Thursday, January 17, 2008


The other day someone I know slightly called to invite me to her house to drink tea and talk about writing and God. My heart sank. I like this woman, I think she's nice and funny, I enjoy chatting with her when I run into her. But I'd like to keep things at chatty and funny. I'd like to stay acquaintances.

When I lived in Massachusetts, a friend of mine from Virginia was always trying to explain the point of good manners to our northern brethren. "Most of our daily interactions are superficial," he would explain. "The post man, the check out clerk, the receptionist. Life is a lot nicer when these interactions are pleasant, and you can make them pleasant if you're polite. It doesn't take much."

I love pleasant superficial exchanges. I don't need to see everybody's broken side all the time. I know it's there. I know a lot of us are big bundles of anxiety and frustration and disappointment. Lord knows I am half the time. In fact, knowing this to be true of myself and others, I find good manners even more meaningful. Using good manners says, "I respect you enough to stop being a self-centered mess for two minutes and ask you how you are today."

So I love my little chatty relationships, but rarely do I hope they'll bloom into something more. When I was a single gal, and the chatty relationship was with a guy who suddenly got more interested than I wanted him to be, all I had to do was hint that there was another man in the picture. But what do you do when it's another mom on the playground or somebody who works in the same building as you do? Say, "I'm sorry, but I already have enough friends, and I'm not looking for any more at this time"?

For various reasons, I thought it would be unkind to this person to say no to her offer of hospitality. In fact, I got mad at myself for being such a hypocrite, since I've been doing all this reading lately about Christian hospitality and radical welcome, and thinking this is the year I'm going to invite more people over to dinner and generally be more hospitable. Yeah, I'm Miss Hospitality--unless of course you're not my type.

I mean, hospitality is a two-way street. It's not just welcoming people into your home, it's accepting their gifts of hospitality as well. I know this, I swear I do. Of course, when you live in my dreamy head, your vision of two-way hospitality involves becoming friends with some poor person down at the soup kitchen, discovering that you have a world in common despite your disparate situations.

But in real life--outside the confines of my foggy brain--life so rarely resembles an After school Special. If you want to practice hospitality, it means saying yes to the nice, perfectly average person who has been kind to you and wants you to come over and see where she lives and what her life at home is like. So I said yes to this woman and told myself, 'Maybe this will be amazing; maybe I'll learn a life lesson, you never know.' (I am always having thoughts like this--why am I such a ridiculous human being?)

Come the day of the engagement, and guess what? School is delayed two hours because of freezing rain. I can't go drink tea and learn amazing life lessons. I feel like I've been given a reprieve. I have been saved from a morning that I'm pretty sure would involve candles, incense, and new age music. I can read a book instead.

But the invitation will come again, and I don't know that I will ever be able to receive it graciously. This bothers me. I'd like to be a better, bigger person than I am. Maybe one day I will be. Don't hold your breath.


Marmee said...

Wow!! Thank you for your honesty. I am the same way and can readily understand exactly what you are saying. Thanks for being brave enough to post this, it was very refreshing.

Heather said...

I completely understand. My husband teases me that I know a million people but I hide when the phone rings. He's right.
I spend so much energy mentally preparing myself for a social engagement that I am worn out before I even get to the party.

Victoria said...

I'm smilling very big right now because that is hilarious and you could be describing me exactly! Then there's the dilemma that if you (I mean me) do accept the invite you might be "leading the person on, in friendship"- so they'll expect to be close friends with you after that, then you won't, then you lead them on - well, this happens to me, it's difficult!