Bowing out of friends' unspoken under-eating competition

Give in-laws the means to care about sibling's benefits situation

Q: My wife has five siblings, one of whom has developmental delays. We are in our 50s and 60s. In June 2008, I was asked to assist in obtaining benefits for one of the siblings (paperwork isn't this family's forte). In the process, I became friends with my brother-in-law.

We are in contact often regarding his progress, and I have come to realize he has had to traverse too many complicated and confusing things alone. I think the family may have assumed he understood much more than he did. My brother-in-law may not have expressed his confusion, wanting to appear "like everyone else."

After 18 months, I have not had one request from any of the siblings for an update. If I dropped dead tomorrow, not one of them, including my wife, would have a clue where to pick up the fight for multiple benefits. Does this sound odd, rude or ungrateful to you?

Nebraska

A: It's unfortunate, I'll grant you that. Without knowing anything about the road this family has traveled, though, I'm not going to judge the condition in which they've arrived.

Instead, please consider achieving your moral ends through relentlessly practical (if burdensome) means. Document everything you do for their brother, and draw up clear instructions — updated regularly — for someone to pick up wherever you leave off, should you . . . "leave off" tomorrow. Invite your wife and/or any remotely cooperative siblings to look over your shoulder, too, so you can teach them what you're doing. Don't wait for them to show interest; they may never. Just encourage and equip them to care.

Bowing out of friends' unspoken under-eating competition

Q: What's your take on the Kate Moss-inspired attitude toward eating that has infected all my friends? (All female, mid to late 20s.) If we go to lunch together, it becomes a silent contest as to who can under-order and under-eat the others. I'm a healthy weight and not fanatic about exercise and I feel like a cow around them, but on the other hand it's not like I can call them out on their personal habits. What should I say the next time one of them orders a small side salad for lunch and then eyes my hamburger, whining about how good it looks?

"Nothing tastes better than skinny"

A: I'd like food and weight to be uncoupled from social competition of any kind.

Not that it's Kate Moss' fault. When she hit the scene, she was an example of a broadened ideal of beauty, conceptually at least. That she precipitated a narrowed ideal, literally, is a tragedy with many authors.

That said: Unless you have grounds to suspect an eating disorder, you're right that you can't call friends out on their personal habits. (And if you do suspect an eating disorder, please go to nationaleatingdisorders.org before calling anyone out on anything.)

You sure can, however, call them out on coveting your burger as if they've been sentenced to lettuce. When they whine, you neither preach nor apologize nor moo, but instead state blandly obvious facts. "You can have one, too, you know." Or, "It's okay to eat when you're hungry." Or, "It tastes good, too." Take yourself calmly, openly and nondefensively out of the race.

Bowing out of friends' unspoken under-eating competition 02/23/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 23, 2010 3:30am]

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