Aversion to Eating Noises
August 1, 2004 9:53 AM   Subscribe

I have a strong, irrational aversion to the sound of people eating. Especially people that eat really loud and smack their lips and lick their fingers. Gum chewers make me want to explode. This neurosis prevents me from doing a lot of things like eating out with friends, etc. Anyone else out there have this particular problem, and have you found any way to deal with it?
posted by yalestar to Human Relations (27 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Some people were discussing pragmatic ways of dealing with this problem in this thread from January, fyi.
posted by jessamyn at 10:01 AM on August 1, 2004

Response by poster: Damn, that thread sums up mine perfectly.

Sorry for the oversight, and thanks for the redirection.
posted by yalestar at 10:08 AM on August 1, 2004

I'll answer your question because I didn't notice the other thread. It's closed to comments anyway, so you should feel free to discuss it here if you like. Shoeburyness's comment in that thread sounds exactly like my brother too. I don't have OCD, and I don't have ADD. But people making a lot of noise while eatings can drive me nuts too, although not to the point that I would shy away from people or social events because of it, although a few times I have consciously seated myself as far away as possible from my father-in-law during family get-togethers because he eats like a total slob. Everyone in my husband's family does, except for him. They all eat with their mouths open and make smacking noises and make little grunting noises and stuff....ew.

The other day I was in the waiting room at the doctor's office, and there were three people there - a teenaged girl, her mom, and me. The mother was chewing gum like a cow chews cud - mouth totally open, lots of smacking and cracking. I was sort of transfixed by how gross she was, and how LOUD she was. I couldn't believe that her daughter could sit 2 feet away from her and not want to swat at her or tell her to shut the hell up or something. I wouldn't say that I become enraged, or unable to concentrate on anything except the noise, but it can interfere with the quality of my life until I can get away from it ;)

Do you have any idea why it drives you crazy? And when did you start noticing it? I had a brother 2 years older than me, and we never, even as children, got along. When we got to be teenagers, we could barely go 10 minutes without fighting. He'd eat with his mouth open and talk with his mouth full at the dinner table and bits of his food would spew all over my plate. He was, and still is, a very antagonistic person who takes a lot of pleasure in annoying others, and he saw, even as a teenager, that he could "get to me" by eating like a pig. That started me noticing (or, rather, trying not to notice) how other people ate. I never mind going out to restaurants, because it's so loud you can't hear anyway, but if I sit next to or near someone in a movie theater who makes eating popcorn an event which has to be shared with anyone within earshot, it can almost ruin the movie for me. Other people just tune it out, and I wonder why I can't as well. I know it stems back to my relationship with my brother. I think it's a bit of a control issue with me as well.

How does it make you feel when you hear the sounds of other people eating? And is it just eating, or do other sounds that people make bother you too? Like sniffing continuously or coughing or whatever. How do you eat - do you have really good table manners, even when you're by yourself?

This is really quite fascinating to me. Please feel free to email me about this if you want, yalestar - maybe it would help to vent with someone who won't judge you.
posted by iconomy at 10:50 AM on August 1, 2004

iconomy: although a few times I have consciously seated myself as far away as possible from my father-in-law during family get-togethers because he eats like a total slob. Everyone in my husband's family does, except for him. They all eat with their mouths open and make smacking noises and make little grunting noises and stuff

This didn't make consistent sense to me.
posted by Gyan at 10:58 AM on August 1, 2004

Gyan - him is her husband, not her father in law.
posted by andrew cooke at 11:07 AM on August 1, 2004

I have the exactly the same aversion!

--though not strong enough to keep me from eating with loud people, but occasionally enough to make me get up and walk away!

The thing is, at work I sit next to a person who goes beyond lip-smacking and sucking and slurping; she really has oral sex with her food. She's fixated. And evidently she has a subconscious urge to broadcast it, to tell the world that, yes, The food and I are having amazing sex.

She'll suck so hard on a piece of chow that when she opens her mouth to make that smacking noise it just resonates all over the office. Other times it's like she's tonguing her mushy lunch hard with her mouth open, immediately reminiscent of a badly dubbed porn soundtrack recorded by an overly excited foley artist.

