A couple of relevant things came to the surface. Dinner as we understand it is a completely broken subject. The one time that I feel like we all successfully communicate together (at dinner) is both not "family time" to Deb, and Deb feels like she can't get a word in edgewise and no one cares or listens to/about her during this time I'm percieving as the only time it's working. The same seems to be true in reverse. She feels like the times she thinks are working either don't exist often or aren't aknowledged by me to be working.
The whole thing is quite a mess.
Deb is struggling with depression pretty badly as far as I can asertain. On the way home (Deb drove the other car home from the train station) one thing that I said was that I don't ever feel like Deb is happy around me unless it's when I'm pissed off at Joel about something and that it was easy to feel like she was jealous or not really okay with poly or something. Joel observed, and I think he's probably right, that she is forcing the state to try to cheer me up at that point and the real problem is that neither he nor I could really come up with much in the way of examples of times when she really seemed happy and not constantly tired, lethargic, struggling with weird appetite fluctuations, berating herself, feeling hopeless to change anything, etc.
This manifests as Deb seeming like a work-aholic because she spends her time at home exhausted having held herself together for the emotional onslaught of work all day. This is something I've struggled with too at times. Thus evenings have often already been a loaded subject prone to emotional dissaster because everyone is tired and cranky and my need for spouse time is further drain in her exhaused state and it always feels to her like I'm keeping her from her needed sleep when I try not to do so very often. So dinner ends up with all of that as a subtext.
Then there is the issue that most of the foods that Deb seems to feel up to cooking at night are things I can't eat at night anymore because of reflux problems. She says she loves to experiment with new things in the kitchen, but I can't remember a time that she felt up to a kitchen project on any day to day basis. She seems to like the idea but has no actual energy for that or most other things.
This is compounded by the fact all of us have different eating habbits. I will spend all night nearly vommitting and awake if I eat greasy or really acidic things late at night. By the time they get home and we have dinner it is almost always late at night on my stomach's clock. Joel will not eat a vegitable to save his life, grosses out at texture extremely easily and is in general a royal pain in the ass on the subject. When I'm by myself I eat about two thirds vegitarian not because I'm trying to, but just because that's what sounds good at the time. Deb and I almost never want beef which is his first choice most of the time.
I spent so many years forced to cook for my sisters that I have a really hard time coming up with an answer to "what should we have?" because I have to sort through the emotional distress at the question in the first place and attempt to be creative on the spot while still picking something that is easy enough that it won't take all night. Most of what I think of is a half a day project, and I get frustrated. They're frustrated with me because of the grease and acid thing. I'm really frustrated with Joel and the vegitable thing.
I try to be accomodating and allow a few things on the menu that are easy or that they really like but that toe the line of what I can cope with at night, but that seems to frustrate them just as much because it often means that I have to be able to reshuffle dinner tonight based on how my acid and fat tollerance is being and whether or not I'm already experiencing reflux because it fucks with there ability to plan and feels to them like being spoiled and finicky without being able to give them immediately useful alternatives without some time to think. This just tends to piss me off because I get acussed of being picky and uncooperative when I feel like I have a medical reason to stuggle with it, I'm trying to accomadate their likes, and Joel is mostly just being finicky himself and vastly limiting the options, but he doesn't get as much shit for it daily because his is more predictable and he's willing to say "I'll just have pasta" which then triggers me feeling like I have to give because I don't want him to kill himself with the crap he'll put in his system if I don't give and he won't give. He abdicates responsibility for eating healthy food unless we make him try to and thus negates us feeling justified in telling him to knock off the horse shit about his detailed list of preferences because we know that he'll go off and eat pasta and kill himself slowly and we don't want that even if he's okay with it. I want to tell him to just stop being a 5 year old and make himself get over it and move on, but I don't think he'll listen. He has an entire childhood of fighting with his mother and asserting his own control over himself and trying to force his individuality all rolled up into this one little loaded veggie bomb and he's extremely defensive, rationalizes the nonsense or jumps to "it's hopeless, I can't help it, what do you want me to do" when any such thing is brought up.
Basically I get fed up at the fact that dinner can't just be simple and has all these hard to coordinate ground rules of people's diets. Debann seemed to be inidicating that we should just let Joel eat canned pasta if Deb and I could agree on something he wouldn't like. But I would like him to live past 40 and dinner of Chef Boyardee every night is so not healthy that I can't stand to watch it and live with it, since I know that's what he will do if we don't try to work around his nonsense on the subject. I know damn well that vitamins which I suspect he rarely remembers to even take anyway, don't make up for not eating well. That and I get sick of the we're eating together but not together dance and just want to scream "Fucking cope!" about Joel's texture and taste analysis process wherein it feels like he is guarenteed to not like anything because he's thought way so goddamned long about it and paid so much attention to it. It feels like a problem of "If you go looking for trouble, you'll find it."
If he just eats canned pasta for dinner he is often hard to get to join us while eating or for the evening. We can't agree on what family time seems to mean. Most of my top choices annoy Deb or don't work in her perception. Deb can list some things she says are family time to her but because of the depression or something, she doesn't generally seem willing to actually do those things at night because she's too exhausted constantly and wants to go to bed at 6pm.
We also have a problem with communication styles. Joel is only really beginning to have a mode other than silence or pontificating until he has utterly exhausted his entire knowledge of a subject trying to avoid allowing interruptions and making other people feel unheard by seeming to wait patiently for you to shut up so he can pick right back up in quest of whatever he thinks the end point is of his previous thought. I can step up and do things Joel's style enough to not get trampled in conversation, but Deb then feels totally excluded and ignored because there are now two of us who are on full speed ahead with heavy overlap and an unwillingness to back down easily.
Joel is the most agressive talker among us but his target selection on the subject seems to be things that neither Deb nor I are often interested in exploring in that level of detail, thus "what should we talk about, then" is a common theme as we try without seguay to come up with something worth talking about for him.
Deb rarely and unpredictably wants dinner at all and thus there are no two of us who can easily eat together and make it worth more than freezer food except that most freezer food is so unhealthy that I can't eat it late at night.
The whole overlapping set of subjects is a real mess that I am mostly at a loss for what to do with. The obvious things to me that I think would help are things that I can't make other people decide to do for the sanity and health of everyone else. The one I can see for myself of just dealing with cooking for myself makes me really sad and frustrated because cooking for me is extremely high on my list of ways to make me feel loved, having been strapped with it myself constantly as a child and thus I don't get that feeling loved and frustrate Deb with how often I am just not up to cooking for myself but not eating makes me bitchy and unpleasant, so I feel like that idea gets pathologically circular pretty easily and doesn't really help the overall emotional state of the evening which is the biggest issue.
*sigh* Anyone got a magic wand?