When I talk to people about why they're hesitant to invite others over, most of the time they say it's because they're worried about their house or their cooking or that it's so much work. But every once in a while, I hear hurt in their voice as they say something like this:
"We've invited people over so much over the years, but I can only think of 2-3 who have reciprocated. I had hoped that by entertaining, we'd make more connections, but when it wasn't reciprocated, we felt rejected. Over time, we entertained less and less. Now it doesn't seem worth the effort."
Can you relate? Have you felt the sting of inviting and inviting and not being invited back?
I see you and your discouragement. And I want you to know that you're not alone. It hurts to reach out time and time again and to feel like your effort at connecting with others is for nothing.
That's why today we're going to talk about 4 things you can do when your dinner invitations aren't reciprocated.
Tell Yourself a Different Story
Let me share with you a secret: my family doesn't get invited over to other's houses very often either. We invite people over at least 25 times a year, and we maybe get invited to someone else's house 2-3 times in a year. I can literally count on two hands the people who have invited us over in the 10 years we've lived in our town.
Does that hurt? Not really because I know that I really enjoy entertaining and not everyone does. But it could, if I worried about why. I could wonder whether people think my kids are overwhelming. Or if they didn't have a good time when they came over to my house. Or whether they think we're weird.
But are any of those things reality? Most likely not.
The truth is, so many times, what we tell ourselves others are thinking or not thinking isn't the case at all. For example, I recently asked my friends why they are most likely not to reciprocate when someone has invited them over.
And here is what they said:
- Their lives are crazy busy -- it takes several months to find a date that works
- Not everyone enjoys entertaining in their home -- it's stressful to them or they enjoy their private space
- They're introverted or not naturally an initiator
- They're struggling financially and don't have the means to feed another family
- They're insecure about their home or cooking
- They have private struggles in their marriage or family that keep them from opening up their home
- They have good intentions but just don't get around to it
- They're struggling emotionally and can muster up energy to go out but not to initiate
When it comes to why people don't invite you over more often, choose to tell yourself a different story than the one you could create in your head. It's obvious from my casual poll of my friends that there are any number of reasons why people don't reciprocate.
You can look at it and conclude that there must be something wrong with you and give up entertaining all together. Or you can choose to think, Hey -- their lives are probably crazy busy or they must not feel comfortable having people in their home.Write a different script than the one playing in your head.
Give Up Expectations
When my friends and I were discussing why they do or don't reciprocate, my friend, Jill, said something profound.
She said, "The biggest disappointments in life start when you have expectations of others."
I don't know about you, but that hits me with conviction.
The biggest disappointments in life start when you have expectations of others.
Wow. How profound. The minute you start expecting someone else to reciprocate an invitation, you're just setting yourself up for disappointment. No one else can read the expectations you have in your head, so there's no way they can meet them.
Instead, when you invite people over with no strings attached, you start hosting with joy. Instead of expecting a give and take, you start seeing meals in your home as a gift that you're giving to others.
When you host people in your home, you're giving them the gift of your time and undivided attention, a good meal filled with great conversation, and the knowledge that you thought they were worth all the work.
Give up those expectations and give the gift of an invitation without expecting anything in return.
Embrace Being an Initiator
Years ago, I read the book, "Friendships Don't Just Happen," by Shasta Nelson. (It's a great book that I highly recommend.) Something she said about taking on the role of initiator in a friendship struck me.
She said, "We all give in different ways...Maybe the gift we give to relationships is enough initiation to get the plane off the ground."
I love that idea. What if what you have to offer in a friendship is extending invitations? And maybe your friend's gift will be making you laugh. Or inviting your kids for a playdate when you're overwhelmed with things to do around the house. Or providing a listening ear when you're going through a hard time.
You can choose to be an initiator. Someone who looks for opportunities to welcome others. Someone who chooses to love other people through invitations to their home. Someone who invites. And invites again. And again and again.
This is what we initiators choose to do because inviting is one of our values. It's one of our gifts. And ANY time that you invest in another person is worth it EVEN IF you never spend time with them again.
Even if you're the one who does all the inviting.
Embrace your role as an initiator.
Related: 28 Things to Do with a Mom Friend
Accept Their Form of Reciprocation
Let me share one last thought. When you invite someone over, they have a choice. They can choose to say yes or they can choose to say no.
When they choose to say yes, is that not a form of reciprocation?
Feel good that someone likes you enough to say yes to coming into your home and sharing a meal with you. They see value in taking time out of their busy lives to spend an evening with you. You toss the ball in their court by inviting them over for dinner, and they return it to you by accepting to come.