There's texture to these sounds that you can feel vibrate in your bones.

It's legitimately stange and possibly quite Freudian. I don't believe Freud applies to all of humanity, but at times like this I have trouble doubting that, with certain personality types, he nailed it right on the money.

Now, the guy in the other cubicle next to me makes noise too, but it's not quite the same. He just chews as if he has limited use of his mouth muscles. He moves his jaws straight up and down, seemingly with no awareness of what's going on in there, no attempt to grind a particular piece of food between two molars or cut it between incisors, just up and down and open and closed with his mouth wide open the entire time.

But this fellow isn't nearly as obnoxious to me. The woman on the other side, she's something else, something much more irritating.

I've been this way all my life too.

Weird, huh? ico, yalestar, I feel for ya, and I thank you for letting me know I'm not alone.

Drives me goddamned bananas.
posted by Shane at 11:08 AM on August 1, 2004

Heh, iconomy and yalestar, I'm open to e-mail too. It's good to vent!
posted by Shane at 11:10 AM on August 1, 2004

Yay - can we talk about this again? That earlier thread was the first indication I ever had that I wasn't the only one in the world with this problem.

I still need a solution. I had wondered idly about hypnosis - you are getting sleepy.....popcorn in the movies and gum in the office will no longer bother you.....life is less complicated....

Anyone tried it? Heard about it?
posted by CunningLinguist at 11:12 AM on August 1, 2004

My sister was married to a guy who ate like a complete freak. Lots of chewing and smacking and lips drooling..... mouth all opwn and fingers dripping and being licked. Meanwhile he talked during eating and every other word out of his mouth was shit, fuck, or shitfucker. She divorced him.
posted by pissfactory at 11:24 AM on August 1, 2004

Oh, I forgot to mention an ovverriding characteristic of that woman at work: it's as if she's nursing. No matter what she's eating or how solid it is, it sounds as if she's trying to suck liquid from a bottle or a teat.
posted by Shane at 11:26 AM on August 1, 2004

Also, I've considered moving to Singapore, where apparently gum chewing is punishable by death. Or was that Malaysia?
posted by CunningLinguist at 11:36 AM on August 1, 2004

I suffer from the same malady. But then I'm bothered by a whole range of activities. For instance, it drives me batshit when people drum on things. I was on the subway the other day, and this guy kept tapping on one of those metal poles over and over. I thought I was going to go out of my mind. And -- this one is going to sound really nuts -- I can't stand people humming quietly to themselves. Many people do this to entertain themselves -- also while riding the subway. When I'm next to one of these hummers, I want to cover my ears and scream. It wouldn't bother me quite as much if they were singing out loud. But that almost imperceptable noise really gets to me. It's funny, because I'm sure they're purposefully trying to keep it low, so as not to bother anyone.

And yes, bubble-wrap popping drives me crazy too.

Why do these "little things" drive some people nuts while other people aren't bothered by them at all?

In any case, put me on the mailing list.
posted by grumblebee at 3:14 PM on August 1, 2004

Should we start some kind of support group or a "let's vent email list" or something? Seriously.

Shane, I am SO sympathetic about your co-worker. Good god. I had a co-worker who had all kinds of allergies. She was fine until something made her sneeze. Her sneeze in itself was really disgusting, but I won't go into details. After the sneeze, though, she would continuously wet sniff, and then after each and every sniff, she would kind of go...AHHHHH. She seriously sniffed about once every 5 seconds, and it would go on for hours. After a few weeks, I put a box of tissues on her desk. Nope - why blow your nose when you can just sniff the phelgm back down your throat and then swallow it, followed by a long and satisfying AHHHHH every five seconds? Drove me insane.

