Do I Have to Reciprocate?

Hospitality gives without expecting something in return.

From past emails I have received from readers, this is a hot topic!

Earlier this year, when I wrote my Ten Commandments, here is an excerpt from my Commandment #1:

“My husband and I have served meals around our table for 16 years now, which have not always been reciprocated. Now, do we give to receive? No way! But that is one reason this blog came to be. I can think of so many reluctant entertainers out there who ‘voice’ their desire to be more hospitable, but they’re afraid to.”

Here are some thoughts that I have as to why most Americans feel it is so hard to reciprocate!

* Intimidation. My house isn’t as nice as theirs, I’m not as good a cook, and I could never host them as fabulously as they hosted us. Even if the hosts were warm and friendly and caring, that material thing gets in our way too easily, and we’re nervous about inviting more “upscale” or talented people into our humble tract house to eat a meal. If they are really your friends, does all of this really matter?

There’s also an intimacy and vulnerability to inviting individual people/families into your home that there isn’t in, say, volunteering in a church setting or place of business or even hosting large group (like sports teams or parties).

* Affection. People just don’t host individual families in their homes anymore. They don’t know how to do it and it doesn’t occur to them to learn. I don’t know if it’s hard for them, or if they just only are comfortable having people into their home that they’ve known all their lives, or who are of their same religion/political thinking, etc. If you want to maintain the friendship, there are different ways to show that you really care (take the family out to dinner, bring a unique hostess gift, offer to do some “honey-dos” around the house, meet at a restaurant, go to see a movie).

* Indifference. Sometimes maybe people we’ve hosted don’t really have a fundamental interest in us, even if we were interested in them. I think that’s where the sting comes in a little bit–we cared enough to share our home and go to the trouble of making a meal for you, and yet you don’t have warm enough feelings about us to do the same in return. Even if we don’t “click” with every family, we make the effort to connect and hopefully build a reputation of being welcoming people in our communities.

So is reciprocating required?

What do you do when you have the same couple over time and again?

Are friendships really a two-way street?

What do you do when you see friends running from intimacy?

We don’t keep tabs on invitations from friends, especially since at times we are so spontaneous and some meals are unplanned. We also love meeting friends out for dinner in restaurants or doing things “outside of the home.”

I’m always happy when our friends express interest in us and want to spend time with us, no matter what the situation.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on reciprocation?

11 comments on “Do I Have to Reciprocate?”

  1. This is a problem in my circle as well. In fact, I belong to a neighborhood group of women — about 12 of us — who take turns hosting gatherings (usually potluck) in our homes. Except for 3 gals who never, ever, offer to host at their houses. All 3 have beautiful homes, good incomes, and are great cooks (we know from what they bring to our potlucks!) For a while, the whole group accepted this imbalance and enjoyed each other’s company. However, after a while, some of the women in the group began to resent the fact that the 3 women weren’t hosting. And they began to get together without those three women. Very sad, but I have to say I understand both sides of this issue.

    If I continually have people over to my home — which I enjoy doing — but don’t get invited back AT ALL, I usually figure that these guests don’t want to have this type of relationship with my husband and me. In those cases, I have started to suggest we meet in restaurants, where everyone pays their own bill, which is fair, and that seems to work out quite well. I tend to have intimate dinner parties for loved ones who invite me to THEIR homes, and I host larger parties for the rest, regardless of whether or not they host me in return. The bigger parties are less frequent, and actually less trouble than cooking intimate dinners for a few. 

    • Thanks for sharing, Cynthia. I see both sides, too. We’ve moved toward smaller, more intimate gatherings, which I love. We also love to meet friends and eat out! It is a great way to catch up, and enjoy the friends who don’t particularly love to entertain! :)

  2. I’ve gained so much insight from this post and from the comments. I am right in the middle of the hostessing continium. We do have people over, but can’t say I feel totally comfortable with it all.
    I feel like I’ve been gently stretched a little past my comfort zone when I read your blog and comments. I love that!
    Thank you!

  3. The anxiety of entertaining is very real for some people. Someone I know, who is well liked and has a lovely home, told me when she’s invited to someone’s home for dinner her joy is nearly ruined by feeling she “owes” them an invitation in return.

    I don’t think most hosts/ hostesses have that expectation. Strangly it seems people who don’t entertain much worry about it the most.

    I encourage my friend to start small, invite friends to watch a ballgame, serve popcorn. Or serve coffee and dessert after attending an event together.

