I just read an article in the New York Times about the demise of a city institution, The Dinner Party.
The author talked about how difficult it is to fill the table with interesting people, plan the "right" menus, and deal with guests who don't really know the rules of etiquette. They don't always RSVP, and if they do, it's last minute and via text.
I lived in Manhattan when I was out of college. I was far too broke and unconnected to be part of any social circle that involved the dinner ritual. I would read articles about fancy parties and imagined myself dressing up to the nines (what does that mean anyway?!) and being seated next to good conversationalists in art and business circles. "Well when I was in Cannes..." I'd begin.
Instead, I found my life partner and he and I moved out of our city apartments, had a year lay over in Hoboken and eventually wound up in Old Greenwich, CT. A completely different fantasy filled my head. I saw the 30 somethings from Wall St -- blond women with tow headed children on the beach at the point -- husbands coming home off the train. And for a while, I imagined myself in that role -- throwing the annual Christmas parties or having a masked ball.
All along, I had a job. I actually had several. I was never a socialite, and I worked in an office until I formed my consulting practice a few years before we had our kids. Poof! The fantasy of fancy dinners disappeared.
When we moved "upstate" (actually Central New York) we knew a handful of people. Most of us had young children. We also enjoyed adult company. And through a desire to do both -- have our limited time filled with our kids, keep expensive babysitters and evenings out to a treat -- we started having dinner parties.
These were not fancy affairs, but they were culinary adventures. We've had lots of theme nights -- soup, salads, barbeque, Japanese, takeout Thai, meals on sticks, freshly caught wild game -- you name it, we'd do it. Everyone would bring something and we'd eat together and share stories of job hunting, health, politics, religion, sex, caring for aging parents, and raising children.
And when dinner was done, we played Texas Hold'em. In the beginning, when the kids were really young, we'd put them to sleep and stay up talking and drinking and playing until 2:00am. As the years progressed and early weekend sports became the norm, we've found that we need to end things by 10:30 or 11:00 so everyone can get home and sleep before the next morning.
Breaking bread together has been a very significant part of my social life. My kids have learned how important it is to welcome people into your life, into your home and to be kind. We've had nights with upwards of 12 kids running around while we adults were crowded around a table, laughing, and forming inside jokes that will last for years (Lenny Kravitz!) Some friends have been staples around the table, and we've had a few move on -- some literally -- to other countries! I wish it were possible to do more than 4 couples at at time. It gets a bit unweildy when there are more -- but sometimes we do it anyway.
One of the interesting things is how much you can tell about people when you play a game that is social and yet cerebral with other couples. People who are too competitive or nit-picking their spouses just don't make it back. We have a lot of mutual respect and admiration for the people around our table and always bring in new couples or singles who are easy-going and interesting -- but to be honest, I've invited people just because I'd like to get to know them. Funny thing, as the kids have more activities on the weekends, we've had a difficult time coordinating our dinners. And we've discovered that or kids miss them as much as we do.
I wouldn't trade our weekend gatherings -- as simple as they are - for a million NYC dinner parties. Would you?