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Hospitality and Gender: Why Men can be Reluctant Entertainers

  • Sandy Coughlin with Paul Coughlin Crosswalk.com Contributors
  • 2008 12 Feb
Hospitality and Gender: Why Men can be Reluctant Entertainers
My guy just doesn't want to entertain. He doesn't enjoy it.

Many women in America face this situation. Men are social beings -- but not always in the way women are. My husband’s reluctance to open our home to others was source of contention between us when we were newlyweds.

Here's what my hubby has to say about his initial reluctance:

Why did you usually say “No”?

I was fearful of keeping the conversation going. Even though I really cared for others, it was hard to express it.

What made you come on board and get into the entertaining aspect of hospitality?

I did it for you! (Oh, what a sweet man!). Because I saw how much you cared about people and loved to cook and show hospitality -- that was my only reason at first.

Then I realized that conversational skills are really essential to successful living. And that they don’t necessarily come naturally, though conversing does get easier with practice.

What advice do you have for the reluctant entertainer?

Learn how to be a better conversationalist. Learn how to ask questions and really listen to people. Talk about shared experiences and find out what others are interested in. Maybe try to be a little bit more animated than normal.

So, how can reluctant entertainers become better conversationalists? Here are some tips:

The first step is to change your perception that others aren't interesting. Everyone has a story. What brings that story out is genuine interest on the part of the person asking questions. Interest cannot be faked. You need to make up your mind that you want to be interested.

Remember that our only true gifts are our time and attention. Whenever we give someone our attention, they blossom like flowers. And when that happens, our self-confidence soars, too.

Plan two or three specific questions ahead of time for your guests. Years ago, my husband and I started a habit of going on date nights once a week. During these dates, Paul would come with two or three questions. We would engage in conversation centered on these questions, many relating to our lives growing up. We enjoyed building our friendship and our marriage this way. We’ve found that this tool works well when hosting dinners too, especially with couples we are just getting to know!

As a side note: Normally we think asking the right questions is a great way to discover our guests’ interests and for us to get a glimpse of their unique contributions to the world. But in one case, Paul asked two “wrong” questions. Or, maybe they were right?

Years ago, we had two couples over for dinner. Paul memorized two key questions to ask around the dinner table (one person in particular we did not know very well):

What is your college degree?

What is your middle name and where did it come from?

Little did we know, my good friend’s date vowed he would never talk about either question in the company of others. I am not joking! My friend’s jaw dropped when Paul asked these questions because she knew it appeared to be a set-up. But Paul never discussed his idea with anyone, not even me, and certainly not our friend. This was so outside the realm of possibility, so unusual, that we suspect God’s divine hand was in it, because it revealed a portion of this man’s nature that was a very bad fit for our friend. You never know how God is going to work when you open your home and your lives to others!

Learn to Listen: I think back to another time we had a dinner party. We hosted a couple we did not know very well, but we had hopes of changing that. Yet, as the evening came to a close, I harbored hurt feelings. You see, the woman -- who came with her family -- did all the talking. I mean ALL the talking. I couldn’t believe someone could be so self-centered. Disgusted, I refrained from talking and contented myself to serving. I remember setting the desserts on the table, rather firmly.

I learned from this night. I learned to be ultra-sensitive when dining with others, to ask questions about their lives and their ideas. And Paul and I both learned that when conversation isn’t going well, one of us should interject and steer the conversation in another direction!

What about Children?

Recently, I’ve heard from several readers expressing their heart’s desire to offer hospitality, but their husbands aren’t comfortable around kids. One reader wrote:

I love having people over but my husband really does not. Or rather he is okay with having 'adults only' over but finds other people's children very challenging to be around. We have three children of our own but we seem to raise our children differently than a lot of people. Anyway, I wish my husband would be more accepting of the differences but he isn't. He just does not enjoy having 'families' over.

A pang goes through my heart when I read comments like these. This couple is really missing out! Even C.S. Lewis did not have a love or desire to be around children. And he knew it. But he forced himself to be around them more, and thus came to understand and enjoy them.

Try heading out to a restaurant to spend time with a couple without the kids around. Once you get to know the adults, maybe your husband will be more open to having the kids over to visit, too.

It’s also true that people don’t always manage their kids well, so that makes it hard to have them over. But if you can forge a friendship with another couple with similar child-raising priorities, there might be a better chance your husband will engage with the entire family.

If you have kids of your own, encourage your husband to play for brief periods with their friends. Playing is such an icebreaker because you can have fun without a deep discussion. My husband Paul will play badminton with the kids, or soccer in the street, or even swim with them. If your husband is quieter, perhaps he’d enjoy playing cards or a board game with your children and one or two of their friends.

You can always fall back on the “three question” rule, too. In this case, the three questions would revolve around the child’s life. Questions like: What positions do you play in sports? or What kind of music do you like? or What hobbies interest you? Even questions like What was your favorite vacation? What makes you happy? What makes you sad?

My last thought: if the problem for the guy has nothing to do with kids or conversation, you might want to revisit your way of entertaining. I used to be a perfectionist, causing undo stress because I wanted things to look a certain way. I’d bring the “perfectionism” problem onto my family and squelch any fun or excitement because I’d be so busy barking orders.

What do the guys want? Simplicity. Good food, great conversation, and relaxation.

Sandy Coughlin is a wife and mother of 3. She loves her family and loves blessing other people's lives by entertaining in her home. Sandy’s husband, Paul, (who used to be the reluctant entertainer) has come on board, and they often offer hospitality together. Sandy and Paul co-authored a book called Married but Not Engaged (Bethany House, Aug. 2006). It's written to women who are married to "checked out" or emotionally absent men and who want to create a more satisfying, intimate relationship. This article was adapted from Sandy’s regularly updated blog “4 Reluctant Entertainers,” which you can visit at www.reluctantentertainer.com.  Get more information on Married but Not Engaged by clicking here. Visit Paul's website at: http://www.paulcoughlin.net/

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