I'm sort of a friend of a celebrity...don't get me out of here!
March 10, 2017 7:42 AM   Subscribe

I have been a longtime fan of Celebrity's work. Though Celeb is a household name in their home country, they are more of a cult figure in my country, and as such, it's been relatively easy for me to meet them briefly a few times over the years. In the past year, however, I have found myself in the exciting (but also somewhat surreal) position of developing both a professional and personal (non-romantic) relationship with Celeb's Sibling. Help me make sure I don't inadvertently misstep!

Celeb's Family have all been closely involved with Celeb's career since its earliest days (e.g., running fan club, acting as manager, etc.). Last year, Sibling coordinated a series of highly regarded special events in their home country to celebrate a significant anniversary in Celeb's career. I traveled from my country to attend several of these events, and in the process was introduced to Sibling, with whom I hit it off immediately. As it turns out, Sibling is working to coordinate a similar series of events in my home country (including my home city), and as luck would have it I have some experience and professional contacts that are relevant for this sort of event. We have been in touch ever since.

Since then, Sibling and I have become quite friendly. When they were vacationing with other family members in my city last month, they brought me a very thoughtful gift and I was invited to socialize with them, was introduced to the rest of the family, etc. Sibling also extended the invitation to me and my spouse to stay with them at their home any time we travel to their country in the future. I was also told that Celeb will be in my city later in the year (along with Sibling and most of the extended family/entourage), and that spouse and I will be welcome to private/family events (dinners, sightseeing, etc.).

Obviously, to be respectful of their privacy, I've kept mum about all of this on social media (though I've privately told a few close friends what's going on, as well as having been in touch with relevant professional contacts about organizing the special event). Additionally, in my conversations with Sibling and other family members, I've tried to make sure I avoided steering the conversation to Celeb other than what comes up organically. I don't want to appear as if I'm prying or looking for gossip in any way.

What are some other best practices I should be aware of, or pitfalls to avoid? Things to understand vs. things not to assume? For example, the last couple of times we were out, I tried to pick up the check (they have always treated me), but was waved off. Should I keep offering, or at a certain point should I stop? It will make me uncomfortable not to pay for anything, and I don't want to give the impression that I'm taking advantage of their generosity or otherwise exploiting them. But maybe always picking up the check for non-rich, non-celeb friends is just What's Done, and so it will be weird if I keep trying to grab it myself? That said, in my line of work, I have some perqs (nothing lavish, but some fun/nice things) that I've been able to share with them. Maybe this is What's Done to keep things even?

I suppose all of this falls into the category of a great problem to have, but I do just want to make sure that I'm not overlooking something obvious or blundering through some unspoken rule in my interactions with them. I want to do right by them, both in terms of making the special event happen, but also on a personal level. (They're good people, Brent.) If you have been in a similar situation, any insight is appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (6 answers total)
Not knowing what country or culture that you and they are from makes it hard to answer these questions.

Speaking as a citizen of the USA, I would at least make the attempt to pay my own way, and if they continue to decline my offer I would graciously thank them.

If, as you said, in your own way you are able to share some of your "perks" with these people I would suggest that you continue to do so. Enjoy this experience, as things have a way of changing after awhile.
posted by Hanuman1960 at 7:49 AM on March 10, 2017

I think you are on the right path. Just do what you would do with other friends. I have a lifelong friend who is recognized almost every time we go out in public. He will be asked to sign autographs. He always tells me (and the rest of our circle) that he appreciates that he can just be a normal guy around us. What happens in our circle of friends, stays in it. Maybe it is different because I have known this person since grade school, but my advice would be to just treat them as normal individual people. When you are at dinner with them or doing something in a small group setting, let them be their private persona. It is also about trust. The last thing they want is to have to be thinking about what they say and do around you. I think they appreciate that you have been discreet to date, that you offer to pay, that you don't run to social media.

Don't over think it. Treat them like the friends they appear to be. Treat them as you would any other friend. If you have something to share, share it. If they offer to share, accept it.
posted by AugustWest at 8:09 AM on March 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm in almost the exact same situation, except I am very distantly related by marriage (a family member of mine is married to sibling of celebrity). From time to time my immediate family gets invited to family events where celebrity is also in attendance. Sometimes we have a nice conversation with the celebrity, sometimes we never do because the celebrity is engaged in conversation with their own family or other friends in attendance. We don't make an overt effort to engage with the celebrity, but we chit-chat and comment on one another's children if the opportunity arises in an organic way.

What you are already doing sounds good; don't bring up celebrity unless it's organic; if you are invited by sibling to dinner or an event you can make an offer to pay but don't worry about it if you are waived off, but continue to reciprocate by inviting sibling to enjoy those perks/events that you are able to. By making reciprocal invitations you are showing that you are not just taking advantage or being a hanger-on. Basically just continue to act as you would with any other friend.

