We have some relatively new friends. So far, they have hosted more dinner/meal get-togethers than we have, and every time I invite them to our place for dinner (and suggest they get back to us on what date is convenient for their schedule) they ask us to come to their house instead of actually responding to the invitation to come to our house.
No matter how I’ve tried bringing up the subject diplomatically—that we feel it’s our turn to host, or they should let us wait on them for a change—or even being so blunt as to say on several occasions, “You’ve hosted more dinners than we have so far and we really want it to be fair and even,” it has gotten turned around. We always have a good time together, but their doing more than what I think should be a fair share makes me feel we are being rude somehow.
—It’s My Turn
Dear It’s My Turn,
When your friends invite you to dinner, you should offer to reciprocate, whether with another dinner or in some other way, like treating them to drinks. To sound genuine, your invitation must be specific, and it must be repeated. You can’t just throw out a vague “We should have you guys over,” but should mention a date and time. After you’ve been rebuffed once, you should try at least twice more. If your friends still refuse to budge, you should address the issue lightheartedly: “We feel like mooches coming to your house and eating your food. Are you OK doing all the entertaining?” But you’ve already followed these steps, and now there’s nothing else for you to do. If they keep turning down your invitations, you’re not obliged to force them into having dinner at your house.
There are all sorts of reasons why this couple might prefer to socialize on their home turf, such as food allergies or extreme dietary restrictions. When I posed your question to readers of The Kitchn, they also pointed out that some people like to drink and don’t want to drive afterward. Justin R. explained that some people may have humiliating digestive issues, writing: “who wants to say ‘No, I can’t have the main course, it gives me explosive diarrhea’?” Justin R. suffers from such severe OCD “and two other anxiety disorders” that if he has dinner at someone’s house, his hand tremors make him terrified of breaking something, and “I generally excuse myself several times to have anxiety attacks as quietly as possible in the bathroom.” So don’t probe your friends about why they won’t come over, because their reason could be embarrassing to them.
There is another explanation: Your friends are compulsive hosts. This may be because they are truly generous people, or because they fear that nobody will like them unless they make brunch, lunch, and dinner. Whatever the reason, such people feel uncomfortable having others treat them in return. So you shouldn’t feel guilty about not hosting.
I call these types “Ed-and-Dawns,” after a couple I knew in grad school. They let me stay at their place two nights a week for the entire semester. Dawn usually cooked a lovely vegetarian meal—such as a wild mushroom quesadilla—even though she and Ed were on the Atkins diet and lived on bacon and eggs. I tried to show my gratitude with a thank-you gift of a pretty orchid in a pot. But Dawn had something even better for me. I had once told her that I wanted to continue my dead grandfather’s tradition of making trifle. Dawn presented me with a beautiful glass trifle dish.
Moral of the story: If your friends are Ed-and-Dawns, don’t try to reciprocate in any way, or they will just keep upping the ante. If you offer, for example, to contribute a dish for dinner, they’ll just insist that you take it home—along with the rest of the strawberry meringue torte they served for dessert. So relax and let them spoil you. They enjoy it.