Friends and finances: Our rich friends are making us uncomfortable.

Advice on sticky friendship dilemmas.
March 8 2011 10:06 AM

Our Rich Friends Don't Understand Why We Can't Make Date Night

Do we have to tell them we can't afford to socialize?

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Dear Friend or Foe,

Our old friends "Jim" and "Paula" always invite my husband and me along on their Saturday date night, but we can afford to go only once a month. Both Jim and Paula have well-paying jobs and little debt. Meanwhile, my husband and I have faced some setbacks over the last few years (namely, unemployment) and are working to rebuild our savings while raising a toddler. We still see Jim and Paula socially but under more affordable circumstances and not as frequently.

Now Paula is asking me if everything is OK and hinting that she's worried that there's something amiss in our friendship. I'm hesitant to tell her that we're trying to be more frugal—I feel like this is personal information—and I don't want to be seen as their "poor friends." What's more, money seems like such a taboo thing to talk about. How do we navigate around Jim and Paula's constant invitations without seeming like tightwad stick-in-the-muds? Or do we even need to explain our circumstances? Jim and Paula may be slightly out of touch, but they're good people.

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Sincerely,
Cheap for a Reason

Dear CFAR,

Lucinda Rosenfeld Lucinda Rosenfeld

Lucinda Rosenfeld is the author of four novels, including I'm So Happy for You and The Pretty One, which will be published in early 2013.

You intuit correctly that money may well be the last taboo subject in polite society. (Witness Slate's recent article on anal sex!) That said, I don't believe you have any reason to fear informing close friends that you're trying to be frugal and are therefore limiting your movie and dinner nights to one per month. Surely, Jim and Paula know there's been a major recession since '08 (i.e., you're not the only ones rebuilding). And even if they're child-free, they're likely to realize that going out when you've got kids means shelling out yet more money for a babysitter. What they obviously don't realize is that, right now, for you guys, the shelling hurts.

I think you're being unfair to Paula in allowing her to imagine that you and your husband find hanging out with them to be repugnant, when this is only about money. If you're worried she'll think you're angling for a hand-out, preface your confession by saying you're not looking for pity or help; you just want her and Jim to know that your AWOL-ness has nothing to do with their company. On that note, if you're really keen to see these two on a regular basis, why don't you guys establish a monthly night in which Jim and Paula come over to your house for Scrabble and pizza. That way, you'll get the social life without the savings deduction.

Sincerely,
Friend or Foe

Dear Friend or Foe,

Senior year of college, my best friend "Ann" and I were housemates with four others. In theory, we all shared household duties. But when it was my turn to clean, I scrubbed the place within an inch of its life, knowing it might be a while before it happened again. One day, Ann came to me and said she felt my cleaning sprees were reprimanding of her and the others. I explained that I found cleaning to be cathartic. That was the only overt conflict Ann and I ever had. And we remained close for the rest of college. She suffered from severe depression, and I remember sitting with her for hours while she agonized over boyfriends, work, studies, and money. She, in turn, offered to get me hired to replace her at work when she found another job.

After college, Ann and I both stayed in town, though in our own apartments. One day she proceeded to give me a laundry list (no pun intended) of complaints she had with me as a housemate and as a friend. I was shocked and ended the friendship. We tried to restart things once via e-mail. But when she started sharing all her woes with me once again, I balked. I felt I'd already held her up once before, only to be knocked on my back—and I didn't want to get hurt again. Yet as time has gone by, I've found that I miss the closeness of my college friendships. This spring, I expect to see Ann at the wedding of a mutual friend. Should I contact her beforehand and try to patch things up? And if we do restart our friendship, is there any way to avoid a constant re-evaluation of our rocky history? 

Sincerely,
Wary but Lonely

Dear WBL,

In all the time you were in college, you and your best friend, Ann, had one not-even-blow-up—about who was doing the Windex-ing! Yet when, post-college, she confronted you with complaints about your behavior, you ended the friendship just like that? No one likes being taken to task. But isn't it true you could also have put down your defenses and, operating under the assumption that no one is perfect, actually listened (and even apologized)? My suspicion is that, rather than having been offended by Ann's charges, you were actually looking for an escape route from her clutches. You also say you curtailed contact for a second time after she started telling you everything that was wrong in her life and that you "didn't want to be hurt again." Again, I suspect that the real issue was that you didn't want to be burdened (or bored) again by Ann's problems. Which is your right. Being friends with chronically depressed people can be especially taxing. I just think you need to be honest about why you ended the friendship (twice) before attempting to rehabilitate it for a third time.