Can one be friends with the 1%?
June 29, 2017 6:10 AM   Subscribe

I made friends with a pretty cool group of women in a city where all of us are lonely transplants. One of them comes from a massively wealthy family (think upper .05%). I grew up on food stamps. She seems to genuinely like and care for me, but her wilful political ignorance and sense of entitlement make it hard to be patient or even honest with her. Am I being a hypersensitive, self-righteous little class warrior, or is this a legitimate problem in our relationship?

So. Here we are in Drumpfland. Any pretense that the US is not a civil oligarchy hurtling towards authoritarian kleptocracy has been dropped. Cool.

Friend comes from a family who invested their (largely inherited) money in the tech industry at precisely the right time and now have approximately the net worth of a small developed European nation. (That's only partly a joke.) I grew up on public assistance*, attended an in-state public university (of which I am happy and proud to be an alumna), gave up a viable potential career as a musician to transition to something more lucrative, and now struggle monthly to pay off my modest student loans. I basically may never achieve financial security despite now having what is considered a respectable career path, simply because I don't have the socioeconomic wherewithal to compete with people like Friend for a slice of the economic pie. Fine. Whatever. Not her fault, but not entirely mine, either.

HOWEVER. Friend insists, INSISTS, on denying, and that we never imply, that any good things she may have--from perfectly realigned teeth to a plum job at a multinational firm (secured for her by her uncle)--may result even partly from her social station. She will get actively upset if anyone else in our friend group makes even oblique reference to the fact that she has access to certain things and choices that we simply don't ("Friend, a West Coast road trip for all of July sounds amazing, but I wouldn't be able to pay my rent" was interpreted as a taunt, for example).

I have other friends from extremely privileged backgrounds, but their basic attitude is, "yes, I've been dealt and awesome hand in life that I didn't necessarily earn, but I'm gonna play the sh*t out of it". Friend seems to want us to go along with the idea that she comes from precisely the same set of constraints and experiences we do, and frankly it feels bizarre and a little disrespectful. In fact, it is irritating and exhausting to have to participate in her fantasy that Everyone Is Alike whilst my mother is drowning in medical debt and my boyfriend and I are having weeping arguments about how to move on in our lives whilst paying both taxes and student loans on time. (Friend's reaction to my telling her about the most recent fight: big eyes "I didn't know you had student loans! But you went to a STATE SCHOOL, how is that POSSIBLE?")

I guess a lot of my frustration really stems from an asymmetry in the relationship: I must tiptoe around her feelings about class at all times or risk an implosion with loads of hurt feelings; but I cannot push back or otherwise comment on her extremely ignorant and hurtful remarks about my own background for the same reason.

In the current political climate the problem has become acute, given that we are living under a government which is literally prepared to KILL MY DISABLED MOTHER BY THROWING HER OFF HER HEALTH INSURANCE in order to enrich people like Friend's already unimaginably wealthy family. And I'm not even allowed to refer to this fact in front of her, let alone express any feelings about it. I'm sure it IS deeply uncomfortable for a person in her position, who obviously didn't ask to be born wealthy and is not a sociopath, to know that the orange sh*itgibbon and his cronies are doing horrible things to millions of people essentially to serve their, and by extension her, economic interests. But I don't know how much longer I can tolerate a) her offhand remarks which basically amount to EW, YOU'RE POOR? b) her wilful ignorance of her own position, how it was acquired and secured, and how that intersects with what is happening to the rest of us.

I'm doing a lot of all-caps kvetching here I realize, but I wouldn't be asking this question if she didn't also mean a lot to me: she is otherwise exceptionally warm, emotionally generous, caring and enjoyable to be with. I'd rather distance myself than wind up being cold or mean to her for characteristics she can't control, i.e. a social station for which she certainly never asked. Am I just being too much of a bitchy leftist? Is the mismatch simply that I am passionate about politics and she finds the topic stressful and distasteful?

Or is the issue really that we peons and the upper 1% just can't mix anymore?

*Yes, despite my mother working multiple jobs, being married to our father before having us, being college-educated, yadda yadda yadda all the "good decisions" conservatives say poor people "should have" made to be Not Poor.
posted by peakes to Human Relations (43 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
i really don't understand how you can say this person is emotionally generous if you can't even say that an impromptu road trip is financially impossible without her pitching a fit about your being mean to her. How is she emotionally generous aside from all the ways that you are not permitted to express your emotions around her?
posted by palomar at 6:25 AM on June 29, 2017 [69 favorites]

What are you getting out of this friendship that makes putting up with this shit worth it?
posted by mskyle at 6:25 AM on June 29, 2017 [32 favorites]

I think it's...complicated for a lot of reasons.

