I have a best-dear-girlfriend who is a natural born hostess. I will admit she intimidated the hell out of me for the first year that we knew each other.

She effortlessly hosts get togethers of all kinds, at all times — from lavish dinner parties to last minute pool-side play dates. These gatherings often involve menu themes and chic little details like chevroned paper straws. She does this all calmly with three small children in tow and a warm smile on her face.

I swear she doesn’t do it for show. She would be horrified to know she intimidates people. She just loves bringing people together. She embodies the very best meaning of the “life of the party”.

I have to admit that for too long, I didn’t reciprocate in inviting her and her family over because I didn’t feel like an equal hostess.

My natural hospitality instincts lean towards the one-on-one things that suit introverts. I like to get to know you well before you come into my little circle. Inside that circle, there are no chevroned straws. There is a lot of messy hospitality, and a complete understanding that we can talk while I hold your baby and you fold some laundry.

One day about a year into knowing her, my perfect-hostess-friend showed up to our bible study in a sweat suit and an unwashed ponytail, with a sticky baby in tow. She prompty flopped down to sit on the floor and opened up about how she had been struggling with how to help a homeless family at our elementary school. She was not talking about the normal here’s-a-bag-of-old-clothes kind of help. She was delivering daily dinners, driving car pool for their kids, taking their laundry home to wash, and helping to pay the motel bills so nobody was sleeping in a car. She had invited them deeply into her circle.

I realized just how wrong I’d been to keep her on the outside of my mine. I should always be looking to widen my circle to include people who do things better than me, whether that is hostessing or helping people in need. This was a friend I wanted to learn from and be encouraged by.

So I came clean and asked her and her family to dinner. And then I asked for all her hostess tricks. And she laughed, and proceeded to share her go-to hostessing secrets:
– get to know the Cheesecake Factory catering menu
– ignore the dirt in the corners and set a gorgeous table
– buy some Container Store chevroned straws (they make everything seem fancy).

Don’t let imperfection stop you from inviting people into your life — most especially when all you can greet them with is a sweat suit, a ponytail and a sticky baby. That’s when we girls need each other the most.

And please, if you fall into the naturally perfect hostess category, show up a little messy sometimes for the rest of us. Sometimes we need to see your imperfect to know it’s ok to invite you into ours.

Nicole Vickey is co-founder of Dinner Elf, a company that helps busy families sit down to home-cooked dinners.