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Favors should be reciprocal

Dear Miss Manners: I, like many, feel uneasy about asking for help in general areas of life: Rides to the airport, watching the children for an hour or painting a room. For myself, it is because I am afraid others will see me as needy and therefore will avoid me. So I avoid asking for even one thing.

I wish there was a common rule as to how often one could ask for large or small favors! A guideline similar to "overnight guests do not stay longer than three days" would be a wonderful relief. Do you have any recommendations as to how often one should ask for a favor?

Gentle Reader: Approximately as often as one does more or less comparable favors for the same people. Miss Manners put those qualifiers in there to avoid quashing generosity toward those in need, even relatively trivial need. Friends, colleagues and neighbors ought to be prepared to do favors for one another without keeping an exact and immediate count of who does what for whom.

But for this to work, it must be basically reciprocal. Perhaps you do not drive, but you could shovel a neighbor's snow. The friend whose computer emergencies you keep solving should be glad to help paint your room. Whatever you can do for others will make you part of a network of mutually helpful people.

This is not to say that good people always expect to be paid in kind. Many will cheerfully comply with requests -- until they realize that the beneficiary just keeps asking but is never available when they need a favor.

At that point, even the most charitable souls begin to reflect that what they are giving is not favors but charity. And they may prefer to redirect their charity to those who cannot possibly pay for taxis, baby sitters and painters.

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Sick of her own party

Dear Miss Manners: How much fun should hosts of a party have at their own event? Five years ago, my husband and I started the tradition of a Super Bowl party. We prepare lots of food and drinks and offer prizes at the end of the evening. Our friends have told us they look forward to it all year.

However, the days leading up to the event are immensely stressful. My husband and I always end up fighting, the weekend is completely lost to cleaning and cooking, and I'm a zombie for two days afterward. I can't even remember the last time I watched the game, since I now spend the broadcast refilling dip bowls.

So the question is, do we keep doing it? My husband says if it's not fun, we can just stop. I don't think it's that simple. Our friends frequently invite us over for Christmas and Halloween parties. I feel we should reciprocate at least once a year -- even if we're not enjoying ourselves.

Gentle Reader: Miss Manners agrees with your husband that you should not be giving parties you do not enjoy. Even more vehemently, she agrees with you that you need to reciprocate the hospitality you have enjoyed.

So -- what is it that you do enjoy? Having people in smaller groups for dinner? Summer picnics? Your choice, as long as you find ways to entertain the people who entertain you.

It is not easy to end an annual party. Miss Manners suggests warning people that you will not be giving yours, but want, instead, to enjoy your friends on occasions where you will be more easily able to talk -- and to follow that up with such invitations.

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