When I was growing up, the understanding was that it was considered extremely rude to refer to anyone's financial situation - whether they were poor or rich, the polite thing to do was to delicately avoid discussion of someone's financial circumstances unless the person themselves explicitly brought it up - and not like, "I'm going on a great vacation", but more like "Here is how much my salary is!" These norms were perceived to benefit both rich and poor - you didn't have to be embarrassed at being visibly either wealthier or poorer than your friends.

That is radically changing for people who are really interested in class politics, and discussion of wealth and difficulties related to the lack thereof is becoming more explicitly acceptable as a topic. But that sometimes runs across people who still hold the former values, that it's rude to bring stuff like that up - things like "that vacation sounds great but I could never afford that" would be incredibly rude under the former standards, but is considered more acceptable as privilege-checking now.
posted by corb at 6:27 AM on June 29, 2017 [11 favorites]

Like, if you can't even gently push back when she's being cruel about your family's socioeconomic status or your upbringing without her getting angry at you... how is that a good friendship?
posted by palomar at 6:27 AM on June 29, 2017 [24 favorites]

Honestly, she sounds intolerable. I have plenty of friends with wealthy families – not European-country rich, but pretty rich, and I'm totally a no-student-loans-rich person – and all of us recognize that that's basically an accident, and also that our class backgrounds mean that there are systems we are complicit in just by existing and that we have some responsibility to the rest of the world. Like, no it's not "her fault" that she was born rich, but it is totally her fault that she's ignoring the unfairness of the system.

It would be totally reasonable to ditch this person. Seriously. It's probably really good for her to have friends from different class backgrounds – think about how ignorant she is, and how much more ignorant she'd be if it weren't for you – but it does not have to be your job to educate her if you do not want to.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 6:27 AM on June 29, 2017 [37 favorites]

I don't think this can be about morality, precisely. I think it has to be about your comfort level, and you don't seem comfortable, and it seems really destructive.

I think that this is both a structural and an interpersonal problem - structural, in that there will always be echoes of this problem in any society with really pronounced inequality* and personal in that privileged people who want to be friends with disadvantaged people are responsible for both stepping up their fairness game (sharing when possible, paying when it doesn't make things weird, doing things that everyone can afford and participate in) and shouldering any discomfort that is going around. If anyone is uncomfortable in this setting, it should be the person who has the most cushion in other areas of life, not you.

Honestly, I've had friendships fall apart both because people were moving into lives I could not share and because people wanted me to pretend that we had the same experiences so that they did not have to be uncomfortable or interrogate their assumptions. It sucks. Class is really powerful, social marginalizations are really powerful. IME, the older you get the more difficult it becomes, because life paths diverge more and more. Like, now that I'm in my forties, professional class people have lots of money and nice houses, and think I'm a pathetic failure for being educated and poor. And a number of my friendships have gone the way of the dodo over this.

It sucks, but it's not about you being "too leftist", it's about the way that oppression maintains itself. "Nice people" learn that it's "not nice" to mention uncomfortable topics, which benefits the priviledged and really does a number on everyone else.

Scale back your interactions with her until you feel comfortable with your level of friendship - that is totally okay.

*I am not rich but I have a full time job with health insurance, and there are echoes of this problem in my friendships where people don't have those things. We all try hard to be kind and to share, but it's still present.
posted by Frowner at 6:28 AM on June 29, 2017 [22 favorites]

she is otherwise exceptionally warm, emotionally generous, caring and enjoyable to be with

No, she is not. She has done zero work to understand the utterly normal and real lives everyone but her leads. This is not hard; it is basic work I expect a friend to do, like understanding budget boundaries for shared events and avoiding making people feel awful for just living their lives.

Note that this is basic work she doesn't need to do with her similarly wealthy friends who didn't go to a 'state school' (and as an aside: UGGGH! The idea behind her USE of that phrase just makes me so ANGRY and I don't even know her!) and she has demonstrated no desire to learn from your experience.

She is not your friend. I'm sorry.

But you know what? You deserve people who respect you and like you where you are. You are 100% allowed to create a WhatsApp group with the non-awful/non-enraging people in your group leaving this non-friend out. I'm sure she'll survive.
posted by mdonley at 6:28 AM on June 29, 2017 [32 favorites]

The crux seems to be that you find it "irritating and exhausting" to be around her. There are many lovely people in the world who are also both of these things. Please don't blame yourself for feeling this way. Just give her as wide a berth as you need to.

She sounds very young. If she is, she might learn. Either way, you don't have to make it your problem.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:29 AM on June 29, 2017 [4 favorites]

If we take the class issues out of this, what you have is a friendship with a person who thinks you are responsible for taking care of her feelings and is unwilling to give any thought about yours. This is not a healthy model for a friendship.

She does not want to know about your life and your experiences. She only wants you to reinforce her sense of self and her reality.

