Dear Wayne and Wanda,
I have a friend who I really like a lot, though we don't see each other that often. She's a funny, smart and professional woman. But she has a gross habit: When we go out for meals she usually talks and laughs with her mouth full. It seems like it's becoming more and more prevalent the last year or so.
I'm wondering if I should say something to her about it — and how to broach the topic if I do! I don't really care (I just look down at my plate strategically) but she's been single a long time and I know she would like to be in a relationship, but her dates haven't really led to anything more. Also, she works with a lot of her organization's stakeholders and her career is just starting to get some momentum after years of setbacks.
I really care about her and I feel like this subconscious habit could hamper her efforts to make new connections. But I also know that she struggles with low self-esteem and self-consciousness, and I hate to hurt her! I wish I had a mean friend I could pay off to mention it to her and be the bad guy.
Am I horrible? What should I do?
OMG. Do we know the same woman? Because I have a girlfriend whose mouthful chatter grosses me out so badly that I sometimes make excuses to dodge shared meals. If we're in groups, I even make sure I'm not sitting across from her. Of course, I grew up with a strict and proper grandma who whacked our knuckles for such affronts. We're talking Downton Abbey-level refinement. But not everyone is raised in households where table manners are discussed, much less taught and stressed.
Personally, I've taken the scaredy-cat route and not said a word to my friend, because pointing out someone's poor manners feels, well, judgey. And preachy. Also, we're afraid of hurting their feelings or making them self-conscious. So we just say nothing, as they continue to say oh-so-much as they plunge another forkful of food into their gabbing mouths. Shudder.
You could approach this passively. Kick off your next outing with an innocent discussion about her dating life and ask her if she has any deal-breakers. Segue into your own, and mention how much poor table manners are a huge turnoff. List some examples — including talking with the mouthful of food. She might take the hint.
Or, it might be that as an adult with an ingrained bad habit, she's a lost cause without a painfully direct intervention. Are you willing to risk an otherwise pleasant friendship, potentially completely offend her and come across as a Dowager Countess-level snob? Your call. But it might be best to just keep your mouth shut and swallow your concerns.
Oh, this one is right in my wheelhouse! Next time your friend passes out free samples of her appetizer while simultaneously reviewing it, tell her, "Say it, don't spray it, girl!" And if she doesn't catch your drift, follow up with the old reliable, "Chew it, don't spew it, homie!"
Well, it worked for me back in the day.
But we're all grown-ups now, aren't we? And we're so sensitive about other people's feelings that we'd rather try our darndest to ignore the problem by sitting clear of spitting range than saying something that could resolve the problem because it might, maybe, possibly, potentially upset our friend. Even though saying something is what's best for everyone, including the salad shooter.
You can embrace your fearless inner child and confront her on this while still being an adult in your approach. Next time she sends some particles into the atmosphere, react like someone who just had tiny bits of food spit in their face. Gross, right? Use a napkin, clear the infected areas, put your napkin down and tell your friend, "Friend, I love you but you have a bad habit that I just have to say something about. You talk with your mouth full. And when you do, you sometimes spit food out. And when you do spit food out, you sometimes hit people with it, which you just did to me."
Direct. Honest. Caring. That's how you solve an issue with a friend. Of course she's going to be embarrassed and probably upset, so be ready for that. Tell her you wouldn't say something if you didn't love her and worry about how this habit might be affecting her friendships, love life and career. And that it really is a small thing and otherwise she's perfect. And that you expect her to say something when you have food in your teeth or whatever. That's what friends are for, right?
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