‘I owe you one’—not really

Tit for tat.

Some years ago a new friend brought his wife and daughters over for a family play date one weekend afternoon. We ate and drank and talked for several hours, and a pleasant time seemed to be had by all. All four adults agreed that we should do it again, and my friend and his wife promised to host our next gathering.

We never saw them again. They insisted on having us over to their house next, except the living room was too messy or there was too much stuff on the dining room table or something wasn’t just as it should be. As soon as the proper atmosphere and tidiness were achieved, they would have us over so fast. I invited them often but they refused. Because they hadn’t reciprocated our hospitality, they were bound to deny all of us a party. It was their turn no matter what. That’s what I’ve thought for all the years since.

Then I happened to call my friend recently and at what looked to be the end of the conversation, he said, “Well, now I definitely owe you a telephone call. Next time I’ll call you.” I snapped.

I told him that he didn’t owe me anything, a phone call or anything else. I told him how things seemed to me, about his apparent eye-for-an-eye premise. See above.

I tried to say all that as kindly as I could manage, as someone who thought he’d observed something that might be important and wanted to notify those concerned out of love. I thought I might have information that could be useful to him, and I think he understood my reasons for bringing it up. He said he’d give the matter some thought. That’s how he talks.

We talked a bit more about blogs—mine is at—and signed off on good terms.

After we hung up, I decided that unsolicited diagnosis and advice (still unofficial, but I’m only 12 years away from an M.D.) are always a pain in the ass. This time, I thought I’d spotted something generally admirable—my friend’s desire for equality in all human relations—that had prevented a party, and I see such behavior as at best unhelpful. I think of it like telling a driver that a tire’s going flat or his taillight is out, a mild intervention.

Occam’s Razor to the rescue. A much simpler explanation is that they never came back simply because they didn’t want to come back, because we were vulgar boors—or maybe pretentious assholes, you see the possibilities—and they wanted nothing more to do with the Porters. We didn’t see them again because they didn’t want us to see them. I see now that’s a distinct possibility, and I don’t mind a bit.