Accept their form of reciprocation -- it's valuable, too.
When it comes to inviting again and again with no reciprocation, I hope you can remember these 4 things you can do to reframe how you're feeling. Choose to tell yourself a different story. Give up your expectations. Embrace being an initiator. And accept their form of reciprocation.
You might just find that it changes your heart.
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Thanks for a slightly different perspective. I'm a type B, but always inviting---otherwise, less than a handful of invites/year.
The idea of a social obligation never reached my generation (e.g. reciprocate/respond/friggen-do-something). If someone doesn't invite back/email/text/ after the third or 4th time, I drop them. It's too difficult to determine whether the person is "just being polite"
I hear you. Sometimes you do have to move on. It sounds like you have the heart of an inviter, so keep doing what you're doing!
I know it's been a while since your post, but I have a question, just in case you check back: What do you mean by your last sentence ('It's too difficult to determine whether the person is "just being polite"')?
I am trying to determine what to do myself. I reach out so much, but few reach back, and when I finally get a note in the mail after my several attempts, it is totally anti-climatic, and I regret having reached out. It actually hurts, the reply note being almost cold.
I decided today that I have to stop hurting myself. Constantly reaching out to people who don't reach back is keeping me from the people who might, and I feel that at some point, it makes sense to respect their boundaries of not wanting to engage.
Just wanted clarification on your last statement. It could help to clear things up for me. Thanks in advance just in case you happen to reply.
Suzie, I think it's healthy to set boundaries. I don't think you need to keep reaching out to people who don't show an interest in spending time together. Keep inviting -- but just try new and different people, and I think eventually you will find the friends who are worth investing in.
We are now retired and I am just plain tired of always being the one to open the door, offer the meal and the bed.
I have just plain run out of give, it took 65 years to drain away and I think I gave people a good shot at perhaps just once being the ones to issue the invitation.
Jane, I'm so sorry that that has been your experience. That would be hurtful. It's okay to set boundaries and find your safe people.
I’m with you, Jane! We’re retired and down to two couples and two single women who have reciprocated over the past seven years. The others we used to invite to various get-togethers have fallen into two categories: 1) those who host gatherings to which we haven’t been invited, and 2) those who regularly go out to dinner with others, but have never asked us to join them.
Same here. I loved to invite people over and family too, usually for BBQs or brunch. But, we never got an invite of the same nature back. One person who always came to our place, and never invited back, discussed with me one day about how she had to buy a coffee table in order to have a couple over for coffee. I found my friends to be loving and there for me, but I was always the one who did the entertaining, i.e. getting the food ready, buying it, and trying to ensure that I had enough variety to please my guests. The clean up and the fact that it tended to take basically a whole day off for me. However, it somehow soured for me in the end and I've decided that while I will continue with the friendships I won't do anymore actual entertaining. If a friend suggests she comes over for a visit or to stay the night, that will be alright, but no more invites on my part.
I am invited to several dinner parties every year but honestly I hate them and just go to be polite so as not to offend. I always take plenty of drinks etc so as to not be a sponge. The thought of having to host a dinner party myself is just not on. I know with some of the invites comes the expectation of reciprocation but it's just not me and when I accept I look it as my part of the contract. I have now taken the stance if I feel the dinner needs to be reciprocated I won't attend and make up an excuse.
Thanks so much for sharing your experiences, Craig. I think it's important for us to hear from people who are on the other side and to know that it's just not everyone's thing. I'm sure you give back to your friendships in other important ways.
Have you ever considered a backyard bbq, or inviting people to join you at a nice restaurant? It doesn’t have to be fancy or up-scale! Calling an invitation a ‘contract’ seems to indicate that you consider yourself above participating in an actual friendship.
This article really helped me. I am an initator and it really bothers my mind when people don't reciprocate. I go through a mini depression thinking "what is wrong with me, why don't people like me enough to give back."
I loved that your article gave me a different perspective. It will be mentally freeing to initiate my next get together with no expectations of reciprocation, no strings attached.
Thank you so much for your comment. I am so glad that it helped you with a different perspective -- I know it's helped me.
Entertaining is costly, time consuming to plan and stressful. Doing it with a good heart is very rewarding. It’s fun to be in the moment, connecting with people and having some laughs and making memories. That being said, I’ve discovered there are two types of people in this world - givers and takers. As an older person, my friend circle has gotten much smaller and I am happier. It’s nice to be a guest sometimes. I am so over having lazy friends. Light up your grill and invite me over for a bbq now and again. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. If entertaining isn’t your thing and we make arrangements to go out to dinner - surprise me and pay the tab. Perhaps get tickets for a concert. Show in some way that you value the friendship.
