Have you ever run into a FAST eater? (How to deal with socially)

So, one of my nieces has a new live-in guy. Yes, despite Covid. It was an on-line relationship that turned into F2F dating just a couple of months before quarantine, and Becky (not real name) later decided four months was enough time to sacrifice waiting before making the relationship full time with Henry (also not real name.)

Anyway, we’d ‘met’ him on line a couple times, then after a few months started inviting the two of them over for mostly socially distanced dinners, i.e., we eat outside and space apart around a rather large picnic table, and keep our fingers crossed.

The thing is, he’s the FASTEST eater I’ve ever run into. His table manners are fine, it’s not like he’s shoveling the food in with both hands, he uses the proper utensils, he chews with his mouth closed, etc. etc. But that when the food is served he puts his head down and … just eats. Like when he swallows the current mouthful he has another large forkful of whatever all built and ready to be inserted. No pause to look around, talk, interact. I don’t think he even drinks anything while he’s eating, it’s just forkful after forkful until his plate is empty.

The ‘trouble’ is, that this ‘efficiency’ means he has finished off the main course in like just two or three minutes, while all of the rest of us are barely a fifth of the way through our meal. Yes, maybe we spend too much time talking – that’s just the way our family has always been at meals and, honestly, we’ve never had any problem being super slow eaters in comparison to others when eating out with friends or at business occasions, so I really think he’s the one outside the norm.

It’s just awkward. We start a meal and he’s done eating by the time the rest of us have finished buttering a roll, sipping our drinks, adding condiments, or taken more than a bite or two. (And, yes, gabbing.)

So then what do you do? You have someone who still has somewhat the flavor or being a ‘guest’ rather than ‘family’ just out of newness, so it feels utterly wrong to leave him sitting there, with an empty plate, watching while the rest of us eat. Of course we offer him seconds, or ask if there is something else he’d like? And he’s all “No, I’m full, thank you.”

Personally I find myself trying to eat as fast as I can, faster than I’m comfortable with like not chewing a bite of steak long enough before trying to swallow.

And not talking so as to be done quicker – and what is the purpose of these get togethers if not to actually get to talk with not-living-together family members??

If Henry were her child rather than her boyfriend I’d feel like suggesting he could leave the table and go play a video game or something. :frowning: Or offer him a magazine or something to read while he waits?

I’ve mentioned it to Becky, and she agrees he eats fast, and says she’d mentioned it to him once, but he’d said ‘that’s just the way I eat’ and she didn’t want to go into it further, in case he thought she was criticizing him. Actually, she thinks it might be because he was in the Army for twenty years? Like, maybe you have limited time to eat, or are always having to get your food down before some crisis can come up? I don’t know.

It just makes our dinners with them way less pleasant that they could be.

Can I say something to him? Should I? Or just try to not notice that he’s sitting there just waiting for us to be done? (He doesn’t talk a whole lot, period, even when he’s not eating.)

I came from a mixed family; my Mom’s side considered dinner something where the family sat down and discussed the day and the news while eating; my Dad’s side was dinner was where you sat down and ate, concentrated on the eating, and then went to the living/sitting room to digest and talk. Despite this difference, they were happily married nearly 40 years.

So my guess is that ‘Henry’s’ family was of the ‘eat now/talk later’ variety and that’s been his habit up to now. If this thing with you daughter stays close and he’s a frequent guest, just keep doing what you’ve always done, let him go his way, and maybe he’ll begin moderating his behavior (at least around you).

IMHO as always. YMMV.

The military thing might have had a lot to do with it. I was in the Air Force in the 80s, and while I didn’t have to eat fast as my permanent assignments, we only had minutes to eat in boot camp and tech school. Maybe 10 minutes

That’s basically me, maybe not as extreme, but I’m a very fast eater and only ever eat modest portions, that’s just the way I am. Eating for me has fewer importance than for most other people, it’s first and foremost not to die of hunger. That doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy a meal, but I hate the kind of get-togethers with lots and lots of different foods on the table where everyone nibbles on this and that for hours, because I’m usually done after 10 minutes. My best friend is the slowest eater I know, and it’s always awkward when we eat out together.

My advice is: leave him alone with that. People are different. When I’m done eating, I don’t mind if the others at the table continue, I still can participate in conversation, even better than with a full mouth, so I don’t feel left out. It’s ok.

I grew up with brothers who would steal my food if I got distracted, so I learned to eat quickly and efficiently, just so I would get to eat my own dessert. Later, both of my husbands were military, so they never noticed I ate fast since we ate at about the same rate. It wasn’t until my first non-military boyfriend that someone noticed that I ate like that. I’d say that it’s pretty ingrained in him to put his head down and get the job done with minimal distraction.