This certainly isn't a friendship I would want to be in.
posted by mcduff at 6:30 AM on June 29, 2017 [61 favorites]

I would assume that she is feeling some guilt when you mention things like not being able to pay rent if you spend on a spendy outing. However, she is hastily bouncing it off her own skin and deflecting it back at you, which is pretty immature.

And maybe she believes money is elastic. She might think that even if you don't have dollars now, you can pay for anything you want if you float it on a credit card. (Wrong, but sort of a common attitude in the US.)

I hope she will turn into a philanthropist when she's older, but that would take a lot of progress on her part.
posted by puddledork at 6:31 AM on June 29, 2017 [6 favorites]

There are days where I think about situations like this as a opportunity to do the work of educating some super privileged people and hope to break them down enough to get them to donate a couple hundred grand to the causes who are fighting the fight.

Then there are days where I just don't want to spend all day on facebook being polite while breaking down their arguments.

On my more generous days, I'd say don't dump them by making a scene, but maybe limit contact, and when you do stuff together, bring a light to privilege.
posted by advicepig at 6:34 AM on June 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

One if the greatest richnesses in my life comes from having casual friends and acquaintances that have different backgrounds and worldviews from my own. It works because generally we respect each other and approach the differences between us with curiosity, openness and acceptance.

It sounds like neither of you respects the others' perspective much. That is the problem, not the difference in your socioeconomic backgrounds. It doesn't really matter which one of you is "right" when you are so blind to each other.

I expect that a major aspect of why this is so annoying to you is the group dynamic (i.e. you can't just give her the slow fade) and the "lonely transplant" aspect (i.e. you would really like to stay friends with this group of "pretty cool" women)..
posted by bimbam at 6:34 AM on June 29, 2017 [4 favorites]

In your description, she sounds insufferable. But having said that, is there an option between cutting all contact or just putting up with it? I'm thinking, what if you stopped doing all that emotional work on her behalf and were more "this is just who I am" and put that work back on her to do or not do. I don't mean to seek out conflict, but definitely to stop tiptoeing around her feelings and self-censoring. In other words, make the good behavior her problem, not yours.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:41 AM on June 29, 2017 [29 favorites]

I think three good determining questions may be: first, does she try to listen empathetically when you describe your money troubles if you aren't directly relating them to her? I'm not saying necessarily actually understanding them, but does she give you space to vent and be like "ugh I wish we were making more money so I wasn't fighting with my boyfriend all the time"? Or does the mere mention of your financial problems make her close up the conversation?

Secondly, is part of the problem that you wish she would share more of the bounty that she has? Like, that you wish she would say "no problem, friend, let me invite you along and cover your expenses" type stuff? I sometimes have this feeling with wealthier relatives- this "oh my god you could make this so easy why aren't you", and it makes it really hard to just enjoy their company.

Thirdly, are you interested in a friendship where discussion of class and privilege are off the table? It doesn't make you a bad person either way, but it seems like this is what keeping the peace in that friendship will require, and I'm not sure if the juice is worth the squeeze for you.
posted by corb at 6:41 AM on June 29, 2017 [8 favorites]

It sounds like she doesn't want to change, right? There are groups for young people who are super wealthy to discuss and unpack their privilege and think about ways to address it. So if she wanted to change, you could point her there. It kind of sounds to me like she's feeling pretty defensive and is reacting the wrong way. Frankly I'm with you, my sympathy for those folks is pretty much non-existent, but if your life has been pretty easy (like her sounds) then any kind of pointing out the unfairness could be taken way, way too personally.

It also sounds to me like you're doing a lot of emotional labor and not getting much out of it - other than perhaps belonging to this group of friends, and that's a big thing. Are you concerned that if you ice her you'll be excluded from the other friends? Are you the only one who feels this way/is dealing with it? Is there someone else who would be willing to do some work? Are any of your more privileged mutual friends willing to do the work with her by calling her out? Maybe she could "hear" it better from someone else who came from a more similar background?

What I would do is what Dip Flash recommends above - just stop tiptoeing. Don't coddle her, be honest about financial issues. If that ends your friendship, that's on her. It is not your job to make her comfortable with her privilege. OTOH, if you do decide to ice her rather than keep on being friends, then I think you should sit down with her and explain very clearly and honestly why. It may or may not wake her up, but - having been inexplicably friend-dumped myself (not over money issues!) it can be very painful to not know why someone stopped being your friend - so I think you owe her the decency of doing that, at least.
posted by john_snow at 6:52 AM on June 29, 2017 [4 favorites]

At the risk of thread-sitting, just to clarify in response to corb's second question: I absolutely do not, and would never, want or expect Friend to cover our expenses or anything of that sort. It's up to us to set boundaries about what's financially doable or not, not for her to be spotting us money all over the place. I just wish I could express the...reality of my life (I do not have unlimited cash, and this is humiliating and stressful) without having it interpreted as an attack. Thanks to everyone for your responses!
posted by peakes at 6:53 AM on June 29, 2017 [5 favorites]

Look, if this were someone kind and empathetic but just ignorant of how the other half lives, it would be... maybe worth working on. And in any case it's not fair to blame her for Trump & Co.

