DAME’s Friendkeeper gives life-affirming advice about channeling financial frustration and dealing with socially selfish cube-mates.
I’m writing because I have a hunch that I’m being a jerk and I don’t know how to stop. Here’s the deal: My friend, let’s call her Mel, has money. Not I’m-so-rich-I-never-have-to-worry-again money, not even I-can-afford-to-sit-at-home-all-day-because-the-bills-will-just-get-paid money, but a square salary in the mid six-figures from a company that shows no signs of going under any time this decade. She works hard for the money, to quote Donna Summers, and I do not begrudge her one cent of it. Not her house in Brooklyn, not her summer house in Fire Island, not the thousands of dollars she spends on clothes.
What I do begrudge, however, is her insistence that she is strapped. Her nervousness about money is a constant subject for us. She talks about what everyone else has, how she wishes she had more, how it’s hard for people like us. Okay, and here’s where it gets more complicated, because, well, there is no us. I am a freelancer and while my family’s income fluctuates, it is half of hers on our best, best year. Sometimes I will get a chunk of money coming in from a big project, and when that happens, I know it has to be eked out over the next many years. The irony? While I feel strapped from time to time, while I occasionally wake up with the mortgage and my family’s needs sitting on my chest like an elephant, I take pains not to stress about money. Stressing about money paralyzes me. It stops me from producing, and I can’t afford not to produce.
I bring this up now because several times recently, we have gotten into conversations that leave me boiling but silent. Once it was her grumbling about how unlike me, she could never get financial aid for her kids’ education. Once it was her suggesting I get a new table for my living room when we had just finished talking about how I was having trouble rustling up work. Once it was her saying, I just wish I had enough money to be happy—that’s all I want. Meanwhile, she dismisses all the great things in her life. The houses aren’t that big. The trips aren’t that fun. Occasionally, when I have pointed out the discrepancy in our lives, she is similarly dismissive. Oh, it’s pretty much the same. I don’t have that much more than you. But she does, Julie, she really does. Why is it driving me crazy that she doesn’t know or appreciate that? And what can I do to get rid of my increasingly ugly feeling about it? Sometimes I just want to scream YOU WOULD DIE IF YOU HAD TO BE ME FOR A DAY, which is silly because nobody would die if they had to be me for a day. I’ve got it perfectly good. I just don’t feel that way when she gets going.
Other than money, we have a really good friendship, one that I value for a thousand reasons. She is kind, generous and loyal, and one of my favorite people in the world. Is there some way for me to deal with this before it ruins our friendship?
I have a friend who is very wealthy—she has a lot of stuff. She doesn’t want for anything. Occasionally she has explained to me that she is cash poor and house rich or something like that. In other words, she has a lot of stuff that is worth plenty but she can’t buy a Birkin bag…or something. I don’t really understand finance at all except that I don’t have it and sometimes it makes me really cranky and miserable and I want to pinch the people I know who have it. I have this feeling that you’d like her to admit that you have it harder than she does on some level. But I’m not sure you do. Money is just money. It isn’t health or happiness or love or a puppy dog or child or a mom or a sunset or any of the things that many of us have but we forget to “count.” I am mostly broke. But I am also extremely fortunate. I have a lot of things in my life that I can’t sell but they are worth more than anything you could buy. And I’m guessing, because you sound sane, that that’s the case for you, too. She’s talking about her money problems or lack of, because she’s insecure about something. Or maybe she feels guilty. I don’t know. You say she dismisses all the great things in her life, but they are just “things”—I’d love a beach house in Fire Island but I’d rather have the people in my life. And maybe the trips she’s taking aren’t that fun.
I think you need to change the channel here when she starts bemoaning her funds. When she says she can’t get financial aid for college, tell her that’s really sad, and that she also can’t get food stamps and Medicaid. Just point to the absurdity. Or you can say, “Money doesn’t seem to be a problem for you, but you do seem unhappy about something.” And maybe you can get to it that way. But the main thing you need to do is realize it’s about her and not about you and she can’t make you feel bad about what you have. Only you can do that.
I would love your take on something; I’m hoping it will help me figure out how to avoid smacking two of my co-workers. They are not close friends of mine, but it is a “friend issue” in that they make social plans with each other and others in the office, very noisily, literally talking over my head. It is fine with me if I am not invited; I am not craving to spend time with them outside of the office. But it is not fine with me that they handle this in such an immature way and are so rude. (I don’t give them a pass for being about 15 years younger than I am; they are still over the age of 12 and should know better.) I was taught that if you’re making a plan in which not everyone who could be is included, you communicate discreetly rather than shouting down the hall.
My patience is wearing thin, and since I have to see these ridiculous bitches…I mean, um, co-workers…on a semi-regular basis (thank God I don’t work there full time), it would be good to figure out how to handle this.
No FOMO, Just Rage
When my daughter was in kindergarten the teacher sent home a memo that said she understood that when kids had birthday parties, it wasn’t always possible to invite the whole class and in those instances the kids should not bring invitations to school and not talk about the parties in school, because whoever was left out would have their feelings hurt. To which my thought was, Yes, obviously, but perhaps there are blockheads out there who don’t know that and this note was good for them. And now I know where the blockheads are…in your office. This is one of those times I really wish Miss Manners were a superhero so that she could fly into their cubicles and (politely) hit them over the head with her wand. But alas, that isn’t the situation we are faced with. I am not sure it would help to bring this to their attention. If there is a boss in the office who is aware of it, that might help, but I think if it were me, I would just change my point of view. These are not people you want to hang out with—they are in fact, beneath you. In other words, let the babies make their plans. You have work to do!
Got a platonic problem of your own that could use the Friendkeeper’s advice? Fire away: [email protected]. No situation is too uncomfortable or too small and all details are kept confidential.
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