Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Motivation for party moochers can be complicated
Va.: We know two couples who are invited to several parties each year, yet they've never once hosted a party or in any other way reciprocated for friends who invite them. I told my wife that we shouldn't bother with them anymore — we have several other friends who understand basic etiquette (I think my 5-year-old understands etiquette better than these couples). My wife insists they're very nice people, and that we don't want to offend anyone. I responded that I'm offended when someone thinks they can mooch off other people indefinitely.
My question is to the audience: If you are an offender of this type of etiquette breach, please tell me why. Why can't you find some way to reciprocate from the dozens of invitations you've received from friends (a casual dinner at your home, a dinner at a restaurant, etc.)?
Carolyn: Here's a scenario for you: Let's say they aren't in a position to host — small or torn-up or somehow embarrassing home; not enough money to pick up the tab for others at restaurants; totally overwhelmed by life for some reason (sick, or raising many children, or caring for a sick relative or special-needs child, tough stretch at work, whatever). Say they just don't want to entertain right now.
Now let's say you're one of their group of friends, who keep inviting them out or inviting them over, even though they're deep in social debt. Do they say no to your parties and dinner invitations? Presumably you want them there, or you wouldn't have asked — so is it the friendly thing to say yes, or the friendly thing to say no?
This isn't an excuse, necessarily — they should do something for others eventually, or at least acknowledge and explain their deadbeatedness in some way — but I offer this scenario to show that it isn't as black-and-white "These people have no manners" as you say. Would you have them say to your invitations, "I'm afraid I can't reciprocate, do you still want me there?" Would you say no, the invitation is withdrawn?
Since you have parties because you presumably enjoy having parties, and since your parties presumably are about companionship and not a quid pro quo, I would suggest trying out the view through your wife's eyes: Do you enjoy these two couples enough to want them around, just for the sake of it? It takes the emotion out of the issue, reduces it to a neat yes/no question.
Anonymous: Re: Reciprocating: Why do people waste precious energy hating "moocher deadbeats"? If you keep inviting them and creating more hate inside your body every time you do — whose fault is your anguish? Doc, it hurts every time I hit my head against the wall! Just stop inviting them if you think you've spent more money on them than their friendship is worth to you.
Carolyn: I get what you're saying, but Va.'s wife wants to keep including them.
Still, the answer is similar to your "Stop hitting your head against the wall" solution: Stop inviting them with the expectation that they'll host you in return. Instead, invite them for the pleasure they bring your wife.
Rationalizing does play a useful if narrow role in day-to-day peacekeeping.