Darline and I have been friends since our time together at college, and we’ve stayed friends in spite of time and distance. She recently moved back to my state to live with her long-time boyfriend, and we make a point of getting together once a week or so to catch up. Now, I love Darline like a sister, but she can be extremely self-concerned, and oftentimes she simply doesn’t think. There have been occasions where I’ve grown so frustrated with her behavior that I’ve been tempted to cut all ties with her, but she is one of my best friends and, well, she isn’t always a walking social disaster. It’s just that when she is, she really is.
Early this summer, my fiance Rob and I bought a house and I immediately had Darline over for a visit. We had a wonderful dinner and talked into the wee hours of the morning. Sometime during the course of the evening, she mentioned that she desperately wanted to have a barbecue for an upcoming holiday. I thought this was a wonderful idea and told her so, but forgot about it soon after. That is, until the week before said holiday, when she asked when I was going to be holding that barbecue we’d talked about. I was a little put off — when we talked about it previously, she’d implied that she and her boyfriend would be hosting, and Rob and I were still settling into our new home (and to each other’s living habits). I’d lived in an apartment before the house, and he had lived with his parents. We were not equipped to hold a barbecue at our house. I did mention the hosting concern, and that I’d thought she and Mike (her boyfriend) were planning to hold such an event, but she shrugged it off. They didn’t have time to prepare for one.
Rob and I talked about it later that evening, and even though we only had a week or so before the holiday weekend to set everything up, we decided to host an informal barbecue for our family and close friends, just to see these people and to show off our new house to those who hadn’t already had the chance to come by. I told Darline when I spoke to her over the phone the next day, and when we hung up she was absolutely delighted. Rob and I bought a grill, started inviting our friends and family, began planning the menu, and bought food for everyone who RSVP’d on such short notice.
Two days before the barbecue, Darline came by for one of our weekly get-togethers. We had drinks and dinner, and at the end of the evening she told me how much she was looking forward to the barbecue — and that she had invited her parents, one of her co-workers, and Mike’s entire family — a grand total of twelve people in all! I think at that point I went in to shock. I knew Darline could be selfish and that she sometimes overlooked other people when she made plans, but to invite twelve people to a gathering that was supposed to be for a grand total of fifteen people — nearly doubling the guest list! — was absolutely atrocious, even for her! I should have set her straight then and there, but I do adore her parents and Mike’s family is a lot of fun; the co-worker would be the only stranger and, well, Rob and I have always been proponents of “the more the merrier”, so I bit my tongue. I told her we could make that accomadation, but asked her to please never do something like that in the future and, though she was a little put-out by the lecture, agreed. I should have gotten it in writing.
Rob and I made all the necessary adjustments for our barbecue, and on the morning of we set to work preparing what was, if I do say so myself, going to be the event of the season. People started filing in around eleven (we’d set the arrival time for eleven-twelve, with lunch to be served around twelve-thirty) and, to her credit, Darline and Mike showed up right on time. Without their twelve guests. Their twelve guests who, it turned out, had already made other plans when Darline asked them to come to the barbecue, and had told Darline so much when she asked. Well, if Darline had known they wouldn’t be able to make it, why had she told me about the invitations in the first place? Who knows — Darline never did get around to telling me.
No matter. The barbecue went off beautifully, and we had lots of extra food (which was great for me and Rob). Darline didn’t lapse into any more social blunders for a while, and all was well. However, now we’re approaching Memorial Day, and my parents are hosting a cook-out at their country home for their extended family and friends (about seventy to eighty people). I received permission to invite Darline and Mike, who accepted happily, and just got a call from Darline letting me know that her parents were so looking forward to seeing my parents, and to the cook-out.
Ohno. The red flags went up, and I reminded Darline of our agreement — that she wouldn’t invite people to things without checking with the host beforehand. Her response? “Oh, there are going to be so many people there already, what’s two more?” That would be fine with me, but I’m loathe to bring this up to my parents, especially since this is meant to be a family-and-friends gathering, and they hardly know Darline’s parents outside of the two or three times they met during my college tenure. Part of me wants to call Darline’s parents (who I’m sure would be horrified by their daughter’s behavior!) and explain the situation, and part of me wants to call Darline back and tell her that everyone in the family has contracted malaria and the barbecue is off. As it is, I’m going to wait until I’ve calmed down before I decide how to play my hand… Whatever I do, I’d better do it before I send out invitations to my wedding — I can just imagine how many people she’d try to invite to that! 0901-09
Eons ago when I was 24-year old stripling, I was invited by the mother of my best friend to eat Easter Day dinner with their family. At the time, I lived in what we called “The Single Girls’ House” owned by an older, divorced woman. Feeling somewhat magnanimous, I extended the invitation to my landlady who, many years older and wiser than me, declined. Upon entering the home of my hostess, I proceeded to tell her of my failed attempt to get Rosa to join us. What happened next embedded itself in my memory as my hostess proceeded to chastise me for the faux pas of issuing a secondary invitation to someone not on her original guest list. It had never occurred to me that this was bad manners because, at that age, I had very little experience hosting my own events and therefore had no idea what I had just presumed upon the hostess.
As I grew older and began to hosting my own events and dinners, I began to experience the same situation of being placed in the awkward position of having unexpected guests when an invited guest of mine had decided to spontaneously invite others to my dinner or party. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy spur-of-the-moment hospitality and there are certainly events where the slogan, “The more, the merrier!”, is enthusiastically endorsed. But there have been more private events celebrating milestones in the guest of honor’s life where the guest list was, by necessity, smaller and more intimate. Sometimes I am limited in space and sometimes it is money that limits my guest list. Sometimes it is the quality of the relationships to the guest of honor that limits my guest list. Yet I would receive last minute phone calls asking me to include an out of town friend or a visiting relative, i.e. someone who had never met the guest of honor and probably never would again. Sometimes I got phone calls that didn’t bother asking me at all but rather informed me of the new guests. The worst were the handful of uninvited guests who just showed up with the legitimate guest unannounced. The irony of stranger guests at a celebratory party for someone they did not know when I could not comfortably invite people who *did* know the guest of honor was not lost on me.
When I was younger, how to respond to these requests always put me in a great deal of confusion and stress. I was torn between wanting to extend as much hospitality as possible and wanting to keep the integrity of my original guest list. I struggled with the knowledge that there were people I purposely did not invite to keep the guest list trimmed yet I was being asked to host people who had little or not relationship to me or the guest of honor. That just didn’t seem fair.
I’ve been placed in situations where unannounced, uninvited guests exceeded the number of people I had prepared food to feed. As I got older, I learned how to prepare for that with extra cans of applesauce or corn in the pantry to bulk out the meal but as a young hostess, I hadn’t quite gotten the knack of doing that and there were quietly tense moments watching the food get served and praying there was enough.
Miss Manners, aka Judith Martin, wrote, “You should not allow any guest to run his or her own party-within-a-party with a guest list not chosen by you”. How to deal with what she refers to as “outrageous requests” is a firm, “No, I’m afraid we’re only inviting our own dear friends.”