Q. Loud Eater: I work in a small bungalow on a studio lot in L.A. Three of us have desks out in the open in the main area. Our P.A. is young and a bit quirky, but enthusiastic, eager to learn, and has a great attitude. I adore him, but, he has one hugely annoying habit: He is the loudest eater I have ever encountered. He chomps, slurps, and smacks his way through every meal. We often eat lunches at our desks while working, as we're on a tight schedule. His eating is so distracting, I had to pick up my laptop and carry it outside at one point so I could concentrate on finishing my work. Is it ever okay to tell somebody that they eat too loudly? How can I do it kindly and politely?
A: If you have to leave the room because of the volume of a young colleague's eating, then you will be doing him a huge favor by discussing this with him (but not over a meal). You say he's "quirky" which could mean he lacks certain social skills, but since he's eager to advance, you have to tell him that he has a habit he's probably not aware of he needs to address. Explain he is a really loud eater and he needs to tone it way down. Since you're in the movie or TV business, you could suggest that he tape himself eating and listen and watch what he does. He could also find an etiquette consultant who could give him a few sessions on table manners. To put him at ease, be calm and unembarrassed. In years to come, he'll probably look back with gratitude that you were willing to have a difficult conversation that helped his career.
Q. Abusive Husband's Death: My husband was an emotionally (and, on three occasions, physically) abusive man. He hid his abusive behavior from everyone but our children and me. I recently managed to save up enough money to divorce him and move far away. Then he died; a drunk driver T-boned his car. His family and his friends are grief-stricken and assume I am too. His mother comes over to help with the kids but inevitably breaks down and wants to talk about my husband and how wonderful he was. My children had a very strained volatile relationship with their father, and now they feel pressured to pretend like he was a loving father. My 13-year-old son told me he's not sad his dad died, and, as awful as it sounds, I don't blame him. How should I respond to others' legitimate grief over the man they thought they knew? I feel fraudulent posing as his wife when I couldn't wait to leave him. I didn't want him to die, but if I'm being honest, his death doesn't make me sad either.
A: Since you divorced your husband and moved far away, people should know that your sense of loss is going to be different from someone whose loving husband just died. To the expressions of grief you can respond with anodyne statements. "It was a shocking loss." "I know how much you miss your son/friend/brother." With your former mother-in-law you have a difficult balancing act. You want her in her grandchildren's lives, but you cannot grieve with her. Try saying something like, "Of course I understand you're in agony. But discussing Brandon is just too painful for me, so I'm sorry I can't do it." Despite your relief at your ex's death, I think you should tread carefully with the children because they will have raw and complicated feelings to sort through. You can listen attentively to them and let them know it's okay to express these complicated feelings without saying that you, too, are glad he's dead. You can acknowledge that their father had some good qualities that sadly were often overwhelmed by his bad ones, and that he did cause all of you a lot of pain. You can explain that in such circumstances you understand that among their many feelings is a sense of relief.
Q. Re: Abusive Husband's Death: The letter writer said she had saved up enough so she could divorce her husband and move far away, not that she had initiated any of those proceedings.
A: Ah, thanks for clarifying my misreading. Yes, this complicates things, but I will then reiterate my initial advice. For herself and her children, she simply should not put on false theatrics about being the devastated widow. She can acknowledge the grief of the other person and say it's too painful for her to have conversations about her ex. She should limit things with her mother-in-law. She was planning to move, which she should probably put on hold at least temporarily because her kids are going through enough disruption. But eventually she may decide starting over somewhere else is still a good idea.
Q. Looking a Gift Cruise in the Mouth: My in-laws announced late last summer that for a Christmas gift they were taking everyone in the family on a cruise in 2013. I'm not crazy about cruises but would be a good sport and go since they were paying for it. Turns out they are only paying the costs of the cruise cabin. We are having to pay flights/transfers/tips/additional cruise costs/required shore trips. By the time this is all said and done, this will most likely be my husband's and my only vacation this year. How do I keep a jovial attitude whilst spending all this additional money on a trip I don't even want to go on?
A: You and your husband have to decide if you want to do this trip. If it fills you both with dread, then you're adults and entitled to disregard the royal decree of his parents. But if he feels this will likely be the only time his entire family gets to all be together in such an extended fashion, his parents are getting older, and the fun parts of the trip will balance out the expense, then you make peace with the fact that being in a family means you don't always get your own way. There are worse things in life than having someone pay for your cabin on a cruise ship. As long as the ship's engine doesn't die mid-voyage, or the passengers don't get norovirus, you'll be able to consider the trip a success.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks everyone. Talk to you next week.
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