But she's not. She's not kind and not empathetic. She won't let you talk about yourself. She won't acknowledge the class differences that actually, specifically, factually affect you. She sounds like a character out of literature, frankly -- I'm not well read enough to identify the character offhand, but sort of Blanche Dubois-ish, no? -- sort of playing a role, and demanding that everyone around her play in a supporting cast.

I couldn't stand it for five minutes, personally.

(and by the way, when kind people possess more means than their friends and want to do stuff with their friends that the friends can't afford, they find a graceful way to pay for it. It's not hard to do. "Come to the beach, the place is paid for already, we had a credit with them from a cancellation, don't worry about it." That's how it's done. This lady, I don't even know what makes you call her kind. She doesn't sound kind to me.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:56 AM on June 29, 2017 [19 favorites]

I just wish I could express the...reality of my life (I do not have unlimited cash, and this is humiliating and stressful) without having it interpreted as an attack.

This is, quite literally, the least your friend could do. If she can't even manage to do that, I don't know how you can call her a friend.

Being a true friend is about more than surface niceties. From what you've said about her, your friend won't accept that the friend breakup is about her, but the friend breakup is what you should do.
posted by Betelgeuse at 6:59 AM on June 29, 2017 [4 favorites]

You can definitely have friends in the 1%. You definitely cannot have friends in the 1% who are socially unaware - at least not without a little self-hatred.

The problem comes from this:
HOWEVER. Friend insists, INSISTS, on denying, and that we never imply, that any good things she may have--from perfectly realigned teeth to a plum job at a multinational firm (secured for her by her uncle)--may result even partly from her social station.

That thought is not limited to her perception of her own ability. Yes, it is great for a person to think that they are powerful and competent. However, that means that when she looks at you, she believes wholeheartedly that you are simply not as smart/hardworking/worthy as her - after all, you totally had all the same opportunities so why wouldn't you be a billionaire just like her and her bootstrapping family? What horrible traits do you possess that you can't afford to take a few months off to vacation?
posted by FakeFreyja at 7:02 AM on June 29, 2017 [53 favorites]

I just wish I could express the...reality of my life (I do not have unlimited cash, and this is humiliating and stressful) without having it interpreted as an attack.

This is a super-reasonable thing to want. It doesn't sound like it's something she is currently able to do, so your options are:
1) Stop expressing the reality of your life (not recommended)
2) Friend-break-up with her (sounds like you get enough out of the larger group that you don't want to do this)
3) Stop caring whether she feels attacked or not (this is the one I recommend)

You probably have to give up on getting her to *understand* you - I mean, it might happen someday, but it doesn't sound like she's working towards it. I don't think this woman is capable of being a good, true friend to you right now. That doesn't mean you have to cut her out of your life, but it means lowering your expectations of her, dramatically. And I wouldn't bother arguing with her or reassuring her.
posted by mskyle at 7:10 AM on June 29, 2017 [10 favorites]

I'm pretty privileged (not 1%, but up there) and I like to think that the reason I have friends of vastly different backgrounds is because I do my best to not be a gigantic asshat about that accident of birth gave me gifts it didn't give them. I fuck up sometimes, because I'm human, but I try and learn from them and do better the next time.

Your 'friend' sounds like a complete and utter fucking asshat, honestly. You deserve better.
posted by Tamanna at 7:12 AM on June 29, 2017 [6 favorites]

I am not 1% wealthy, but my parents are very well off by most people's standards, and some of that trickles down to me, both financially and in terms of privileges that were available to me in my teen/adult years when they got very rich very fast. Most of the people close to me come from quite different class backgrounds. Sometimes I say or do really stupid, insensitive things without thinking or without even realizing how privileged they are.

That said, I try really hard to truly listen to my friends, learn what I don't know, think before I open my damn mouth, and apologize without getting defensive when I do screw up. And then to not screw up in that particular way again, because I don't want my friendship to be exhausting and difficult for the people I care about. Which is not to put myself on any particular pedestal: honestly, "listen and learn and try not to be an asshole about your privilege" is a pretty low bar. And it's not hard to meet, most of the time.

