A counsellor explains how to avoid hurting a friend's feelings

Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine tackles the tricky issue of not wanting to hurt a friend’s feelings.

The problem
“I hope you can help me with this ‘problem’ that is starting to really bother me. I have a neighbour who has also been a friend for about a year. We are both senior widows. We enjoy doing things together and she’s always been helpful, considerate, and fun to be around. The problem is that she loves to cook, and frequently brings me food, or invites herself over for dinner where she brings most of the meal.

“Her cooking isn’t very good – at least not to my liking. I’ve tried different excuses as to why I couldn’t accept things – I even told her I had an upset stomach and wouldn’t be able to eat anything. I manage to eat what she cooks when I’m with her, but feel bad accepting the leftovers and just throwing most of them away.

“I’ve suggested going out to dinner more, saying I’d never had the chance to do that much (which isn’t true). I also invited her to dinner once, where I did the cooking and asked her, first, if she liked barbecued chicken – she said she did then she hardly touched it, or the sides with it. I asked her if she was feeling okay and she replied she’s not a big fan of barbecued chicken, so I haven’t cooked for her since.

Read: Why do we cook? This cookbook claims it’s about more than nutrition

“The last straw was when she recently brought over a big bowl of chilli, which had a long hair in it which really disgusted me, so I threw it away. I didn’t mention that she’s not the cleanest person I know. But I want to stay friends with her and don’t want to hurt her feelings.

“She has a lot of other friends and says that she takes all of them dinners and baked goods, and that they think she’s a wonderful cook. Should I just continue to accept her food, then let it go to waste, or be upfront with her? Or can you suggest another way to handle this? I don’t want to lose her friendship, and we’re always going to be neighbours.”

Fiona says
“That’s a very hard one! Cooking for other people is as much about caring and nurturing as it is about sustenance. Your neighbour is obviously very fond of you and is showing this by wanting to feed you all the time. She’s literally giving you her love – so if she were to ever find out that you are throwing away what she makes for you, it would probably hurt her deeply.

Read: How to offer support to a grieving friend

“If you didn’t want to be her friend any more then I would suggest you distance yourself from her, but you do want to remain friends – you clearly get on well with her. So how to handle this… You could carry on as you are and never let on about the wastage – personally, I would find that difficult as I hate food waste, but it’s probably the easiest option. You could tell her that you’ve been diagnosed with gastric problems and have to go on a very restricted diet, so can’t eat anything she makes for the foreseeable future.

“You could suggest that you want to improve (or change) the way you cook and want to go on a cookery course so will be doing lots of cooking yourself – or suggest she comes on a course with you. Or you could tell her that you really appreciate the way she cooks for you and that you don’t want to hurt her feelings, but that you simply cannot cope with the kind of food she cooks.

Read: Six cookbooks for comfort cooking

“You don’t say if she cooks very spicy, rich or complicated foods or if the food is very bland and dull. If it’s the former, it’s easier to tell her that it disagrees with you. If it’s the latter then you could always spice up the leftovers yourself. I don’t think you should allow your one experience of cooking for her to put you off doing it again though. Were you to take it in turns (which would be fairer), you would get the chance to show her the kind of foods you do like and enjoy – she might take tips from you.”

If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to [email protected] for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

What would you do in this situation? Have you ever dealt with something similar? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

– With PA

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