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.
Cheap for a Reason
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.
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?
Wary but Lonely
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.
Please also note that there’s a huge difference between missing the intensity of one’s college friendships and missing the actual friends with whom you were once intense. In short, unless you’re primarily interested in reminiscing about that awesome Oktoberfest kegger at Sigma Chi senior year, it seems to me that you’d do just as well to build stronger ties to newer friends. You might also want to keep in mind that your female friendships will probably never be as love affair-ish as they were when you were 19 or 20. Why? Not only were you undoubtedly more impressionable back then, but it’s impossible as an adult to replicate the particular intimacy of living in a house with six ovulating individuals—unless you join a nunnery (or a brothel).
Friend or Foe
Dear Friend or Foe:
When my friend “Lisa” and I met at work, she was single, didn’t have many local friends, and was living with her parents. My husband, “Dean,” and I gave her free access to our house, and she was here more often than not, becoming our permanent “third wheel.” Early last year, she decided it was time to look for a house for herself. I spent a year helping her with her search and going to open houses. Then, to our relief—my husband and I were more than ready to have some time to ourselves!—she hit it off with one of Dean’s co-workers, “Aaron.”
Lisa is fiercely private. After she began dating Aaron, she told me that she could no longer confide in me because I’d repeat anything she said to Dean, who would talk it over with Aaron. She doesn’t know that Aaron goes to work and tells Dean all of Lisa’s secrets, including the intimate details of their sex life. (Dean has forbidden me from mentioning Aaron’s loose lips to Lisa because he works in a very small office and can’t handle the fallout.) Dean has also repeatedly asked Aaron to stop—to no avail.
Aaron’s latest revelation is that, after decades of tax trouble, Lisa’s parents filed for bankruptcy last year, and Lisa actually bought their house off them last June, so that they could continue to have a roof over their heads. Which means that a) Lisa was flat-out lying to me about her own real estate search for at least six months; and b) she trusted Aaron with the information after two months of dating him but cut me out completely. Now I’m doubting that Lisa and I were ever really friends. Do I tell her that I know, and say I found out through public records? Do I tell her about Aaron being a blabber-mouth? Or should I just cut her off?
Aaron is not the issue here. People talk: Your husband, for one, apparently had no qualms about telling you what Aaron told him! This is about Lisa. On that note, I think you have every reason to be peeved at her for wasting your time considering wallpaper patterns while she was secretly transferring the deed on her parents’ home. That said, it’s possible that she felt ashamed on her parents’ behalf and believed she was protecting their privacy. It’s also possible that the third-hand version of the story you heard is not the correct one. Perhaps Aaron or your husband got the dates mixed up, and the house transfer only recently went through, in which case Lisa wasn’t misleading you at all. You’ll know the truth only if you ask Lisa herself. If you decide to do so—and I think you should—I’d be honest about how you heard the news. You’ll defeat your purpose if you start lying yourself.
You’ll also hurt your case if you make this about Lisa having picked Aaron over you as her closest confidante. Just because you let the woman hold the popcorn bowl while the three of you direct streamed Hot Tub Time Machine doesn’t mean she has an obligation to tell all. Also, you say you were grateful when Aaron took Lisa off your hands! So why the jealousy now?
Please also note that sex is the closest thing we have to a truth serum. This is why we inevitably end up telling our bedmates far more than anyone else. Which brings us back to you and your husband: Best to give the guy a “heads up” before you berate Lisa. If he tries to talk you out of it on the grounds that Aaron will kick him in the nose, point out that if he didn’t want you to know about Lisa’s dirty laundry, he shouldn’t have told you! (You might also add that your friendship with Lisa means a lot to you, and you see no way forward without—to use a horrid cliché—”clearing the air.”)
Friend or Foe