talking about it. We’re going to ask some questions and more terrifyingly, we’re going to get some answers. We’re going to roll up our sleeves and start getting to work.  This idea is going to become a THING.  This fantasy is going to become a reality.


And sometimes admitting that you want something to be real – and no longer just a dream or a fantasy – is the scariest thing in the world to do.

So, maybe we start by putting things on the table… on the table.

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2 Responses to What We’re Really Saying When We Say Something is “Off the Table.”

  1. Margaret Kline says:

    THIS. I LOVE THIS! Putting things back on the table is gonna require me to bring ALL OF ME to the table as well. Otherwise, what’s the point? And that is some scary shit. Thanks for bringing this into stark relief for me, Liza!

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