My friends are wealthy. I am not. Why do I feel ashamed and inadequate?
August 21, 2006 4:52 AM   Subscribe

My friends are wealthy. I am not. Why do I feel ashamed and inadequate?

I have a group of wealthy, successful friends that I met over 5 years ago. I see them a couple times a month for dinners out, parties, etc. I never felt that I really belonged in this social circle, but lately my feelings of not belonging are strong. Many of these friends come from generations of money. Most of them are successful attorneys and business owners.
I grew up in a trailer park, and had a very dysfunctional, abusive childhood. I can't help to feel ashamed and sad that my childhood wasn't as privileged, and "normal" as my friend's childhoods. They all have great educations and have fond memories of university. Most of them are over-achievers and really have their acts together. My husband and I have bachelor's degrees and are in a middle class income bracket, with similar upbringings.
I don't feel like I would of ever mixed with these people if it weren't for a Lamaze class that my spouse and I took with one of the couples years ago.
Apart from a few friends that are in my same social class, these wealthy friends are the ones that I hang with most. (My husband is an introvert, so he usually opts out of a lot of social events with these people.) I will never be able to afford a country club membership or a summer house. I don't send my kids to private school, and I am not on boards, committees, and members of social clubs like these folks are.
Their life and upbringing is completely different than mine. I wonder if I should refrain from socializing with them, and stick with people of my own ilk. I do have a lot of fun with them, and they are very nice, and I do believe they like me. It's not that I strive to be like them--I am not a social climber. It's just that I have a completely different budget and way of life, and I feel out of place. I do have insecurities and some low self-esteem. This is probably why I feel this way. Thoughts and advice is appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (31 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
THEY like you. Otherwise you would not be getting the invites.

Maybe you are a breath of fresh air to them. Not to mention I imagine you are intellectual equals if not financial.

And perhaps you should think of it like this: they'd probably be hurt if you dropped them just because of the money thing. Certainly they are more than just their checkbook!
posted by konolia at 5:06 AM on August 21, 2006

Think about how you'd feel if the situation were reversed. Imagine you have lots of money, have always had it, and you're hanging out with someone who is intelligent and personable and fun - but who just doesn't happen to have scads of money. Would it even register with you? Probably not. Many wealthy people only think of themselves as average. You'd probably only really notice the discrepancy if the other person made an issue out of it. So rest assured they don't see the situation the way you do.
posted by orange swan at 5:34 AM on August 21, 2006

I understand how it could be annoying to hang out with them and hear about all the nice things they can afford, but on the other hand you might feel kind of lonely if you don't have many friends to hang out with outside of your family.

If I were in your position I'd probably keep the friends, but while I'm not rich I'm certainly someone who does aspire to that sort of thing.
posted by delmoi at 5:36 AM on August 21, 2006

I am increasingly meeting people with more financial resources than I or my family ever had. Recently I went to a party for a girl who was about to go off to college -- the same sort of college I dreamed of attending when I was that age, but couldn't because, my parents said, we couldn't afford it. This girl is also taking her horse along.

I'm still trying to figure out how best to deal with these sorts of situations. The basic problems seem to be in two categories: 1) how do I avoid feeling jealous (answer so far: just ignore it and focus on my own hopes for the future), and 2) how can I be sure I don't seem boring or naieve to these people who are not only "differently educated", but also differently socialized (answer so far: just try to pay attention and make sure I'm not being merely "tolerated" -- it sounds like you don't have this problem).

Your friends' responsibilities include not inviting you to participate in things you can't afford, but it sounds like that's not been an issue.

I'm really hoping others will respond to this question, as I could use some insight myself.
posted by amtho at 5:37 AM on August 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

It seems like you already know the problem, its not them, but your insecurities and low self-esteem. Why not work on that?
posted by bored at 5:38 AM on August 21, 2006

In our culture (especially the popular culture...entertainment, advertising, etc.) you are expected to be very successful and have a lot of money. It's a very pervasive and, after a time, burdensome message. It's quite easy to start beating yourself up for, supposedly, not meeting "society's" expectations of you. Having groups of friends who have done well, can easily amplify any hint of failure you may be harboring. It's a pretty insidious thing.

