FIL’s Chewing Is Driving Me Crazy

My husband and I live with my father-in-law (paying reduced rent; his gift to us as we save for a house) and we often eat dinner together. My husband is an occasional open-mouth chewer but kindly stops when I remind him how crazy it drives me and now mostly does it briefly to tease me (in fact he didn’t do it at all until we started living with his dad).

His father, on the other hand, always chews every bite with mouth agape, unless we have a guest over. For that reason I think he’s aware on some level how icky it is (and also because when I was first dating my now-husband and we had dinner with him sometimes, he did not do this), but doesn’t seem to care for our family dinners. It is a full-on wet, lip-smacking sound, and it is driving me bonkers! I do not want to ask my sweetie to say anything to his dad because he is not bothered by it, but I’m uncomfortable just asking straight out if he knows he does it or if he could please, please stop! I get so distracted that I cannot eat my own food and try to wolf it down before he starts.

I’m in a weird zone of not being guest enough to warrant good manners but not being familiar enough to say, Hey dude! Dinner is really delicious tonight, but would it be alright if you chewed with a closed mouth?

What are the better words? Is there another way? Should I ask my husband to mention it, which might cause my father-in-law less embarrassment (but I think my husband might buckle and admit that I’m the one with the problem, which would also be weird)? Should I leave it alone? He is doing us a very generous favor, having us in his home!

Sincerely,
FIL Is Driving Me Crazy

Dear FIL Is Driving Me Crazy,

If you’re asking for a polite way to ask your father-in-law to chew with his mouth closed… I can’t help you. If you’re wondering how to ask the person who is generously letting you stay in his home to practice better table manners at his own table, again, I’m not your girl.

That you think he can tell the difference and bring better manners to bare in some circumstances would gnaw at a person; instead of thinking it’s a simple question of effort that he’s not making your behalf, may I suggest that you see it as a sign that he is comfortable about you? Sometimes reframing these things helps.

If act you must, however, I have a suggestion. It depends greatly on the personalities involved, so only you will be able to judge whether the outcome could conceivably be positive.

You say, in the most self-mocking manner possible, “I know I’m beyond fussy about certain things, but would it be possible for you two to chew with your mouths closed?”

See how you rope your husband in there? Keep the blame off one person? Let them team up? If you have a decent, friendly, sometimes joking relationship with your father-in-law, this may well work. You bring it up as a ridiculous request, they can mock you about it, and, hopefully, since they’re grown-ups with some self-respect, they may become more aware around you.

Only you know the players well enough to say if this might work. It is equally possible that your father-in-law will feel shamed, or straight-up embarrassed, and carry that slight around inside for the rest of his days, never feeling relaxed around you again—something, based on your description, it sounds like you now share. Only you can say whether the risk is worth it.

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