It’s okay and so are you

Earlier this week I asked readers to send me a question, as part of this week’s writing challenge.  My favourite question, and my answer, below:

Dear J/W:

Is it okay to just ask people over for coffee and dessert when you know you owe them a dinner but for good reasons cannot do it?

~ Genoise’nt Sure

One of the reasons I chose this question for a response is because of its brevity.  Of course, lack of a backstory makes providing useful advice a bit of a challenge, so bear with me while I walk through a few different possible scenarios, based on some key words …

I’m starting at the beginning of the question, so have a feeling I’m going to want to say “this is the crux of the matter” about a dozen times more, but I genuinely do think the “who” is key here.  If the people are family — you know, the good kind of family who aren’t judgy arsemunches — then I think a home-baked make-good meal is a lovely compromise.  And if they’re merely acquaintances, or not-so-great friends, or if you think they’re going to think less of you for not responding in kind (see also: “You owe them”), then consider whether or not they’re the sorts of folks you really want to break bread with, in your home or anywhere else.

Coffee and dessert
coffee is the answer to every questionGaldang, I love coffee and dessert.  I really think you can’t go wrong with coffee and dessert.  There’s a reason they serve coffee and dessert after funerals — it’s comforting, it’s sweet, it’s a little pick-me-up.  Ironically, if the deceased had been offered some coffee and dessert, I wager s/he’d have fought on a little longer, realizing as we do that a life filled with coffee and dessert is a life worth living.  I worry that you are somehow dismissive of how amazing coffee and dessert can be.  Invite me over for coffee and dessert and I’m in and out of your house in, like, two hours, and I leave with a tummy full of happy and a gossip reservoir fully replenished.  I’m free all next week, by the way.

You owe them
Gandhi said that “co-operation which needs consideration is as a commercial contract and not friendship.”  Taken in full context, I think he meant that you should just give in a way commensurate with a friend’s need (or as he put it, “unconditional assistance”).  But your friend doesn’t *need* a steak and lobster dinner.  S/he needs your company.  First you sell coffee and dessert short and now you do the same with yourself.  That’s not — to answer your question — okay.  Assuming your friend isn’t a tax-collecting entity or a commercial establishment or a large gentleman trained in the fitment of concrete boots, you don’t “owe” them a darn thing.

Good reasons
There are many good reasons why we can’t respond in kind to someone else’s generosity or largesse.  I’ve not been properly employed since 2009, so lack of sufficient funds is my reason.  Perhaps you have a food sensitivity or aversion and don’t wish to make a scene (vegetarian here, I understand those tricky dynamics).  Maybe you know which restaurant they’ll suggest and you’re uncomfortable about running into that pastry chef you shagged at your cousin’s wedding.  My point is: it doesn’t matter.  Your reasons are good enough.

Your reasons are good enough, and your offer is good enough, and you, my dear, are good enough.

This was a cool exercise, with a few key lessons:

1. If you share an “ask me a question” post on Facebook, people will ask you a question.  On Facebook.  (Upside: I helped one friend decide if she should go to the gym, and another decide if he should wear a tie to a client meeting, with a 0-50% compliance rate.).

2. It takes time to collect data.  Not really news to me, but I think if I do something similar in future I’ll need to give folks more than a day-and-a-bit to get in touch.

3. Giving advice is fun, and hard.  Mostly hard.  I don’t know how pros like Caity Weaver do it, week in and week out.

Finally, I’d promised that I would write “about the time I asked a total stranger for advice” — and I will!  But I’ll save it for another post, because it’s a neat story and I want to give my truth-teller her proper due.


  1. love this, going to have to copy :)

  2. calahan says:

    “… if the deceased had been offered some coffee and dessert, I wager s/he’d have fought on a little longer” Ha.

  3. Sage advice here. Coffee and dessert would do me anytime!

  4. pattisj says:

    I’d rather have coffee and dessert, any time!

  5. Reblogged this on On the Homefront and commented:
    This was my question I am not too embarassed to say and it was answered perfectly — Read on

  6. what an absolutely perfect answer in so many ways– you answered the questions and made the question asker feel better about herself — must say you could be the new Ann Landers–but do not waste your time on which way a roll of toilet paper should be placed on the hanger

  7. I agree. Friends get together to catch up and see one another. It doesn’t matter where you go or what you eat and drink. Personally I’m a sweet tooth so prefer going out for coffee and cake.

If you think I’m talking about you here, yeah, you’re probably right.

If you think I’m talking about you here, yeah, you’re probably right.

%d bloggers like this: