Learning Through Chewing


I was running late, once again, to a group therapy session in a tall glass office building near Georgetown in the District of Columbia, and, once again, I hadn’t eaten beforehand.
I hopped off my bike, locked it up and hurried through the tall glass doors and up the elevator. I punched in the door code and walked through the empty lobby, knocking on the closed door at the end of the hall. Everyone else was already in conversation as I slipped into my seat, listening closely for clues to what they had been talking about. As I did I pulled out a container of leftovers and started chowing down.
There were seven of us in the room, including the therapist, ranging vastly in ages between mid-twenties to over sixty. All of us were there because we were struggling with intimacy issues, and every week we’d sit in a circle, on my therapist’s soft ash colored couches, and talk about our lives and relationships.
I started group therapy two years ago because I never knew where I stood with the people closest to me in my life. Over the course of two years, in these weekly sessions, I’d gotten a lot of great feedback about how I was perceived. Some days I’d talk a lot, and other days I’d listen and just provide reactions. But on this particular day, as a woman was divulging painful personal details about her childhood relationship with her mother, another man in the group abruptly interrupted her in order to ask me, “How can you eat while listening to this horrific story?”
“Sorry,” I began. “Of course I can stop if it is bothering you. I am just starving and didn’t know it’d be a problem.” He shrugged, and the woman’s story resumed.
Thirty minutes later, we had moved onto a new topic — and then the topic of me eating food came back up. Clearly, and as a complete surprise to me, it had seriously bothered several people. I hadn’t even really considered that meeting my needs could cause such a problem for others.
As an isolated incident, this might have not been a powerful moment. But it made me realize the times in my life where I had made larger inconsiderate choices: Leaving an extremely promising start-up organization I had begun and begged friends to help me with, just so I could travel in Berlin. Leaving a girl friend I loved with a casual promise to get back together when we lived in the same place again. Despite the pattern, I had never before so clearly seen the consequences of my decisions. Yet it turned out a small moment of poorly timed eating was what finally gave me the harsh feedback I needed to hear.
I realized that when people give me their time, attention, trust, or anything else of value I owe them enough respect to not act based solely on what I need at that moment but consider my actions effect on them. Through a moment of ill timed eating I’ve been building more strong intimate relationships in the last few months than in the last two years.