I am looking for an idiom / expression that can be used when you are at a point where you have to chose between two ways and have no idea which one is in your best interest!

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I know two idioms:

a. I'm at a crossroads.

The problem with this idiom is that a crossroad as a countable noun, refers to a place where two roads meet and cross each other. So, while you have reached to the crossroad from one of these four ways, there are three ways routes that you can take. Whereas, I am looking for an expression / idiom which indicates just two ways ahead.

b. I'm in a dilemma.

I think since the word "dilemma" refers to a situation in which a difficult choice has to be made between specifically two different things this is the correct answer.

I was wondering whether my understanding in them is correct. If not, please kindly let me know about it. Also, I am wide open to other suggestions if they exist.

3 Answers 3


Dilemma is a good word in this context. It suggests two alternatives that are both undesirable.

Well this is a dilemma, I don't know which wedding dress to choose. If I pick the red dress, I'll upset my mother. But if I choose the white one I'll break the promise that I made to my fiancé.

Strictly "dilemma" should only be used when there are exactly two options, but it is frequently used when there are multiple options all of which are bad. It is also (perhaps incorrectly) used when there is only one option, which is bad.

A crossroads is a metaphor in which there is a decision about your future path. Don't take the "three or two" options part seriously. It is quite normal for people to say that they are at a crossroads in life when there are only two options.

Well I'm at a crossroads in my life. I could go back to college and train to be a teacher, or I could accept the promotion and move to Hong Kong. The money would be good, but perhaps I should follow my heart, not my wallet.

That isn't really a dilemma, as both alternatives are "good".

If you are still worried about the literal meaning of the metaphor, you can use "A fork in the road" in much the same way.

I think I have reached a fork in the road in my life, I have to decide whether to focus on my career or start a family.

  • Good explanation James, but as you mentioned, "dilemma" refers to two negative alternatives. Therefore I think ot is off here. But how about "crossroads" and "fork"? Do they refere to either negative, neutral or positive alternatives?
    – A-friend
    Commented Dec 13, 2020 at 22:10
  • 1
    My examples I hope make this clear. a crossroads or a fork could be postive negative or neutral. It may not even be a difficult decision, but one that you can't change later.
    – James K
    Commented Dec 13, 2020 at 22:12
  • Excellent, and finally as you said: "A crossroads is a metaphor in which there is a decision about your future path" it strikes me as if the idiom "to be at a crossroads" is mainly used for a life-changing decision. If so, I think the only remaining choice (fork,) would be the correct answer, if not either one is the answer to my question. Please do me another favor clear that up to me James.
    – A-friend
    Commented Dec 13, 2020 at 22:16
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    Crossroads and fork have the same implications here. The main difference that I see is that at a crossroads, the options are (metaphorically) at right angles to each other. At a fork they could less different. So if the options are electical engieering or software engineering, that is more like a "fork". But if the options are "fine art" or "physics" that is more like a crossroads. This is nuanced and can be broken.
    – James K
    Commented Dec 13, 2020 at 22:27
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    Those are possible, I've included another possiblity in my example (sorry to keep pointing to the examples, but I do think that they answer your questions) "I've reached a crossroads" is also possible, as Is "I've arrived. at .."
    – James K
    Commented Dec 14, 2020 at 1:20

a. I'm at a crossroads

Another option is: I've arrived at a fork in the road. "Fork" in this case means one road forking into two (usually) roads. Both of these basically mean this moment in time is unique and the decision I make will have important consequences.

"dilemma" often connotes that you are only presented with bad options to choose from, whereas the other two options are more neutral/positive in connotation.

  • Hence, we say: "I'm at a crossroads" or "I'm at a fork inbthe road." Right?
    – A-friend
    Commented Dec 13, 2020 at 22:11

I think your understanding of dilemma is fine. The di- part does indeed limit choices to two. Another common term is fork in the road; you have come to a fork in the road in your life, and you need to make a choice.

(Edit: As James K pointed out, dilemma can also be used less strictly to mean more than two choices.)

While your analysis of the crossroads metaphor is logically correct, in practice, people do use it in the same way as dilemma.

Summary: You can use all three terms discussed here.

  • 1
    I see @legatrix, just may I ask you if the "in the road" is a necessary part at the end of the idiom "be at a fork" or it is optional?
    – A-friend
    Commented Dec 13, 2020 at 22:13
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    It's necessary, because otherwise the primary meaning of fork (the eating utensil) would come to mind too strongly. You may sometimes find other words for road substituted, like path.
    – legatrix
    Commented Dec 13, 2020 at 22:37

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