Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

And guess who has to cope with it

By Susan Kelly

A friend called me in a panic. “Sally is bringing her boyfriend home for the weekend. Tell me what to do. You do this all the time.” Having older and more children than my friend, I did have significant experience with Significant Other visits. But I’m here to tell you: You never get used to them.

I trace my trauma to visits to my mother-in-law. It’s one thing to have stacks of Southern Living magazines on the den window seat. In 1981, it was quite another to have stacks of Southern Living from 1966, and 1969, and 1971 in your den. Who does that? (My husband’s decades-long calming chant to me — “You have got to stop being incredulous” — began about then, and is a particularly helpful mantra if you have sons.)

But back to significant other visits. You know that Bible verse: Judge not lest ye be judged?  Well, hello girlfriend, boyfriend, spouse. Hello, judgment day.

Understand that your kitchen is a veritable minefield. My personal greatest slovenly/discovery fear is the refrigerator produce bin. Celery limp as yarn, parsley gone to mulch, unidentifiable runnels of pale yellow liquid at the bottom — few vows can withstand produce gross-out. Wrestle bin from runners, and scour. Pitch anything in Tupperware or tinfoil, lest the SO become curious and unearth leftovers — like I once did — that resemble the dog’s dinner.  This cannot be unseen.

When it comes to meals, breakfast is the most delicate issue. Setting a table for breakfast? Too weird. People want coffee at different times, drift to the kitchen at different times. They want a newspaper, they want a run, they want their social media. Stock the larder, stack the cereals and utensils attractively on the counter, and leave a DIY note. Eliminates the fret for all those Do I set the alarm, appear fully dressed and perky, spatula in hand? concerns. Besides, depending on the SO age — and therefore their likely hangover status — the lovebirds will decamp for the closest fast-food biscuit joint.

Note: If the SO claims to be something complicated like vegan or gluten free, commence subtle bust-up procedures. You’re in for a lifetime of culinary misery, never mind boring table conversations. There are plenty of fish in the sea, even if the SO won’t eat them.

Next to the fridge, the bathroom is the most vulnerable chink in your “like my child, please like me” armor. So sit on the guest bathroom toilet.  You heard what I said. Stare at the walls and cabinets. Get to those scuff marks and thumbprints you see, because she’ll be staring at them too. For the shower, go ahead and sacrifice the Moulton Brown products you stole from the Eseeola or Umstead and ditch the Dial. Dig your thumb into the scrubby. Glimpse any brown? Replace instantly. Snip stray strands from towels evolving to strings. Iron the sheet, but you can get away with just the counterpane. Make bed, then start all over upon realizing the monogram is inside out. Spray with scented sheet spray, a must for significant other hostessing. Cover pillow drool with pillow covers, then add the regular pillow case, making sure zippers go in first so she doesn’t scrape her fingers when she shifts at night, and in case her mother taught her to do the same thing, and she checks on you. (Like I once did.)

Provide Kleenex. Do not make her take off her mascara with toilet paper. She will never, ever forget. (Like I never have.)

Make sure that the significant other’s significant other is as equally represented in framed photographs around the house as your other children.

Note: If SO is male, slash all effort by 50 percent.

In retrospect, the above can be summed up by (another of) my mother’s edicts: Spend a night in your own spare/empty nest/guest room now and then. Flaws will be self-evident. Alas, however, what’s relegated to history are the folded bills she used to stuff into my palm when I visited anyone: Money For The Maid.

Me.

Susan Kelly is a blithe spirit, author of several novels, and proud new grandmother.

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