Quality time without food? [snowflake alert]
August 26, 2018 5:19 AM   Subscribe

How do I lovingly tell a family member that I do not want to spend time with them over food, and what are some other ways to spend some quality time?

I've recently moved to a new city for a new job. This is great, because it creates some distance from my family, which has a history of emotional blackmailing/abuse through the symbology of food and body image. I've been working with a therapist to develop a healthier relationship to my own body and to food, to get out of the family, and the new life has been great.

I'm back in my old city for a few days out of necessisty. My sister is clearly and genuinely excited to see me, and have suggested multiple times that we should go out for a celebratory meal. I would love to spend some time with her, but I am stressed out about the food aspect. I
immediately imagine that she'd continue to do what she usually does: performatively reject food to produce a patterend response out of me. It's a pattern in our interactions that I'd like to break, but right now with the move and everything I am exhausted, revisiting the old city brings up feelings I need to process, and I don't have the energy to stand my ground to my sister.

How do I tell her that I don't want to have a meal or go out for foodstuff with her, but it's not because I don't love her (I will be having all kinds of meals with other friends). How do I avoid having this come off as manipulative or controlling? I recognize that to break the pattern I'd need to work on myself-- and it's not about changing her behavior, which is out of my control-- but I'm just not ready yet at the moment, and I'd like to protect myself.

What are some other things we can do, that feels celebratory, that doesn't involve food, that I can readily suggest?

An example from fairly recent past-- potentially triggering--

She'd suggest that we get ice cream, and I'll say oh ok sure, where do you want to go? Then she'd say, "no, I don't really have an appetite and ice cream is just too rich for me." And I'd say, hm, wtf?! Then she'd get irritated and say something along the lines of "you can't make me eat."

Or she'd suggest that we have a meal, and we'd make plans, and go for a casual meal together. She'd complain about being so hungry on the way because she hadn't eaten all day etc. Then we get to the restaurant and she'd have two bites and say she's full but the leftover could last her two days, and as I eat my meal she'd say, oh wow, you can finish the whole thing?
posted by redwaterman to Human Relations (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Go for a hike. If there isn't hiking, find a local park and suggest you go for a walk there. If there is no park, find something active (explore on rented city bikes). Hell, you could even do bowling, just a fun and active thing.
posted by floweredfish at 5:28 AM on August 26, 2018 [9 favorites]

Do you two drink? If so, maybe you could mention a bar in your old city that you've heard about and been wanting to check out (fib about this if necessary, obviously) and suggest you meet there at a post-dinner time?

Or what about something active? A hike? Kayaking or something else on the water? Bowling? Anything you two can do together where you can talk at the same time? Or just hanging out on the beach / by the lake if that is a possibility where you are?
posted by sunflower16 at 5:30 AM on August 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'd use your exhaustion as a reason/excuse to do something relaxing but not involving food. Eg. geting a manicure together, or a massage, maybe sauna?
posted by gakiko at 5:33 AM on August 26, 2018 [14 favorites]

An art museum can be a great place to walk around, look at interesting things when there's a lull in conversation, but mostly chat.

A coffee? If there's a place to get tea, you can go and just get tea; ditto a drink. Though they'll probably have food and she might still pull her antics.
posted by gideonfrog at 5:34 AM on August 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Can you do an activity that lets her share some kind of expertise with you? Say something like, "My meals are jam-packed right now, and actually I've *really* been hoping you could help me with X, because you're so good at it, and I'd really love your advice/feedback."

Offhand, I can only think of shopping examples for X (e.g., shopping for a dress for an important event, or a new work shirt, or a present for someone, or running shoes, or home organization stuff, or decorations/art, or something like antique store or thrift store shopping), but I think you could probably come up with other non-shopping examples, depending on her interests/skills.
posted by unknowncommand at 5:51 AM on August 26, 2018 [5 favorites]

Sorry this is what you have to deal with, it sounds truly ugly.

Hiking, nature, something away from tourist spots that have snack bars, etc would be ideal. Maybe go see some live music?
posted by agregoli at 6:19 AM on August 26, 2018

Yes to grabbing a couple of bottled waters and taking a long walk-n-talk (around the neighborhood, at the running track or bike path, on a local college or vo-tech campus).
No to walks at the mall (food court) or downtown (various eating establishments). I love walking at the mall in the winter, but I move past the bakeries and fast food counters at a brisk pace.
How about a local zoo, science museum or art gallery? Alas, these may have places to eat near the entrance.
Instead of eating out, how about a sack lunch after the walk? Go to the neighborhood park, bring a Frisbee or basketball, admire the local houses, smell the flowers, basically watch the world go by.
posted by TrishaU at 6:51 AM on August 26, 2018

Mini golf!
posted by metasarah at 7:05 AM on August 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

You may not have to come up with an excuse to not go out, just make a statement that's more about how you really want to do a particular thing and less about why you don't want to eat out.

