"Real friends understand what we are all going through, right?" Anna asks. Then a note of judgment creeps in. She writes about her own savings—canceling the Internet at home and the movie channels from cable—and frames a comparison: "Most of my friends have not done anything to cut back where they can (and there are things they could cut out as well, which I pointed out to them)." Maybe they would say they don't want to hear that from her. In any case, in spite of the years they span, these relationships sound like they're breaking into fragments of mutual resentment.
Layoffs threaten different relationships—the ones a reader named Kelly calls "the accidental friendships of proximity." Kelly lost her job in March. She writes of these severed connections: "I never knew any of these people well enough to be invited to dinner, but I miss them still. They are valuable because of the time invested in their unfolding. They are valuable because of the different perspectives they offered." Kelly brings up a related point from The Big Sort: Workplaces are one of the only places left in most of the country where people do mesh across economic lines. Jefferson Pestronk, a former consultant and current Slate intern, talks about this as "the unconscious support network" that comes from work. The loss of that in the consulting world, he says, is for him the recession's "social toll."
Work puts people from disparate points on the class map into a shared space. The loss of work, then, spins them out into their separate worlds. And then, the recession, by leaving some people broke, or at least fearfully frugal, also alters the friendships that people count on when they go home to their own lives. When it comes to friendship, it seems like money is an important catalyst, the glass of wine that takes the edge off. No wonder it's hard to make do with less of it.
Next question: What have you given up because of the recession that matters most to you, big or small? Please post your responses below or send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. E-mail may be quoted in Slate unless the writer stipulates otherwise. If you want to be quoted anonymously, please let me know.
This article also appears in Double X.