Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Listening to People Eating

Today's Since You Asked advice column in Salon is about a woman who can't stand to hear other people eat. I'm the same way, though not as afflicted as the letter writer, in that I don't usually hear other people eating if I myself am eating. And it only started to bother me around late high school or college.

I don't think what I have is "hyperacusis" or any kind of medical condition. I don't really know why the sounds of people eating can make me so angry. It's not too bad with strangers, as long as they're not really loud eaters (I could never live in Asia, where the cultural norms allow louder eating, for this reason), but with people I am close to, especially people I live with for long periods of time, it gets really bad. And raging at people for chewing is not really an acceptable behavior.

9 comments:

sally said...

What I found confusing about the information in the column is why having her hearing ramped up to 11 without her control would only be a problem when listening to people eating. What about all the other little sounds in the world? And didn't it seem that her problem was more the nature of the sounds than the volume? She isn't complaining about legitimately loud sounds, like movie theater explosions, or even normal volume sounds, like the ringing of a telephone. (Oh yeah, she even mentions seeking out noisy restaurants as a coping mechanism.) I didn't get it. I kind of question how successfully she would be able to educate other people about supposedly having this medical condition, given that it doesn't, on the face of it, make sense. This is a terrible analogy, but it's like if I tried to explain to people why I couldn't stand looking at non-human animals without going into an inner rage by saying that my visual acuity is supersensitive so the light that reflects off of them makes me hurt. "Huh?" People are going to assume that you're not only crazy in that you have this animal-aversion but that you are either really stupid or trying to justify it using an extremely bogus "condition." But maybe the columnist did a poor job of describing what this disorder is. (Yes, a few minutes of googling could probably clear this up, but I thought it weird that the column left so much doubt as to what the hell they were talking about.)

On a more practical note, I wonder whether it would help if she created some white noise (e.g. with an air filter or an actual white noise machine available at those goofy mall guy-gadget shops) in her space to mask these gum/chewing sounds while she needs to listen for the telephone.

Tam said...

Yeah, I don't want to speak for her, but for me, it's definitely not an overall sensitivity to sounds. The same sound can make me irate, or have no effect on me whatsoever, depending on what I think the source is. (For instance, at a temp job I was once very disturbed by the sound of someone moving a metal spoon around in a Yoplait-type yogurt carton; when it turned out to be something totally different, not relating to eating, it didn't bother me at all.)

Tam's momm said...

When I read this I immediately thought of you. I'm glad your problem isn't that bad.

sally said...

I remember you talking about that yogurt cup thing - how funny that it turned out to be something else.

Debbie said...

I figured it was psychological. For some reason, it seems rude for people who are close to you to be making these sounds. In the case of the woman in the article, it sounds like someone used to steal her food from her and eat it loudly in front of her to taunt her.

My mom has a problem with those sounds you make when you're slurping up the last of your shake. She was a very cool mom though. Her rule was that we can each have one slurp (defined as however much slurping you can do continuously with one breath). We had very long slurps and it was very fun and we didn't feel deprived at all. She knew that once each of the kids had made this sound once it was over.

Tam's momm said...

Being a not so great momm I enjoy making smacking sounds while I'm eating just to annoy Tam. I also encourage the pups to do the same.

sally said...

I never remember when I'm eating around Tam that she has this reaction, so I basically am relying on her good manners to warn me with a statement like "I am about to kill you" so that I can either stop or get far away before she becomes completely unhinged.

Tam said...

Fortunately, it doesn't usually strike me with people I don't live with. I remember lying in my bed (the upper bunk) in the dorm room I shared with Sally with a pillow over my head wanting to scream as she ate something...a Snickers maybe? But that hasn't happened with Sally in years.

Mosch, on the other hand, ...

Tam said...

Responding to Debbie's comment...

For me, it's not a matter of it seeming rude or anything like that. It just makes me completely irrationally furious. What seems to happen with close companions is that I become intensely familiar with the kinds of sounds they make while eating, and so they make me feel more angry. (No, I'm not generally angry at the familiar, but of course it's not something rational that I'm describing.) It's almost like an allergy, in that it builds up over time and with exposure.

I don't think anything happened in my childhood to cause this. Nobody ate food to taunt me or slurped things in any malicious way. I just grew up with my mom (hi momm!). She eats normally and I don't remember any psychological weirdness around food growing up. (I mean, we are all weird around food, right? But it's not like I was ever sent to bed without supper or forced to watch soup commercials as punishment or whatever.)

So I really don't know what it is. I think it's just some part of my brain wiring that went awry for no particular reason (that is, not as a reasonable response to the environment).

I can't modify the feelings I have, so for me, the key is just to work on controlling any angry behavior.