This also doesn’t take into account the crunches, lip smacks, cutlery scrapes and sated aahs so many people find so excruciating. But in many instances, the complainers are not just being ornery; they could have a condition called misophonia, in which one experiences strong negative feelings to specific sounds — like the proverbial nails on a chalkboard.
This is something Alex Olins is grappling with, not on her end, but on her husband’s. The director of an employment and citizenship program at a large nonprofit organization in Seattle, Ms. Olins, 49, is often on the receiving end of her husband’s ire, specifically as it relates to her chewing. “I don’t think I chew loudly,” she said. “No one else has ever mentioned this to me.” Except him.
Although her husband, John, was never diagnosed with misophonia, she believes he could have it. “It seems to me to justify or at least explain his irritability and sensitivity about this issue,” she said.
Since quarantining, and eating three meals together on a daily basis, the tension has gotten worse. In the past, the couple could tune out the aggravating things about each other — especially the food-related ones, “by not eating all of our meals together due to work, school and sports schedules, and being out and about in the world and living our lives freely,” Ms. Olins said. But it’s a different scene now. Any annoyance is intensified by the amount of time the family spends together.
Not that all of the meals are unpleasant. Many are fun, filled with laughter. But others, she said, are “a grind.” “We are fortunate to have enough to eat, a roof over our heads, and to be healthy, so we try to remind ourselves of that when we are just sick of each other,” Ms. Olins said. “Sometimes it works, sometimes not. I annoy John with my chewing and then I get annoyed with him for focusing on the negative when we need to try our best to be kind.”
Clearly, happy eating clans do exist. Some couples and families bond over simmering pots of chili, and ladle with love. Others handle their differences in other ways.