I’m a fast eater. My wife is a slow eater. We cope. No magic words of wisdom here, it’s just one of those things. You do you, he’ll do his thing, just accept it and don’t be self-conscious. So long as everyone is polite there’s no requirement that everyone sync up here.

Personally, I’ve always found it odd that some people seem to value talking through the meal over having warm food. Go figure.

I worked with a young guy that ate faster than anyone I ever saw. I mentioned it once and he said it was from doing time in prison. They handed you your food tray and when they handed out the last one, they started collecting them. Anything you hadn’t eaten yet was lost.

Does it feel wrong to him though?

He’s no longer hungry, because he’s eaten. He can take part in the conversation just as well if he was sitting there buttering his roll and taking his time getting to the eating part.

Or is he not really able to take part in the conversation? If he’s mostly quiet and listening I can see how that might feel to you as if he’s not properly included. But that’s probably a likely stage, when you’re introducing a new person to a family

I worked with a fellow who had 6 or so older siblings, mostly boys except for one sister. His mother died when he was born. His father was a no-nonsense military disciplinarian who enacted a mealtime rule: once you finished eating, you were allowed to eat off of anyone else’s plate. So in order to not have all his food stolen by his older sibs, my coworker learned to eat as fast as possible, hunched protectively over his plate, shoveling food into his mouth like an animal. It was horrifying to watch. He knew he ate differently than other people, but didn’t understand how extreme it was.

That was going to be my question. If he doesn’t mind sitting there and socializing with the rest of you while you finish eating, it seems to me like the easiest thing all around is just to let him do that.

ETA: “fast eater” sounds like an oxymoron. If he’s fasting, he’s not eating.

Not sure this is really a problem unless you make it one. He might not feel particularly awkward or uncomfortable at all (if he did, he could presumably slow down, or talk more, or something), and there’s no particular reason why everybody else should – they are free to eat and talk and do whatever things they would do normally.

What a sociopath. Why would a person do that to es own children?

I’ve only run into a few examples of really fast eaters; all of them had some level of military background.

The one that really stuck in my mind was a guy in my dorm in college, who was in ROTC, and whose father had been in the military; that guy simply inhaled his food.

I’m a fast eater. It’s a combo of years working in service where you could eat ‘when you could grab ten minutes‘, and enjoying my food hot, not just warmed. I also eat smaller portions so I’m always done before others anyway. I do try to moderate it when I’m dining with others, but I just finish well ahead of hubs on a daily basis.

Maybe just recognize it’s only awkward because you’re making that way. He’s seems at ease with this, as does his girl. Ultimately, it’s a very small thing, of little import. Accept it’s just a quirky part of who he is, recognize he has other virtues, and move on.

Out of curiosity, how did they handle it? Did you father sit there and wait for the rest to finish? Or did he leave and got to sit elsewhere?

Excellent point! Yes, it can be the awkward being the ‘new’ one in an established group. Maybe that is why he’s been fairly quiet. Like answering questions briefly, but not in a snappish or disinterested way. I don’t think we’ve spend too much time on ‘Do you remember’ type conversation where he would obviously have no easy input, but maybe more than I was aware of.

So true! :grin:

Yeah, that’s no doubt the biggest part of any problem, my feeling like I’m failing as a hostess if a guest doesn’t look like he’s enjoying the current activity, whatever it is.

Maybe I should just ask him? Maybe wait a few more dinners and see if he starts opening up more in the conversation, and if not, then ask if he’s uncomfortable with our ways and if so, what would make it better for him?

That’s sure to make him uncomfortable if he wasn’t already. It’s basically criticizing him.(at least that’s how it’ll come across)

With quiet people, I find a better metric than amount of talking, for figuring out if things are okay with them, is amount of time spent silent. Like … if he’s talking about 5% as much as the rest of you, but spread out as little individual comments, on point with the conversation, at reasonably regular intervals - okay. If not making any comments at all except when someone asks him direct questions … a little bit more red-flag-ish.

That is, it’s still not necessarily the case that he feels there’s something wrong, but that’s how it would present if there WAS something wrong, IYKWIM

I don’t understand what issue you have with this.

Does everyone at your table finish eating at the exact same time? If not, how do you handle that?

He puts his head down and doesn’t come up for air until he’s gobbled up his food. That’s weird.

It’s been a while, but back when I was meeting the parents of a new SO I usually did my best to adopt the “less is more” approach to conversation. The less said, the less chance for putting ones foot in your mouth. I’d guess the eating has little to do with it, he’s probably just being reserved for other reasons.