Selective eating, distant sibling, cancer snub, tightwad in-law—Dear Prudence advises readers at Slate.com.

Selective eating, distant sibling, cancer snub, tightwad in-law—Dear Prudence advises readers at Slate.com.

Selective eating, distant sibling, cancer snub, tightwad in-law—Dear Prudence advises readers at Slate.com.

Advice on manners and morals.
April 14 2011 7:27 AM

I'll Have What the Toddler's Having

Dear Prudence advises a woman whose partner eats only unsophisticated kids' food.

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Dear Prudence,
I'm in my mid-20s and just got engaged to a sweet, funny, and attentive guy, whom I love very much. The problem? He's a very picky eater. He eats only about 10 things, all stuff you'd see on a kids' menu, such as chicken fingers, fries, plain pizza, and grilled cheese. He doesn't have a good explanation for it; he just says he doesn't like the textures of other foods. He knows it's a problem but doesn't do anything to work on it. This bothers me for several reasons. For one, though his doctor says he's healthy, I'm concerned that later he'll suffer the consequences of eating fried foods and no vegetables. Second, the refusal to eat like a grownup is a turn-off, and I see this trait as childish and stubborn. Third, his eating habits severely limit where we eat out. We'll never dine at an interesting restaurant, which I can get over, but it would be nice to have a special dinner somewhere other than a pizza parlor. I love him and don't want to make him feel embarrassed or pressured, but his picky eating is starting to grate on me. What should I do?

—Fed Up

Dear Fed,
His Happy Meal is your unhappy meal. Here's something to chew on: Your fiance and people like him might have their very own listing in the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Mental health professionals are considering making "selective eating" a new eating disorder. Right now, little is known about the condition, but researchers believe it could be a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Your fiance could even participate in Duke University's online survey of adult finicky eaters. The typical finicky diet—bland, white, cheesy, greasy—pretty much describes what your boyfriend probably wants to tell the caterer to serve for your wedding reception.

Most couples can accommodate differences in taste. But your boyfriend wants to go through life tasting only 10 things. So you will be annoyed by his limitations every night at dinner, during every social event, and at every celebration. Perhaps it would help if you thought of this as a medical issue. If he had celiac disease, you would be sympathetic to his food restrictions. Of course, he could try to change, and seeking out a cognitive behavioral therapist would be the way to go. Successful treatment requires that he have a stated goal of, say, going out for Thai food with you. But his actual goal may be avoiding Thai, and all other cuisines except McDonald's, because just the thought of what most people eat makes him gag. You say you can live with never eating in a nice restaurant, but in the same sentence you say you're already sick of pizza parlors. You claim that you don't want to pressure or embarrass him, but you're not even married and you're finding his food phobias hard to swallow. He has a problem, which he didn't hide when you two started going out to his favorite dives. You had the chance to conclude, He's a great guy, but he only eats chicken fingers and fries, and I can't take it. Instead you stayed, and now you expect him to be someone different. Before you set the date, you need to imagine celebrating all of your anniversaries at Domino's.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence: Pelt Peeve

Dear Prudence,
I'm graduating from medical school next month, and I called my older brother to invite him and his wife to the graduation ceremony. I live on the East Coast while they live on the West Coast. He said he'd try to make it and sounded excited. The next day, via text message, he told me that they had already scheduled a trip to Mexico for that weekend and couldn't change the dates. In all of the years that I've attended medical school, they have never visited because of time and money constraints. But he and his wife have gone on at least 10 vacations to exotic locations. He almost visited once but said the city I'm living in is boring and didn't come. I have visited them a few times on my student's budget. I'm feeling very slighted and hurt. Am I overreacting? What should I say to him?

