#1321: “I have nightmares about hosting the Fancy Lady Craft Circle in my terrible apartment.”

Dear Captain,

I’m a woman in my late 20s. About two years ago, I moved to a new city. I made a new friend, “Laura,” a young woman about my age who happens to enjoy the same fiber-crafty thing I do (think: sewing, knitting, embroidery). Laura invited me to join her craft circle, which consists of approx. 7-8 women friends who are within 5 or so years of us age-wise, share some of our other interests and political allegiances, and enjoy doing this same craft.

The Alsatian of the craft circle, “Beth,” founded and organized the group about five years ago. Beth set up a format that works like this: The circle meets monthly. Hosting duty rotates among members of the group. The host provides refreshments. (Other members of the circle are discouraged from bringing something along, which would otherwise be normal in this community. The idea is that they make their financial/labor contribution to the group when it is their turn to host.) After eating, the group chats and everyone works on their crafts. All skill levels are welcome, and the expectation is that people who are more skilled help those who are less experienced.

Sounds great, right? And it is. It really is. Everyone’s lovely and kind and supportive and helpful. My problem: I dread hosting people at my home. Especially nice charming friends I’d like to impress. Especially THESE charming friends. This is partially a class thing (some of these women have more disposable income than I do) and partially a know-how thing (the ones who are working with my kind of budget have managed to find cute places with like-minded roommates and know where all the good estate sales are and what a good cheap wine is and how to whip up delicious appetizers from stuff that costs very little).

Since I moved to the area, I have lived in a crappy garden-level apartment with a roommate who is fine as a person but doesn’t share my taste in… anything. The apartment itself is tiny and sucks (picture a lot of beige tile, many window bars, flimsy walls, and other telltale signs of cheap flip/landlord neglect). The living-area furniture, which mostly belongs to my roomie, is not my idea of cute (picture squishy black fake leather chairs and couches with cup holders in them, and a lot of Funko Pops on display), and I can’t afford to replace any of it with stuff I do like. Neither of us is super great about cleaning (a condition that has worsened with the pandemic). Roomie is also shy and antisocial to begin with and was always weird around the people I did have over (a condition that has also worsened with the pandemic). And I suck at cooking and choosing drinks and knowing how much to make or buy for how many and what goes with what, and all other food-related hosting decisions. I have nightmare visions of my elegant friends crammed and perched awkwardly in our living space, picking at the food and gulping at the alcohol, counting the dust bunnies and the sticky cup residue circles, their eyes widening as the loud video game sounds (and accompanying yelling) emanating from behind my roommate’s closed door intensify.

You might ask: Knowing this about myself, why oh why did I get into a situation where I was obliged, both by the explicit rules of the group and by the logic of reciprocal hospitality, to host the craft circle? The answer is wishful thinking! I knew when I joined that it would be many months before it was my turn. I hoped by then I could figure something out. Make more money, move out of my month to month into somewhere cute, or at least presentable. Or maybe save up enough to get cuter furniture and work up the energy to have a Conversation with the roommate about The Decor In Here and also Our Cleaning Responsibilities. I hoped I would transform myself into a woman more like these other women, who can figure out how to make people welcome and comfortable in her space. Obviously, none of those things happened.

So when my turn came toward the end of 2019, I made an excuse, and then I made another excuse, and I was three transparent excuses for not-hosting deep when the pandemic hit and the craft circle went online. Since then I have attended all meetings over Zoom, posed in front of a Strategic Bookshelf in my bedroom, and it’s been fantastic.

But now, everyone’s starting to get the vaccine, or get appointments to get the vaccine. The current estimate is all members will be vaccinated by May. Everyone wants to meet in person again. And I think people are sick of my excuses. Beth the Alsatian, in particular, has dropped a lot of hints about how she “can’t wait to finally see your place after all this time.” Everyone definitely seems to expect that I will be the first to host in-person crafting times.

Captain Awkward, I don’t want to be a mooch, although I’m sure that’s how I’m coming off. I also don’t know what my options even are here. Both the things that have occurred to me — just saying screw it and trying my best, or explaining how much I fail at being a gracious host and how inadequate I feel — sound about as comfortable and feasible as peeling off my skin. What should I do? Help?

