Unfortunately as the host, my friend couldn't join them, so she soldiered on with her taciturn guests, making polite conversation until it was the bless-ed time of bentching.
It wasn't the worst shabbat experience she'd ever had, but it wasn't great, and she wasn't so keen on repeating the experience any time soon.
Not a good time for guests
So when this young couple asked if they could come again, my friend told her husband to make their excuses and decline. Behind the scenes, she was having quite an intense 'teenager' time with one of her sons, and she also didn't have a lot of spare energy and koach for guests. Even cooking for herself had become a bit tricky.
A few weeks' on, the couple asked again. Again, she made her excuses. her kids had friends staying over, and from her previous experience with them, this couple didn't really 'combine' well with anyone else.
A few weeks' on, they asked again. Again, she had far too much going on in my life to handle guests, and she told her husband to decline. Which is when she started to ponder: what's going on here?
I mean, if she'd told this couple the first time to come whenever they wanted, and just call, and it would be a pleasure to have them, that would be one thing, and she'd have no complaints.
You don't need money or fancy decor to invite guests for shabbat
But she didn't, and she hadn't, and to keep calling after repeatedly being told 'no' set some alarm bells ringing. She asked me what I thought about it all. What I told her is that even in university, when I was dead skint and had one armchair that I'd rescued from next to the dumpster, I used to invite my friends for meals and Shabbat suppers. Even when I was a young 20-something newly married (and still dead skint…) I used to have guests almost every week.
It's just something me and my husband did, and it never depended on us having a lot of cash or a perfect home.
By contrast, something that me and my husband never, ever, did was invite ourselves over to someone else for Shabbat - barring the one time I asked really good friends if we could come for lunch last minute, as I'd been caught up in some crazy situation and hadn't been able to buy or cook anything myself.
With friends, you can do those things and it's ok, because it's clear that you're not just after a free lunch, and that there's some mutual caring and reciprocity going on.
So we can argue it's just an age thing, a stage-in-life thing, but I don't think I agree. I invited people decades' older than me for meals in London, right from the first year I was married.
The need for reciprocity
After pondering it, it struck me that what was bothering me about all this is that there doesn't seem to be any reciprocity on the table. It seems as though there's an expectation that my friend is just meant to happily have this couple for Shabbat, ad infinitum, with no friendship, caring or concern in return, simply because she's older than them and been married for years.
I've had times - plenty of them - when I was terribly lonely on Shabbat. I've also had times when I could barely afford to buy a chicken for Friday night supper - but I never expected someone else to fill that lack for me. That would be making my problem their problem. What I have done to alleviate my loneliness, more times than I can count, is to reach out to someone else, someone new, and to invite them over to me.
I know, what a shocking thought!
But just maybe, God is giving this young couple plenty of quiet Shabbats for a reason. Maybe, He wants them to dig a bit deeper, to see past themselves and their wants, and to start to realize that if you're the one that's offering to cook, one way or another you'll always have company around the Shabbat table.