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Miss Manners: Bulimic does not need friendly confrontation

Judith Martin Universal Uclick

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband and I recently had my now ex-girlfriend, her husband and her sister for brunch during their visit to our city. At the end of the meal, each of them used the bathroom in the reverse order I just listed, and the latter took what seemed an inordinate amount of time in there.

Soon after their departure, I discovered that the bathroom not only smelled of vomit but retained residues on the toilet, the floor and the adjoining walls. Because no one mentioned that they had felt ill, I assumed the act was voluntary. I had noticed her looking thinner than ever, yet eating heartily throughout the meal.

My reaction fluctuates between disgust at having to clean up after the act, and compassion for what is clearly a manifestation of bulimia. At the moment I’ve resolved not to share a meal with her again, but how to address this in the meantime?

GENTLE READER: As a general rule, Miss Manners prohibits hosts from noticing, much less discussing, what goes on in the bathroom.

But as this seems to be an extreme case – and a matter of health – she will allow it. Up to a point.

You may discreetly ask your friend if everyone in her family is healthy by saying you noticed that someone took ill after the meal – and that you hope the meal itself was not the culprit. If she takes this as an opportunity to talk to you about her illness, then you may offer sympathy or help.

But if she doesn’t, then you must let it go. Although it is widely supposed to be compassionate to confront people about unhealthy behavior and to advise them to seek help, it is often counterproductive. In cases such as this, the lady knows all that, is continuing to do it anyway, and by embarrassing her you would be likely to stir up resentment and defiance.

But, as you said, you should resolve to meet in places where food is not involved.

Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website,
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