She inspired me to think of my life in a new way.
Having a house to live in is great; living in an apartment can be really lovely. But once you have more than just your own bed in a room you share with your little sister, you open yourself up to the possibility of houseguests.
I, personally, have done this with great optimism. I'll be calm and collected, I tell myself. I'll greet them at the door with a cheese plate. I'll have everything clean and all our activities perfectly planned.
This, as you might guess, is never the case.
This isn't the fault of the people who visit me; they tend to be very accommodating and grateful that they don't have to pay for a hotel or sleep in the backseat of their car. What I've learned is that there are five kinds of houseguests I typically have, and while they are all absolute delights, for the most part, they each activate a particular neurosis in me, which I have to consider before they arrive.
When I lived with as many as five women in a house in college, one of my roommates was fond of saying "Fish and guests stink after three days." This was probably true given that often we'd accidentally have two of us hosting friends during the same weekend with only one black leather couch for them to sleep on. I think I've upped my hospitality game since then, but I still have to remember certain things as I prepare for different types of visitors for different lengths of time.
Family brings out the child in me.
When my family visits, I tend to revert back to a lot of the things I loved as a kid – I make a lot of comfort food, I watch a lot of cartoons, and I even tend to dress more like the tomboyish child I was than like the somewhat professional person who has to wear non-sweatpants that I am on most days.
While this isn't always a bad thing, I also fall into old habits. I had to fight it a lot on my sister's most recent visit, which fell within the wedding-planning process; she wanted to talk like we were grown-up sisters, and I kept falling into old bickering habits.
In-laws make me have only one emotion.
While I love my in-laws to death and know a lot of them very well because my husband is close to his family, I am still in that stage where I feel like I can only be happy around them. My husband's aunt saw me once at a pretty sad moment, and I think she was genuinely surprised I was capable of crying.
It's been good to have visitors from my husband's family because instead of trying to be happy all the time, I'm trying to actually just have a genuinely good time with them. Trying to seem happy can take up some of the space needed for actual happiness, and I don't want to work so hard that I'm actually being a strained, inauthentic person.
Acquaintances make me an insanely committed cook.
If I don't know someone very well but am will to put them up at my house or invite them to a party, I go into some kind of mega-over-cooking routine. For one thing, I want them to have options: with people I know well, I can usually guess something they'll like, but with new people in my life, I can't really know.
I also am a little socially awkward (could you tell?) and cooking gives me both something to do while talking and a topic of conversation. It's not exactly a cheese plate at the door, though; it's more like hiding during a party under the guise of "seeing if the mini pizzas are ready." Quantity tends to trump quality.
People I don't know make me curious.
While people I know a little make me withdraw, somehow, people I don't know at all — like friends of my husband who I haven't met — tend to make me want to pepper them with questions.
In college, I once woke up and stumbled to the kitchen for coffee, slowly becoming aware that someone I didn't know was asleep on our couch. She didn't wake up immediately, but later that day, I spent most of the afternoon sitting around chatting with her. I actually have to curb my enthusiasm a little with strangers because they are less comfortable in my space than I am.
Close friends make me nostalgic.
Close friends are the easiest people for me to have over; they know me usually at my best and worst, and I feel like my most authentic self comes out when they are in my home. The biggest problem isn't being happy, or cooking too much, or being too chatty; the problem is usually when we get on the subject of the good old days, when we were roommates or worked at the newspaper together or took dance classes in the same spot. While being an adult is fun, I often miss those in-between years when I spent a lot of time with my friends and much less time working than I do now.
It makes it worth it to go through all my neuroses because hospitality, for all its strangeness, hearkens me back to a time when sitting on a beanbag chair discussing books we're reading this semester was my idea of a good Friday night.
Hospitality may be a hard thing to come by when everyone is so busy, so I feel like those great moments with close friends, and with all the other guests in my life, are worth the effort.