Q. I married into a Korean family. (I’m not Korean.)
My mother lives nearby. She is very closed-minded about food. She won’t try new things, and rarely goes to restaurants, because she tends to nitpick every part of the meal, or say that some ingredient “disagrees” with her.
Recently, my in-laws threw a big party at their house, to celebrate my mother-in-law’s 70th birthday. The party was catered, featuring mostly Korean food. They invited my mother to the party. Knowing that she was likely going to have issues with the food, I gave her a heads-up so she could plan accordingly. She said, “Don’t worry about me,” and so I didn’t.
At the party, she immediately stated that she “couldn’t eat a thing.” My very sweet father-in-law paid special attention to her, to encourage her to try something. A few minutes later, I looked out and saw my mother-in-law firing up the grill in order to cook a single hamburger for my mom, while everyone else sat down at the table and enjoyed the catered food.
While everyone was polite, I was incredibly embarrassed at my mother’s closed-mindedness and stubborn behavior. I want her to try new things, and to get out of her comfort zone. I also don’t want to exclude her, just on the basis of her picky eating habits.
What would you recommend?
PERTURBED BY PICKINESS
A. Your desire for your mother to leave her comfort zone is natural and understandable, but her extremely picky eating does not excuse her rudeness.
Your mother might have ARFID (Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder), an eating disorder characterized by an extreme aversion to lots of different foods. You could suggest that she research this possibility (information about ARFID is on the National Eating Disorders website: nationaleatingdisorders.org).
However, having dietary limitations, restrictions, phobias, or preferences does not give a person license to announce it at a party. Furthermore, the idea that your mother let your mother-in-law cook a special dish for her — at your MIL’s own landmark birthday party — is quite beyond the plate.
The way you present this, your mother behaved in a way that was both rude and entitled. Whether her disordered eating is caused by health problems or specific food-based fears is something that she should sort out. If she wants to expand her cuisine, and be less limited and fearful, she should seek medical and/or therapeutic help. Her eating problems are definitely interfering with her enjoyment of some everyday experiences.
In the future, you should encourage her to bring her own food in a container. She could very easily say, “I have a very limited diet, so I need to bring my own food whenever I eat away from home.” She should not make any pointed, critical, or specific remarks about the food offered. You (and she) should also offer heartfelt gratitude to your in-laws for being so kind and hospitable.
Q. I don’t know if readers send you follow-ups about how they are doing, and if they’re taking your advice, but I want to let you know that I have!
My letter was signed “Angry Ashley.” I was hanging out with “Steve,” and it wasn’t a good situation for me. I took your advice and I have been going to counseling, and I have started an antidepressant.
I’ve been hanging out with new people, and I’m a lot happier. I’ve met some pretty awesome people, and I’m less afraid. I’ve watched some of the movies you recommended, and that’s why I like your column. You seem to love movies, and your advice is direct.
Thank you so much for printing my letter. It really helped me, and I hope it also helps other women who have a similar situation.
NO LONGER ‘ANGRY ASHLEY’
A. Your original question outlined a “friends with benefits” relationship where you didn’t enjoy the friendship, nor (as far as I could tell) any benefits.
Thank you so much for the positive update! I’m happy that you are taking good care of yourself. Your relationship with yourself is the only one guaranteed to last.
Q. Your answer to “Going Nuts in Niagara Falls,” about the squirrels overrunning her new property, was terrible!
Squirrels do not take well to relocation. These animals deserve protection, not relocation.
A. In an unplanned and perfectly ironic twist, this column ran on “Squirrel Appreciation Day.”
My inbox is now flooded with anti-Amy mail, much of it, very possibly, written by squirrels.
Amy Dickinson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.