With apologies to Emily Post and other etiquette enthusiasts, I have never believed in the need for strict adherence to the rules of reciprocity when it comes to social invitations. Sure, nobody wants to be the person who does all the inviting in a friendship, but keeping track of how many times each of you has initiated contact can more easily lead to resentment than anything else.
When I first started entertaining, I was taught that one should always return an invitation, preferably within three months. (Note to self: try to avoid advice that begins with the phrase “one should always…”) Along similar lines, etiquette advises that you stop inviting a particular guest if he or she never reciprocates.
What a load of hooey.
Maybe the person you keep inviting is a wonderful friend, but has an apartment and/or a budget that does not permit entertaining.
Maybe he or she is self-conscious about his or her cooking or tidiness levels.
Maybe he or she is going through a difficult time and can’t muster up the energy to organize even a small social function, but greatly appreciates being included in ones hosted by friends.
Maybe he or she views the home as a much more private and personal space reserved exclusively for family.
If the person and the friendship are important to you, then it shouldn’t matter how many times who has invited whom.
That said, reciprocity does matter when it comes to the give and take of an actual friendship, not the superficial trappings of friendship such as entertaining. It doesn’t matter if you’re always the friend who hosts book club, but it might matter if nobody in the book club ever offers to bring anything or help clean up after the event. It doesn’t matter if you invite someone to three parties in a row without having been invited to their place, but it might matter if you learned that they did in fact host a large party and chose not to invite you. It doesn’t matter if you are always the friend who picks up the phone and calls to check on the other person, but it might matter if that person consistently spends the entire conversation talking about his or her problems without ever asking about your life.
In a genuine friendship, both individuals are active participants in sharing both the positive and the negative developments in the other person’s life. That participation can take a very different shape from one person to another. One person might do a lot of entertaining, while another might write thoughtful notes and letters. Another might be an incredible listener, while a different friend might be the person who always shows up on moving day with a pizza and the willingness to carry heavy boxes. If you’re keeping a mental scorecard of who has reciprocated previous invitations, you’re likely to miss out on all the different ways in which people can express friendship.
What are your thoughts on reciprocity in friendship?