The good thing is your friends apparently don't see you as an inferior. Rather, they include you in their circle. Apparently, they see you as the good and interesting person that you currently are, and not as the sum total of your life's previous experiences. That's great.

It's very hard to shake the stigma of economic divides, especially in a world that places such an enormous bias on wealth and prosperity when evaluating a person's worth/place in society. People on both sides of the divide do it. Perhaps there is someone in the group you can confide your insecurities to? Your friend from Lamaze? It might help to talk to them. It might calm your mind when you discover they like you for who you are.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:40 AM on August 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

Consider how fortunate you are. There have been a number of questions here on AskMe over the years from people who have a difficult time forming adult friendships after the friend-factory of college is over. And here you have a group of long standing friends (5+ years) who you see regularly (a couple times a month), who by your own description seem to like you for you -- this is pretty uncommon!!

You can't help how you grew up, and now that you're an adult there isn't anything you can do to change the facts, but you managed to grow into an educated, self-adjusted adult who apparently has plenty of friends and an active social life. I'd trade places with you in a second. Would you say that you don't deserve any of this just because you didn't have rich parents? I bet you wouldn't.
posted by contessa at 6:14 AM on August 21, 2006

My hometown is extremely wealthy by most measures. My family is, at best, upper middle class. Many of the people I went to school with were extremely wealthy, and all of those that were worthwhile people seemed to more concious of it than I was. Maybe it was just a teenage thing, or unique to my situation, but they were quite concerned about how their monied family changed people's perceptions of them.

Point being, they could very well worry as much as (or more than) you.
posted by phrontist at 6:50 AM on August 21, 2006

What's to be ashamed of? Most of these people come from wealthy families, and there's no easier ticket to wealth than that. You, on the other hand, had a fucked up, difficult childhood, and now you're a normal person with a college education. That's a lot more impressive than someone with the best connections and every opportunity, resource, and safety net you can think of winding up rich. One is expected; the other is not.

Your feelings are normal but irrational.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:59 AM on August 21, 2006

Oddly enough, they may see you as priviledged in ways they aren't. They may value your company and input as someone more free than they are to follow your own path, better able to associate with more diverse types of people, perhaps more courageous and original in your thinking. Possibly they appreciate that you haven't followed the same comfortable but well-known and predictable path they have in life.

Anyhow, why don't you ask them. Make a joke out it or whatever works for you, ask why they bother hanging out with you and who knows - you might be surprised by the result.
posted by scheptech at 7:04 AM on August 21, 2006

I have a few friends with a significantly higher income than my own, and I think it's normal to feel stressed and a little bit jealous.

I've known these friends since we all went to high school together -- and they had cars while I took the bus. They took SAT prep classes while I studied from a book. Then they graduated their colleges debt-free, got new cars, and took high-paying jobs. I graduated with five-figure debt, took out a loan to buy a car, and followed a dream that will never pay very well.

There are so many things that feel unfair here. Especially considering that they're going to earn more in their lifetimes, it doesn't seem fair that they started so far ahead to begin with -- no debt, cars. These are the friends who own houses, while every year I feel a little more priced out of the real estate market.

So why am I still friends with them? Because they're great people.

How do I deal with it? As awkward as it is, I talk to people about money -- especially my friends. They know that they make two or three times as much money as I do. I know how much they bought their houses for. They know how much I'm paying in rent. They know that I can't afford to do everything that they want to do. But they're happy to work with me to plan stuff I can afford.

I don't say, "I'm so jealous of you and all your money." But I do sometimes say, "It just doesn't seem fair that I have to work so hard for things that other people got without asking, that I'm starting out financially in the hole and my career will never get me very far out of it." It's a matter of framing -- of telling my friends what feels unfair about the whole thing, without actually blaming them. Because income inequality is not their "fault."

