On its Very Best Day, social media is a double-edged sword. It can be all too easy to forget that what we see isn’t actually real, but is artfully curated through the use of make-up, cropping tricks, filters, and other Hollywood-comes-to-Main-Street trickery. I know this to be true, and I can still fall into the perfectly-lit trap that has been set for me. I can only imagine the horror the Younger Set goes through. (Studies have consistently shown that for this group, social media can be deeply negative.)
However, double-edged swords do have positive uses – social media has allowed me to reconnect with long-lost friends (and even make a few!), as well as shining a light on causes that are important to me, and amplifying my own voice (as I do through this website). But it is always important to temper that with the realization that often what we’re seeing is someone’s “best of” persona. The danger here is that we see this highlight reel and compare it to our own messy, complicated, frazzled lives and feel that we have come up wanting.
Nonsense. None of that stuff is real and there is delight in imperfection that soars above the stress and strain of trying to be “matchy-matchy” perfect. Let me explain . . .
About a month ago, a group of friends and I were talking about the idea of using the “good stuff.” One thing led to another and I put out an invitation to a tea party. Part of me thought that my friends might think I was being silly (aren’t tea parties for little girls with miniature tea sets?), but I decided to risk it. These are my friends, after all. They’re seen a few things. And one of the reasons my Other Half and I bought this house was the fact that it had room for us to have friends over – we hadn’t done much of that and we agreed that we’d like to make it part of our lives.
Far from thinking it was a ridiculous idea, everyone was keen on the idea of a tea party. There was something lovely and gorgeous about planning to attend an event that seems antiquated – it gives you the freedom to run a little wild. You’ve already committed to doing something not everyone is going to quite get, so what’s another risk or three? These friends are enthusiastic bakers and crafters, so the menu took care of itself as the event took on a potluck sort of air. Three kinds of scones, quiche, incredible French pastries known as kouign-amann, strawberries dipped in chocolate and then decorated TO THE EXTREME, petit fours, cucumber sandwiches (no crusts, naturally!), and more besides quickly were on the menu, all provided by my generous guests.
My job was to provide a warm and welcoming place for these extraordinary women to gather. I tidied the front room, bought a truly stunning amount of flowers at the farmer’s market for a sum so low that you’d choke if I told you what I paid, and had my Other Half help me wrestle a leaf into the dining room table. Realizing that things weren’t going to match, I took a look around, remembered a few tricks from my student days, and got busy creating an atmosphere that I hoped my guests would find quirky and offbeat. The idea was to have a gathering that was relaxing instead of the pressure cooker of a Grand Affair and in order to do that, I needed to let go of the idea of being perfect.
The table was covered with two cotton tablecloths that were probably originally used at a bridge party. I put one on each end and had them meet in the middle with a table runner. Didn’t match in the slightest. Neither did all the chairs, but they were all comfortable and of a suitable height for the table.
Now, my “good stuff” is four of this, six of that, and a stack of – let us say “nonconformist” items, so I gathered dinner plates from two different sets of china (mine and my mother’s) to use as charger plates, topped each with a smaller salad-size plate, and added teacups and saucers. No one had three pieces that matched.
The same for the silverware – I wanted to use both my mother’s and my grandmother’s sets, so my guests had a mishmash. (But like all good Southern women of a certain age, I had a nut spoon and a lemon fork ready to use! Come on, why wouldn’t you use a lemon fork at a tea party if you had one? Exactly. I thought so. Provided you make a joke out of this oddity instead of using it to shame a guest who isn’t familiar with the weird little splayed-out fork, you should use it often.) The napkins matched and those were heavy paper printed with a flamingo – whimsy meets the practical side of quick clean-up. According to my guests, the overall effect was categorically PDC.*
Two of my guests arrived wearing dazzling tiaras and another was a forest fairy princess in a stunning flower crown. We began the party with glitter mocktails (again, the glasses didn’t match) and moved the conversation over to the table while I got ready to pour the jasmine tea. The conversations ranged all over the place and I took a moment to just watch quietly as I sipped my tea and listened to my friends chatter and have fun with each other – fun that we all had worked to create.
No one cared that things didn’t match. They did care that I’d provided an environment where it was acceptable to play for a few hours. They cared about that very much.
So please – don’t let some sort of vague “fear of not matching” scare you off from entertaining. Maybe the table things were imperfect, but the delight we all felt around the table was tangible, and I would have missed all of it if I had been worried that it was more important that things match than that these people should mingle.
Spread joy, Divas!
* = Pretty Damn Charming