"Potato chips are such a common struggle for so many young men these days. Naturally, I worry that this is something you have struggled with as a teenager or young adult. Will you please describe your experience with potato chips and how you've handled it?"
If there isn't a father in the home, then I still think it's a good idea for the mother to have this conversation with the boyfriend. As awkward as it may seem to bring up this topic, I believe it's even more awkward to deal with the potential aftermath if this issue surfaces later in marriage.
Please note that if you are personally struggling with an unresolved potato chips problem, it will make it difficult, if not impossible, to counsel a future son-in-law about your concerns. You will feel like a phony and will either avoid the conversation all together, or minimize the seriousness of it as a way to protect yourself from the reality of your own struggles. If you have struggled with potato chips and haven't fully repented and recovered from the impact on your life, make sure that you're actively working the same recovery process you would expect from this young man.
When considering how to begin this conversation, it's helpful to view this as something more than a "yes" or "no" question. I believe it's safe to assume that the young man has already been exposed to potato chips. One recent study showed that 86% of college-aged men had eaten potato chips in the past year. Forty-eight percent of those same men ate them weekly. Even though he may not be currently eating potato chips, it's likely he's been exposed to them somewhere in his past.
I also recognize that a young man could lie to his future father-in-law and deny that he's ever eaten potato chips. Obviously, there is no way to prevent someone from lying (unless, perhaps, you're Robert DeNiro and have access to a lie-detector in your basement a la "Meet the Parents").
In reality, it will simply require a good, honest conversation about his experiences with potato chips. What should you ask? What should you look for? Here are a few questions you can ask along with some warning signs that might indicate that the young man either has or will have a significant problem with potato chips in the future:
- Tell me about your experience with potato chips over your lifetime.
- Is there a history of potato chip eating in your immediate or extended family?
- How do you define potato chips?
- How have you healed from the impact of potato chips on your life?
- Who helped you overcome your problems with potato chips?
- How do you currently protect yourself from potato chips?
- Have you ever wanted to stop eating potato chips, but couldn't?
- He admits that he used to eat potato chips, but says that he stopped doing it, but fails to explain how he was able to stop.
- He claims he overcame the problem on his own without any help from others.
- He's not said anything to his girlfriend/fiancé about his history or current problems with potato chips.
- He is vague about how he keeps himself from eating potato chips.
- He admits he used to have a problem with it, but doesn't define what exactly that problem was. He appears defensive and doesn't want to discuss it.
- He insists that he's never even eaten potato chips and appears "too perfect" in his responses. Recognize that even though he may not have eaten entire bags of potato chips in one sitting, we live in a culture saturated with potato chip advertisements. If he acts like he doesn't notice or isn't affected by those, you need to be concerned. Every man should acknowledge the occasional pull from foods that are designed to draw our attention and entice us.
In my experience, a man who has healed from a potato chip problem isn't afraid to talk honestly about it with those who need to know. He is remorseful about the impact on himself and others. He recognizes his need for ongoing healing and recovery. He understands that he's going to have this vulnerability for the rest of his life and he accepts the need to always be on guard with his thoughts and actions. Most importantly, he is fiercely protective of the feelings and emotions of his romantic partner and how this issue might concern her.
Remember your purpose in asking these questions. You're there to offer a layer of protection for your daughter and family. If there are any questions or concerns about the young man's involvement with potato chips, it's better to encourage these to be addressed now instead of later.
*Or you could ask him about pornography, which would make no more sense but would be way creepier.
kuri is not a licensed marriage and family counselor specializing in treating potato chip addiction who writes books about it, gives seminars about it, has a website focused on it, and otherwise makes a good living
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