As in any relationship, being able to talk about the tough feelings can really help.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 7:08 AM on August 21, 2006 [2 favorites]

My friends are wealthy. I am not. Why do I feel ashamed and inadequate?

If I'm remembering this right (I read it in the news somewhere -- google google -- maybe this was it), it's normal: happiness depends a great deal on being relatively rich. People aren't worried so much about having a certain amount of money -- it doesn't have to be a million dollars -- but about having a good income compared to their neighbors. If you are relatively well off, you're happy. If you aren't, you aren't.

In a situation like yours, then, you might actually make your rich friends happy in part because you're not rich and therefore you make them feel richer in comparison, but at the same time you might feel something like "ashamed and inadequate" in comparison.

None of that means you should be unhappy with the situation, but it's not surprising that you are.

You might try some equalizing in your group activities: arrange activities in which you do the planning, you choose the place, and you make sure that being rich is no advantage in the circumstances and that no one is reminded of anyone's wealth. Take the train somewhere, have a picnic, go to the beach, have a potluck dinner, go to a cheap diner, go to the park, climb a lighthouse, go fishing, go to the horse track, peruse art galleries for your next purchases, have simple fun. Make sure that it's not a race between expensive cars to an expensive destination; make the entire thing communal -- "let's all take the train/ferry/bus/tram up to X together" -- so you are all equals headed to the same place on the same schedule in the same public conveyance.
posted by pracowity at 7:15 AM on August 21, 2006

I have a group of wealthy, successful friends that I met over 5 years ago.

It looks to me like it is the "successful" part of this statement that may be the problem. One can do nothing about where they come from - be it a trailer park or generations of money. It's what you do with your life that is the important part. Do you feel less successful than your friends? They obviously like you or you wouldn't be invited along. Trust me, wealthy people don't just hang with wealthy people (that can become boring very quickly) and they certainly don't care that you have less in your bank account than they do. Also, a lot of wealthy people are not successful. Sounds like your friends are both and maybe you feel like you're not. Look at your achievements and be proud of them! You didn't have things handed to you and you're rocking enough to be the interesting, educated person with lots to offer that your friends want to hang with.
posted by meerkatty at 7:17 AM on August 21, 2006

Talk openly about your trailer park background. Let it all hang out. You've come a long way from your past -- you've finished college and broke into the middle class -- so based on achievements alone, you've come a further distance than your old money friends have.

Our culture values achievement, not inherited wealth. Based on this yardstick, you should value yourself more than them -- and the best way to reinforce this, for you and them, is through openness.
posted by Gordion Knott at 7:42 AM on August 21, 2006

Maybe read up a bit on class and culture in an effort to understand what issues are yours and what issues are theirs? It would be a shame to throw your rich friends over due to a sense of inadequacy that was mostly your own. It would also be a shame to stick around feeling inadequate due to their failures. Paul Fussell’s book ‘Class’ is something a lot of people like. Pierre Bourdieu’s ‘Distinction’ was an eye opener for me. A vocabulary for thinking it through is important. The question is too complicated and the issue runs too deep for any easy answers.
posted by anglophiliated at 7:46 AM on August 21, 2006

You should really watch the movie Friends with Money . It reminded me a lot of my own situation, which is very similar to yours, but rather than being poor, my family is just from the very back-hills of West Virginia and when I first came to college in the "big city" I had a redneck accent and had never been to a Target before. I was suddenly overwhelmed with this culture of money and materialism and I felt very very aware and ashamed of my upbringing. I went to a prestigious private university and after the first few weeks of making friends and seeing pictures of their houses back home (compared to the farm house I was raised in) and riding around in their expensive cars (rather than the hand-me-down sedan) I realized that there was nothing I could do about the way I was raised vs. the way they were raised.

Honestly, watch the movie. It deals with class issues more coherently than any modern film I've seen.
posted by banannafish at 7:58 AM on August 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

Our culture values achievement, not inherited wealth. Based on this yardstick, you should value yourself more than them -- and the best way to reinforce this, for you and them, is through openness.