Bad Stitch Witch

Hello Bad Stitch Witch! 

I want to pause for a moment and take delight in the first question about event planning  in a solid calendar year that does not come with an automatic “DON’T DO IT, U MIGHT DIE” disclaimer. The pandemic is far from over, but there are glimmers of light at the end of this tunnel, and today I’m going to bask in them. 

Have you read Little Women by chance? Right now you remind me of Amy March, and the question of hosting is a big old vat of pickled limes:

“Why, you see, the girls are always buying them, and unless you want to be thought mean, you must do it, too. It’s nothing but limes now, for everyone is sucking them in their desks in schooltime, and trading them off for pencils, bead rings, paper dolls, or something else….If one girl likes another, she gives her a lime; if she’s mad with her, she eats one before her face, and doesn’t offer even a suck. They treat by turns, and I’ve had ever so many but haven’t returned them, and I ought, for they are debts of honor, you know.” 

Amy’s shame, and feelings of obligation to her classmates, are real, but this seems like a good time to remember that everyone in your letter is long out of middle school. After everything that everybody went through over the last year, can we please let go of the idea that it’s important to fake being rich and okay at all times? Beige walls are nothing to apologize for, and I think that you have many options before you. 

One option is to rip the bandaid off and host the first gathering of the new season. It will give you a firm deadline to give your place a good scrub. It will stop this thing from looming so large and restarting a cycle of avoidance that already wasn’t working. Everyone will be so happy to see each other and do something resembling normal socializing again that you’ll be riding a wave of good will, if not downright euphoria. 

As for your nervousness about how to do this, you’ve been to prior gatherings, so you probably have an idea of what snacks people usually offer and which ones people can’t get enough of, and there are a jillion guides to hosting in small spaces and hosting on a budget out there in Internetland. You don’t have to have a fully stocked bar with infinite options and fancy crystal decanters like everyone had in the daytime soaps my Yia-yia was obsessed with. Do some Googles. Make a couple pitchers of sangria, or get some cheap Prosecco and fruit juices for mimosas, plus some non-boozy options. Feed people cheese and crackers, some grapes and cut fruit, something sweet, and maybe pick up a bouquet of grocery store flowers if you’re feeling fancy. If you’ve got a Trader Joe’s, Aldi, or similar near you, you can probably do it and do it well for around $50-$60. There’s still time to save up or discreetly ask one of the group members to walk you through the basics if that’s a concern. 

The real key to doing this is to stop pre-apologizing this minute. Ask yourself: Do you need to throw a party exactly like the other members of this group throw parties, with identical fanciness, or do you need to throw the party that you can realistically manage given your setup and budget? Are people coming to visit your apartment or are they coming to see each other, and you? You don’t live in an Apartment Therapy house tour, you live with objects that are not your exact taste, so what, these are not shameful deeds. Is there enough seating, and is it all basically functional and in one piece? Like Guy de Maupassant, who reportedly ate lunch under the Eiffel Tower each day because it was the only place in Paris that he couldn’t see the Eiffel Tower, when your ass is in an ugly chair that comes with its own cupholder, then you’re not looking at the chair, and you don’t have to balance your cup while you do your crafts or eat snacks. Sounds good to me! 

The host-guest relationship works two ways: The host provides safety, a roof, and libations, and the guest takes what is offered with thanks. If anyone is *mean* to you about furniture with more function than form, weird about both people who share a living space displaying les objets-de-Funko, or the least bit snarky about the grocery-store origins of your fare once they’ve crossed your threshold, they are the ones in violation of the ancient compact. In other words, if these people can’t be cool about this, I invite them to heartily go fuck themselves, and count themselves lucky that The Kindly Ones are most likely fictional constructs. 

Another option is to hold the line on not hosting, but be more honest generally so that you can let go of the shame. If you can’t? Then you really can’t, so stop pretending, and own it.“I realize I’ve been making excuses for a long time, but nothing’s really changed, in that I’m still really not set up to host given my current space and roommate situation. I feel very embarrassed about it, and I know we’re supposed to take turns, but can we figure out another way I can contribute?”  You don’t have to catalog all the reasons. Assume that these friends are way more interested in your company than they are in your shame. “I’m sorry, it’s really not possible for me. I love seeing you all, so can we make a different plan, and I’ll let you know when I am truly both ready and able?” 

