My husband and I moved our kids from the city to the ’burbs last year and so far it’s been a pretty good decision in every realm but one: friends. My kids have made friends, my husband has made friends, but I just haven’t connected with any other moms around here. For one, I work a lot and when I’m not working, I like to see my friends from the city, who are more like me. And normally this would be fine, but it’s starting to affect my and my husband’s social life. I feel like we don’t get invited to things because I am less social. I’m chatty at the kids’ sports games but I don’t hang out with the other moms in town. My husband goes out once a week with a bunch of dads. Over the summer, he was the one who knew everyone at the community pool—I was the woman with dark sunglasses reading a book. To be fair, I make a minimal effort because no one really gets what I do for a living and I don’t just talk about my kids all the time. I’ve tried, but I end up being the odd woman out. A lot of couples in town do a lot together, and while that’s just not me, I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t hurt my feelings when I hear or see on Facebook that other people we are friends with and whose kids my kids are friends with are doing things that we weren’t invited to. What can I do?
City Girl in a Suburban World
I’m not blaming you here, of course, but this is your fault. No seriously. I feel your judgment of the ’burb moms and the people who don’t get you, and maybe because you haven’t lived there that long you, want to make sure you’re identified as a city person and not “ONE OF THEM.” Which is great if you want to remain alone, but it doesn’t sound like you do. I remember when I was visiting colleges I had this intense need to say to everyone, “I’m from New York!” So they would know! And it wasn’t until I was a little older that I realized people who don’t live her are very happy about that fact. They don’t like it—they think it’s crime-ridden and rat-infested. They are very happy for you to have your identity as a New Yorker (or Los Angeleno or Bostonian or Chicagoan), so you may have that, but you need to make the effort. Because of the Internet and television they are probably pretty comfortable with your urban references. I doubt they’re the cast of Hee Haw. If I were you, I’d have a cocktail party. You can go to Costco and get a bunch of frozen hors d’oeuvres and cheese and invite them over. It’s time to break the cycle! Your family is comfortable and happy there and you are staying. It doesn’t mean you will become a Real Housewife or wear your hair like early Kate Gosselin, it means you’ll feel a little more a part of things. It will also be good for your husband and kids. I bet you will even find some cool women in there, and you’ll let them see that you’re more than just a woman behind a book and dark glasses.
My friend is cheap. Not frugal—cheap. Which is fine on her own time. But the last time we went out to a meal, she insisted on leaving the tip, and I had to contrive a way to go back in and slip more money back on the table because $5 on a $50 is not acceptable. I don’t think it’s malicious, I just think she’s clueless. Once, I said something to her about it. She said, no, you tip 15 percent pre-tax. And, well, everything was wrong with that: the percentage of tip, plus the whole pre-tax b.s. I just don’t know what to say, I feel like I’m going out with my grandparents, who at least had the excuse of being born at the turn of the 20th century. Usually, we split the bill (oh, and even that gets silly, the precision with which the bill is divided, but I’m sure you predicted that), and I find myself overcompensating for her measly tip; I leave 30 percent just so we don’t look like assholes. And then I put my receipt face down so she doesn’t think I’m trying to offend her. But she’s onto me. And has called me out. Anyway, it’s a no-win situation. But being a New Yorker, going out for dinner or for drinks is what we do. We don’t really hang out in our tiny apartments. Any advice? Should we just get take-out and sit on a park bench?
Protip: Leave a tip
Cheapness is probably my most hated trait, after sexism, racism, murderousness…. Okay maybe cheapness is not my MOST hated trait. But I hate it. You can be as cheap as you want with yourself. Buy your underwear at Duane Reade, get your hair done for $12 in Brooklyn (Mattie and Susan), but when it comes to other people, especially working people, that’s a no-no.
In your friend’s defense, there’s a lot of misinformation about tipping. Restaurant tips, according to Emily Post, are actually calculated on pre-tax food, but 15 percent is bullshit. It sounds to me like your friend is looking to get away with the least she can—the stingy quality. But you say she’s not malicious, she’s just clueless. If that’s the case, you can school her.
There are 10 billion articles online about tipping. Send her one! It may seem pushy, but if she’s telling you that you’re supposed to tip 15 percent on pre-tax, the conversation has already been started. I get it. I was talking to someone recently who didn’t know you were supposed to leave a tip in a hotel room for the housekeeping staff when you check out. She didn’t grow up going to hotels, and no one ever told her, and she’s alone in there, so she isn’t observing other people. Now she knows. I was out to dinner with friends the other night and we were talking about cab tips. When you pay with a credit card in a cab they give you the option of tipping up to 30 percent—I hardly ever take cabs and I usually just give a buck because that’s what I always did (and in the ’80s when I first started taking cabs, that was considered big money). And all my of my friends (Ann Leary) yelled at me and called me Grandpa, and now I know better…and to take the subway. (Kidding, now I give a big tip and a wink because I’m in the know.)
Also, tips abroad? Totally different. Before I went to Paris and London this summer, I looked up tipping in those places and the rules are very different. And they change, so it’s up to people to stay on top of this so restaurant people don’t spit in your spritzer. Here’s the thing. You want your get-togethers with your friends to be about being with each other and having fun, not stressing over the check. If it feels too uncomfortable, just make a plan to go only to Danny Meyer restaurants, he’s eliminated tipping.
Got a platonic problem of your own that could use the Friendkeeper’s advice? Fire away: firstname.lastname@example.org. No situation is too uncomfortable or too small and all details are kept confidential.