Choking on Dinner Conversation

Blane gives relationship advice to a girlfriend dealing with an ex-wife over dinner, and how to handle a boyfriend whose eating habits rival those of Jabba the Hutt.

Q: After seriously dating my boyfriend for six months, I recently took several leaps forward in my relationship and moved in with him and his 9-year-old son. Everything seems fine, but something happened at dinner the other evening that summoned a “red flag.” His son mentioned that my boyfriend’s ex-wife had gotten engaged. My normally passive, calm boyfriend went several shades of ... purple?

And then dismissed the news and changed the conversation. When I asked him about it later, he shrugged it off and said it didn't bother him. I hate to beat a dead horse, or to make things more significant than they really are, but should I take this as a sign that he is not yet over his ex-wife? Should I pump the brakes on our relationship, or will that simply result in putting distance between us?—Ex-tremely Worried

A: I’m sure seeing your boyfriend turn the shade of eggplant parmesan at the news of his ex-wife’s engagement was enough to put you off your dinner. But let’s put our napkins down, step away from the table and look at the bigger picture for a sec, OK?

First of all, it sounds like your guy was reacting with anger above all else. (The phrase is “purple with rage,” not “purple with envy” or “purple with heartbreak.”) Put yourself in his chair for a minute: He hears for the first time that his ex-wife is engaged not from her, but from their 9-year-old son. I’m betting it’s not so much the news he was reacting to, but the way it was delivered.

And yes, this sounds like a jackass, calculated move by the ex. But the fact is, you’re involved with a man with a son, whose mother—along with her issues—will always be lurking in the periphery. So you’d better get used to trying to see things from her perspective, too. Which could be this: Her ex’s girlfriend of six measly months is now a/the primary female presence in her son’s life. It’s not a stretch to say that that development could stick in a mother’s craw, especially if she had zero say in it. So maybe her way of getting even, illogical as it sounds, was to use her son as messenger for her nuptial news. 

But where exactly is your place at this table? Like so much else in life, context is key here. Does your boyfriend talk about his ex on a regular basis? When he talks to her, is he friendly? Civil? Wistful? In other words, was his reaction at dinner part of a pattern of behavior suggesting he’s not over her? Or was it an isolated incident stemming from anger about her actions?

Sounds to me like it’s the latter. So here’s what you need to do: Simmer down, take a deep breath and move away from any dead horses. Focus instead on what’s living—your relationship—and, more importantly, what you can do to keep it thriving. Like maybe a conversation between you, your man and the mom about your new living arrangements—and how to keep adult issues from becoming dinner conversation with a 9-year-old caught in the middle.

Q: I recently broke up with my ex, but was wondering something. The whole time we were dating, I couldn't stand the noises he made when he ate. He was so loud I would have to turn up the television. It was like he was inhaling his food and couldn’t eat fast enough. I obviously didn’t break up with him because of this, but it grossed me out and definitely got on my nerves. What is a tactful way to tell your partner when something like this bothers you? I never said anything, so it just got more and more annoying each time he did it. —Desperately Seeking Earplugs During Dinner

A: There’s no easy way to tell someone he has the table manners of Jabba the Hutt. But sitting in silence—well, except for all the smacking and slurping—is no way to go either. Next time you come across this problem, here are a couple of options:

The Gentle Route: Prepare a nice dinner, light some candles and turn off the damn TV already. When you set the scene for romance and lingering, it’s harder to let manners fall by the wayside.  

The Not-So-Gentle Route: Several strategies could work here. Tell him, straight up, that he needs to learn the difference between eating and feeding. Discreetly set up a laptop with the webcam running while he’s chowing down, and play the evidence for him later. Listen to your iPod during dinner. Mimic his habits, amplifying them in volume and intensity, throwing in a few burps, snorts and hand-wipes-across the face in for good measure, until he gets the picture. Finally, warn him his vile manners are not only making you lose your appetite, but your sex drive, too.

The Out-the-Door Route: If you’ve talked about it, and he doesn’t care enough about his self-image to change (remind him about the impression he’s making at a business lunch), I see no reason why you wouldn’t break up with someone over this. Food is a central part of our lives, and you shouldn’t have to suffer through Slurpfest ’09 at every meal.

1 Comment »

  1. I guess it might be a sign though if you love the person then guide the person to move on. My girlfriend did the same thing since I have a son and my ex wife was pregnant with someone else at that time. So she asked me if I am okay with that, I honestly said that I am in a process where I can say partly I am and I ask her to help me to move on. And she did! i am now completely okay and very happy. We are expecting another baby boy this september. :)

    Comment by Dom — June 30, 2010 @ 4:07 pm

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