A third option, perhaps my favorite option, is to ask for help, already. Seek out the person you are closest to in the group. Laura? Not Beth, sounds like, but Beth is not The Whole Group, and without hearing her tone minus your shame filter, I can’t tell from here if her pointed comments are more catty, more “I truly want to see your place, invite us already,” or the middle path of “Please just tell us what’s going on with you already so we can stop being so weird about this.” Anyway, level with Laura, or somebody you trust: “I know it’s long  past my turn to host, but my current apartment and roommate situation is just not set up for guests, and my anxiety about it is off the charts.What should I do?”  

See also: “This is my first time every hosting anything like this, and I have no idea what I’m doing.” It’s okay to be new at something! You know 7-8 people who are practiced hands at shoving together a crafty little soirée. Could someone walk you through what they do when they host? Would Laura or someone else be wiling to come early and help you set up? Where do they get the good hummus? Could somebody with a bigger & more comfortable space provide the venue, and you’ll bring the refreshments and do the washing up after when it’s “your turn” to host? Or could they back you up on not hosting and help you negotiate another way with the rest of the group? These ladies sound resourceful as hell, and if you haven’t already asked for help, it’s time.

One reason that this kind of shame and the resulting anxiety is so isolating is that you are projecting your own judgment of yourself onto other people. You are seeing your living space and your circumstances through the unforgiving eyes of your inner critic, and then you are attributing those judgments to other people, using anticipated, imagined, assumed scorn and judgment as an excuse to avoid them. You’re punishing yourself, mostly, but it’s not particularly friendly to put words in people’s mouths. Do you truly think so little of these people, and of their affection for you, do you truly believe that they would choose cruelty and judgment over grace and humor?  Nothing in your letter indicates that this is how they think or behave toward you in reality, just, they have noticed that you never host and are legitimately a bit annoyed about the lack of hospitality/ reciprocity/high weirdness of constant excuse-making. 

Just, imagine you had a friend who was ashamed about something and didn’t know what to do, and you would gladly help if you possibly could, but they didn’t tell you what was going on or ever ask for help, and now they’re avoiding you. Wouldn’t you reach into that shame cycle if you possibly could and yank your friend out of it, like, “Please don’t wreck our friendship over cocktail napkins, you fool!”  Would you mock somebody for their college-era futon, or would you show up before their party and help them drag it to a more optimal position? Are you so certain that nobody would do the same for you if they knew how much you are beating yourself up right now? 

I’ll leave you with some homework. Imagine that you do host, and your place really doesn’t end up working, and people are awkwardly perched, and your roommate is loudly heeding The Call of The Duty/Booty from the bedroom the whole time, and it all kind of sucks, just as you feared. Now practice with me:

“Ah, well, there’s a reason I kept putting it off, now you know that my apartment is many things, but Instagrammable is not one of them. But I am so glad to see all of you in one place again, thank you so much for coming. Can I get anybody more cheese?’

Now, imagine ahead, a few years from now when you do have a place that suits you and the time, money, and ability to deck it all out according to your own taste. Imagine you’re in an adorable outfit and you’re throwing a little housewarming. Then, imagine your friends being so happy for you in that moment, because they know about the shitty apartment that is now both a funny story and a happy memory of the first time you could all be together again after a terrible year. Imagine that they’re glad to see you thrive the way they knew you always would, but mostly, they’re glad to see you. 

Your accumulated fear and shame are temporary stops on the way to that future, not the whole story. At what point is it riskier to keep deflecting than it is to open up? Only you can decide that, but what’s the worst that happens if you do the best you can with what you have, and allow yourself to hope?

P.S. If you do decide to host, don’t berate your roommate about their belongings or past lack of cleaning or choice of hobbies, or take your own shame out on them. Ask them about their vaccination and confirm that it’s safe to have people over. Ask them to help you do a good spring clean the week before the event (and break it down by tasks/division of labor). Ask them if they have a favorite snack or drink you could pick up for them when you’re grabbing everything else. Ask them if they’d mind letting you take over the common areas for the day. Treat them like a valued member of Team Your House, and they might rise to the occasion. If you treat them like someone you need to apologize for, then you’ll be the rude one. Nobody needs that.