This is a really good point.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:02 AM on August 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

From my husband, with whom I discuss this issue all the time:

I think that in your case, a different mental approach to your situation may be helpful. As other posters have pointed out, our culture teaches us to obsess over certain things. We're members of a consumer culture, blah, blah, blah….All true.

Perhaps it would be more helpful to examine your friends. Do you feel they actually look down on you and your husband in any way or do they just happen to be rich? Do they talk about their achievements and glamorous activities in a humble and relatable way or an obnoxious, pompous way? What do these people value in life?

Why do people become high powered attorneys who work 14 hour days? Why do they fill their remaining, precious moments with trips to a country club and positions of prestige in various organizations? I think it’s fair to say that while some people who live this lifestyle are genuinely happy, a fair percentage of high achievers are covering up there own insecurities, family problems, etc. Maybe you and your husband are the ones to be envied.

I think it’s sad for someone to pride themselves on the reputation of the college the attended, the amount of money they make, or their collection of assorted titles they've accumulated. Private schools are yet another meaningless status symbol (assuming your wealthy friends live in a wealthy area, they will have a top-notch public school available to them). I've watched this phenomenon materialize in my parents’ upper-middle class neighborhood. Yuppie parents use there kids as symbols of their wealth, whether they're wrapping up their babies in Abercrombie garments or bragging about the 10,000 dollar tennis camp their teen is attending this summer.

We should all value what we are truly passionate about in the world rather than spending our lives accruing impressive credentials to impress others at series of dull dinner parties.

As I was dealing with my own issues this past year, my wife and I read a book called “Status Anxiety” by Alain DeBotton. It’s a phenomenal read and really helped sway me away from the law career I had all but decided upon. I think it’s good to question our own motivations. Why am I going to law school? Do I love they law? No. (Of course, some people actually do). Am I worried that a career as a teacher and aspiring writer will not yield enough prestige/monetary rewards? Yes. Is that a good reason to go to law school and commit to 80 hours of labor the rest of my working life? No. I needed to work on my own mental approach rather than spending my life playing catch up to a non-existent, ever-frustrating standard of excellence.

I hope no one takes this post as a diatribe against the rich. Someone could be immensely wealthy without overvaluing money. Likewise, someone could be poor but be enamored with MTV cribs. It isn't about your actual money and status, it’s about your approach to it. As I look at my wife and closest friends, the people I have chosen to share my life with, I think I've connected with them on valuing passion (for a variety of things), love and humor over traditional materialistic desires. Friends I've broken apart from over the years are typically people whose values changed with time and circumstance (got caught up in social climbing, became Republicans, etc.)

A lot of rambling here, but I hope you'll ask yourself whether these friendships can, with a little mental adjustment on your part, add to your happiness. After all, a friendship should add joy to your life. A friend should make you feel comfortable with yourself. Hope this helps a little bit.
posted by lagreen at 8:54 AM on August 21, 2006 [3 favorites]

Remember that money can't buy class.

Seconding what schelptech said, also.
posted by desuetude at 8:57 AM on August 21, 2006

Having money does not preclude abuse in families--this is speaking from my own experience.
posted by brujita at 9:02 AM on August 21, 2006

It's important to remember that there is more to life than money. If you take away all the money/privilege/class issues here, you have a group of people who like you, have known you for 5 years, and enjoy spending time with you.

Consider that these people were basically born into wealth, so that to them it's pretty much invisible. I'm sure they know that they were born lucky, and they're probably a little bit self-conscious of it when they are with you. They all know how hard you worked to get where you are now, and I'm sure they are a bit intimidated by that.

If nothing else, maybe you should think about your kids. It's awfully nice when your parents have affluent friends who might be able to help them get internships or job interviews. I just finished law school with a lot of kids whose parents sound just like your friends. All of our career resources sessions started off with "talk to lawyers that you know." With a middle-class background, that sounded ridiculous to me because I didn't know any lawyers. But to my colleagues, that was no big deal, because all their parents knew plenty of people for them to talk with.