—Hurt Doctor

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Dear Hurt,
Call your brother to tell him that you're disappointed he won't make it to your graduation. Say that you love seeing him, but you feel the desire to get together is one-sided because you're always the one to make the trip. He should hear this, and maybe it will sink in. But once you tell him, you'll feel better if you accept that probably nothing will change, and it will be up to you to decide whether you want to make future trips. Maybe he's oblivious or selfish. Maybe his wife insists vacations are for travel, not family. Maybe you care more about your relationship than he does. You don't mention other family members, but I hope your brother is not the sole person you're counting on to cheer you across the stage. Instead of seething at the thought of your brother and sister-in-law under a palapa on a Mexican beach, focus on your own incredible accomplishment. You're a doctor! Also recognize that of all the milestone events that family is expected to attend, the graduation ceremony is the most excruciating. But for you, this one marks the beginning of what should be a deeply satisfying career as a healer. Your brother and sister-in-law won't be seeing you pick up your diploma, but in the event that they pick up a case of Montezuma's revenge, try not to laugh when they ask you for medical advice.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
A dear friend invited me to join her for Easter Sunday with the same friends she had over for Christmas Eve dinner. They were a delightful group, and I gladly accepted. Now she has told me that the group is unavailable, but she invited a former friend of mine (he's a man, I'm a woman), whom I have not spoken with for over a year. Last year I underwent treatment for cancer, and he never once offered to help me while I was dealing with the effects of chemotherapy, radiation, and two surgeries.  He lived closer to me than any of my other friends, yet his presence was completely lacking during my time of greatest need. I told him how disappointed I was. If I attend this Easter dinner, I will feel quite awkward. I've already committed to going, but I do not relish attending an event with a painted-on smile and false sense of camaraderie. What do you recommend?

—Not Inclined

Dear Not,
I don't think you should tell your friend you can't come, lest her Easter celebration turn into the new standard for the adage "No good deed goes unpunished." Surely she didn't know you and your ex-friend were estranged; she was just trying to put together an agreeable group for you. But give her a heads up that you and he had a falling out. Explain that you were hurt that he disappeared during your cancer treatments, but it's time to get past that, and this is a good occasion to reconnect. I offer no defense of your friend—he behaved abominably. But recognize that there are some people who flee in the face of illness. It speaks poorly of their character, but it's done out of discomfort and fear, not malice.

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He may also have felt that he didn't want to intrude while you were in a vulnerable state—in your pajamas or bald. Again, not a defense, just a possibility. So put on that smile and enjoy your hostess, and try to remember what you liked about your friend in the first place. By the end of the night, your feeling that you never want to speak to him again might be confirmed. But perhaps what you've said to the hostess will turn out to be true—that you are ready to get past your hurt.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
Ever since my husband and I got married six years ago, my father-in-law has sent me a card with money in it for my birthday. He's a sweet man, and we have never had a single bad word between us. What I cannot understand is why he always gives me $20 less than he gives my husband, which is $100, each year for our birthdays. I know this sounds extremely petty, but I can't make any sense of his reasoning. It's not even the money that bothers me—it's the obvious slight. I've thought about asking my father-in-law if I have ever done something to offend him, but my husband requests that I just leave things alone and not create a problem where there is none. What do you think?

—Confused Daughter-in-Law

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Dear Confused,
Your husband, what a weenie! He should be supporting you in your efforts to rectify this affront. You've been married for six years, so the old man owes you $120 in back birthday gift money. Write up a bill and hand it to him next time your special day rolls around. You also need to have that heart-to-heart you've been gunning for. I imagine it should go something like this: "Artie, you've always been warm and welcoming to me. We've never exchanged an unpleasant word. You even remember my birthday, which I've got to acknowledge probably 99 percent of fathers-in-law would not do. But you've been shorting me $20 a year in birthday money the entire time I've been married to your son, and I need an explanation. Why are you grabbing your left arm, moaning, and keeling over? Don't tell me that my asserting my rights has caused you to have a heart attack. Stop mumbling, 'My son is married to a lunatic!' This is just like you, Artie, wanting to go to intensive care instead of talking about my feelings. Artie, let me take some cash from your wallet before the ambulance comes."

—Prudie

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