Robert Augustus Masters

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Something to Chew On

  • May 18, 2015
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She met him through an online dating site. Lots in common, surprisingly rich conversation, easy connection. They had two Skype meetings, liked what they saw, and happily agreed to meet for dinner a week later.

It wasn’t love at first sight (which often is just a conditioning-meets-conditioning hormonal hookup at first sight), but a pleasingly down-to-earth meeting with just enough of a tingle to keep things interesting. So far, so good, she thought, trying not to make too much of this.

Everything went well until the appetizers arrived. The problem wasn’t that he plunged in a bit too greedily for her taste, but that he chewed with his mouth open. And talked at the same time. Disgust upended her pleasure, while she struggled to not let her facial features display any distaste. Ugh. Maybe he’s just nervous or really hungry, she lectured herself, maybe his masticatory motoring will soon slow down until the garage door is reached and closed.

But no such luck. Soon the appetizers were gone, ground to impressionistic mush framed by his lips, the visuals lingering. She dreaded the arrival of the main courses, hardly able to stomach her anticipation.

Should she say something? After all, she hardly knew him. But she had liked him. Yet if he kept getting his teeth into his oral ritual she knew she wouldn’t want to be with him, shallow as that might sound. Plus she was not a fan of being direct. Already she was rehearsing how she’d tell him thank you for dinner, great to meet you, but a sweet no thank you if he said he’d like to see her again.

Her guts were churning; she barely heard what he was saying as she witnessed each mouthful getting macerated in sloshing Technicolor. She hardly registered the rest of his face, as she tried to keep eye contact with him. Should she say something? And if so, how? Surely his feelings would be hurt if she told the truth.

She couldn’t say you eat like a pig, and she also couldn’t say the way you are eating disgusts me, and the very thought of addressing his open-mouthed blenderizing felt too uncomfortable. She remembered her best friend saying that you could tell a lot about how a man makes love by watching how he ate. She imagined him kissing her, and almost ran from the table as their fantasy tongues bumped into each other.

At the same time, though, there were lots of things she liked about him. So she sat there, frozen. Then, just before the entrees made an appearance, he asked her how she was feeling. So he wasn’t completely lost in his self-feeding. She smiled and said fine. He asked if she was sure. His lips – sweet benediction – closed, and without any audible smacking. Ah, blessed relief! Here was her chance.

She didn’t take it. And didn’t see him again. But that missed opportunity hung around her for quite a while, even making a few cameos in her dreams.

She wished she had said something authentic. Something like what her friend eventually suggested: “I feel uncomfortable saying this, and I am sorry if it hurts you, but if I don’t say it, we won’t be able to go any further, and I like you enough to want to see you some more. So here it is: When I see others chewing with their mouths open, I often feel some repulsion. I usually keep my mouth shut about this, but in your case I’m speaking up because I don’t want this habit of yours to stop us. And maybe you’re not even aware that you chew with your mouth open. I wish I could say this better, and I’m hoping, really hoping, that you can eat with your mouth closed when you’re with me. And if there’s anything I do that turns you off, I hope you’ll feel free to tell me.”

In short, something considerate and sufficiently direct, something free of any shaming intent, something worth saying, despite your possible rejection by the other. Such are the risks, whatever their size and embarrassment quotient, that are an essential part of relationships worth having and developing.