Fun Over at My House


Every time I go to Costco, I start planning a dinner party. I hover near the cheeses and mentally compose platters. I browse the wines and pair them up. The more I see — bacon-wrapped scallops, fresh tulips, frosted bottles of vodka — the more worked-up I get. Then I make myself stand over by the cat litter and calm down. I am just here for lettuce and red peppers, I repeat – over and over – until I am ready to continue shopping, properly.

Despite Costco fantasies, I don’t entertain much. I can’t host casual get-togethers because there’s nothing casual about my (lack of) hosting skills. My neighbor Karen can throw a party just by opening a bag of chips and calling a few friends. Her parties are relaxed and enjoyable, consistently.

I, on the other hand, would need to search cookbooks on the best mole sauce, make six trips to Target for fake Fiestaware and get Christmas lights out of the attic to thread through trees. You can imagine my expectations after all of that. My guests had better bring it.

Last summer I tried to host a Memorial Day cook-out for two families who didn’t know each other. I wanted to make it simple. Simple seemed like the right note for a backyard cook-out. I got to work.

I mixed up margaritas from scratch, juicing limes until my finger were raw. I found a summery marinade that needed two types of mustard, and $16 worth of fresh herbs. I downloaded playlists, put tea lights in jelly jars, and wore this gauzy new shirt that I thought said “bohemian” (though my husband claimed it said “maternity”).

When the doorbell rang, I lit all the candles, cued up the Latin music and practically screeched “You ready?!” in the faces of my guests.

You can guess what happened. People were polite, but the chemistry was off. Everyone downed the margaritas in the first 15 minutes, and then sat there looking at each other. My husband kept switching the Latin music to James Taylor. The men decided to eat their dinner in front of the hockey game on TV, and the $16 marinade dripped through the grill, causing the chicken to burst into expensive flames.

Determined to not give up, I dug out a sticky, half-drunk bottle of Mrs. T’s margarita mix from the back of my fridge. I changed James Taylor to disco and started running through my mental checklist of “fun” topics like American Idol (which no one watched) and first date stories (no takers). Spotting a guest yawn, I cranked up Donna Summer and launched into a re-enactment of my dance routine to “Hot Stuff” from my days in high school. My guests left early.

I am aware of the importance of just being together, I get it, but don’t we all have specific areas where we can’t let it go? I, for one, can confidently wander around town without showering and wearing crooked glasses — but I can’t host a dinner party without ironing napkins and choosing thematic music. I can accept I will always have flabby arms, but I refuse to accept that I’m not fun. I’m fun. You should see my Hot Stuff dance.

I’m in recovery now. For my last dinner gathering, I forced myself to order pizza and use paper napkins, but I did put on some 80’s music and this new pink shirt from Old Navy that had New York City emblazoned across the front in sparkly letters. I thought it said “fun,” (my husband claimed it said “desperate”).

Still, progress is progress.

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11 thoughts on “Fun Over at My House

  1. Stop trying. If you have a good time, so will everyone. I say you give it another go. A spring fling, I think. (this from the internet Psychiatrist!)

    1. How about a winter fling – since we have four more months of that? Mmmmm, I can already see the menu, hear the music, imagine the scene…

  2. For some reason this all sounds vaguely familiar – like I have
    been there, done that. And still do….
    I like entertaining but when it comes to family, just put the
    tupperware on the table!!!

  3. I just love your writing. You took me right into your kitchen with you, and as always, made me laugh. Thanks for that. [and PS: I have the same weaknesses in regards to Costco. I’ll have to try your kitty litter trick!]

  4. I love this post. I’ve had similar experiences. I’ve wondered if my guests sensed my stress and so they found it difficult to loosen up at the get-together. There must be a fun way to prepare for a party–that way, good vibes are already in the air before the guests arrive.

  5. While I’ve never been one to “bust a move”, I know the feeling of overzealous hosting you’re referring to. My partner and I occasionally hold what we like to call “dinner parties”. What starts out as a casual get together soon turns into a four-course, gourmet meal that takes at least two days to prepare and then leaves me tied up in the kitchen while James entertains the guests. In some small way, though, I think that’s the natural order of things since I’m famously bad at mingling — even amongst groups of people I know really well. I prefer the one-on-one types of conversation — the sort you have when a guest wanders into the kitchen while you’re struggling to get the last bit of the salad arranged.

    And, as you might guess, by the time the last guest has left and thanked us for the lovely dinner, James and I look at each other in a way that says as plainly as words, “Let’s never do this again… okay?” And yet we always do! Maybe it’s because we secretly enjoy the thrill of the hunt for the four-page, glitzy, magazine-style dinner party experience — where everyone’s clothes complement the table dressing and there are endless snapshots of people delirious with laughter while holding petite saucers of painstakingly-made appetizers. Somehow I always forget that we don’t have a staff or a professional photographer living in the linen closet, so I’m responsible for all of that labor AND for creating the delirious laughter.

    I think it’s learning to do all of those things at once while simultaneously enjoying your guests’ company that is the secret art to entertaining. The gurus on TV have it easy. Here in the real world our task is decidedly more uphill.

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