I hear you, Patricia. Knowing you're an "older person," I appreciate the wisdom you've shared. I don't mean to advocate for continually investing in relationships where you feel devalued. I just mean that sometimes friends bring something to a friendship that isn't initiating time spent together. But every person has to decide for themselves whether a friendship feels reciprocated in other ways and sometimes that takes a perspective change. For example, I have a friend who has hardly ever invited me over, but if I ever need help in some way -- someone to watch one of my kids or help with a project -- she is there. That's reciprocation, just in a different way, you know? Thanks so much for adding to the conversation.
R A Williams
Hmm. As a long-time host, I have to disagree with a lot of the excuse-making you're doing on behalf of non-reciprocators.
It's possible to be, as you say, "crazy busy" however people who are truly overwhelmed by their responsibilities usually find some way to dial them down so that they have time and resources to do whatever is the most important thing. A person might be "crazy busy" during exam week, or in the first weeks after having a newborn, or during a difficult time at work. But when a person is "crazy busy" ALL the time, for months or years on end, that's a lifestyle choice. A "crazy busy" person does have priorities. They simply don't include you.
I've noticed that most of the people who don't reciprocate are not in fact always in the middle of a crisis. They tend to have plenty of time to vacation, to go out, to check out all the local restaurants, and to host other people. You know this because you see the pictures on social media. They might not host "at home", but you'd better believe they treat themselves. It's just that when it comes to the person who opens their home to them, who spends days preparing a feast, and who spends tens or hundreds of dollars a head on ingredients... well, we just aren't worth inviting.
Hosting is work. I'm a die-hard introvert, so I know exactly how difficult it is to clean, cook, and carry the emotional load of preparing and hosting. It's very difficult and emotionally draining to work hard to entertain people who appear to prefer to do nothing but reject. But introversion isn't an excuse, nor is a lack of skill or money. There are people who would reciprocate by organizing a free hike, a free gallery opening, or a park picnic. But a true non-reciprocator can't be bothered to even do that much. They're more than willing to take, and they can and do know what it means to give, but they just won't give *to you*.
It's possible that you're on to something when you say people believe that their presence or their acceptance of hospitality really is a gift. After decades of participation trophies and self-esteem building, we have a whole bunch of people who really, truly, honestly believe that they're so special and wonderful that they're doing everyone else a favor just by showing up.
I've improved my life greatly by expanding my horizons and edging non-reciprocators out of my life so that there's more room for people who genuinely do value me and want to interact with me. I do it like this.
I'll try three times to invite somebody to a dinner party, and during these attempts I'll do my very best to accommodate them in terms of timing, food, and other guests. If, after the third attempt, they're still forgetting to respond to the invitation or having a last-minute conflict, or accepting an invitation and then canceling, or no-showing me outright, then clearly they're too "crazy busy" to function. So I leave them alone and move on to the next person. If at any point they want to socialize with me, it's up to them to invite me.
After I've hosted a new person three times, or paid for the dates three times, or treated somebody three times, I look for some kind of initiative from their end. If none is forthcoming-- and I look hard for signs that they want to include me in something that doesn't necessarily resemble home entertainment or treating me to a restaurant-- then I stop inviting them and try somebody new. That way, I end up with a handful of people who do reciprocate and who are worth entertaining.
Thanks so much for the thoughtful comment. It sounds like you've found a way to both extend some grace (giving them three invites) and to set a healthy boundary for yourself. I do think spreading your net wide in friendship and investing in the relationships where people truly want to spend time with you is important. I am not saying to keep extending invitations to people who are not responding or canceling at the last minute. Everybody has to choose what relationships to invest in, and I agree that you don't need to keep putting yourself out there with someone who doesn't seem to have the time for your friendship.
This post really hit the mark for me and has helped me accept the initiator role. Each point was exactly what I needed to hear. I appreciate very much the time you put into this!
I'm so glad that it resonated with you, Ryan. That means a lot.
I have been inviting my best friend and her husband over for dinner for 46 years 2, 3, 4 times a year. We have been to their home 4 times in the last 15 years. She tells me about picnics she has for other friends. When we go out to dinner with them they never offer to pay for dinner. In fact, as soon as the waitress comes over, she says "separate checks please!" We have been friends since 1962!!!!
