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How to stop chewing with your mouth open?
February 12, 2005 8:44 PM   Subscribe

My girlfriend chews food with her mouth open. In the past four years, I've tried everything from polite admonition to blunt, borderline rudeness. She's not stupid, and she's generally well-mannered -- but she can't drop this habit. She's 23. Any suggestions?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (37 answers total)
 
Obviously, you can't change her. Is this really a deal breaker? Can't you just- not look at her when she's eating?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:00 PM on February 12, 2005 [1 favorite]


Videotape her and play it back for her (maybe she doesn't know how gross/irritating it actually is?)
posted by davey_darling at 9:19 PM on February 12, 2005


I'm with thepinksuperhero. Let it go or let her go.
posted by davenportmom at 9:21 PM on February 12, 2005


Suck it up, fella. At least she's not on probation.
posted by sacre_bleu at 9:25 PM on February 12, 2005


Just get up and leave the table when she does it. Come back when she's finished eating, or go eat somewhere else (living room? whatever). She'll get the message sooner or later.
posted by billybunny at 9:27 PM on February 12, 2005


Does she want to change and just can't, or does she not know she's doing it or think it's not a big deal?
posted by null terminated at 9:35 PM on February 12, 2005


I know people who do this. I can see your quandary, anonymous (thought not why this really needs to be an anonymous question). It's not really feasible to ignore it -- it's like a cancre sore, where once you are aware of the problem, you can't stop paying attention to it. Just say something about it. That's all you can do.
posted by Hildago at 9:44 PM on February 12, 2005


Maybe she's just annoyed as hell that you keep bringing it up and doesn't want to change.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:45 PM on February 12, 2005 [1 favorite]


Man, I was going to ask this very question myself. My usual reaction is to do as billbunny says, just get up and walk away. It never bothered me all that much until we moved in together, because we would always eat at restaurants where I couldn't really hear her cud-chewing over the din.
posted by goatdog at 9:59 PM on February 12, 2005


It sounds like you've done everything that you can do. Certainly she can change this habit if she wants to. It seems that she is simply refusing to change. I think that her refusal to change rude behavior that clearly bothers you is more of a problem than the behavior itself. I dated a guy that scraped his silverware against his teeth when he ate. It drove me nuts. Like you I tried subtle hints at first. When that didn't work, I tried gentle cajoling. When that didn't work, I flat out told him that it bothered me. He stopped it.
posted by Juicylicious at 10:11 PM on February 12, 2005


"She can't drop this habit" sounds to me like she wants to change but is having trouble doing so. Try reminding her every time she does it so she becomes more aware of when it happens...but keep a sense of humor about it! Getting up from the table (and some of the other comments) seems awfully harsh for an accidental habit. Maybe toss something in her mouth (peas,grapes, fingers) when it's agape?
posted by equipoise at 10:12 PM on February 12, 2005


I think equipoise offers some great hints for helping someone change a habit (we use a similar technique in training umms and aahs out of our speakers in Toastmasters), but before you start pointing out her errors, ask her if that's what she wants.

She's clearly already aware of the problem, and knows it annoys you. Either she doesn't want to change or she wants to change and doesn't know how. The first thing you need to do is determine which it is. If she doesn't want to change, then you get to decide how much you want to be friends with an oaf, and whether you could, perhaps be friends with her only when she's not eating something. If she does want to change but can't break the habit on her own, that's where you want to help her. Remind her, give her a book on retraining behaviour, do whatever it takes to make it possible for her to break the habit.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:32 PM on February 12, 2005


Perhaps she has trouble breathing through her nose so she keeps her mouth open while chewing. Is she generally a mouth-breather or does she have nasal allergies? Perhaps it can be resolved with allergy medication.
posted by coolsara at 10:37 PM on February 12, 2005


A friend of mine was completely oblivious to the wretched monstrosity that was her meal-time mastication. It wasn't until I made a number of comments and endured quite a bit of denial that I was able to crack her defense shell and get her to, at the very least, recognize the behavior as potentially offensive to other people. Once she was instilled with a sense of awareness, she became more observant of other people -- and whilst leaving dinner with some friends one night several months afterwards, she groused about how horrible it was to sit at the table listening to and watching the dinner host eat with his mouth open. I felt vindicated.

In that respect, I'd say davey_darling's suggestion has a lot of merit (illuminating the reality). And while I understand the suggestions to "remove yourself" from the situation (by getting up from the table, walking away, etc), you must be very careful not to convey a sense of "punishment" because I imagine that'll just make her dig in her heels. If you can illustrate the issue to her without obliterating her dignity, you'll likely be on better footing.

