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How 'The Crappy Dinner Party' Helped Me Entertain Without Letting Anxiety Getting the Best of Me

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Once in a while my husband and I will sit down and do a relationship checkup. Just a couple of questions like “how are you really doing?” and “anything you want to do differently?” Kind of like Festivus but without the pole.

He brought up that he’d like to entertain more. Like, people in our house entertain. Sounded doable at the time. Yes, let’s entertain more. Great idea. I’ve always loved magazine spreads showing reclaimed wood tables dressed with linens and adorned with flowers and candles. Cheese trays displayed with grapes, artisanal crackers and those fancy curved cheese knives (I have one and use it for my scratch-off tickets).

Then reality hit. He invited a neighborhood family over.

Immediately I started making to-do lists. Grocery lists. Lists of lists.

As the day approached, I became consumed with how my house looked. The kitchen needs painting. Too many toys on the main floor. God, I hate these chairs…

And as I looked around, I felt like nothing was good enough. How could we have people over with so many scruffy baseboards?

The benefit of being treated at a mental-health facility, though, is they teach me to think differently. What if my house was just fine the way it is? What if I didn’t exhaust myself on the Saturday of the dinner party? Could the evening be less than perfect and still be fun?

Then I went to Google to search “don’t want to entertain too stressful” and like a beacon, the top link shone out: “The Crappy Dinner Party.”

After reading it, I decided not to stress.

I didn’t stress out about the piles of paper here and there. I lit some candles and spent seven dollars on flowers for the table.

The menu was also easy. Recipes I tried out the week before. The only things that are non-negotiable in my world are a clean kitchen (no one gets food poisoning in my house) and clean bathrooms (otherwise, ew).

So I got up on the Saturday, read the newspaper, took the dog for a walk, cleaned the kitchen and bathrooms and then had a nap. I had to stop myself many, many times throughout the course of the day when I could feel the anxiety rising. I silently yelled stop! when my panicked mind wanted to take over and cancel the evening. I breathed deeply when my stomach started twisting at the thought of entertaining all night. I did not ask myself, what’s the worst that can happen? because my mind is capable of catastrophizing even a casual dinner party. So I walked, I breathed and reminded myself that I was in control, not my thoughts. By the time the doorbell rang, I was relaxed and ready to go. The evening was a huge success and I was able to keep my eyes open past 9 p.m.

I think a few things contributed to success of the evening. Our guests were greeted warmly upon their arrival. I actually said “I’m so glad you’re here,” because I was. The food was good. Not great, but good. Their drinks were refreshed promptly and there was lots to laugh about. A relaxed host makes for a relaxed guest.

Plus, when you face your fears and anxieties head on with a successful outcome, it gives you confidence. I discovered perfection is often the enemy of excellence and that I need to remind myself of that on a regular basis. I realized kindness sometimes involves extending yourself outside your comfort zone. Our neighbors had a great time and I didn’t have the usual fitful night of sleep following a dinner party – wondering if everything was OK. I didn’t have to worry. Our crappy dinner party was really, really OK and I’m OK with that.

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Thinkstock photo via Ryan McVay.

Originally published: March 22, 2017
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