Welcome to Tough Love. Every other week, we’re answering your questions about dating, breakups, and everything in between. Our advice giver is Blair Braverman, dogsled racer and author of Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube. Have a question of your own? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some friends and I have been planning a six-day float trip for a month from now. We’re breaking down menu planning so that two people are volunteering to cook a communal meal every night. The only problem is that I am a picky eater. I haven’t traveled with this group before, so I feel awkward about bringing it up. I really just don’t love big mushy stews and whatever else my hippie friends want to eat on the river. I know what I like, and I’m super willing to pay for and bring my own food every night, but I don’t want to kill the community vibe. How do I make this as non-awkward as possible and still eat the way I want to eat in front of my close-knit community of friends? Am I a huge jerk if I want to eat instant ramen every night while my friends make a festive mess? Maybe I could just bring cocktails?
The sooner you take yourself out of the communal food planning, the better. If someone’s taking the lead on most of the logistics, you could reach out to them privately to explain the situation—but everyone will know at some point, so you might as well bite the bullet and send a group email. It’s up to you to set the tone, so if you don’t make a huge deal out of the situation, your friends probably won’t either. Just say you’re a picky eater and excited about the trip, but with the exception of your communal dinner (which you should still contribute to—just make sure it’s something you like), you would prefer to manage your own meals. Then turn to the next item of planning. See? Not too hard. Once you’re on the trip, be responsible for your own trash and help with other communal tasks like filtering water and setting up camp.
You should expect some lighthearted teasing, but just laugh it off: “Hey, I like my ramen.” (If the teasing isn’t lighthearted, then you might want to find new friends.)
As for cocktails, that’s a great idea. Appoint yourself the camp mixologist and plan some tasty drinks to share with the gang. It’s hard to imagine a group of friends who would be sad about having awesome drinks every night (with mocktails also available, of course). Just don’t take it personally if someone only wants to drink Bud Light.
I know this isn’t really my problem, but I’ve been feeling bothered by my partner’s eating habits. He eats a lot of snack food and premade meals. He’s very active and is working on getting a PhD in kinesiology, so he’s busy but has a flexible schedule that would allow him to cook during the day. Still, every time he goes to eat something, he grabs lazy stuff like frozen burritos or food from the grocery store hot bar. I put a lot of effort into the way I eat, and it bums me out to see that he doesn’t care about what he puts into his body. How can I encourage him to eat healthier?
Grad school is intense, and it’s likely that even if your partner wants to cook or plan meals, he’s at the limits of his energy. Having a flexible schedule doesn’t necessarily mean that someone has motivation to spare, and irregular hours make it harder, not easier, to build in daily routines. When it comes to ready-made foods, frozen burritos and hot-bar foods aren’t necessarily unhealthful, so I suspect your concern is less about nutrition than values.
You put a lot of effort into your meals, and it upsets you to see your partner treat meals as, well, effortless. Are you worried that if your partner can let regular meals slide, then someday you might too? If he can be active and healthy while eating so-called lazy foods, does it feel like all the effort you put into your own meals might be in vain? Do shared, careful meals represent family for you, and does it concern you that your partner might not share this value? If any of these ring true, it’s worth putting some thought into them and then having an honest conversation. The trick is to figure out what it is, exactly, that bothers you so you can come to the conversation by sharing your feelings and fears rather than attacking your partner’s habits.
If your main concern is truly nutrition, then the solution is simpler. Your partner is going through an intense academic program, and he’s reaching for easy, low-effort foods. With a little planning, you can help ensure that the lowest-effort foods in your house are also fresh and nutritious. Stock the fridge with fruits and veggies, and if you enjoy cooking, prepare extra meals that can be frozen in single servings and reheated in a few minutes. Why should you be the one to do the extra work? Because you’re the one who cares.