Dear Miss Manners: My beau and I just met a wonderful married couple we bonded with who enjoy inviting us to their home for barbecue dinners they prepare for us. As we get along famously, they invite us often (two or three times a week) and lavishly serve us filets with shrimp or fish. Dessert is as five-star as the wine and the meals are surely expensive.
Our problem is neither of us can reciprocate for dinner in our separate homes to show our thanks, due to family medical issues. We try to offer expensive wine or to pay but are told “No way, it would be an insult!” They have a huge inventory of fine wine and want only to share with their new good friends.
We find it difficult to refuse their invitations since we enjoy their company so much, as well. Are we correct to appreciate their friendship and generosity, as they want us to, or should we fraudulently refuse politely in order not to indulge ourselves of the situation? Is it proper etiquette to refuse the regular invites of our hosts or not? And how can we repay them in kind without insulting them?
Gentle Reader: These people are feeding you lavishly two or three times a week? Are you sure they haven’t taken out adoption papers?
Ordinarily, Miss Manners would insist that you reciprocate their invitations. That you would not be able to entertain in their style does not matter in the least. No doubt they like to go out occasionally, and since they like you, they would enjoy being let into your lives.
But if that is not possible because you have sick relatives at home, you will have to be especially thoughtful about other ways to please them. Contributing wine or food is obviously superfluous.
Perhaps you could bring them books or films that might interest them. Or you could pick up on some project you hear them mention and offer to help – hauling gardening supplies, driving them to and from the theater, fixing their computer problems, taking their house guests sightseeing, or whatever it is that they may be relieved not to have to do themselves. They have been treating you as if you were family, and family members do not pay for their meals, but are supposed to pitch in and help.