Dear Captain Awkward,
I recently moved with my partner to a very popular area for tourists. We’ve encountered an issue with friends and acquaintances who visit to view the area, not necessarily visit us. We end up financially supporting their visit… including parking costs, gas money, wear and tear on the car, and groceries. They don’t seem to be genuinely interested in us or how we are doing. How do we approach accepting visitors into our home, without ending up as their personal hotel and valet service?
I am very annoyed on your behalf. Here’s what I suggest:
- Talk it over with your partner and then place a (eternally renewable)(3-6 month) moratorium on any visitors staying with you. “We’d love to see you when you’re here, and we’re happy to make some local recommendations for where to stay and what to eat, but we can’t put anybody up just now.” You don’t have to give a reason beyond “It just doesn’t work for us to have people stay during that period, sorry! Let us know where you end up booking.”
- Anyone who invites themselves for a visit and/or balks at this – “What do you mean we can’t stay with you?” – goes on a longer, perhaps permanent houseguest ban.
- You don’t have to be fair or consistent. If your friends are great houseguests and your family not so much, host the considerate folks as it suits you and don’t host the inconsiderate people. If some people put a lot of love and effort into maintaining a relationship with you even though you live far away, give them priority over people who get in touch only when they want a free vacation spot and who put your shoulders up around your ears.
- If a visit is looming, it’s okay to discuss your expectations and availability. “When you’re here, we have Sunday afternoon or Tuesday night free to meet up for a meal or museum tour or whatever. Will that still work?” “We can cook or take you out for one dinner while you’re here, is there a night that works best for you?” “We can put you up for one night but not the whole visit.” Setting limits like this isn’t mean, you’re helping people make good decisions about how to budget their $ and time.
- If you did start hosting people again, you can absolutely put limits around it. A good friend has a “extra bedroom, free for up to 3 days with 1 month’s advance notice, no pets or babies” policy. She’s transparent about it, and nobody’s offended if she says “Sorry, that won’t work,” to a particular request.
- Also, a lot of my friends and I have a houseguest policy of “I will bring you your first drink/feed you your first meal and then show you where we keep stuff so you can help yourself going forward.” Day 1 I’ll hand you a mug of coffee if I’m making some, Day 3 you’ll probably hand me one because you got up earlier and got a pot started.
- Pay attention to please and thank you. I don’t get bothered if people don’t bring a host gift or send a thank-you-card – I’m pleased and surprised if they do it, but I don’t really expect it, especially from family or close friends. But people who never say thank you of any kind? I do notice that. It’s okay if you do, too.
- Everyone who vacations together/dines out together/hosts people needs to figure out some way to talk about money. I can’t recommend the Splitwise app enough for this purpose, with friends and as a script: “We’d love to take you out for one night while you’re here, otherwise is it okay if we split the bill or do separate checks?” “After we grab you from the airport let’s go by the grocery store and you can buy some of the breakfast foods you like best so we have them in the house.“
I know this attitude is SHOCKING and FORBIDDEN in certain families who have a culture of “When you visit me, I pay for everything and when I visit you, you pay for everything” or “The older generation always pays for the younger” and I predict that the old Ask Culture vs. Guess Culture divide will rear its head with this advice. What I’ll say about that is, yeah, the expectation seems to be that the Letter Writer will provide everything when people visit and also that structure and those expectations aren’t working, so it’s time to maybe clarify the unwritten rules so they work for everyone even at the risk of some awkwardness. Whether it’s easier to Have An Awkward Talk That’s Considered Rude vs. The Prospect Of Such A Talk Is Far Too Awkward, We Will Shut Down Hosting Altogether, the Letter Writer & partner can determine for themselves.
Fortunately for everyone, tourist destinations have tourist support services like hotels, restaurants, and taxis. Your friends get can themselves to and from the airport, rent a car or hire a guide to local attractions, and feed themselves. Try to make any tour-guiding or ferrying or feeding you do solely because it gives you pleasure to spend time with these people, not because they expect it or you feel like you have to.
To sum up:
- Take a break from trying to be the perfect hosts.
- Take a break from hosting houseguests at all. I suggest 6 months as a starter period, but another way to decide is to stop hosting until you actually start to miss it.
- When you do host again, do less. Do less tourism and/or logistical support for visitors. Spend less money and effort. Limit the time you’ll spend with the people so instead of them thinking “Aw, we have the whole week to hang out” you can plan more quality, relaxing time together in advance.
- Pay attention to who is cool and who is not cool.
- You’re not being selfish or rude if you set limits around how much you want to host or around turning down people who are more about the place than they are about seeing you.
- Re-work all of this in a way that works for you.
You got this!
❤ and boundaries!
P.S. Edited To Add since I’m in a ranty place today and I just binged all of The Good Place in 2 days.
“Have you ever planned a visit to someone in another city, and when they ask you what you’d like to do when you’re in town, answered with ‘oh, anything is fine, whatever you want‘?”
…should probably go on the Do You Maybe Belong In The Bad Place questionnaire.