When you hear the word “hospitality” does it give you a warm, cheery feeling as you envision your house and your heart full to capacity? Do you think of meals and stories shared with friends, of laughter, drinks being poured, and memories being made?
Or does it conjure slightly less pleasant feelings- like sweaty palms, insecurity, and pressure?
Does your mind instantly dart to your unmade bed, your outdated kitchen, or the glops of toothpaste that you just know are smeared around the entire perimeter of the bathroom sink? Do you shrug and hope that one day when all the planets align with the moon, when you have time to clean and decorate your house, prepare the perfect meal, and figure out how to get your children to be their best selves, then you’ll get around to planning that dinner party?
I often hear peers comment that they wish they had the time or the knack for it, but they’re resigned to the fact that they’ll just never be “the hospitable type”.
But what if hospitality could be as simple as an act of vulnerability? What if it just meant being open enough to invite someone into your real, right now life, however that might look?
We get scared off by the word “hospitality”, not because we don’t actually want anything to do with it, but because it’s intimidating. It’s automatically associated with some formal, stuffy, made up version of the “dinner parties” of yesteryear. (Also yes, I’m sticking with the word yesteryear, because how often do you really get a good opening to say it? Almost never, that’s how often.)
We think fancy cocktail hours, followed by even fancier 8 course dinners, and before we know it we’ve got low-grade anxiety.
How many forks is too many forks? Does the soup course come before or after the salad course? And what if we don’t know which wine pairs with which hors d’oeuvre? And how could we possibly know that if we had to google how to even spell “hors d’oeuvre”? (I love you so much, Google. You help me feel smart.)
The train hasn’t even left the station before we’ve jumped the tracks because let’s all be real here, it’s more trouble than it’s worth, right?
I get it.
Inviting people in, both to your home and your life, feels inherently RISKY.
Your home is personal.
It’s your safe place, your retreat, and your hideaway from the rest of the world. It’s also where your dirty laundry lands, where your bills pile up on the counter, and where all your worst habits are likely to manifest themselves.
To share your home with others can be a real and true act of vulnerability at times.
Heck, even if you’re a highly extroverted person who genuinely enjoys hospitality, you may find yourself in a new season of life, suddenly feeling insecure where you were once at ease in the roll of hostess. You may find yourself going about it with uncertainty and you may, like me, learn the hard way that doing so leaves both you and your guests feeling a little wonky.
The good news is that you don’t have to change your personality or your home to be good at hospitality.
A house is just a house. Who you are is simply who you are.
Neither of them are the thing that matters.
The invitation is the thing that matters.
It’s taken me ten different addresses through fourteen years of marriage to learn that hospitality is more about how you make people feel, and less about how fancy your sheets are, how big your dining room is, or how well you can cook.
I’ve lived in cramped apartments, in fancy condos, in large, impressive houses, and in houses that I was straight up embarrassed for my friends to see. Some of them felt like home and some of them didn’t, but when it came to hospitality, I learned the hard way that regardless of where you live, people will only ever feel as comfortable in your home as you are in your own skin.
Friends probably won’t mind squeezing around your small table in your even smaller dining room, but they will mind if you can’t seem to relax. It won’t bother them if your mantle is a little dusty and your laundry room is a mess, but it will bother them if you apologize for things that don’t require an apology, or if you keep throwing out disclaimers about your cooking or your plans to remodel that hallway bathroom. (Related: nobody cares about your hallway bathroom. For real. Just let that one go.)
Guests will be uncomfortable if they sense that you are uncomfortable.
Just be who you are and where you are and be willing to share that with the people around you.
In a year from now, no one will remember that your brownies were burnt on the bottom, but they’ll remember the way you made them feel. They’ll remember if you gave them your full attention.
If you can show your guests that you’re comfortable in your own space- imperfections and all, they’ll be comfortable too.
And if you can show them that you’re comfortable sharing your real, right now self, imperfections and all, it will make them comfortable to do the same.
And that is the real offering of hospitality.