I sympathize with you, friend. You're not alone. I've terminated relationships because of this. Don't get me started on mouth-open-popcorn-chomping in the movie theater.
posted by Hankins at 11:14 PM on February 12, 2005


If the problem isn't physical, and she's working with you to try to overcome the habit, here's a good technique to use at home (from here):

Chewing with your mouth open is the number one "good impression" killer. It sounds silly, but try this exercise: when you're eating at home (alone! this is not an exercise to do in company!), put your finger to your lips as you chew until keeping your mouth closed isn't an issue anymore.

This sounds like a great self-behavior-modification technique to try at home that won't require you chastising her (if she forgets just put your finger to your own lips), and it seems to me like it wouldn't take much time at all for the new approach to become habitual.
posted by taz at 11:21 PM on February 12, 2005


At least you have the option to leave her. My Dad has always chewed with his mouth open. It's disgusting. Luckily he lives 1200 miles away and I only have to deal with it for a week or two every year. When I (used to) bring it up he'd just open his mouth more. Yes, at 62 he still has the maturity level of a 15-year-old.
posted by friarjohn at 11:49 PM on February 12, 2005


What coolsara said: my sister was a mouthbreather due to swollen adenoids as a child. Even after surgery, she couldn't break the habit of walking around, eating, sleeping, everything with an open mouth. Our unmerciful teasing finally made her consciously give it up. It's like any habit -- you need to really be aware you're doing it and want to stop before you yourself can quit. Does she actually care whether she does it or not? She obviously knows she is doing it.

If she's really keen to drop the habit, try putting a small mirror on the table where she can see herself eat, to remind her what she's doing.
posted by tracicle at 11:50 PM on February 12, 2005


maybe you could consider changing the table setting: sit next to each other, not opposite to each other...
posted by mailhans at 5:34 AM on February 13, 2005


When I was a kid, I caught hell for this all the time and was made to feel like utter shit. As it turns out, I can't get enough air through my nose, so about 70 per cent of my breathing goes through my mouth. The noise and open-mouthed chewing was simply a result of trying to breathe and eat at the same time. Now I've since learned how not to do that, but it took conscious effort. If this is the case -- and I suspect it is -- you might want to cut the woman a little slack: it's hard to be forced to choose between breathing and eating. Under those circumstances, humiliating her as a means of getting her to stop, as some of us have suggested, is more than a bit cruel. Granted, she needs to, but don't for a moment assume that it'll be easy.

(Having said that, the upside to regular mouth-breathing is that I don't get quite so debilitated by nasal congestion: I only have to reroute 30 per cent of my airflow, not the whole shebang.)
posted by mcwetboy at 6:40 AM on February 13, 2005


Was in the same situation with my girlfriend when we moved in together. Have gradually managed to make her see what I was complaining about and it's much less of a problem now. Gentle hints work the best, as mentioned above. Problem I've got now is that when we eat with her parents they are even worse than she was - any hints on how to broach this one. Can't really just up and tell them that they disgust me with their slobbering, can I?
posted by lloyder at 8:51 AM on February 13, 2005


Speaking as a lifelong mouth breather, with serious allergies, I'd like to add another vote to the cut her a bit of slack party.

That said, my mum used to make me eat in the back garden when I was a kid as my table manners drove her up the wall so much. That sorta worked (in a long-lasting-minor-psychological-damage sorta way) and now I'm generally aware of the problem. I'm fairly sure I wouldn't tolerate that from a partner though. I found it difficult enough taking it from my mother.
posted by handee at 8:52 AM on February 13, 2005


Ugh! Make her stop, that's horrid. Do you want to see and hear that EVERY MEAL FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE? Never be able to have people over for dinner or eat in a restaurant? Horrible, horrible.
posted by mimi at 9:31 AM on February 13, 2005


As others have said, refuse to be in her presence when she eats when practical. This may or may not change her behavior, but at least you won't have to endure it as much.

Failing that, for some serious behavior modification, get one of those remotely activated electroshock collars. That ought to do the trick.
posted by recursive at 9:44 AM on February 13, 2005


as a lifelong mouth breather -- cut her a bit of slack

Sorry chum, no can do. It's gross! Same with the Asians, slurping their soup... at least they have the right idea with nose-blowing, something which should never be done in public.
posted by Rash at 9:47 AM on February 13, 2005


My girlfriend did the same thing. Over the past couple of years it has decreased quite noticeably.

What did I do?

At first I complained about it.

"That's really gross, babydoll."

Then I would grumble when we ate together.

"Grumble, grumble."

However, that was hard to do with food in my mouth.

Finally I gave her a nickname.

Loud Food

I referred to her as Loud Food in a cutesy, couply way every time we ate together. It was endearing, saccharine and got the point across.

