Help me eat in peace with others
December 5, 2012 6:57 PM   Subscribe

I hate to talk while I eat. How can I better enjoy food with other people around who like to talk to me?

I prefer not to talk when I eat. I like to chew my food and savor it, peacefully and quietly. I find it very disturbing and frustrating when people talk to me when I eat. I cannot enjoy food very much, and I cannot engage fully in conversations with others either. I can rarely finish my food when I try to listen and respond to people while I eat, although they finish theirs way earlier than I do. It upsets me even to see people not chewing their food while busily talking.

I haven't met people like me. Most people seem to socialize over food. Some people get uncomfortable from not talking at dinner table. It's very sad for me to feel upset and alone every time I share food with someone.

How can I better enjoy my food with other people around trying to talk to me?
How can I prevent others from getting uncomfortable when I don't participate in conversation?
Any general tips or advice anyone has for me?

Thanks so much for your help.
posted by YukoInNature to Human Relations (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I suggest you get some therapy, this looks like it's becoming a social disability. Sorry to hear that possum.
posted by taff at 7:36 PM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Don't make plans with friends that include eating. If you want to eat, make it a solo adventure. If you want social time, plan for a non-food outing.

If others invite you for a meal, decline or suggest an alternative that does not include eating. I do not think it's appropriate to ask others to eat silently for your benefit.
posted by cior at 8:19 PM on December 5, 2012

In your shoes, I would just order something light for the sake of there being some food to pick at, and just socialize (pretty much ignoring my food) then have your real meal another time when you are alone how you like it.
If you have friends who will rudely police what you are eating, have your main meal beforehand, and then you have an ironclad reason to not be ordering a full meal. You can assure them you're fine and that you're there for their excellent company!

I think this is more normal than you realise, it's just that people do this across various things - eg maybe someone's thing is preferring to be alone when seeing a movie for the first time, yours is food. Don't sweat it. Go with it.
posted by anonymisc at 8:22 PM on December 5, 2012

I think your preferred eating style is just as valid as the social kind. Just because lots of people socialize while eating doesn't mean you have to socialize that way.

On the other hand, if you really would like to be able to enjoy socializing with food, then therapy may be a good option. Otherwise I guess you'd just have to practice being happier about it, which seems like a hard road.
posted by Glinn at 8:38 PM on December 5, 2012

I far prefer eating alone, or at least quietly (or even better, with a book!), so I totally sympathise. I think if you can frame shared meals as social activities, rather than a mealtime, you might find it easier to be sociable yourself, and try to make sure you have plenty of opportunities to enjoy your food in peace.
posted by thylacinthine at 8:41 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I respectfully disagree with the idea that this sounds like a social disability or that you need therapy for something like this.

You seem to prefer eating alone rather than with others. You also state that it's difficult to talk while eating your meal and express frustrations when others talk to you while you're eating your meal.

As for what to do, you can practice using hand signals to say that you're still chewing, order food that isn't as chewy or order something inexpensive and barely eat the food. I also really like thlainthine's idea--view these gatherings as a social event rather than a time to eat your meal of the day.
posted by livinglearning at 8:46 PM on December 5, 2012 [4 favorites]

What is the eating situation? Most people who don't enjoy eating with others (myself included) just don't, which is why it's hard for you to find silent eating partners, but I understand that eating with others is sometimes unavoidable.

- Social (restaurant, dinner party): decline, or just order something to nibble on and try consciously to have a minute of 'eating/silence' time followed by five minutes of talking, or whatever. Teach yourself to drink water during conversational pauses if you'd rather not take a bite. Make a concerted effort to look at people in the eyes, not in the mouth.
- Family/close friends: be honest with them and either arrange your socializing around non-meal activities, or ask them to accept your silence.
-Office/school cafeterias: bring something to read.
posted by acidic at 10:23 PM on December 5, 2012

I hate people seeing me eat and it's awkward to look at someone else who is putting food into their mouths or chewing. That's pretty universal, I think. At least with people I'm not really comfortable with. I usually see dinner invitations as social events, not dinners to focus on the food. Yes, I want to order the covered cheeseburger that is going create a mess, but I am going to order the soup or a salad. I might even eat a post-dinner snack when I get home because it wasn't that great. That's just how it goes.

I wonder if it's more than "wanting to enjoy your food" - sounds like a potential excuse. For instance, I hate eating at work because I feel like I need to eat slower so people don't judge me (I'm a girl), I need to pretend I am doing work (which I never am while I am eating) and need to be neat (because I am in public and when I eat alone I'm messy and don't give a shit). That said, I have eaten lunch at my desk every day at work for the past, like, 3 years. It's far less enjoyable an experience than eating outside of the view of my co-workers, but I still enjoy the food itself and I deal with the annoyance. Perhaps the real issue here is anxiety about people watching you eat? This may be a situation for therapy if this isn't something you can tolerate and deal with. Is it even a problem with loved ones you are close to?

