So it seems to me this question is not really about food. Because no one writes in for advice on simple scheduling issues.
So this has something to do with the enormous social, personal and cultural associations most people have with food and mealtimes. When I had to go on the low-FODMAP diet, it basically meant I couldn't share a meal with anyone anymore, and more than the inconvenience, I was shocked by how isolating and upsetting that felt. Not being able to accept cookies baked by a friend, bringing my own tupperware dinner to Full Moon Feasts - it made me feel less connected.
And I think of myself as more or less a Soylent Person. (Not an actual eater of Soylent, but someone who views eating mainly as a chore that you have to do to function, rather than a joy and a hobby.) And it still got to me.
So yeah, meals are a big deal. But I don't know what kind of a big deal they are for you and your partner (or if they're a big deal for only one of you and the other is a Soylent Person). It could be something about families, for example - you can imagine a family that always sat down together for meals, until the marriage started breaking up and one parent started eating alone on the front porch, and how a child might then feel on a really deep level that family meals = we're okay.
Or it could just be the only time you're off your phones and actually talking to each other.
So my advice:
- Talk to your partner about the underlying emotional and cultural weight you both place on shared meals. It's probably only semi-conscious and really individual so this might take a bit of internal digging.
- Look for other ways to meet those respective needs.
- E.g. ypu could make a ritual out of always stopping whatever you're doing at 11am to have a coffee together, phones away. Or herbal tea at 10pm. (Sharing beverages fills a lot of the same emotional niche as sharing meals).
- Can you agree to some shared mealtimes? Once a week or once a fortnight? And make them super special / focused?
- Similarly to 1. be honest and open about the costs of shifting meal patterns (if you don't sleep well if you have a late meal, for e.g.) so you can see what's a real challenge and what's a low-hanging compromise fruit.
- If one of you loves big social meals and the other doesn't, can the social-meals person start organising that with friends more? (i.e. is the unfulfilled need about your relationship dynamics, or is it just a general life need that they could get met elsewhere?)
One thing I do a lot, is have a 90% sized meal at the time I want it, and then a 10% meal at the restaurant or friend's house. So I'm still taking part in the meal, but I'm not fucking up my diet too much (and it's much easier to find a small side that's low FODMAP than a whole meal.
Generally I would say "eat whenever you want to eat, but find another way to meet that emotional need", EXCEPT, if you have kids. There's a fair bit of research that says eating meals together as a family has benefits for the kid, both in physical health and mental/emotional resilience. Here's a meta-study of 17 studies to that effect. Obviously people can only do what they can, but it's good to at least be aware of the research when making plans. (You could try the 90/10 meal-splitting thing here too.)
Food is pretty core stuff, linked to survival and safety and trust, and is one of the earliest and most basic, reliable forms of communication (you can't explain to a dog that he's done a good job, but if you give him food, he knows that means "you did good". It's not simple bribery - dogs usually want to please their owners. Food is how you communicate that you're pleased. After a while, you don't need the food anymore, because you've taught them what the words "good boy" mean.*)
So you probably won't be able to just de-condition yourselves. The rest, I think, is just scheduling and compromise.
* This does not apply to all dogs but you get the gist.
This piece was originally published in The Whippet #60 – subscribe to get the next one in your inbox!
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