Eventually, she stopped doing it almost entirely. She still has problem with salad and I still get the chance to use a cutesy nickname that makes other people sick.
posted by Captaintripps at 10:10 AM on February 13, 2005


Speaking as someone who is both a bit nervous about her own eating habits (I know I get lost in thought as I'm eating and come back to earth hoping fervently that I haven't done anything gross in the meantime) and icked out by messy, open-mouth chewing, I really like the idea about putting a finger on one's lips as one chews. It feels like something that would actually help, and it seems easy enough to integrate into your private dining routine in a friendly way.
posted by redfoxtail at 10:29 AM on February 13, 2005


love means overlooking your partner's inadequacies and petty annoyances. the fact that you can't should tell you something.
posted by crunchland at 11:19 AM on February 13, 2005


Love means wanting to change your inadequacies and petty annoyances for the sake of your partner. The fact that she won't should tell you something.
posted by kindall at 11:45 AM on February 13, 2005


I dunno. This really grosses me out as well. I can't enjoy food while someone is showing me what they're doing with theirs between their jaws. Perhaps that is my petty inadequacy, in which case the same applies, crunch. If someone were offended by my flatulence or swearing or some other thing I could control, I wouldn't mind trying to mitigate it for them as much as I could. It sounds from the question like her williningness isn't the problem.

The only problem with the chewing thing is that it's so ingrained it's hard to change. This thread is long on judgmental condescension and short on tips and techniques for changing an ingrained behavior.

Please teach your kids not to do this, everyone.
posted by scarabic at 11:48 AM on February 13, 2005


Same with the Asians, slurping their soup

My Japanese chef buddy told me that Americans were much too quiet when eating soup. He said I was an honorary Asian since I slurp away - it mixes air in there like a wine snob does and brings out the flavor of the broth. Otherwise I chew with my mouth closed. If she were on a lunch time business meeting type thing this could be a deal breaker. Bust out the video camera, hide it somewhere, tape her and then play it back.
posted by fixedgear at 12:43 PM on February 13, 2005


I'm still unclear on whether she wants to change or not, but if she's willing to give it a shot, what about putting a small, stand-up mirror (like 5-7") on the table, so she can see what it looks like...Might be the best way for her to really understand how it looks, without the horror and evidence of videotaping her. You can get a small one of these cheaply at the drug store.
posted by MrZero at 12:45 PM on February 13, 2005


If I'm eating and absolutely must say something, I hold a hand about an inch or two in front of my mouth to block any unpleasant views. I wonder if the girlfriend could do something along those lines, if she recognizes that the sight is offputting to others but can't stop the way she chews. Or angle her face away slightly, or take smaller bites. As for what the person sitting opposite her could do to improve the situation, I can't think of anything besides maybe wearing sunglasses.
posted by xo at 12:52 PM on February 13, 2005


Perhaps she has trouble breathing through her nose so she keeps her mouth open while chewing.

I think it's pretty much a given that she's among those of us who find it easier to breath through the mouth as otherwise there would really be no reason to chew with the mouth open at all, but that doesn't really excuse the behavior. I have some sinus issues but am aware of how gross loud mastication is, so am cognizant of that. Some people may simply never comprehend the reason for chewing with your mouth open, but understanding the reason doesn't change the fact that it's really unpleasant for anyone in the vicinity, and can be changed.

Remind her to take smaller bites so that her mouth's not always full. Finger to lips also sounds like a good idea. Recording her or constantly berating her may have effects opposite those you intend, ie, she may just get pissed off. Do you have any habits she finds irritating? Any little things she complains about but you think are just funny? Sometimes people misunderstand each other in terms of what is "really annoying" and what is "harmless joking" - a lot of things which are broadly 'rude' will be unimportant/teasing material for one person and actually seriously irksome/gross for another, so perhaps you just have to clarify that this is actually important to you.
posted by mdn at 12:55 PM on February 13, 2005


Would showing her this thread help at this point?
posted by scarabic at 3:32 PM on February 13, 2005


mdn raises a good point- a lot of people who chew with their mouths open also tend to take enormous bites of food. Focus on getting her to take smaller bites.

Back when I worked at Citibank, the head of my department, who easily cleared $250k/year and was otherwise perfectly well-mannered, chewed like a horse.
posted by mkultra at 6:54 PM on February 13, 2005


love means overlooking your partner's inadequacies and petty annoyances. the fact that you can't should tell you something.

That the annoyance isn't petty?
posted by Bugbread at 8:05 PM on February 13, 2005


If she doesn't want to change, then you just can't force it on her. (Seems to be some good suggestions here if she DOES want to change.)

If it was me, I would be very upset if my partner would resort to manipulative and embarrasing tactics such as calling me a derisive 'pet name' referring to it in front of other people, or walking out of the room, or secretly video taping it! Humiliation is not the answer. The smacking of food might offend you, but treating your girlfriend this way is worse than rude. It's pretty horrendous.
posted by raedyn at 8:59 AM on February 14, 2005 [1 favorite]


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