Eating in front of other people

(For reference: I’m the one who started the “People are weird” thread in MPSIMS).

I recently made friends with a guy who doesn’t like to eat in front of other people. I’m posting this thread about because, in the week I found out and have been thinking about it, I’m getting more and more disturbed by the idea.

Eating with other people is a pretty basic component of friendly human behavior. Usually, if you’ve shared a meal with someone, it means you won’t raid their village and steal their women in the middle of the night, or burn down their mead-hall, or that you’ll give them fair warning to skeedaddle before you shoot them when they cross onto your territory. Breaking bread together is just a fundamental part of human behavior.

Then there’s the issue of me and all of my other friends, whose social world revolves around eating. Camaraderie in my office is centered around having lunch together, and office politics are played out in who will eat lunch with who. I keep in touch with friends at other companies by scheduling lunches together. On the weekend we give dinner parties and barbecues, or if we’re watching a movie or playing board games at least someone is preparing some special dish for everybody. People have popular recipies that they’re asked to prepare. My idea of a first date is coffee together, because we don’t deserve to eat together yet, and of a second date, to have dinner together. It just seems natural.

Then there are the issues with him. He is fit and lean, and works very hard to be that way. He says that his mother’s side of the family tends toward the zaftig and that he himself was a chubby kid. He also says that, when he was growing up, though they were a close family they always ate separately, in their bedrooms. He just never got used to sitting down and eating together. I see their unwillingness to eat together as a sign of an unhealthy relationship with food and probably directly correlated to their weight problems. It makes me wonder if he might have a real eating disorder.

I like him very much and am happy to schedule weekend activities so that he can mosey on in around the time everyone else is finished with dinner and moving on to whatever other activity, but I think his preference is bizarre and, quite frankly, I feel sorry for him. I think he’s missing out on one of the best things in life.

Thoughts? Not about him specifically, he just gave me the idea, but about eating with other people?

ime lone people sitting at restaurants are a small minority.

I love eating with other people. Just last night a handful of friends came over and we had a small but filling dinner of hotdogs, pasta salad, mashed potatoes, mojitos, and berry tart. Everyone pitched in with the cooking - it’s one of my favorite ways to spend an evening.

(Eating with someone you don’t know/like very well can be quite a painful experience, though. I used to work at a place where I did not like any of my co-workers - usually I’d just get a sandwich and eat at my desk with a book.)

There is a difference between “eating in front of other people” and “eating alone in a restaurant,” shinjin. I don’t like going to restaurants alone because those waiting times which can be used for conversation when I’m with others turn into twiddle wish I had brough my Gameboy wish I owned a Gameboy so I could bring it geez, I’ve already digested the steak, are you milking the cow or something?

I do have problems eating with some people because they belong to the “food is love” school of thought and getting them to understand that “no potatoes with my meat, please” means “I don’t like potatoes, they’re not particularly good for me anyway, so just don’t put them there,” it doesn’t mean I don’t love the cook :stuck_out_tongue:

And of course, as HazelNutCoffee pointed out, since eating is a relaxing situation it’s something best done with friends (i.e., people with whom relaxing comes naturally) than with people you aren’t comfortable with.

A few years ago, I had a roommate with an (allegedly overcome) eating disorder, and she was really weird about sharing meals with the rest of us. That’s when it became very apparent to me that eating together was a great way to bond with people, and that by refusing to participate, you were distancing yourself emotionally from those who were eating.

That said, I used to be unable to eat in front of all but my family and closest friends. It was a social anxiety thing, not a conscious comment on my feelings toward the people around me. I can’t remember what my thought processes were, but I think being afraid of spilling something or otherwise embarrassing myself was a key factor. I would try to eat – I wouldn’t excuse myself to my room, or anything – but I could eat only tiny bites of food because of my nervous stomach and general discomfort. (Now that I think about it, I can’t remember when I got over this issue…weird.)

