What Is Hostess Anxiety?
As a hostess, have you ever felt the tightness of anxiety creeping into your shoulders? You try to welcome everyone warmly, and just then you notice that the coffee pot is overflowing onto the counter. How could that happen? You rush over and notice that you had the pot full of water when the coffee started. You grab rags and frantically start mopping up brown liquid. Yes, this is a true story, and I could list many others! (I had a double-walled pot. Filling it with hot water first made it stay hot longer; but that day I forgot to dump it out before the coffee started brewing. If you were wondering why there was water in it!)
I’m pretty sure I got my hostess anxiety from my grandma’s side of the family.
To this day (although I don’t think she hosts much now), my grandma obsesses both before and after hosting people.
Before the party, she sets the table days in advance, including who will sit where. With a black ballpoint pen, she writes the names of every guest in cursive letters on a paper napkin. She puts one beside each plate. Maybe she should seat this person farther or closer to that person. Also, she has a mortal fear that someone will not show up.
During the meal, she catalogues her short-comings and promises to do better next time. Next time I’m going to have ham instead of meat balls. I’m sure no one liked those stiff mashed potatoes. I should have made pie instead of those dry brownies.
Actually, she’s a splendid cook. The only unpalatable thing her guests experience is her constant apologies for the food.
After the meal, we have known her to call the same person up to ten times, offering her regrets and apologies.
But here’s what is weird. I’ve also learned one of my best guest-hosting strategies from my grandma.
Invite people who are different from each other
I’ve heard by word of mouth that my grandma had a lot of fun assembling guest lists. Rather than choosing people from the same age bracket or social group, she mixed and matched. Maybe she would invite an elderly preacher and a young couple with a baby. A farmer on one side of the table, and a shop owner on the other.
On first glance, it seems that this strategy would make everything more awkward.
But in my experience it doesn’t work that way, right down to a meal the other Wednesday night.
It was Nick’s birthday the next day, so we had Nick and Drake, our friend Chris, Marnell’s brother Norrell and mutual friend Mike.
I was rushing around in my usual state of Martha-like anxiety. First, the boys came way too early. I was shredding chicken like a wild woman and they were rushing around the house and Marnell wasn’t home yet. I thought of the balloons in my drawer and of how much fun the boys would have with them, and of how much noise they would make because they would overfill them and pop them on purpose, and likely balloons would fly everywhere.
But I went with fun. (Hey, I’m learning!) I got the balloons out, and sure enough, soon the noise of popping balloons split the air. One balloon even came right up to the counter where I was working with the chicken, but I talked it off. Marnell came home. I got a green pepper from the garden. I poured out the chips.
The door bell rang, and I heard the boys letting Chris in. I heard Chris asking the boys where they lived. Norrell and Mike rode up on the motorcycle and everyone made their way to the table. Marnell pulled up Google maps on his phone to see if they could find the house where Chris used to live years ago.
And then I heard the surprise.
Diversity reminds us that the world is small
When people come face to face, their differences vanish.Chinese proverb
Back in January after Nick and Drake left our house, they moved with their mom into a house on Franklin Street.
Turns out, they had just discovered that it is the SAME HOUSE that Chris called home in the 1980’s!
I asked Chris the question just to make sure I was hearing it right.
“You used to live in the same house they live in now?”
“Yes!” Chris, Marnell, and the boys all confirmed that I was hearing right.
The house got remodeled recently, so Chris and the boys compared notes.
“What were the rooms like back then?” Drake asked.
“I think it was just kind of one big room,” Chris said. “With the bedrooms off of it.”
Yup, still the same.
“Was there a pantry?” one of the boys asked.
“Oh, yes, I think there was,” Chris said. “A little cupboard-type deal with shelves.”
Amazing! When we invite people we think are different from ourselves and each other, we don’t expect common ground. The pressure is off to find it. No need to be anxious that they will get along. Why would they? But then, the similarities emerge after all. And it is more exciting than if the person were just like us.
Banish hostess anxiety with diversity
Now isn’t that a thousand times more interesting than inviting people who you know will be like each other? Turns out, we are all similar in some ways. But it’s more fun to discover that than to be told that! If you feel burned out and anxious about having guests, try something out of the box. I’m not promising you it will be trouble free. But I’m sure it will be interesting!
If you need a few more strategies to combat the anxiety of being too self-conscious, I’ll share a brief article I found. My favorite tip? Clean selectively! (As in, you need not clean the entire house to be an excellent hostess.) Go to Over-coming Party Hosting Anxiety.
A side note? The negative traits you inherited from your grandma might have positive traits along with them, too. I can blame my grandma’s genes for my tendency to be anxious when things go wrong. But those genes also provide the creativity and courage for fearless people matching!
Okay, I didn’t even get to what happened AFTER supper that Wednesday night. I’ll save that for next time, but here’s a sneak preview photo!
P.S. Help me out? Here’s a survey that will only take you a minute or two. It’s just ten questions about books and Mennonites, and you don’t have to be a book or a Mennonite to do the survey! If you are on my email list and already did this survey, disregard.