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Note: one of my best friends is in this situation with her friends, so I'm asking this question for her (from her perspective).

I have a friend, Alice, who I was very close with in college. We'd always go out to try new food together. We'd get a plate or two for the table and eat it together. Or if we got boba tea, we'd take turns sipping from each others' drinks to try.

Alice and I will be hanging out again in a few weeks for the first time in a few years. While we've been keeping in touch, she's told me about these sores she's getting around her lips that look and sound exactly like the symptoms of herpes.

I know that when we hangout, she'll expect us to order food for the table and share everything. But especially since I highly suspect her of having herpes, this is something I'd like to avoid.

To be clear, I don't feel comfortable letting her know the true reason I don't want to share food with her. While I'd be fine splitting food with her if we dished it onto separate plates first, I think that would raise almost as many questions from her as not sharing at all. I'm open to any solution that doesn't involve directly explaining the actual reason I'm not comfortable sharing food.

How can I address her expectation to prevent us from sharing food?

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    Could you not meet for something/at a place where sharing food is not expected or even appropriate? Why are you so sure your friend will insist on sharing in the first place? If it has been that long since you actually met, maybe she’ll feel the level of intimacy has changed? – AsheraH Sep 4 at 12:38
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    @AsheraH it's a bit of a long story, but suffice to say that we'll be spending most of the day together. So we'll be getting at least one meal together. Maybe two. We'll also be in an area with some really diverse food choices. Knowing what I know of this friend, if I do nothing I'll almost definitely be put in a situation where we'll be sharing plates. (in regards to intimacy, even though it's been awhile since we've seen each other, we still talk almost every day. So I don't believe the intimacy level will have changed) – scohe001 Sep 4 at 13:39
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I do personally feel most comfortable with just tackling these kinds of things (expectations I don't feel I can live up to) before the dinner in a truthful manner, but as you've ruled out telling Alice the true reason for not wanting to share: I'd like to introduce you and your friend to the wonderful concept of pro-social deception. These are lies that are designed to benefit the person lied to or lied about, sometimes also just called 'white lies'.

As your friend's goal seems to be to protect her friend from an unpleasant suspicion, a pro-social deception will likely save enough time until the next dinner (if there will ever be one, you say it probably is a one-off situation), time that can be used to find out if Alice really has something that might be infectious. I've had dinners where people that had a cold were double-dipping or sick brothers that don't wash their hands and then grab food from a container. A white lie about not liking that particular dip, or not feeling like eating X or Y often worked fine to avoid sharing that food.

While lying often is seen as bad and harmful, there is some scientific evidence that suggests that pro-social deceptions can actually be beneficial to some forms of trust:

Intentions are more important than honesty for building benevolence-based trust.

So, a pro-social deception, even if found out, can still make Alice trust that your friend has good intentions towards her. On the other hand, that same scientific article concludes that Alice might start doubting your friends integrity:

Although prosocial lies increase benevolence-based trust, they harm integrity-based trust.

Meaning that next time Alice asks your friend if a dress looks good on her, and your friend answers with yes, Alice might think twice before taking that as an answer: She might start wondering if you're just being kind or really being honest.

So, your friend is going to have to think this through, and make sure she really wants to do this! To help, this blog post presents a little checklist with questions she can answer for herself, to determine if a pro-social deception might be appropriate, such as whether or not it would be kinder to tell the truth or lie, whether the lie is likely to be found out, and at the bottom (but most important to me) whether your friend would mind if Alice told her a lie in a similar situation.


On a side note, another thing that I sometimes use to avoid having to share: Order the same thing as the other person. This only works if you like what that person is ordering, and they order first, but it sometimes is an option!

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