Even though you aren't a social climber, it is always nice to have friends in high places. In any regard, it is always nice to have good friends.
posted by MrZero at 9:11 AM on August 21, 2006

Our culture values achievement, not inherited wealth.

it's demonstrably untrue. if you strip down the self-serving storytelling, it boils down to the fact that in the end it values money, and white skin (not to mention that WASPish style that so many American nouveaux riches seem to be horribly in love with).

anonymous points out the "generations of money. Most of them are successful attorneys and business owners" things. all that stuff it's very likely to impress somebody who, as anonymous, grew up in a trailer park. it's perfectly understandable that, in the current American cultural climate, one suspects the he or she must still have that trailer park scarlet letter still branded on one's forehead.

mind you, sometimes it _is_ indeed true -- say, bad/unfixed dentition, an indentifiable regional accent, a certain crudeness in one's manners -- but it's mostly bullshit. hanging around with the rich for a certain amount of time is indeed very healthy bacause it tends to cure one of one's inferiority complex, if one suffers from it.

the utter mediocrity -- in intellectual vigor if not in table manners -- that often comes with inherited, old money (or whatever in America passes for old money) is a happy fact of life. so, anonymous, you sound like a smart person so this too shall pass. you'll soon figure out that, say, a Senator gramps, a President daddy, Harvard and Yale and Kennenbunkport cannot really manage to hide one's appalling mediocrity. same thing if you consider, I don't know, that young drunken Nazi, Prince Harry? had he been born in a family like yours, anon, he'd be bashing people's skulls in some football (soccer) stadium between collecting unemployment checks.

the keyword in "inherited wealth" is, after all, "wealth". unless you really want to an apartment in that elusive, snobbish Upper East Side building and the coop board just won't let you. remember that London's beautiful Lowndes Square is by now mostly inhabitated by Russian oligarchs whose money is as new as it gets.

but then again, sometimes the ultra-rich have indeed more, how to call it, sprezzatura? savoir faire? there's little you can do about it, it's like complaining that you'd like to be five inches taller -- a waste of time. you're a smart person who managed to overcome a bad start in life. you didn't really choose your family. keep in mind that many rich people would never have had the smarts/stamina to rise above a poor childhood.
posted by matteo at 9:25 AM on August 21, 2006

I grew up in the worst parts of Hollywood to junkie parents. My friends all have normal, suburban upbringings, with a few trustafarians slumming it.

I can't stand having friends who think of my background as "tragic" or pity me because of it, so I don't troll for it. However, when everyone pulls out their stories -- of their polo pony or their family vacations, I wow them with the time I read Green Eggs and Ham with porn stars. As my mother said, "This isn't child abuse. It's literary material."

I don't think of my background as something to be ashamed of. I'm proud that I went through more before I was 12 than most people experience in their lives and now I can settle back, be normal, appreciate a regular life and I have plenty of interesting stories to share over cocktails. And I'm sure what you've been through gives you an interesting perspective, a richer sense of the world and an ability to appreciate what you do have in life that enriches your family and your friends.

My friends, I assume, like me for what we have in common -- board games and literature and pop culture and snark and cocktails and gossip about people we mutually find abhorant. When I get together with them, I focus on the things that bring us together, the reason we get along in the first place, rather than the fact that we're different in some way.

Perhaps it's just me, but I've never met anyone that's identical to me. Hanging out with people from ghetto LA hasn't made me feel any more welcome than hanging with kids from Chicago's Gold Coast. Sure, this group of friends is rich and successful and blah blah blah. But they're screwed up and insecure and have doubts about life just like anyone else.

And if they don't, well, they're androids. And no one gets much out of hanging with androids. Find new friends.
posted by Gucky at 9:25 AM on August 21, 2006 [7 favorites]

like you did.
posted by matteo at 9:31 AM on August 21, 2006

wealth != value

I've known wealthy people and poor people that are boorish, self-centered, short-sighted morons.

