Once upon a time, I loved to entertain. Big parties. Casual gatherings. Intimate dinner parties. I loved it all.
When my husband and I were first married, we hosted Sunday Night Dinners with friends as a way to cure the end-of-weekend doldrums. After our first son was born, we often invited friends over for long dinners on Saturday night so that we could still hang out with our childless friends without paying for a babysitter. After putting our son down for an early bedtime, we would rejoin our friends around our tiny kitchen table where we would drink too much, laugh too loud, and generally have a kick-ass time.
But two kids and ten years later, those casual and frequent dinner parties are a thing of the past. That core group of friends has dispersed, and while we’ve made new friends in new places, everyone is busy and coordinating a dinner party — especially one that includes kids — became damn near impossible, with all of the conflicting schedules, commitments, and obligations.
Somewhere along the way, the effort involved in entertaining and hosting dinner parties became too much. We could barely keep up with basic tasks of survival, and the thought of adding extra chores to my list of to-dos — extra grocery shopping, extra cleaning, and extra meal preparation — seemed like too much work. So we stopped hosting casual dinner parties. Instead, we meet friends at restaurants and bars. We have date nights alone. And we save entertaining for special occasions, like birthdays and holidays.
Lately, though, I’ve been thinking a lot about those dinner parties of days gone by. I miss them. I miss my friends. I miss the way conversation unfolds when people sit around a table. About a year ago, I heard about Friday Night Meatballs, and a couple of months ago I read an article called “5 Rules for Hosting a Crappy Dinner Party (and Seeing Your Friends More Often),” and I thought: Why am I making this so damn hard? Maybe there’s a way to gather together with friends without the hassles? Maybe there’s a way to socialize without spending my kids’ college fund on babysitters? Maybe there’s a way to have a kick-ass time at a half-ass dinner party?
And then it hit me: No one was making it difficult to have friends over other than me. I was the one creating this unattainable standard of perfection. I had confused entertaining with hospitality, and made these gatherings of friends into something that they didn’t need to be. They were supposed to be about conversation, laughter, and togetherness. It didn’t matter if I served grilled cheese or filet mignon, whether I had matching wine glasses or red Solo cups, whether my house was spotless or littered with baseball cards and dust bunnies.
The only thing that matters is whether we welcome people into our home and enjoy each other’s company. The people are what matter, not the ambience or menu.
Last weekend some out-of-town friends stopped by for a short visit. I didn’t clean before they came over, and aside from some cheese and wine, I didn’t buy any extra groceries. I didn’t plan a meal, or spend hours in the kitchen. Over mediocre delivery pizza and bottles of red wine, we talked about politics, school, and our families. We reminisced about old stories and said “remember when…” a lot. We laughed and kvetched and laughed some more. In other words, we had a great time — messy house and greasy pizza notwithstanding.
So enough with “entertaining” (whatever the hell that even means) — let’s focus on hospitality and togetherness. Let’s bring back the half-ass dinner party and the haphazard potluck. Let’s invite people into our messy houses and forget to buy groceries. Let’s ignore perfect, and focus on people. Let’s invite our favorite people over and tell them to bring dessert. Let’s order subpar takeout and greasy pizza. Let’s make grilled cheese and spaghetti and laugh until we spit cheap wine out of our noses.
Because friendship isn’t about entertaining or Pinterest-worthy perfection. It’s about togetherness, comfort, and kindness. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less.