"I really want to do X and we've been talking about getting together - want to do this with me?"

X could be a concert, botanic garden, museum exhibit, flea market, movie, dance class, ceramics painting, local park. Google stuff like CITY + FREE EVENTS or CITY + ART EVENTS or whatever kind of thing you both enjoy.

If she suggests a meal again you can say something "Eh, I don't know why but eating out just doesn't seem like fun to me right now." And reiterate your interest in doing something else with her.

It's hard for most people to argue with nebulous stuff like "I just have a feeling" or "I'm not in the mood." Especially if you say it with a mildly curious tone.
posted by bunderful at 7:10 AM on August 26, 2018 [5 favorites]

Best answer: If it were me, because I am constantly on Facebook and would feel like I would have to hide activity from family members if I were saying "Eh, don't feel like it" to one family member while doing the same activity with friends, which would stress me out because I always worry that I've forgotten to hide the post from somebody who will still share the info, I would either give no excuse ("How about a walk instead? Maybe we can stop for a glass of wine after?") or be diplomatic and honest (lots of "I" statements) and then redirect ("I find that I get into weird competitive things with you when we eat together, and I'd rather just spend time with you and not worry about the food thing. How about hiking or a walk instead? We can stop for celebratory drinks afterward." Repeat word-for-word ad nauseum if she starts arguing about the first bit).
posted by lazuli at 7:33 AM on August 26, 2018 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Food is a tough one, because it's just one of those things that humans need multiple times a day. Like, if you go on a hike, you will get hungry, and then you will be dealing with food again. The only option I see (other than drawing your boundaries more explicitly with her) is to schedule something with her that's explicitly immediately post-food, to maximize the number of hours you'll have before food comes up again. "Brittany and I are getting lunch on Friday, and then I've got a bunch of time in the afternoon. Would you like to meet around 2pm and go sit in the park, get a drink, go to a gallery?" And then, later, if things are still rolling along, "Sorry, I wish we could keep grab dinner, but I've got plans with Rick."
posted by thejoshu at 9:18 AM on August 26, 2018 [4 favorites]

Cinema? You don't even have to talk then haha! Personally, I'd just call her out on it. eg. "We could go for meal but you'll take two bites, say you're full and spend the rest of the evening watching me eat, and that doesn't sound like much fun for either of us"... followed up by an alternate suggestion.
You don't have to be mean, just let her know that you're not interesting in playing those games, her food issues are her issue and you're not going to engage with any food/appetite related manipulation or guilt tripping
posted by missmagenta at 10:24 AM on August 26, 2018 [13 favorites]

I think that I would just punt completely on telling her you don't want to eat food with her in any direct way. Instead, I would just completely redirect and would say:

"I'm not up for grabbing lunch/dinner but let's celebrate with drinks at blah blah blah place!"


"Let's skip lunch/dinner and hang out at your place and chat over coffee or wine. I'm most looking forward to spending time with you!"
posted by vivzan at 12:59 PM on August 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

I think you should directly address not wanting to go out to eat, rather than just offer alternatives. Because obviously, what she wants to do, in addition to hanging out with you, is do her food-performance thing. So she's going to keep suggesting it. Just be direct (you don't have to tell her it's because of her performance thing, though; that's unlikely to go well.) "I'm not eating out these days; let's find something to do that doesn't involve going out to eat."

(Ask your friends not to Facebook-post their meals out with you, if they're the type that needs to be told!)
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:11 PM on August 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Is there room in y'alls sisterly relationship for you to be able to address this directly with her? If I hurt someone so casually with my commentary, I would hope they would bring it up so that I may consider my words and behaviour with a better understanding of how it is received. Not everyone has the same personality however. Just I take for granted one of the advantages of relationships with siblings is you don't have to mince words. I'm assuming it's not an option for you to outright state, "I want to hang out with you but you come off as an asshole and hurt my feelings when we eat together so let's do something else."
posted by GoblinHoney at 3:31 PM on August 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

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