Dining drama

Joey Garcia

Somehow I gave my partner the impression that I don’t think she’s very intelligent. She says I ignore her during group discussions, and I make her feel like she is boring. I’m distressed because I honestly don’t remember ignoring her. We also argue during meals because I prefer to read than to talk, and she expects me to engage in small talk and do all the talking. I find this stressful. I tell her that I would like talking with her at meals if she would contribute to the conversation. If she believes I think she’s not smart enough to talk to, how can I encourage her to initiate conversations when we dine out? Other than this issue, we are a very happy couple.

I recommend you initiate a new conversation. Set a romantic dinner table and offer this question as an appetizer: What was your childhood experience of mealtimes? You may discover that the two of you are subconsciously responding to a menu of behaviors that was imprinted on your psyches decades ago. If so, you can establish new expectations that are grounded in who you are now rather than in who you needed to be to please your family. By approaching this conversation with vulnerability and respect, you will feed your partner’s apparent need for intimacy during mealtimes. You also will help yourself because it appears that you read to fill yourself with potential topics for conversation. That said, might I suggest that the stress you’re experiencing is essentially performance anxiety, i.e., what if I don’t meet my partner’s expectations?

I recommend you trash the notion that mealtime conversations should be small talk. Discuss the most emotionally seductive, intellectually invigorating, life-changing topics without criticizing each other. This will bind the two of you closer together and allow your partner to build her confidence. Of course, if you are particularly engaging in a group, and your partner’s level of self-esteem (or lack thereof) inspires self-criticism, she automatically will believe that it’s her fault if the two of you don’t engage in similarly scintillating conversation while alone.

The other issue you’ve described, her tendency to wait for you to initiate conversation, is also a self-esteem problem. She is waiting to be noticed, recognized and entertained. Even so, it’s your job to change, not hers. Why? Because you only have the power to change yourself.

I keep getting suckered back into a dysfunctional, borderline abusive relationship because my ex knows just the right things to say to tug at my heart and make me believe he cares. Afterward, I know he’s just being manipulative, but he’s very good at it. I’m not dumb or weak, but I always get suckered into a situation that I know will end with me getting hurt again. Do you have any good advice to bring me back to reality when the person I once loved starts looking like he cares about me again?

You’re not dumb or weak, but you are manipulative. You know just the right things to say to manipulate yourself into returning to the relationship because you are desperate for someone to care for you. If you truly cared for yourself, this man’s sales pitches would be swept away by your laughter.

To learn how to greet his ridiculous overtures with grace, see a counselor, immediately. You deserve to love and be loved, but you clearly need support to reach that destination.

Meditation of the week
Film actor Jake Gyllenhaal says J.D. Salinger (author of Catcher in the Rye) “touched on what’s at the heart of American repression: familial neglect.” What’s at the heart of your repression?

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