Last night we bought them dinner for their anniversary, which we celebrate together as ours is a few days befor, and the were in our wedding! When we told them we got the chec and Happy Anniversary, she said "oh hell now I have to buy u guys dinner, we don't do this!" I was shocked to say the least! I said no u dont have to buy us dinner, just invite us to your house!!!' She said, I guess we could do that! Keep in mind, this is a woman I have been friends with for 59 years!!
Hi, Pat. I'm so sorry for the late reply. Do you think you could have a conversation with her about it? "I really value our friendship, and we love spending time with you guys. I feel like we have you guys over a lot, and you talk about inviting others over, but it's really rare that you invite us over. It hurts my feelings..." and see where it goes? It might just be that she thinks you enjoy hosting -- in her mind, you're the hostess and maybe it would step on your toes for her to invite more. You just never know what's going on in someone else's mind...
Oh, my dear…she’s not even a good acquaintance, let alone your “best friend.”
The list of why they don’t reciprocate is nothing but excuses. They could say “ want to meet us for a drink”, “ want to meet for dinner”, “want to go listen to the free concert”. There are MANY way for people to reciprocate, yet they CHOSE not to.
I can hear the hurt in your comment, Marian. I do understand. I've been there myself. But so many people struggle with insecurities and fear rejection. Or they just honestly don't think about it. They are happy when you initiate, but they just aren't initiators themselves. It's okay if you disagree -- this post may just not be for you.
Thank you, my parents generation always reciprocated invites and I have been disappointed for years because my generation did not follow suit. I was just talking about this with my son last night because we seldom get holiday invites. I host a ladies night, a tea party and a family picnic each year. Also, holiday dinners when my nephews are available. I also, host many impromptu dinners in my home and/or around my fire pit.
Sometimes I say I am going to quit doing these because no one reciprocates, but I know deep down this is because of all the reasons in your article. I also know I would miss not entertaining because I love the whole process. I love the planning the cooking, the decorating and sharing my home with other people.
I realize now my expectations of others extending is setting myself up for disappointment and it is also adding to my sadness surrounding the holidays.
This holiday season I am going to be thankful for the many times, I shared my home this year. I am going to be thankful for sharing a quiet day with my son.
I'm so glad this resonated with you. I really do get it -- it can sting. I just think some of us were born to be initiators, and it sounds like you are one of them! Keep inviting, Party Girl!
I hear you and we did a alternating Friday casual event. Bring an item if you can and just bring yourself it you can't. Easy and informal. One time friends made a connection and made their own plans to have one another over. My hubby was a little hurt by the fact that they could easily invite someone over, but not for us . . . their families were closer, we were having fun having these little events so I did not mind. . . .but after 2 years in COVID, I am finding it harder to reach out to friends or suggest informal gatherings with more casual friendly neighbors and acquaintances. I am feeling like, if the point is to create more closeness, are we really hitting our target?
I understand. I really do. You may just want to keep spreading your net wide and keep inviting a bigger circle of people until you find some who reciprocate more.
Maybe it's not their "thing," but couldn't they meet you at a restaurant sometime...go dutch if necessary?
They certainly could. That doesn't seem like a big ask.
Great post -- and clearly, you're a very generous person who loves to entertain. That's lovely, and your guests surely appreciate you.
I agree with much of what you said, as I enjoy entertaining and do it often. But then again, if friends or acquaintances don't reciprocate after I've invited them to several cocktail parties and/or dinner parties, I have to assume they don't want to continue my friendship at this level. If I am invited to someone's home, I always try to find a way to reciprocate -- UNLESS I would rather not continue the relationship. We show others how we want to be treated, as the old saying goes.
It's the same with birthday cards and gifts. The people who love to get presents, give presents, People who love to get cards, send cards. I know from experience (and a frank but tactful discussion) that if I give a person a gift and they don't buy me a gift, it's almost always because they prefer that we didn't exchange gifts.
I have a relative who claims to be "too poor" to afford to pay for her own lunch when we go out together -- but she never refuses someone's invitation to treat her to a birthday lunch. Of course, as you imagined, she never reciprocates these birthday lunches -- yet everyone in the family knows she seemed to have money to treat herself to luxury items. The relationship is one-sided, and she's happy with that, even if the rest of us are not.
People show you how they want to be treated, in my experience, and we simply have to pay attention to their social cues.
Just curious: Is anyone in the family still enabling the ‘too poor’ relative and, if so, why?