Annie’s Mailbox today concerned a woman who dined regularly with a group of friends. They usually met at a restaurant, but on this particular occasion, she invited them to her home and fed them. They enjoyed the change and thought they should do it again. At her house.

There are responses to the column and some of these people feel like she is being unreasonable because some people aren’t “comfortable” with either the look of their house or their cooking skills. They might feel uncomfortable inviting a mass of people to their home and feeding them.

This isn’t a matter of comfort. It is called reciprocity which is the social equivalent of karma.

The woman who hosted this party for her friends spent more than just the evening with them. She had to plan a meal for several people and do the shopping – and the paying. She certainly had to ready her house for guests by, at the very least, neatening up but probably did a lot more than normal cleaning in preparation. Then she cooked the meal which is no mean feat as those of us who have cooked a Thanksgiving Day dinner can attest. After all the happy guests left, she had lots of dishes to do and then she had to clean the house again because guests make a mess even when you loved having them.

And her friends aren’t comfortable with doing this so she should do it all again. What?

Being the host or the hostess takes a lot more time and effort than being the guest. Even when you bring a nice host(ess) gift, you aren’t “paying your way” for the evening. If you think you are, try being the host(ess) yourself and see if that $10 bottle of wine actually paid for the food, time, and effort you put in. You don’t host an event for the money, you do this because you enjoy the company of friends. It just has the side effect of being quite expensive.

There is this thing called the Internet and with that, you can find recipes for a wide variety of foods. If you follow the directions (and that IS the tricky part), the dishes come out pretty much as planned. Your lack of skills aren’t really important. People who can’t do all sorts of things are not hampered by this if they want to do whatever it is.

What is not comfortable is planning the meal, paying for the food, cleaning the house, cooking, and then cleaning the house again. It isn’t comfortable for any host. But we do it because we enjoy our friends. The hope is that our friends enjoy us so much that they will reciprocate.

When all you do is take, you are quite frankly a moocher and that is not a good thing to be. When you accept an invitation to someone’s home, you should know that sooner or later, you need to invite them to your home. If you can’t cook – really can’t cook – and are illiterate and can’t read a recipe, then you can either pay someone else to cook the meal at your home, or get takeout of some sort brought in.

I don’t understand the whole “uncomfortable” with letting your friends see the inside of your house. If you are a hoarder and can’t even walk through it without bumping into stacks of garbage, your problem is much more severe than host anxiety and you really need to get professional help to treat this issue. If however, your couch is a little shabby and the carpet is worn, it is okay. Guests, unless they are my mother in law, aren’t checking out the amenities. They are enjoying the company and conviviality of an evening shared with friends.

Aside: if they, like my mother in law, comment on the dustiness of something, tell them where you keep the cleaning supplies and offer to let them clean. It might take twice to train these people to appreciate the company and conviviality, but they are trainable. You might also take the time to look askance at their dusty furniture when visiting, but do NOT say anything. You don’t want to learn where the furniture polish is stored. At least this worked for me.

I’ve hosted small parties and neighborhood gatherings. I know it is going to be hard work before and after. It is expensive. But it is well worth it. It is especially wonderful when there is the next party and all I have to do is show at the door with a bottle of wine as an “entry fee” and come into a space filled with friends and enjoy my evening.

It isn’t comfort we are talking about here. It is selfishness. We hear so much about paying it forward and that is wonderful. Just remember to pay BACK those who were kind to you, as well.