I’ve been invited for tea or into the homes of five of my London friends and I’ve been reflecting about it because I’ve realized a few things about myself.
This is another one of those posts that I find really difficult to write authentically without sounding and feeling like a snob, so…there’s that.
I’ve begun to challenge my beliefs a bit. (And by beliefs I am not referring to the ideals I aspire to, but the actual ideas in my head that are the place from which I make decisions and are the biggest influence on my behavior.)
I’m not going to place any blame or make any speculations about where these beliefs come from and why, be it American culture or religious culture, middle-class privilege, or family and social influences. I’ll let that be. But I am going to share some of the beliefs that I’ve discovered have taken root in my head, for better or worse, right or wrong, true or false.
– My home is a representation of my sense of style, financial merit, priorities, interests and artistry (or lack thereof.) And therefore, is a reflection of my talents, my effort and my skills. Which must also mean that my worth is directly related to how well I decorate and keep house.
– As such, visitors to my home will either be more or less likely to value me as a person, want to pursue our friendship, or enjoy their experience depending on the size, cleanliness and esthetics of my rooms.
– The state of my home and my possessions has significant influence over my friend’s opinions of me, therefore it is extremely important that I do everything I can to make said influence a positive one.
– (In other words, I use my home as a tool to try control other people’s perceptions of who I am, what I am good at, what I believe, what I care about.)
– In conclusion, it is not safe for me to invite people over when I can’t carefully prepare, so as to avoid the greatest risk to defects of character that might be exposed if my house were messy and I didn’t have something deliciously prepared for my guests.
I know that sounds really dramatic, but well, that’s what it’s like inside my head.
After my experiences in the homes of my friends, it seems they don’t share these beliefs.
A bus stop friend of mine invited me up to her flat for tea one morning after we dropped off our kids at school. It was spontaneous (which I could never do because of my aforementioned need for adequate preparation, even though I consider myself to be a spontaneous person.) Her flat was messy and I had to brush aside Legos and crayons to make a seat on the couch. It was also quite small, one bedroom and her two boys sleep in the front room. But we chatted and laughed and watched an episode of a British cooking show. I remember feeling shocked that she had invited me up when her place was in such a state of disarray. But I also felt tremendous relief in realizing that it didn’t affect the quality of our visit together and really hasn’t influenced my opinion of her or my desire to be her friend in any negative ways. Mostly I just felt really grateful she had invited me.
Another friend of my mine invited me and my four kids over to her place for tea. (Which, it turns out is more like a late afternoon meal and not just a hot cuppa.) Perhaps because of my insecurities about having a lot of kids, and perhaps because I’m accustomed to larger spaces, I always have a little anxiety about taking all four of my kids into anyone’s home. But she seemed totally unconcerned, and the kids all had a great time.
My experience in my other friends’ homes has been similar. Equally enjoyable, often spontaneous, and also in homes that are the opposite of the suburban sprawls that flood my Pinterest feed, filling my subconscious with ideas about what a kitchen should look like.
I don’t mean to imply that my friends here are slobs. None are. But their homes are small spaces, lived in spaces, spaces occupied by children. There are photos on the walls of their travels, sometimes in frames, sometimes not. There are puzzles on the dining table, or under it. And of course, there is always, in any British home, laundry drying somewhere or everywhere.
Keeping in mind also that nearly all of my friends work, at least part time, there isn’t much in the way of DIY custom cabinets or cute holiday crafted décor. I never feel like any of my friends are ever using their home or their possessions to impress me, in any way.
I’m not trying to criticize any of these things. No matter what my beliefs, a well-kept home will always be important to me. But I’m just realizing that the things I do in my home, are about me and for me. They don’t really influence my friendships the way I imagine they do. My home might manifest my creativity, but it doesn’t manifest my worth. I can be a warm and loving friend, in a messy and small house. I can offer my guests whatever is in my cupboards without fear of disapproval. Even though I am still terrified of inviting people over, I feel the beginning of a new kind of women’s liberation. And chances are, all my friends, wherever they live, care less about my house than I ever imagined. My feelings of inadequacy are more likely perceived and assumed rather than reality.
What an amazing gift they have given me. What an amazing gift to give someone else. To say “I don’t feel pressure to impress you by having/displaying/owning certain things, because I accept you as you are, whether or not you have/display/own those things.”
Come as you are. To my home. As it is.