What Would Jane Austen Do?

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In today’s column, Jane tackles the food obsessed and the case of the sperm donor brother. Have a question for Jane? Email it to editor@esotericamag.com.

Dear Jane,

One of my long-time friends is annoyingly obsessed with food. Every time we eat out together, she’s analyzing each dish, getting abnormally excited by an unusual flavor or presentation, and generally being “a foodie” in the extreme. Jane, are foodies lame? How can I get her to focus on something other than what we’re eating when we spend time together? 

Jane: A happy medium is everything. No one enjoys sharing a dinner table with a gruel-eater who balks at the very idea of eating wedding cake or “unwholesome” preserves; nor do they wish to be seated next to a glutton whom, when he finds you to prefer a plain dish to a ragout, has nothing to say to you.

A foodie, therefore, can quickly become tiresome, or lame, especially if the menu is their main topic dinner table conversation.

How to shut them down politely is the challenge, and I would urge you not to be too harsh. It is my experience that, while the young may lose their appetites when disappointed in love, those who’ve lived longer may turn to a preoccupation with food when they have given up hope of satisfying their other appetites.

They aren’t necessarily greedy or vulgar; they may just be trying to make their lives more interesting when the big dramas of life – how to make ends meet, whom to marry, how to placate a querulous mother – have been resolved, happily or otherwise.

The kindest option is to minimize your exposure to your friend’s food obsession; curtail your dinners out and suggest a night at the theatre or a stroll in the park instead.



Dear Jane,

My wife and I have failed to conceive for years. After the emotional roller coaster we’ve been through, we finally settled on having my (gay) brother be a sperm donor. This is something both of our families support and we are very excited about going through with. However, as the appointment for fertilization nears, my wife and brother have gone from close to almost inseparable, talking about “their” future child. I feel shut out of my own marriage. This baby is all we’ve ever wanted, and now I want to tell her that we shouldn’t. 

Jane: My sympathies for your struggles to conceive. Although I am personally not predisposed to the desire to procreate, I’m aware that the strain and pain of infertility has blighted many a couple’s happiness. I admire the bond that must exist between you and your wife to have made it this far with your marriage and parenting hopes intact.

It seems to me that you were both imprudent when developing your conception plan. It should have been spelled out to your brother from the beginning that while his actions are generous, and his special bond with his future niece or nephew will be respected, that you are the father, with all the responsibilities and rights that entails. A legal contract would help remind all involved of their roles.

Fatherly pride and even a touch of possessiveness is not unbecoming in one who takes on the important task of raising a child, and you need to put him in his place now, before proceeding further.

Now, regarding your wife’s behavior — what I say may pain you but she must be either foolish or cruel to act this way. Could it be that she resents your mutual infertility more than she has acknowledged? Is she using you (and your brother) as a means to an end, without the intention of raising this child in a loving, equal partnership with you? Or, to put the most charitable spin on her actions, is she simply so obtuse that she doesn’t see how hurtful her actions are? A wise woman would be more sensitive to the male ego and would realize that teaming up with another man (even a gay relative) to exclude her husband can cause havoc in her marriage.

I think you owe it to yourself and any potential progeny to put this plan on hold until you and your wife (and perhaps a skilled relationship counsellor) have addressed the complexities of this situation. I wish you the best of luck.

**This question came courtesy of Slate. Let us know in the comments who answered it better.**



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