I've known wealthy people and poor people that are kind-hearted, supportive, lovable, all around great people.

I prefer the latter in either variety. I'd hope that most thinkin' folk would too.
posted by Chickenjack at 9:43 AM on August 21, 2006

I found that Limbo by ALfred Lubrano helped me a lot. I still think of myself as an immigrant to the middle classes.
posted by acoutu at 10:06 AM on August 21, 2006

This is a very timely question for me. I am a working mother and many of my friends are married to wealthy spouses and do not need to work. I'm frequently near tears when I have to leave my kids all day, five days a week.

I've actually cut back on some friendships because I feel like I cannot deal with the way I compare my situation with theirs. It is sad, because I like them a lot, but if I look at my situation on its own, it doesn't seem so bad. It's only when I start wondering why they have things so easy that it bothers me -- why should we have to pay someone to watch our kids just because we're teachers and not software programmers?

I also try to remind myself that many people have it much, much worse off than I do and that comparisons of any kind are odious! I never felt that they looked down on me, just that it made me incredibly sorry for myself to hear about their vacations, housekeepers, and time with their kids during the day. At the same time I appreciate what I do have and am grateful for a good job and the ability to afford decent day care.

So I've done it (lessened contact with some friends) in this situation. I don't think I'm really doing the right thing, though. It's also strange in that I grew up with more money than many of these friends and we just chose careers and spouses differently.
posted by theredpen at 10:15 AM on August 21, 2006

Just dump them. Seriously, you'll never be happy around them and will always feel this way. Only life-long friends really can overcome this, and usually they came from the same background anyway. Don't listen to all the rants about classism and WASP culture or about the media telling you that you should be successful. It sounds like you are comfortable in your position and not trying to climb the social ladder. Taking the money issue away you might just be very different people, they live very different lives. On a deep level you want to live their life (which frankly, sounds exciting, the bohemian lifestyle does not appeal to everyone). I don't think you'll ever get over this, or at least be able to rationalize it. I'm guessing you are at the point in the relationship where you saw things they did go from fruition to plan, or at least long enough to realize that despite being born wealthy they actually do things (because it is easy to think, oh well they are just born that way than seeing them actuall create wealth from wealth and then feeling bad about not doing it). Personally, if I was getting little value from the friendship and had little in common I would dump them. Be nice about rejecting, just start coming to less and less gatherings.
posted by geoff. at 12:18 PM on August 21, 2006

Maybe because I don't like to beat around the bush, and maybe this will be harder for you with reference to your "low self-esteem", but I would come out and ask the lamaze friend point blank. I suspect that it is all water under the bridge since you are obviously still hanging-out with all of them.

If they don't make you feel uncomfortable, by talking about their toys, vacations, etc. in front of you all the time (understanding that it will happen pretty often, especially if it is the only time the rest of them meet anyway), then I would say you are their friend too.

If the reverse is true, life is too short, move on to some real friends.

fyi: reading your last two paragraphs makes me wonder though if you aren't in fact jealous of them, seeing as how they didn't make the same caliber of choices as you and yours did...

Bottomline: do what feels best to you, your conscience will guide you right, or keep you up at night, until you do.

posted by BillyG at 12:27 PM on August 21, 2006

Two things to keep in mind:

1) People cannot choose what family they are born into. A person can't pick his relatives, much less their bank account balances, so he should get neither credit nor blame for them.

2) While it's true that wealth may open doors and insulate against many of life's more usual pitfalls, on the whole it also provides just as many new and exciting ways for people to fuck up their lives and their family's lives. Money can be incredibly damaging, either directly as a means to purchase things or a lifestyle that it shouldn't, or indirectly as a corrosive effect on people's characters and outlooks.

Try to look below the surface, and think of all the insecurities and weirdness your friends probably have to put up with, which you don't:

- Feeling inadequate and ashamed because they feel unworthy of this stuff just falling into their laps, knowing they didn't do a damn thing to earn it or deserve it. Yeah, I know, boo hoo, fucking rich little babies. But really, a lot of rich people are incredibly fucked-up about this issue, and it manifests in a lot of weird ways.