    I do think friendship needs to be reciprical for it to last but our efforts don’t have to be tit for tat.

    Good conversation Sandy.


  4. I’ve always thought of it as people blessing me by coming to my home. It’s hard to leave your own home at the end of a full day so for someone to make the effort to honor my invitation is a real honor.

    I enjoy visiting other people in their home but would never expect them to invite me. I am happy just being with them!!

  5. There is an ebb and flow to hospitality. If we expect to always get an invitation back in response to ours, then are we really serving with a hospitable heart? Expecting something in return isn’t especially giving nor gracious. Sometimes people don’t reciprocate because of illness, lack of space, or lack of ability. But if we choose not to invite them over to our house, then we are hurting ourselves. Relationships are important, so we must be willing to give without expecting in return. We have friends who are remodeling and living in their camper right now. We’ve had them over many times in the past six months and don’t expect anything in return. Another friend is going through a tough divorce. He stops by for breakfast, lunch, or dinner frequently and would have no clue as to how to prepare those meals for our family in return, but he does occasionally take our family out to dinner at a nice restaurant. It’s not expected, but it’s a nice gesture. Basically, I guess that my belief is that if we were offering hospitality so that we can receive some back, it isn’t really hospitality in the first place.

    I’ll be thinking of this all day long now. . .thanks for the great post.


  6. I know that if I could only have it one way – either have them here, or we go there – I’d rather have them here. I love opening my house to people. For Christmas this year I’m expecting about 22 people. Am I thrilled to get an invitation somewhere, of course. But, it really doesn’t matter to me if I do.

    If you are ever in Western PA, Sandy – you and your family are more than welcome at my house!


  7. Hello I am thrilled to find your blog through Leigh Ann’s. I am lucky to have to gift of hospitality (although I confess I can be a bit Martha Stewart about it all. I want everything to be pretty. But I am trying to die to that J ) But I have meet so many ladies over the years who struggle in this area. I am sure your blog is a blessing. Nice to meet you. Clarice

  8. Everybody’s situation is different and reciprocation is easier for some than others. We’ve just learned never to expect it. For whatever reason, people rarely invite us to their homes after they’ve been to ours. We just invite over who we want to and try to enjoy our time with them while they’re at our place. If they end up reciprocating at some point, we feel like we’ve won some kind of incredible contest. Where it was always hardest for me was with our kids. We’d have neighborhood kids over multiple times, or kids from our children’s activities, and yet some families would rarely have our children into their homes. Considering all the compliments we received on our children’s behavior over the years, I do believe it mostly had to do with people only hanging with those in their own educational sphere (public, private or home school). It could just be hard for our kids, but we always kept trying. But it was a lesson in the need to reach beyond our own little world to those who don’t live exactly like us.

  9. I keep tabs on when we’ve had people over, but only because I keep track of what I served to who, when, and for what occasion. We’ve got friends who feel terribly guilty every time we have them over because she’s never felt comfortable having people in her home. This makes me want to have them over more because she desperately needs friendship and fellowship, but can’t seem to get past being ashamed of her house and her culinary skills. Next time I will ask her to bring a side dish or salad or dessert, so that she doesn’t feel like she owes us a return invitation quite as much. (at least I’m HOPING that’s how it’ll work!!)

    On the other hand, there’s a couple whom we don’t have over nearly as often as we should, despite going to their house fairly regularly. I think with them it’s because I’m afraid their kids will be bored (they’re a fair bit older than ours) and their 12-yr old daughter fancies herself a grown-up. This means I don’t get the grown-up conversation and deep discussions I’d like to have with my friend, but rather am sort of forced to make small-talk all evening. I find this very frustrating.

  10. As frequent entertainers ourselves, my husband and I have experienced non reciprocation. But it really isn’t a big deal, if you decide not to allow it to be a big deal. The whole point, for us, is to bless people, not to keep score or earn an invitation to their house.

    We just had complete strangers (a married couple) over for dinner Friday night (along with other friends). After church on Sunday morning, the husband approached me to say that not only did he enjoy our meal (which was only a pot of chili) but he felt completely relaxed and unpressured to “perform”. That, to me, is the ultimate compliment. We want people to feel relaxed and comfortable in our home. So, we set the tone. Even if the night is more ‘fancy’, it can still be relaxing for our guests and friends. I believe that is true fellowship!

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