Summer has a way of relaxing formal responsibilities. Knocking off work early to catch a ball game or having a mid-afternoon cocktail on the back deck instead of keeping an appointment are harmless enough. But if I wanted to, each summer I could fill a room for a support group called Excessive Hosting Anonymous (EHA). These folks suffer from the exhaustion that comes with the social expectations of hosting.
Candidates for my group would be people drained from spending too much time entertaining at home, on boats or by the pool. People who would benefit from EHA are those perpetually vacillating between feeling an obligation to provide summer fun for others and frustration at guests who don’t play by the rules.
A host faces many stresses, even at informal get-togethers: Guests who bring kids to an adult-only event; those who lounge by the pool without lifting a finger to help; the lingerers who stay longer than the invitation specifies; or the couple that has visited countless times but has never reciprocated. Some guests drink too much and become a liability when the boat heels, while others do not find it problematic to enjoy 18-holes at a friend’s club, each week…at the member’s expense. If a host finds herself looking for ways to avoid extending another invitation to a certain someone, it probably means that guest is taking advantage.
It can be tricky to manage these difficult guests. Addressing concerns directly might hurt or insult them, but avoiding the issue can result in the negative pattern continuing indefinitely—not fun. Luckily, most people can learn to become good guests, as long as a host is willing to teach them.
Hosts should make their desires known politely and clearly at the time of invitation—often email is the least confrontational, most effective method of doing this. Mary wanted to invite her neighbors over, but not their children, so she sent this note: “Please join us at our summer house. This is a child-free weekend for us. If you aren’t able to make arrangements for child care, we will miss you, but we understand.”
John used humor to deal with the awkwardness: “The last time you were on the boat, we almost had to call the Coast Guard to rescue you. This time you’re on a strict two drink limit.” It’s all in the way you communicate the message, which Chris handled well in a text to a golfing buddy: “I’d love to get a round of golf in with you. But since I’ve reached my obligatory spending limit at the club, your share will be $200. Or if you want, we can pick a different course.”
Part of the good-guest education means providing invitees with clear and specific requests like, “Please bring your own towels” or “I need a couple of dishes for the menu— would you rather bring cookies or a green salad?” On a rare occasion, there will be someone who is immune to all teaching efforts. In those cases, it would be wise to extend an invitation only occasionally. And only when a large crowd will be present to act as a buffer.
The summer provides a remarkable opportunity to relax and deepen the bonds with those closest to us. Resist the urge to use the precious summer months for “obligatory” entertaining and spend as much of it as possible with those who truly appreciate an invitation.