Luckily, she quit a few weeks later!
posted by iconomy at 3:42 PM on August 1, 2004

this live journal community deals with a lot of these issues. really interesting.
posted by c at 4:52 PM on August 1, 2004

is this really unusual? I think of it as an aversion everyone has - that's why "it's not polite to chew with your mouth open". I find it difficult to share a meal with my dad and with certain other people because of the way they eat. What can be done? As with most irritants, I find that it is worse when I am tired, under stress, or feeling strong emotions or frustrations due to other things. I have also been told by at least one therapist that being driven to anger by little things is a sign of depression. (I don't know if I really buy that, but I did try meds for a little while, and more recently, various life changes (not diet etc but focus and career etc) have helped my mood issues smooth themselves out a bit, and I don't find myself annoyed by stuff like this as often).

oh my god, grumblebee, I just read your post! we could drive one another crazy all day. I don't normally hum to myself, mind you, but when I feel I need to block some noise to avoid going nuts... well. I guess that's what headphones are for, and I do make use of them on the subway, but sitting across from someone you're supposed to be having dinner with, it's not so much an option. And considering how loud their chewing is, I doubt they hear the hum... oi.

I find sometimes when it's really annoying me and there's nothing I can do, I start to sort of hum very quietly to myself. That is probably not a great solution, but it blocks the noise a little and at least I can avoid getting all bitchy about it. More generally, when I'm getting needlessly irritated I try sort of telling little jokes to myself (in my head not out loud...) or remembering funny events that make me smile, which helps to just relax me a bit and get over the issue (whatever it is).
posted by mdn at 5:02 PM on August 1, 2004

Response by poster: This is great: free online group therapy! Not to get all sappy, but it really is great to know that there are other people that suffer from this so much.

To address iconomy's questions: yeah, the sniffling and coughing are big sources of consternation for me too. Nose whistling, unusually loud breathing, cupboard or door slamming, people who walk on the balls of their heels on wood floors or stomp up stairs, people who sigh real loud or yawn and feel a need to make everyone else aware that they're yawning. One weird inconsistency that a therapist brought up: dogs (for example) are pretty loud eaters and drinkers, and yet that doesn't bother me in the slightest. Which leads me to believe that it's not the sound per se.

I remember it bothering me as early as 2nd grade, although by no means to the extent it does now. Eating with other people usually amounts to me fixating on whomever in the group is the most obnoxious eater. I just can't get over the fact that they can eat so loud and not even notice that they're doing it, and yet it grates me so much. Like someone mentioned in the January version of this topic, I absolutely have to have music or TV going during any meal. Eating in silence --even the thought of it is terrifying. Whenever I go to a restaurant, I have to scope it out to make sure there's sufficient ambient noise that I won't have to listen to others' mastication. Quiet or empty restaurants are a no-go. And going to a movie is a huge ass-pain; I get all uptight if anyone sits within ten feet of me, for fear I'll have to hear their popcorn gnashing or wrapper crinkling.

One funny story about this: in my early 20s I was dating a girl who was a loud eater. We were driving to an Uncle Tupelo show one night and she was eating a slice of pizza quite audibly, driving me fucking batty. At some point I asked her if I could have a bite of the pizza, and when she handed it to me, I threw it out the window. The night only went downhill from there, as you can imagine.

Since this has been such a huge issue for me for most of my life, naturally I've spent some time thinking hard about it. When I'm downright honest with myself, all I can arrive at is that such anger and hostility can only be a) have a strong need to control the situation, but can't; or b) it reminds me of something I don't like about myself. With the b) scenario, I figure that maybe my dad made me feel really self-conscious about eating, and now I'm mad that everyone doesn't feel as self-conscious about eating as I do.

But reading the testimonials here makes me think that it's more an anxiety thing. It's so irrational and severe that it would almost have to fall under that umbrella, plus I have a few other things that would seem to corroborate the anxiety theory (migraines, nervous energy).