So for whatever it's worth, from someone who is sort of on your friend's side of this fence: You are not being a bitchy leftist. What you are wanting is reasonable to want in a friendship. It sounds like you're not going to get it without putting in a lot of effort to get her to the place where she can see that, and if you don't want to or don't have the resources to do that right now, that's okay. Breaking off the friendship or just dialing it way, way back are entirely reasonable options here.
posted by Stacey at 7:14 AM on June 29, 2017 [7 favorites]

I'm at midlife and I will pass on one of the big lessons I've learned: I don't pour myself in friendships that don't feel good, especially at the start of them. I have limited time and energy in life and while a friend I've known for 15 years gets some wiggle room to be a jerk, NEW friends do not get that.

That said, it's not dramatic. They get downgraded to friendly acquaintances and I send them a Xmas card and if I had a big open house party I'd invite them to that.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:16 AM on June 29, 2017 [16 favorites]

I'm not seeing it from your question much, but I'm going to take your word for it when you say she's a genuinely good person who just has this one really vexatious flaw. So maybe you could just ask her out to coffee or something one on one, so she doesn't feel piled on, and, as calmly as possible, explain to her pretty much what you've said here. Tell her that (and this is another assumption, but probably true somewhat) you understand that she's worked hard for what she has and it wasn't all just plonked down in her lap, but you and many others have never had the same opportunities she has. And elaborate on that. Tell her about not being able to pursue the career you really wanted, tell her about your mother, all that stuff that she maybe just doesn't really understand. A lot of people really do have a huge problem understanding that people aren't all like them. And tell her that, when she starts talking about things like taking vacations and things, it just serves as a reminder to you that you've never had those opportunities, and you don't like being reminded of it all the time.

There is a good chance that she won't listen or that she'll start rebutting you and you'll just end up having to distance yourself anyway, but even if she does, you've gotten it off your chest, and maybe someday, way down the road, the next time it comes up, she'll remember what you said.

I always have this kind of persistent annoyance when I have cut ties with someone close to me and not told them why. If you don't have that issue, of course, you can just sort of back away however you're comfortable doing it. But if you're anything like me on that count, saying these things to her should help you feel better about it, regardless of the outcome.
posted by ernielundquist at 7:16 AM on June 29, 2017 [6 favorites]

Only you can decide whether to continue with this friendship. Do you want to invest the emotional labor it will take to help her be a more sensitive and considerate friend? Is she even capable of doing that? As an excercise, try to take out the differences between you concerning economic status and focus on all other aspects of your relationship. Is this friendship really worth saving? I'm not sure she is capable of becoming the friend you need and want, but I don't know her.

A friendship where your feelings and reality are not being heard and acknowledged is not much of a relationship, and you need to change that aspect if you decide to move forward. You need to initiate a frank conversation and see where it takes you. Here are a few points to cover, and I know you will add to them.
1. You need to feel free to share details of your reality without being judged.
2. So does she.
3. Friendships require that you be considerate of friends' feelings. That goes both ways.
4. Friends should be supportive of each other's struggles in this world, and no two people have the same history so that's always going to be part of a relationship. Both of you should give this a LOT of thought and decide if you can close the gap.

I think the crux of your problem is not the differences in your backgrounds. The problem is your relationship is not equitable. Do you want to invest the emotional labor it will take to help her be a more sensitive and considerate friend? Is she even capable of doing that?
posted by raisingsand at 7:18 AM on June 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

Stop taking your financial situation personally. Be proud when you set boundaries to live within your means. Hold your head high.

I'm not sure about the rest, I just wonder what changes for you and how you feel when you stop judging yourself. I don't think you should feel ashamed in any way, and you can let her obtuse perspective bounce off of you. She's the oddball in the room, if you want to be precise. Judging her is not nice, either! Just letting you know your experience is more common than hers. It's weird she wants her unusual experience normalized - don't you think?
posted by jbenben at 7:20 AM on June 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

I grew up like you and by sheer randomness, became friends with a circle of 1%ers. The behavior you're describing would be a deal breaker for me regardless of economic status.
posted by snickerdoodle at 7:20 AM on June 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yes, people like her family are systematically destroying any semblance of equality our country once had.

No, she is not personally responsible for most of it.

If it would make you feel better, feel free to sever the relationship. But if she's a good friend, it might be possible to bring her around to your point of view over time. Who knows, maybe if she realizes how much of her situation is due to chance rather than effort, she'll spend the rest of her life donating to charity and doing good works.

I'm much richer than some of my friends, but also much poorer than others. That's a side effect of the income inequality we have in this country, and the fact that I usually make friends outside work or school. It's tough when (for example) I spend a few years saving up for a downpayment on a house, and another friend just goes ahead and buys a similar house in cash without even thinking about it. And I'm sure many of my friends are jealous that I was able to save up for a down payment at all. But I think the world is a better place if people in very different situations hang out with each other.
posted by miyabo at 7:41 AM on June 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

One more clarification and I will shut up: it is probably not apparent from my post (I actually deleted an aside to this effect before posting--clearly I should have kept it), but I do not personally blame her or her parents for what is going on politically. I'm trying to explain why what would normally be a relatively petty interpersonal issue is especially hard to tolerate right now for reasons that go beyond mere jealousy, because her behavior amounts to asking me to pretend that a very, very dangerous situation for my family isn't happening, with the added insult that, yes, materially these policies benefit her (and she doesn't seem interested in changing them, although this is objectively Not Her Job either).
posted by peakes at 7:55 AM on June 29, 2017

Yes, you can be friends with her, but you need not be friends with her just on her terms—and it sounds like that's how things are right now.

