Some snotbag little Princess wrote into Dear Prudence at Slate magazine about her “cute, smart, warm, loving, devoted” boyfriend because she doesn’t like his TABLE MANNERS. No really. She’s nailed a man who is apparently attractive, intelligent, emotionally available and expressive and dedicated to her, aaaaaand she’s not happy.
Here’s the whole letter:
My lovely boyfriend—cute, smart, warm, loving, devoted—has about the worst manners, especially at the table, that I have ever encountered in my life. He doesn’t know how to hold a fork, he wraps his left arm protectively around his food and hovers his upper body over it, he uses his left hand to help food onto his fork or spoon, he slurps soup and spaghetti loudly and sloppily. I’ve tried to bring it up in lighthearted way, especially in the context of meeting my parents, and he doesn’t get it. I do not want to insult someone I love, and by proxy his parents, but I couldn’t in a million years bring him to a dinner party, a nice restaurant, a family gathering, basically anywhere outside of the confines of my apartment. The one time we had a full meal out people did stare and I’ve steered us into drinks or a movie rather than dinner ever since. I’m not just embarrassed, I’m also concerned for his reputation in his line of work and in his peer group. When he eats, he looks and behaves like he’s at a Renaissance Fair. How do I address this with the man I love without hurting his feelings?
You can read Prudie’s response here: suffice to say, we do NOT agree.
All right folks, put your helmets on, we’re going in! This could get messy.
He doesn’t know how to hold a fork?!? What the fuck is this? Dinner at Buckingham Palace? How many options can there be? Does it get the food to his mouth? Why the fuck do you care how he holds a fork? Is he stabbing you in the eye with it?
Here are some correct ways to hold a fork (hint: any fucking way you want):
Here are some incorrect ways to hold a fork:
“He wraps his left arm protectively around his food and hovers his upper body over it, he uses his left hand to help food onto his fork or spoon, he slurps soup and spaghetti loudly and sloppily.”
What?!?!?! Are you serious! FarmBoy doesn’t sit ramrod straight in his chair, napkin in his lap, eating silently while contemplating what an icy, condescending bitch you are! You know what this sounds like to me? It sounds like we have a class problem. Princess Snotbag understands perfectly well that her request to change her boyfriend’s eating habits is an insult to both him and his parents (apparently, he was not raised in a swamp by monsters), and that it will hurt his feelings, and she is SUCH a loving, caring and adoring girlfriend that she intends to plough ahead anyways.
Well really, she has to! What choice does she have? She “couldn’t in a million years bring him to a dinner party, a nice restaurant, a family gathering, basically anywhere outside of the confines of my apartment”.
Yep. She really wrote those words. Oh, at the end, she throws in that she is concerned his table manners might affect his “reputation”, because we all know that intelligence, warmth, attractiveness and dedication pale in comparison to the correct use of a soup spoon when it comes to hiring practices, amirite?
What we are dealing with here is shame: Princess is ashamed of her boyfriend, and rather than encircle him with a protective shield, she has decided he must change to please her, to relieve her of the need to do anything that might support or defend him.
Here’s what Princess SHOULD say:
I love you. I don’t give a shit how you hold your fork. And if anyone in my family ever brings it up, I’ll be the first one to tell them to fuck off.
And you know what will happen? He’ll start to notice that he does things a little differently. It may amuse him to irritate the Snotbag Royal Family by slurping his soup, but chances are, since he knows that Princess loves him unconditionally and does not care where he puts his arm during dinner, it will cost him nothing to adapt to the local circumstances. And he might do it. To protect her from catching any shit from her mother or anyone else who objects to how he handles the cutlery.
You see? That’s how it works. She loves unconditionally and protects him, and he loves unconditionally, and protects her right back. It’s a two way street.
True story: Mr. JB and I come from very different class backgrounds, with me being the dirt poor country girl and him the well to do city boy. At the very beginning of our relationship, it was very difficult for Mr. JB to deal with things like table manners and what topics of conversation I felt were appropriate for the dinner table (anything involving farting is considered high comedy in my family).
Our class backgrounds are SO different, that I actually miss most of the insults lobbed my way, and so I completely miss the fact that Mr. JB just lets them pass. This insult went on for ten years without me knowing it, until Mr. JB finally took his mother aside and put a stop to it:
Every year at Christmas I get two kitchen towels. The Dowager JB has always been very careful to tell me that “this one is a tea towel” and “this one is a hand towel”. Then she gets a very tight-lipped expression and sits there looking at me.
And I’m all like “ok”.
You see, there is a HUGE DIFFERENCE between a tea towel and a hand towel. Tea towels are to dry DISHES. Hand towels are to dry HANDS.
THEY MUST NOT BE CONFUSED
Apparently, the message I was supposed to receive every Christmas is “you are a terrible housekeeper, your dishes are germy and filthy, I’m surprised we are all not dead of salmonella yet, please acquire some manners and standards”.
Message send failure. I never received it. When Mr. JB finally told me what was up with the whole fucking tea towel thing, I was kind of pissed. Ok, so I never got it. He let it go on for ten years! What a dick! Now, when the Dowager is over at our home for dinner, I dry a glass for her with a towel, use the same towel to wipe my hands and then throw the towel down on the floor and use my foot to wipe up whatever shit the kids have dropped now.
Heh. She has to grip the edge of the counter to survive that one.
And you know, it really is a two way street. I will inwardly cringe when Mr. JB says unbelievably snobbish things like “he’s pretty simple to be reading the Economist” or “I’m surprised you made it so far with your education, with your rural roots”. That one stings in particular, because he doesn’t seem to notice that he’s talking about ME!
But it doesn’t matter. Part of the deal when you enter into any long-term, indissoluble contract is that you ACCEPT THE TERMS. And when it comes to marriage, that means you accept your partner completely. Including the flaws. Mr. JB is not perfect. About three years into our marriage, that really irritated the shit out of me. Like, really irritated me. It was clear that he was not going to change, and I was wondering what to do about that, when he came home and started looking for one of our phone handsets to make a call. He got really pissy about the fact that I NEVER put the phone back on the charger. Like, never. I don’t know why. Sometimes I will put it down BESIDE the charger, but never on it. It’s not deliberate. I just don’t think about it.
And while he was lecturing me about the stupid phone, it came to me: HOLY CRAP I’M SUPER IRRITATING TOO!
And I probably won’t be changing (although I do TRY to put the phone on the charger).
Prudie’s advice to Princess Snotbag boils down to this: make FarmBoy take etiquette classes, shame him, berate him, force him to change into what you want him to be. Go ahead and do that, Princess, but don’t plan on having a lasting, loving relationship, because that is not how marriage works. That is not how any relationship works.
This kind of advice is so very destructive to women: you own men and you can change them into whatever you want. You can’t. Here’s who you can change: YOURSELF. Princess, if you are so ashamed of your cute, smart, loyal, affectionate boyfriend that you can’t let him out of your apartment, let him go. There are a million women out there who will happily sit in a sidewalk cafe beside him slurping spaghetti and watching the world go by, loving him for EVERYTHING he is.
FarmBoy, here’s some advice for you: You deserve better than this. RUN!
Lots of love,