Not all advice need be professional. Sometimes your problems merit a bit of unvarnished honesty from a dude equipped with nothing more than a computer and a conscience. Luckily for you, I’m that guy. Welcome back to Tough Love.
This week I’m tackling the issue of eating family style with someone who doesn’t seem to understand the concept of sharing, and how to get that person to understand that not all food is theirs.
Note: I’m a columnist, not a therapist or certified healthcare professional. My advice should be interpreted with that in mind. If you have a problem with anything I say, file a complaint here. Now, let us begin.
I don’t know whether this is an actual problem or I’m just being a petty little shit. I need your perspective.
My roommate moved out not too long ago and my boyfriend’s lease was coming up for renewal so we both decided this was a fortuitous time for him to move in. My roommate and I got along so well, we just seemed to mesh seamlessly. My boyfriend and I are not meshing as seamlessly. Primarily, the issue is food, Sam. Delivery orders, to be precise.
Whenever my roommate and I would order delivery, we’d usually each pick a main dish then a couple sides and we’d eat family style and have enough food for both of us for at least two meals. I don’t eat seafood and my roommate didn’t particularly like it anyway so it worked out.
The first time my boyfriend and I were ordering after he moved in, I suggested we do what my roommate and I always did and he said he was up for that. So I said I was going to order a chicken curry dish and he said he was going to order some fish dish. I reminded him that I didn’t eat seafood (he knows this!) so he would be on his own eating that. The problem was he ended up eating half of my dish and just a little of his so the next day he had leftovers and I didn’t. What the heck?!
This happened a few times so I wised up and started ordering two mains so I’d have leftovers the next day. What’s the point of delivery if you don’t have enough for leftovers? He continued ordering a seafood dish every damn time, but would proceed to eat the non-seafood dishes I ordered on day one and day two and then complain on day three that we had ordered too much food and his seafood was wasted. He says it’s not good after two days. I don’t know seafood so I don’t know whether that’s accurate or just him being particular. But he keeps blaming me for ordering too much and I don’t care for that!
Anyway, what’s the deal here? Is he punking me with constantly ordering seafood but eating the non-seafood instead? Is he power tripping? Is this a sign of greater problems to come? I feel like sitting him down and saying, “Dude, I don’t think you like seafood as much as you think you do.” Am I making a shark out of a minnow here? I feel annoyed and I don’t know whether my annoyance is justified. Can I suggest we not do family style anymore or is it too late/in poor form?
Your guidance is appreciated.
Hands Off My Chicken, Eat Your Damn Fish
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Dear Hands Off My Chicken,
My goodness, what a dinnertime debacle you have found yourself in. On one lever, I get your frustration, but on another level, I’m laughing. Navigating dinner disagreements can be frustrating for couples, owing to the fact that it’s an essential activity yet beholden to our personal preferences for shoving food in our mouths.
Your issue, though, is an odd one. Your boyfriend might be suffering from a case of Spaced Out Male Syndrome, a common malady that manifests as the man having no idea that what he’s doing is selfish and inconsiderate. Perhaps your dude likes the idea of seafood, but once he’s received his order, he realises he doesn’t like the taste. Maybe he gets down with TikTok sea shanties and enjoys the odd episode of SpongeBob and wants his meal to fit the theme. Maybe he was raised a sailor with a rogue band of pirate friends. But from your account of these failed family-style dinners, it sounds like he doesn’t understand his own taste. Your empty stomach is evidence enough that this seafood fantasy is having a detrimental effect on your dinners. And it’s time you said something about it.
This could be simple enough. If he’s a sensible guy, it’ll be easy to point out that he’s vacuuming up the majority of your preferred takeout orders while leaving his to rot in the fridge overnight. There’s simply no other way to put an end to this problem. Speak up, or at the very least suggest that you stop eating your meals they way they’re served at PF Chang’s. To answer your question about whether your doing so would be being in “poor form,” — of course not. The man is eating your food. That’s enough to vex anyone, let alone someone ravenous.
So what’s preventing you from bringing this up? Are you afraid of his reaction? Has there been anything else in the past that’s suggested he won’t respond well to criticism, even if it’s conveyed in a lighthearted and non-judgmental manner? At first blush, this is no big deal at all, and could possibly just be chalked up to a man unwittingly being a selfish doofus. (On my second date with my wife, I ordered Thai food for myself and none for her, since I assumed she’d already eaten. She had not. Men: we’re a flawed species). But the most pivotal aspect of this discussion is how he reacts.
Now think of yourself. Why are you even questioning whether to bring up the fact that he’s not leaving you with enough food? You need to eat, damnit! What’s preventing you from advocating for yourself? I can’t determine that for you, but you should definitely think about it. In relationships — especially those that appear to be getting more serious — you have to advocate for yourself when a partner routinely does something that bothers you. Usually, it’s no big deal, provided the other person isn’t personally offended by the issues you raise. But therein lies the question: Are you afraid of telling him to lay off your chicken? And if so, why?
This is a simple enough first impasse in your nascent cohabitation. If you can get through this with flying colours (and I have no doubt that you will), you’ll be able to navigate the larger issues that will inevitably arise in your relationship. For now, I’m sure the both of you will be able to negotiate how you take your meals with minimal conflict — family style or not.
That’s it for this week, but there’s plenty more Tough Love to go around. If you’d like to be featured, please get in touch by describing your dilemmas in an email to me (please include “ADVICE” or “TOUGH LOVE” in the subject line). Or, tweet at me with the hashtag #ToughLove. Serious inquiries only: Don’t email or message me if you don’t want to be featured in the column. Disclaimer: I can’t respond to everyone, so please make sure you outline a specific problem in your note. I won’t respond to generalisations, like someone “being mean” or vague descriptions of “relationship problems” without any concrete examples of what’s ailing you. Until next time, take care of yourselves!