You should have a Come To Jesus talk with her and tell her "I'm not going to tiptoe around money issues with you just to avoid making you feel uncomfortable." Now, if she doesn't want to have a friendship with you because of that, that's on her.

If it's "rude" of you to point out "I can't make rent if we go on that vacation/go to that bar/etc," it's equally rude of her to suggest it in the first place.
posted by adamrice at 8:05 AM on June 29, 2017 [14 favorites]

If you were interested in trying one more thing, it might be interesting to try asking her to respond a certain way when you have to refer to your own financial situation. I'm not saying give her a rote response, but something that lets her know what is appropriate.

I'm guessing that her hands-on-ears la-la-la behavior is probably from a sense of not knowing how to deal with these differences. That's on her parents and teachers, mostly, and it's going to cause a number of people pain over time. It's completely understandable if _you_ don't know the right way for her to respond, either. However, if you can think of something, and have a specific, calm lunch with her to work on a strategy for this kind of thing, then there's a chance that she'd receive instruction with some relief.

People being able to bridge this kind of divide is so important I almost offered to raise money so you and she could meet with a professional counselor to work on it...

My other idea was setting up a kind of "swear jar" or selected charity where she puts money in every time she does [thing], but that seemed ridiculous, and quite fraught.
posted by amtho at 8:16 AM on June 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

I want to gently push back on the last part of your comment, Peakes. Actually, it IS your friend's job to work on changing these policies, moreso than most of us (I mean, I'm assuming she doesn't support killing your mother. If she does support that, then she is a terrible person and you should feel free to ditch her immediately).

She has two choices here - do nothing, thereby condoning these policies, and by extension, harming your mom and millions of others - or do something to push back. You know that super hero motto? With great power comes great responsibility? That pretty much sums up her role here. As a rich person she has FAR more ability than the rest of us to have her voice heard, and she needs to do that. Or not, and accept she has blood on her hands and that her money comes at the cost of real human suffering.
posted by john_snow at 8:19 AM on June 29, 2017 [24 favorites]

jbenben: Stop taking your financial situation personally.

This. I have friends in a wide circle of socioeconomic circumstances ranging from struggling working class all the way to 1%ers with multiple homes, etc. I grew up in a lower stratum of the upper middle class as the child of college professors in a northeastern coastal city, but the dominant ethos of my area was working class. All this is to say that I have always been more advantaged than many of my friends, but have also had many friends who were much more advantaged than I, and feel like I can connect with both ends of that spectrum. As a musician, I am currently quite a bit lower down on the socioeconomic ladder than I was during my upbringing.

Generally speaking we all get along pretty well. Part of this is that I don't feel called to constantly challenge my 1%er friends about their advantages when they share aspects of their lives with me, nor do my less-advantaged friends do so in their interactions with me. If a wealthy friend says he's going on a fancy European vacation, I would never think to point out that I couldn't afford to do the same. What would be the point of that? Why would I want to put my friend on the defensive about our relative socioeconomic positions? He knows he can afford things I can't afford. I know he can afford things I can't afford. He knows that I know, and I know that he knows. So what? Why would I want to make him feel bad about being able to afford the vacation he just told me about? He's just a friend sharing an aspect of his life with me. Similarly, if I tell someone I'm going to visit friends on the west coast, I don't expect his response to be that he could never afford to do that because he's struggling to pay off his student loans (or because he has to use all his vacation spending to visit his elderly mother in Fargo or whatever). Again, we both know that we have different life circumstances.

All that said, part of this social contract is that the more-advantaged friends listen to and respect the limitations of their less-advantaged friends. I would certainly never casually dismiss the complaints of a friend struggling to make ends meet while paying off huge student loans, but rather would express sympathy and solidarity with their views. I just wouldn't expect that to be the same conversation as the one about my travel plans.