When my brother was little, on the other hand, he would outright refuse to eat at certain family friends’ houses and go sit in the car when we visited, and with him it was a conscious move to reject that company and their food. I don’t know why my parents let him get away with that.

perhaps you’re right, my assumption was if you prefer eating alone you wouldn’t mind waiting alone too.

this post is in reply to Nava’s

Full disclosure: I don’t often eat in public; I can count on the fingers of one hand the times I have sat alone and eaten in a restaurant; I am basically asocial but not necessarily antisocial.

I think the heart of the matter in the OP lies in these two quotes:


[Emphasis mine.]

For me, eating with others carries a sense of familiarity, an easy intimacy that is not entered into cavalierly. It’s not something I think about, but it’s not something that comes quite naturally. I can and have had bar appetizers whilst out drinking, and have dinner out with a few friends on occasion. But drinking socially and then eating, or drinking and eating, seem to occupy a different space on the continuum of familiarity for me.

Even in an office setting, I will usually not eat lunch at my desk with co-workers. I can’t identify it more specifically than that it just doesn’t feel right to me. These people are not my friends (well, not all of them), and we are not on an “eating together” level of familiarity. Similarly, I am loath to answer the inevitable “What’d you get?” questions, because, well . . . it’s none of yer business. :wink:

Just a quirk, I know, and probably a lesser one than the OP’s friend (I wouldn’t have a problem going to a gathering of friends for dinner), but entered here as a data point.

I eat alone at restaurants at lunchtime all the time because I’ve been unemployed forever and don’t have the natural camaraderie of workmates. I feel sorry for the OP’s friend because eating is the most natural arenas of socialization (well besides drinking). What a bizarre and unfortunate sociopathy.

am i wrong again? i’d always assumed the easy intimacy you mentioned only happens when you share food with others, as opposed to eating together.

this post is in reply to Quixotic’s…

You really shouldn’t use words you don’t understand; it makes you look foolish.

Oh, that’s an interesting distinction, too. One of the things that I really love about my current circle of friends is that we share food. We’ll pass glasses around and all drink from them, we’ll take bites of each others’ entrees, we’ll finish each others’ desserts. They encouraged me to take part in all of this the very first time we all went out to lunch together, on my first day of work, and it made me feel comfortable and happy and relaxed right away.

Then the cold and flu season rolled around, and we all kept getting sick :slight_smile:

I suppose that I quite definitely do not assume that someone will share food with me unless and until we start kissing on the mouth, too, but I’m always happy when someone is willing to.

As long as he wasn’t throwing a screaming fit, I don’t see why it’s so horrible. Sometimes other folks’ cooking squicks me out; it could be odd smells, or textures, or just something about the person, their home, their kitchen - who knows what turns one off sometimes, ya know? There must have been something about those people which he couldn’t stomach. I don’t think forcing him to eat it would have been right.

I think you’ll find an enormous variety in people’s attitudes about food - the process of preparing it, and the process of eating it; complete with rituals and appropriate utensils. Remember the thread about the person who ordered milk in a swanky restaurant? :stuck_out_tongue:

Take the OP for example. I’m not a social outcast or pariah, but OTOH I’m not a social butterfly either. My lunch time is time for me, a time to refresh and relax and get away from the hubub of the world. I do occasionally enjoy having a meal with family or friends, but usually I’d rather be alone, and not in public.


could perhaps be a problem for someone like me. I suppose I’d be the odd man out. I agree with Quixotic, that a certain level of intimacy must exist before I’m be comfortable eating with others. I may go ahead and participate, but enjoy it I won’t.

Intriguing and fascinating - people are so different, aren’t they? Do you suppose he also feels sorry for you, having to put up with dining out all the time? :wink:

I would say there is definitely a difference in degree, but not enough to make with vs. sharing operationally distinct activities for the purposes of the “continuum of familiarity” I just made up. Perhaps for some, that is the dividing line, and that’s what makes others more inclined to eat together as long as they’re not sharing. But then, I’m probably not a good test case here, because I’m not the gregarious social type in the first place.

I like eating with people. It usually means that there won’t be any uncomfortable silences. If conversation lags, you can talk about the food, the service, the other diners.