- Money issues really, really mess up intra-family dynamics. Families use gifts or money in lieu of giving love or time to their children or grandchildren. Generations are afraid to do anything to rock the boat or anger the older generations, always so afraid of losing their inheritance, i.e. their family's love.

- Generations of people spinning their wheels trying to be ever more exclusive and exclusionary, in where they live and the clubs they belong to and the people they'll befriend, because making finer and finer slices of the apple is about all these people actually know how to do. Hardcore bigotry gets so refined to an art form that people won't bother ever uttering a racial slur (which would be déclassé, and obvious besides), but rather will expound on the crudeness of those tacky "NR's" (nouveauxs riches) who are building a giant new house in your town to show off what they've earned. And they're not even in the right part of town, anyway, pfffft.

- Pressure to conform, which goes up exponentially as the wealth does. This means having the right kind of job - not merely a white-collar professional, not merely a law degree, not merely a law degree from the right school, but a law degree that lands you a job at a corporate firm in your city of choice doing M&A, but somehow also leaving enough time to catch the Jitney to the Hamptons on Friday nights. And dating and marrying the right kind of person - and if you actually think you're marrying someone from outside your group (which could mean ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, locale, but above all means comprable level of wealth), you damn well will have your relatives force a pre-nup on you. You will have the right kind of car, live in the right kind of neighborhood, send your kids to the right kind of school, make charitable donations to the right kind of charities. The pressure is mind-blowing. Now, add in unfettered access to lots of cash, mix well, and you'll understand how Hazelden makes a mint, or the history of the Kennedy kids and grandkids.

My point is that being rich, particularly for people who inherited the wealth and who grew up in that world, can carry an awful lot of baggage. It absolutely doesn't buy happiness, and it can cause some really messed-up behaviors. And it's very very isolating -- isolating in the early years because the rich kids are kept separated physically and socially from the real world, and isolating in later years because the rich adults don't know how to do anything else but self-segregate and exclude more and more, and don't know how to connect to the real world even if they belatedly want to, which some do.

So don't think of yourself as some charity case for your well-off friends to pity. Secretly, I think some of them are probably grateful that someone normal thinks they're worth being friends with, that they aren't a bad person.
posted by Asparagirl at 7:06 PM on August 21, 2006 [3 favorites]

Privilege is really only visible to people who don't have it. What's grating on you is that you're surrounding yourself with folks who wield an insane amount of privilege and are, if they're anything like their sociological cohort, oblivious to it. The fact that this privilege is normalized--they act as if their habits are perfectly normal, and that everyone else is rich, too--means that your lack of privilege becomes abnormal, secret, and shameful. The question you're asking yourself is "why am I not like them?"

The fact of the matter is that 80% of American households make under $100,000 a year, and that less than 5% make over $170,000 a year [table 680]. Your friends are not even close to middle class, despite their protestations that they're not "really" rich. Your friends are nowhere near normal--they're the aristocracy of America.

I'm from a lower class background, and I can't go to a rich person's house without feeling profoundly ill at ease--I'm constantly summing up the worth of the house's contents, evaluating the cost of the construction of the house, etc. (This dynamic means that I don't really get along with half of my s/o's family, since they are the acme of mindless consumption and inefficiency. They are very sweet people, but their inability to grasp the fact that their household income is easily in the 99th percentile grates on me.)

It was in the middle of a conversation about prom dresses ("some of the girls had $20k dresses on--mine was only $2k") that I realized that I lived in a totally different universe and was, for the most part, not interested in bridging the gap between them very often.

Do not associate with people who make you feel ashamed or inadequate. Shame and inadequacy are not feelings which result from healthy human interactions. Do not pity their problems--they are the inevitable result of the unconscious wielding of power.
posted by Coda at 12:19 AM on August 22, 2006 [1 favorite]

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