Can't you just, in a dinner session, switch between eating mode and talking mode? It sounds like you need to avoid one-on-one dinners, but if you are with other people, let others take on the conversation while you focus on eating, and then take a break from eating to focus on talking as to not be silent the whole dinner, and then go back to eating.

Otherwise, you can eat a dinner you really enjoy alone before you go out to social dinners and then at the social dinner, order something small, like soup, so you can focus on conversation and don't need to "chew [your] food and savor it."
posted by AppleTurnover at 12:31 AM on December 6, 2012

I too dislike talking while I'm eating. I just end up feeling like I'm doing two things badly - I can't enjoy my food because I'm having to pay attention to other people, and I can't converse properly because I'm trying to eat.

So, I just don't talk while I'm eating. I use a lot of facial expressions and body language to engage with people if they ask me something, to indicate that I'm paying attention, but I don't verbally respond. People generally pick up very quickly that I'm not chatty while eating and so they leave me alone. If I have to talk while eating, I put my utensils down and stop eating, then start talking. My brain seems to make the switch at that point.

If it's possible, I try to pick up on the thread of what they asked me later on, to show that I'm interested. You can't really prevent people from feeling what they feel. Maybe try making time to socialise over something other than food, such as a board game.

Finally, I don't think that there's anything wrong with you. Being different isn't pathological.
posted by Solomon at 1:35 AM on December 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

How can I better enjoy my food with other people around trying to talk to me?

I don't think you can. You don't care for doing something. That's perfectly fine. You choose to separate eating from talking. But most people don't. So the best thing to do is to avoid social gatherings which involve a meal.

How can I prevent others from getting uncomfortable when I don't participate in conversation?

I don't think you can do this either. Even if you tell someone "I won't be joining in the discussion during dinner because it makes me uncomfortable", it still will likely feel inequitable to your dining companion(s) if they don't share your view of what the dining experience should be. Best to avoid the situation completely by meeting instead for coffee.

All this said, sometimes you just have to sacrifice your enjoyment of food to the altar of friendship. The primary reason for a shared meal is rarely the food, but the fellowship. Savor the friends, leave the food savoring to home.
posted by inturnaround at 5:29 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Eat before you go out with friends, and just order an appetizer or a drink or whatever.

Recognize that food is not just food for most people, food may be comfort, or love, or fellowship, or cultural expression, or vulnerability. If someone is offering you food that they made or is otherwise special to them, eat it and compliment it. There is some primal you-are-part-of-my-pack stuff going on around the table, don't exclude yourself from it altogether. (This is something I have to consciously do, too.)
posted by momus_window at 6:50 AM on December 6, 2012

No real helpful suggestion beyond eating alone more often. I more wanted to chime in to say it doesn't sound to me like you have a social disability. I think it's a matter of priorities. You prioritize eating when you're eating. Others prioritize talking. I was in London with colleagues (we're American), and was marveling at how Londoners smoke before and during the meal. I wondered at how that would kill the taste. One of my colleagues pointed out that maybe they don't care that much about the taste.

I had this happen to me at lunch last weekend, with my wife. I desperately wanted her to stop talking, it was hard to focus on the food, which was excellent. I think the best solution is to eat alone at the restaurants you love, and maybe eat healthier but less tasty things when meeting socially.
posted by troywestfield at 8:08 AM on December 6, 2012

I agree that you should just order something to pick at. Lots of cultures don't talk and eat at the same time. (I think that's true in Korea, maybe?)

The part where you get upset seeing people not chewing their food while talking? That's something you'll just have to let go of, same as the other thousand things that other people do "wrong," like ordering a good steak well-done. They'll just have to explain themselves to their maker someday, poor souls.
posted by small_ruminant at 9:55 AM on December 6, 2012

Are you at work? Read a book, even if you don't actually read the book. If someone starts yakking at you, just wave the book at them and they'll get the picture.

If you're out socially, either pass on eating, or suggest something else, or if you have to go with them to a restaurant just have a drink and/or a simple appetizer.
posted by deborah at 3:13 PM on December 6, 2012

Thank you so much everyone for great ideas and tips. It was nice to know that I am not alone or wired. It helped me gain perspective and realize it's just a matter of preference. I ate my dinner before my partner did tonight and sat down with him and talked while he ate. It was much better than usual! Thanks for all the courage you guys gave me!
posted by YukoInNature at 6:06 PM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

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