You should just be careful to tread lightly with any kind of situation that has been made public but really should have been kept private. Case in point: the celebrity in our family went through a messy, very public divorce a few years ago. In most cases if you had a friend who's sibling was going through a messy divorce you would inquire from time to time "how's you brother doing? Is his divorce finalized? Has he found a new place yet?". In this case we never brought it up because it was constantly in the papers for a while and we thought it would appear to be asking for gossip. I think at some point waaaay after the fact, when it appeared that things had settled down we inquired "how's your sibling doing these days?" as a matter of being polite, but totally not digging for anything "juicy".

I also refrain from commenting if celebrity wins a big industry award, let's say along the lines of an Oscar or a Grammy, because just general politics between siblings dictates that sometimes a sibling does not want to be reminded of another siblings success, and also because I am not in that industry so my comments on the matter really are uninformed and hollow. If I were in the industry and could frame the conversation as it related to the person's profession that would be different. But just gushing congratulations is not useful and looks too fan-like.
posted by vignettist at 8:35 AM on March 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

It's tough, because this straddles a line between a personal friendship and a business relationship. If they were personal friends who you never had any professional dealings with, then there would be different rules for social interactions, picking up the check, social media, etc. Just like the difference between family and friends or the difference between friend and date. It's clear that it's not ONLY a business relationship, you're actually friends with this person and their family, but along with that friendship, you have a simultaneous working collaboration. This person has an event which you are assisting with, involving large amounts of money changing hands, even if little/none of it goes to you. Like it or not, you are business associates. If you're not getting paid for this effort, it's still useful contract work that is helping them out a lot, and I can see why they'd want to treat to you meals, etc. I can understand why you'd want to feel that you're doing it as a friend, not as a contractor, but both those relationships have to exist simultaneously.
posted by aimedwander at 8:40 AM on March 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

I had a co-worker a while back in the U.S. who was the sibling of an A-list celebrity. I tried to imagine what life would be like in their shoes, with people trying constantly to befriend them to "get in" with the celebrity. I decided immediately to never be the kind of friend who behaves as if Celebrity is more important than Sibling.

Recently a family member asked me if I still had access to Celebrity because they had a business opportunity they wanted me to forward along. I immediately declined, because if I was Sibling and an old friend contacted me just to get in touch with my brother or sister I would hate it.

In other words: try think of this person as your friend, not as Sibling of Celebrity.
posted by tacodave at 3:32 PM on March 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

Things to understand vs. things not to assume? For example, the last couple of times we were out, I tried to pick up the check (they have always treated me), but was waved off. Should I keep offering, or at a certain point should I stop? It will make me uncomfortable not to pay for anything, and I don't want to give the impression that I'm taking advantage of their generosity or otherwise exploiting them. But maybe always picking up the check for non-rich, non-celeb friends is just What's Done, and so it will be weird if I keep trying to grab it myself?

I have been in this situation many times. Someone in my family was once married to a celebrity, and through them I've basically spent my whole life sort of on the outskirts of the rich and famous set (sometimes I feel like I'm cursed to be surrounded by the rich and famous, but to be neither one myself). As a result, I have some very, very wealthy friends who love to treat me to really lavish stuff sometimes that I couldn't possibly reciprocate. It can be uncomfortable because, as you said, what are you supposed to do, just sort of have this one-sided thing going?

After some particularly luxurious weekends, I asked my family member for advice. What she told me was that as the relationship develops, you may reach a point where you can talk about it with them, and that she has had conversations with people about this issue in the past that really cleared the air. It depends on your friendship and how close you are. I've never reached that point with any of my friends, but I'm aware that I may need to. I don't know you or your friend, so I can't tell you when or how you should talk to them, or if it's necessary in the first place. Someone else may see this comment and say "woah, no, talking about money is definitely a great way to alienate them," so I'm trying to tread carefully and say that yeah, it can be a tricky thing in this kind of friendship. I mean, I worry sometimes about alienating my own friends if I bring this up with them, so I'm not saying this is easy or simple.

I can say: don't take anyone's generosity for granted, or as just something that famous people do for their non-famous friends. I've seen friendships wrecked by people who really didn't get it, who started to act like they were entitled to free stuff because their friends could afford it. Even if they've got a gazillion dollars, it's the gesture that matters, not how big a percentage of their net worth it is. Similarly, it is the gestures that you can do for them that will count more than what you're actually spending. They are aware that they have more money than you do, and what I've seen in my own friendships is that it's the effort that goes into the friendship that matters more than the material things themselves. That may mean your job perks are enough, or it may not, but like any friendship, there are complicating factors, and this may or may not be one of them for you.

Sorry to be so wishy-washy, but I guess what I want to say is that it's good for you to be sensitive to this now, and if you feel like this starts to be a problem with the friendship, it's something you should be able to talk to them about as a friend.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 5:25 PM on March 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

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