I can relate to your friend though. It sounds like he was embarrassed by his family’s eating habits, and maybe he just hates to watch other people eat. A relative licked a bowl once at Olive Garden, and my mom would smoke through meals. I didn’t like eating out with either of them.

It’s too bad for your friend though – food is such a good ice-breaker.

Very, very strange. Even children ate in their bedrooms? How did that even work? I’m imagining a baby in a high chair sitting alone in his room, splattering applesauce over everything with a spoon. Heck, I didn’t even have my own room when I was growing up.

I have a coworker who lives in one of those old houses that doesn’t really have a place to eat–small kitchen and no dining room (I looked at several houses like this when househunting and rejected them all for that reason.) She said they had a kitchen table big enough for three people, so her kids would eat together and then she would eat later. I think that would really suck, and even she admitted that it wasn’t ideal. However, there are a lot of houses like this, so this must be somewhat common.

We hardly ever share food where I work, but we always eat together. I find it’s harder to eat with people around who you don’t know or like (such as being alone in a restaurant or school cafeteria) than it is to be totally alone (your house or car or park bench).

I’ve found that the stranger or less common the dish, the more insistent they are that you have some.

I dislike Egg Plant and Rhubarb. Even I cannot imagine how often I’ve had people insistently shoving it onto my plate and demanding that I eat it, with a passion that verges on outright rudeness. Because if you don’t, you must hate them. :rolleyes:

Soy/Tofu products are the worst, because some people are so passionate about them. I’m extremely sensitive to Soy products. My doctor has recommended that I limit my intake. So FUCK NO, I’m not about to eat an entire slice of Tofu faux-cheesecake, no matter how great you insist it is! Not even if you pout and whine and decide you don’t like me anymore.

On OP; I am quite used to eating alone. No problem doing so. OTOH; I’m quite happy to go out to eat with people I barely know. All the better to get to know them. Especially if they smack their food (chew with mouth wide open), double dip in communal bowls or stiff the waitress. You get to know a lot about people by observing how they are in public even when they act all nicey-nice to you in private.

Definitely some problems there. Eating alone in your bedroom? I’ve never heard of such a thing. It would make it seem like a punishment!

He is probably afraid to eat in public with others, because he’ll end up as fat as his family, as fat as he was, as fat as all those other people he sees in public.

I actually looked up the word before I used it and kind of realized that it was inaccurate. Sorry about that, what is the appropriate term?

I dunno, how about “different,” “atypical,” “quirky” or some other non-insulting term? Even “asocial” will do, if you must put a clinical label on it. Just because someone doesn’t like eating with other people doesn’t make them a freak.

–Q.E.D., who dislikes eating with people, too.

Because bringing your kids up to not be rude to other people and function in human society is kind of your entire job as a parent? Can you imagine if somebody sat in the car so they wouldn’t have to come in and eat the dinner you cooked? I’d be livid. I mean, nobody’s keeping you from shuffling it around on your plate and giving it to the dog.

I bartend; I’m pretty much used to being “on display” at work. Kinda like living in a fishbowl.

But one of my co-workers can’t eat at work if anybody is in front of her. Me, I grab a sandwich or slice of pizza behind the bar regardless of who’s in front of me, but she says she doesn’t like “being watched” or “judged” while she’s eating.

She’s also overweight; she says people are critical and way too interested in what she’s eating, and it makes her nervous and defensive, and thus too uncomfortable to eat if there are people watching.

I think perhaps she is being a bit paranoid–when people ask me what I’m eating and/or remark on my food, I don’t think of it as anything but curiosity–but I’m not going to judge her feelings on the subject.

She doesn’t have problems eating socially, at restaurants or at dinner parties, so this is not an anti-social behavior for her–mainly just a situational thing at work–but I can see how somebody could develop hangups in that area if they have any kind of food/weight issues. It would be difficult to go through life unable to eat in front of other people, IMHO. I feel sorry for the subject of the OP. It’s got to be difficult and sometimes embarrassing to explain to people.