There are several other complicating factors here. One is that people raised in extraordinarily privileged circumstances without much exposure to those who are less fortunate often are genuinely ignorant of the challenges other people face. This doesn't make them bad people. It just makes them people with a less-informed viewpoint. Another is that no one likes to be personally attacked for their circumstances. You probably wouldn't like it if, every time you brought up the fact that you had restricted finances due to your student loan debt, someone said that you shouldn't have accumulated that much personal debt in student loans if you weren't pursuing a more remunerative field of employment. Similarly, your friend probably doesn't dig it if, every time the socioeconomic inequalities in our present society comes up as a topic, you "challenge her privilege" and portray her as one of the bad guys. There is a time and a place for that sort of thing, but everyday conversation with your friends is not one of them if you want to keep them as your friends. I get that you're angry, frustrated and scared about the current situation and that this has personal resonance for you and meaningful impact on your life. I feel the same way. But I don't pursue those feelings against my friends who are more fortunate than I, unless the conversation has naturally evolved into a political discussion in which their privileges (whether acknowledged or not) has direct bearing on the subject under discussion. I will say, however, that no matter how I may feel about these things, I certainly don't go around making a point of steering discussions in this direction.
posted by slkinsey at 8:36 AM on June 29, 2017 [13 favorites]

I came to say basically what john_snow just said, i.e., to my mind, it is irresponsible of her to be willfully ignorant of these issues—and I find her "oh, that hurt my feelings!" response absolutely galling.

Friendship between the super-wealthy and those of us with lesser means is possible, assuming the former acknowledges the unholy inequalities in the current system and—as john_snow says, accepts the responsibility that comes with such power.

I imagine that if I were in your place, I wouldn't be facing the decision re whether or not I wanted to continue this labor-intensive relationship because she would have cut me out of her life when I responded to some nitwit comment from her dismissing/denying her unearned privilege with "you're fucking kidding me, right?"—not a particularly constructive response. Perhaps you can find a way to get through to her.
posted by she's not there at 8:41 AM on June 29, 2017 [4 favorites]

the ability to not talk about financial stressors among friends, and to not acknowledge their existence, is a privilege of class.

either she needs to get a handle on what her friends are capable of handling, financially, at which point she will know how to frame conversations such that class does not come up, or she needs to accept that her friends are not economically her peers and that statements of fact are not personal attacks.

you're not saying these things in her presence to hurt her. you are saying these things because financial concerns are omnipresent on the minds of anyone who is not rich, to the extent they frame every decision in some way.
posted by mikeh at 8:57 AM on June 29, 2017 [19 favorites]

The only thing I don't see above is: it is kind of jerky to say someone got their job due to nepotism, even if it is true. Then it is true and jerky. That's good if you are a reporter, but it isn't something you can expect someone to not get upset about.

Aside from that, I agree with everyone else that this rich person is being a bad friend and incredibly impolite to you.
posted by BeeDo at 9:04 AM on June 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

And I'm not even allowed to refer to this fact in front of her, let alone express any feelings about it.

You ARE allowed. I know that this is somewhat of a figure of speech, but I think it perpetuates the idea that emotional blackmail is polite. However, if you want to stay friends with this person, I would avoid doing any general venting to her about things like fights with your boyfriend brought on by financial issues. This will limit the depth of your friendship, yes.

But, in response to situations that come up, you ARE allowed to point out the general fallacies in her assumptions. You can use "I" statements and matter-of-factly inform her of your own circumstances, as you have been doing. The consequences may be that she still becomes defensive and upset, but I think the appropriate reaction to her freaking out over something like "that sounds lovely, but I wouldn't be able to afford my rent" is to shut that line of conversation down and announce that you're changing the subject. If she still wants to rail about how this statement was a slight, well, that's her making someone else's rent about her in a very weird way, isn't it.

However, I would strongly caution against this sort of line of argument:

we are living under a government which is literally prepared to KILL MY DISABLED MOTHER BY THROWING HER OFF HER HEALTH INSURANCE in order to enrich people like Friend's already unimaginably wealthy family.

I understand emotionally where you're coming from, but it's accusatory in a way that is absolutely not going to be constructive at all. You're presenting a set of scales with an actual real-life personal situation (your mother's health) on one side. On the other side, you've got a generalized economic fact to blame (with which I do not disagree), but you've got your friend sitting on that side of the scales like she's personally going to count the money if your mom dies.
posted by desuetude at 9:32 AM on June 29, 2017 [6 favorites]

As a counter to this relationship, a brief acquaintance of mine had a best friend who was incredibly rich and grew up incredibly rich while she was more average working class. They had been friends since elementary school and were in their 50s when I knew said acquaintance. She was laid off during the recession. Her friend started paying her rent without her even asking and did so for five years. My acquaintance said she'd never in her lifetime be able to pay her friend back financially for what she'd done for her, but her friend also never made her feel small or inadequate for needing help. And there were different kinds of things my acquaintance had done for her over the years that didn't involve money (such as being available when her friend was going through an especially nasty divorce). They really were friends. They had common interests and did all kinds of things together. And, importantly, were there for each other when needed.