Again, mucho appreciado for all the helpful participation, y'all. Oh, and Shane, that whole oral sex with food thing made Sprite go up my nose from laughter.
posted by yalestar at 5:06 PM on August 1, 2004

Hmm. Very, very interesting thread. I can definitely say that I'm not in the same camp, because I really don't notice it happening that much, so my filters are pretty well locked in, but I have a somewhat related issue... every once in a while I can hear myself eating, and it drives me nuts. I have great table manners (though casual) even when I'm alone; drinking out of the water bottle or milk carton is just something I would never do, having a sloppy plate or food mess getting on my hands is intolerable, I never, ever eat standing up over the sink, or walking on the street, for example. For me, there's pretty much no point in eating if aspects of it are going to be unpleasant or rushed. And every now and then, for some reason, I will become tuned into my own eating sounds, and it's sort of nightmarish. I will try to chew differently, or very, very slowly, and it just gets worse! Swallowing sounds like some kind of comical cartoon sound effect. It's actually kind of funny. No matter what I do, I sound just like iconomy's father-in-law - to myself. Thank goodness this is a fairly rare event.

(And shane, I'm sorry for your pain, but the hilarity of that description of your cubicle pal makes it all worthwhile, for me at least.)
posted by taz at 11:57 PM on August 1, 2004

Me and my friend both enjoy a good sneer at people, so whenever someone is irritating me in public (e.g. I can't stand people eating stinking bags of crisps on trains) I text her inventively abusive tirades about whichever lowbred fuckwit is annoying me.
posted by biffa at 1:49 AM on August 2, 2004

Biffa, that's an excellent point, and I do that too. It can really diffuse the intensity of someone's repulsion or annoyance when they can share it with someone. I never thought of text messaging them, though...heh. Will do that next time I get seated next to my FIL at a family dinner.
posted by iconomy at 3:05 AM on August 2, 2004

(And shane, I'm sorry for your pain, but the hilarity of that description of your cubicle pal makes it all worthwhile, for me at least.)

Today she has the radio on. Country music.

I'll be back to vent later, obviously. If I'm not in jail for murder.
posted by Shane at 7:27 AM on August 2, 2004

Country music, huh? Johnny Cashew? Dwight Yoghurt? Deli Parton?
posted by taz at 9:23 AM on August 2, 2004

She just ate and she's chewing gum now. And clearing her throat.

I forgot to mention, both she and the other guy clear their throats constantly during the day, and they both sound like a trumpet fulla mucus.

...that's why "it's not polite to chew with your mouth open".

That's what I think all the time. Someday I'm going to snap and go over to someone, possibly a complete stranger, and say,

"It's very simple: You just chew with your mouth closed."

Glad your sneezing buddy quit, iconomy! Did she maybe get a job over here?
posted by Shane at 9:53 AM on August 2, 2004

Heh, taz!
posted by Shane at 9:54 AM on August 2, 2004

>have you found any way to deal with it?
My grandfather lost his hearing early in life. For all of my life he ate loudly. I somehow excuse it with people who have disabilities because they aren't aware or can't help themselves. But most people don't have that excuse and I find it hugely irritating. I find that no one likes the sounds, but many shrug off such sounds.

>Nope - why blow your nose when you can just sniff the phelgm back down your throat and then swallow it, followed by a long and satisfying AHHHHH every five seconds?

You can't tickle yourself because, apparently, your brain knows your finger is planning to tickle and your brain resists the sensation somehow. I think it is similar with snuffling and chewing and drumming and tapping: the actor knows it is coming and therefore don't find it irritating, leaving only the satisfying aspects. The snuffling and chewing sounds are similar. Maybe it is something in the rhythmic, almost drum beat quality. Chomp-chomp-chomp or sniff-(wait)-sniff.

Nearly broke the examination rules once, pointing at snuffler and miming him to blow his nose, throwing a tissue across the table at him.
posted by philfromhavelock at 9:58 AM on August 2, 2004

Oh yes, constant sniffing is guaranteed to wind me up, its the whole waiting for the next sniff that gets I think. I came across the same phenomenon with a friend who used to open his mouth on around every seventh chew. Sadly I didn't notice this until we were on a backpacking holiday in Northern Norway - it soon became a major irritation, waiting for the next one and wondering whether it'd be dead on number 7.
posted by biffa at 10:54 AM on August 2, 2004

Tell them to quit watching TV while eating and just listen to themselves for entertaining noises. Does the polite sound of someone eating chips bother you, this is with their mouth close? From people I’ve seen - you're fine if that does not.
posted by thomcatspike at 4:50 PM on August 2, 2004

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