I like entertaining, I like cooking for friends and family, and entertaining at home. By and large, I am a people person. But I hate it when someone asks “Do you mind if I bring my _________(insert relation/name of friend/family/random stranger) along?”
It is a question that, as a polite Asian, I have been brought up not to say no to. The only polite thing to do, and which I have always done, is to say, “Sure, please bring them along.”
But I am lying. I do mind. I mind a lot. I mind being put upon to say yes when I really want to say no. I mind having to entertain and make small talk with someone I do not know and did not invite, when all I want is to relax and have a nice evening with people I like and am happy to cook for. I do mind having the dynamics of a carefully planned guest list upset. And yes, I do mind being imposed upon to spend the hours in a way that I do not wish, just because you don’t have the EQ to see that bringing a stranger into my private domain for an intimate evening with old friends is an imposition. And I wish you would not inflict upon me the dreaded words “Do you mind if….?” — because I will say ‘yes’ and resent the tedious hours.
That is, until this year. I had that awful question tossed my way because my would-be guest, let’s call her J, wanted to spend time with another friend who was visiting from out of town. “Would you mind if I brought her along? She’s really nice,” says J. My initial reaction, as usual, was to say yes. But I boiled with irritation, thinking of how I would not fully enjoy the evening I was planning for all the said reasons above. After much inner hand wringing, I decided enough was enough. At 47 years old, I was losing patience with spending time in a way or with people I didn’t totally want to be with. And if she already had a commitment with someone else that day, keep that engagement instead, and don’t double-book me in. So I said it.
“Actually, I’d rather you not. If you would prefer to spend the evening with her, then no worries, we’ll meet up another time.” There. It was out.
She chose to spend the evening with her friend in the end, and I had my dinner party with the rest of my guests to my fullest satisfaction. And indeed, J and I would meet up another time. I was relieved to see that my honesty had not ruined our friendship. And that has given me hope.
I have since crafted a set of polite words to use — and indeed, I have used it one more time this year — in answer to the dreaded question. It is liberating, and to date, have not lost me any goodwill or friendships as I had so feared.
At the end of the day, I have to take people at face value when the dreaded question emerges. If you are forward enough to ask, then I will likewise be forward enough to say ‘Yes, I do mind.” I will have to take it that yours was not a rhetorical question and that you are prepared to hear any reasonable answer I have to give. So I will say it politely, but I will not be held ransom by politeness.