Friends, food, and Pepsi Throwback: Friday night dinner

Empty Tables Under the Lonely Lights
We’ve been hosting Friday Night Dinner at our place for almost two years. We probably average about five Fridays out of every six. Maybe six out of seven. The others get lost to everyone having plans on the same night, or us being out of town.

Our fallback topic is lesbians. Lesbians and the lesbian lovers who love them. No one knows why. It just is. We mostly talk about work, church, television, our pasts, and current events, pretty much in that order. Women always outnumber men, usually three to one. The storytellers tell their stories while the armchair comedians throw in their one-liners. The three year old used to get all the attention until after dinner, when she would happily go to bed in our room until it was time to leave, but now her baby sister is stealing it away from her.

Wendy and I moved to Massachusetts in the summer of 2008. For the first year our apartment was tiny. We know people who have had much tinier apartments, but still. It was small. Technically it was a studio, but we slept in the attic. So it was kind of a one bedroom.

The main thing we missed during that time was having people over for dinner. We didn’t have a dining table, and only one person could fit in the kitchen at a time. Other than the few occasions when people came to visit from out of state, we thought it was better not to try until we had a bigger place.

We decided that our next apartment needed to have a dining table, and we needed to have people over for dinner once a week. We had hit a wall in our new friendships. We weren’t getting as tight with people as we wanted to. Part of the problem was they were mostly New Englanders, closed off to the outside world with hearts covered in thick or thin layers of ice, depending on the season. (Just kidding. Always thick layers.)

So we did. We moved in to a new place with a real bedroom and lots more space. Some friends gave us a nice big dining table and chairs and we announced our decision to host weekly dinners, to much fanfare and hoopla. Actually, it took a couple months to really catch on. Plus, it was the hottest part of summer and we didn’t have air conditioning. But once it caught traction, it really got to be a thing.

In the beginning we weren’t sure which day of the week to host dinner. We rotated back and forth between Thursday and Friday, finally settling on Friday as the much superior dinner-hosting night. I thought having it on Friday would interfere with people’s weekend social activities, but it turns out people don’t have the exciting lives you probably give them credit for. It’s great having an established routine with good friends to kick off your weekends.

So what about the cost? What about the cooking and before and after clean-up and extra groceries? In our case, we knew this was something we wanted to do for our friends, because we are really amazingly generous, kind and loving people who only think about others. So we made it clear we didn’t want anyone to bring anything. We wanted to practice that special kind of hospitality that only exists in places where people have almost nothing to give but give everything they have. Or in places where you ask for water and get sweet tea and anything worth eating is fried in butter fat and bacon grease.

Because this is our thing, we invite whoever we want and no one can say no. It’s interesting when your coworkers meet your church friends meet your neighbors from down the street. Very interesting. Since the beginning there has been a core group of people we can count on coming almost every Friday (the protons) and others who come when they can or when it suits (the electrons), which provides an always interesting mix and keeps things exciting for us (the neutrons).

I am fascinated by the idea of community. What is it? How does it happen? How do you keep it working? How do you make it better? Why does it sometimes fall apart at the drop of a hat while other times you can’t break it if you try? How many people is too many? How many is not enough? Why does it get harder the older we get? Why do so many people substitute real life community with televised or virtual alternatives? Why do we feel lonely without it, and angry, sad, hurt, and self-conscious with it? Is it really ever as good as it looks on TV?

The interesting thing about our Friday Night Dinners is they haven’t created community. The people who have continued to come are the ones who already knew each other outside of FND. In our case, the groundwork was laid. The Legos were connected. But, when you get together a bunch of people to eat and talk, every week, with no agenda other than hanging out, something really powerful happens. You don’t even know it’s happening until you go without it, then you come back and suddenly realize, wow, this isn’t just a random group of friends any more. This is family.

What has truly and continually shocked me about Friday Night Dinner is how much it means to everyone else involved. Wendy and I started doing it for ourselves. It was really a trade-off. We give you food, you give us social interaction. It totally caught me off guard when people started to ask questions like, are we having Friday Night Dinner this week, or started to ask on Tuesday what would be for dinner on Friday, or started to say things like, it was really hard for me to go out to dinner with my coworker instead of come to FND, and, Friday Night Dinner is one of the best parts of my week.

Like so many important discoveries in my life, in trying to figure out something like community by reading books and theorizing and trying to recreate experiences of the past, I blindly stumbled onto the simplest, easiest, possibly most effective method I’ll ever find: routine meals with friends. Go figure.

Special thanks to everyone who’s been a part of FND so far: Kim, Nancy, Brenda, Takashi, Anna, Lilly ‘Megatron Jane’, Ann, Steph, Chad, Cheeto, Kris, Jon Newbie, Jason, Janice, John, Kath, Kyle, Justin, Lisa, Scott, Beth, Geebee, Jake, Troy, and for a brief time, Lloyd the Betta Fish.

Photo: Fey Ilyas.