So is it possible? Yes. But there needs to be some kind of reciprocity and respect to make it possible.
posted by zizzle at 9:36 AM on June 29, 2017 [7 favorites]

There's a old book called "Better than Beauty" (about charm and etiquette) which says you should reveal your troubles to those who can best empathize and advise you. If you have work trouble, talk to a friend who is also employed. If you have family woes, tell a friend with a big family and not your friend who is orphaned. I wonder if she is operating under different ideas about what you discuss and with whom.

You say you want to be able to express your situation and be heard and understood. Do you need that from her specifically? Because it doesn't sound like she's got it in her toolbox. Nothing in her life experience has prepared her to empathize with you.

If you want to preserve the friendship ... you could try approaching her frankly as recommended above. My thought was to look for the points on which you do connect and focus your time together on those. When she brings up something wrongheaded about money rebut in generic terms instead of personal terms. When she asks you to do something you can't afford just say you have a conflict. You could also be frank and also be clear about your boundaries and expectations "Movies aren't in the budget this week. That's my problem and not yours. How about going to the free museum?"

I suspect she has some really complicated feelings and guilt around money and it's coming to a head in her interactions with you.

(Ive been a real asshat about lots of things and I'm grateful to the friends who stuck it out, even if they did step back for a while. But you are in no way obligated to remain her friend).
posted by bunderful at 9:49 AM on June 29, 2017 [8 favorites]

I couldn't be friends with such a person unless perhaps she was dedicating herself to philanthropy and social justice, which you would have mentioned. Read this: I Don't Know How to Explain to You That You Should Care About Other People
posted by AFABulous at 10:23 AM on June 29, 2017 [7 favorites]

I'm cautiously going to second what slkinsey says here. I mean, if I asked a friend to something fun with me (say go to a concert), there's something a smidge hurtful about a response of "Yeah right but then I can't buy groceries!!" versus "I can't afford that." I can't quite put my finger on why that is, but it's there. I guess there's a value judgment implied in the groceries comment, versus the relatively neutral statement of fact in "I can't afford that." ("That's not in my budget right now" etc would also feel like a neutral statement of fact.)

I also agree that she feels guilty when you bring up these issues and is reacting defensively. It's immature, sure, but perhaps it's been happening her whole life? How often does your friend group "joke" about how rich she is? Anything about ourselves that we cannot change, that someone else "jokes" enough about can become a very sore spot.

In conclusion, as much as I'm of the Eat the Rich school of thought, I would give some thought to the judgments you make of her and how you might be conveying that in your comments.

(My background: lower middle class upbringing with blue collar parents that didn't discuss money but clearly stressed about it all the time.)
posted by purple_bird at 11:16 AM on June 29, 2017 [4 favorites]

In fact, it is irritating and exhausting to have to participate in her fantasy that Everyone Is Alike

Only the privileged get to have this fantasy, and the expectation that others participate in it is an extremely obnoxious exercise of that privilege.

Regardless of what else you decide, stop participating in this particular fantasy of hers.
posted by bile and syntax at 12:12 PM on June 29, 2017 [7 favorites]

Another huge thank you to everyone for your very thoughtful responses. They are all fascinating to read and good food for thought. I think I can mark this resolved.

In terms of what slkinsey and a few others said about "challenging her privilege" or explicit references to nepotism or judgments about her own spending choices, this is not something I do with her (if it were I wouldn't I have needed to ask this question, since the source of her defensiveness would have been obvious). Ditto for the part about my mother's insurance versus tax breaks for the wealthy: obviously that is not a remark I would ever make to someone I liked and wanted to continue liking me. Again, the more political comments were meant to express to the reader the place of profound and, I think, legitimate distress that my impatience with her comes from, even though we can all acknowledge that the situation itself is not her fault. On re reading the question is too ranty, which makes it much less clear than I would have liked, sorry about that!

I found people's varying takes on the appropriateness of "money talk" really interesting, because I was also brought up to lean more towards the "not-classy-to-bring-it-up-best-don't" side, and then quickly discovered as I left college that amongst the people I was socializing with this was not just normal but expected. I have had other friends criticize *me* directly and openly over relatively mundane spending choices, and know how hurtful and irritating that can be, so it is something I consciously try to avoid. I try to restrict any direct references to my income or lack thereof to situations like the vacation example, where I am explicitly being asked to buy or do something outside my means.

I think the folks suggesting that the real problem here is the dynamics of the relationship, and how those play out specifically around financial differences, rather than the other way around, are probably correct. She may just have certain limits in terms of empathy that are the "price of admission" for friendship with her, and I have to decide whether I want to pay it. She has other, very real good qualities, and maybe the fairest thing is just to limit the depth of the friendship to avoid this sort of conflict.

Thanks again all!
posted by peakes at 1:58 AM on June 30, 2017 [7 favorites]

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