ON THE SOFA: Can You Afford Your Friends?

I will never forget the pastor in a Brooklyn church who uttered the words: “Your friends are God’s apology for your family.” At some point in our childhood we come across people whom we deem fit to allow into our space because they keep us comfortable or make us comfortable. They take the role of the absent or non-existent sibling as we make our way through kindergarten or elementary school. Friendship at this stage is managed by joy markers. We often laugh together, fight together, play together and snack together. This remains the case through about the junior year of high school. By that point our prospects for the world beyond are starting to show. We can see who will make it into college or who wants to and who does not. We can see if one is Ivy League-bound or not. If we are friends of the opposite sex, this may start earlier as one may have gotten involved in a romantic situation that would limit or shorten communication. For most of us, our friendships through high school are purely at the mercy of our emotional satisfaction. We make sacrifices but for those we care for but essentially those we like/love and who like/love us. At this point, our friendships are also under the endorsement of our parents. What do I mean by that? We would often keep friends through high school that are approved of or known by our parents. Some even get taken in as sort of extra siblings as our parents come to rely on them for information on us that they may have a hard time extracting from us. By this point, for a lot of us, we are living with our parents or caretaker, who provides for us the items that maintain us. They pay for our food, clothing and shelter which provides us the image that suits us. So whatever version of ourselves that maintains our participation in our social engagements is backed by our parents. Most of often than not it is also a reflection of what they can afford for better or for worse. If they cannot afford much, burden is on them and if they can afford a lot the expense is all theirs.

Then we get to college. For some of the friends we make in college the parental endorsement applies. But there are those students whose academic or athletic brilliance brings them early fortune or is a treated as a harbinger of fortune. Which is why the college athlete will now be friends with the people on his football/basketball/soccer team from a similar background than a regular student from their background. Other intangibles start to make their way into the fray. The student on scholarship from a tough background becomes friends with those in their tier. Sometimes this type of student can be seen to recast their friend group entirely. This is done covertly of course so as to not be perceived as having sold out the former group. In college, our friendships start having a more direct line to our achievement over our parents endorsement. This may happen earlier but there are several friendship before college that are cut off by parental circumstance from having to move, divorce or worst; family tragedy. In college, we are more in control because from dorm room to first apartment we are doing most of the management of who comes and goes. If we maintain good grades or keep our spot on the teams or work well in lab, we are setting the stage for newer friendships. However, these too have their limits.

After college, comes the next test. We take our first turn in the professional pool. Success here relies on a series of factors; professional preparation that converts into professional opportunity, the resurgence of parental endorsement and the influence of the friends we made in college. This is particularly true of at least the first five years out of college. During these five years we make our biggest blunders if we are lucky. We find out and suffer for dating the wrong type. We accept the wrong jobs. We also try our hands at new friends. New friendship at this stage is a more delicate affair. For friendships to work we are often at the mercy of the social habits and experiences of college life and before. Unfortunately, most people find this out the hard way. You find out someone makes a horrible roommate, has a substance-abuse problem or has a bad temper. If you are smart you cut your losses. If you are compassionate you help them out or through but this usually will take a few years if not decades. And if you are the perp of such bad behavior you will notice some severe difficulty in keeping friends. Truth be told, this might also be where you may have the most fun. But let’s get to the meat.

Six to ten years out of college and some clear changes begin to occur in our social circles. We see weddings, new offsprings, job promotions, career changes, geographical relocation to either hometown or to new beginnings. People are starting to make changes according to their genuine lifestyle desires. This is the beginning of the end of faking the funk. We start to see the gaps our choices have made, or better yet the gaps brought on by fortune. The hole in the wall bar no longer counts for dinner night with friends. A pick up game with your buddy needs confirmation from his spouse or significant other if there is not already an infant to confirm otherwise. Going out to eat varies from a daily, weekly or monthly depending on one’s fortune or lack thereof. If you can afford to eat out daily, friendship with someone who can only afford to eat out monthly shall become a strain.

I will never forget going to a friend’s birthday some years back. I was going through a tough time financially. I was down on my luck. I made some dicey choices and I was living on unemployment. Unfortunately, the venue was a rather nice restaurant in the fancy part of town. My anxiety got the best of me and I got into a back and forth with a friend about why I was having hard time with romantic relationships. She held me accountable to her standards and I held fast to mine. Good friends exchanging ideas. So I thought. Apparently I was yelling. I put the entire table off. I may have singlehandedly ruined a milestone birthday because I was worried about how to I was going eat the following week after contributing my part of the bill. The friend I was going back and forth with, still my friend. But the birthday girl and her husband, I have never heard from again after repeated attempts and apologies. Do they owe me friendship? No. Do they owe an explanation for no longer wishing to be friends with me? Probably not. They had every right to do an overview of my relevance to them and determine whether someone as fragile as I was would be suitable to the environment they were looking to build. At least that’s how I choose to see it. Because in the past I have done the same for similar reasons. I admit what I emit.

Ideally, affordability need not be the make or break for a friendship. But in reality, when there is a gap in finance, if there are any unsavory aspects amiss, there a spotlight will be. All pride, vanity, envy, anger, intemperance, shame and guilt will show their ugly face. This leaves room for either grace from either side or forgiveness from one side. One may say, if these show up then the friendship was never real. Justifiable. However, one thing we can never escape in life is change. All things change, including relationships. Change is accompanied by several factors that either spur change further or make change necessary. In fact, most relationships that do not accommodate change end up having to be eliminated. Hence, the titular question: Can you afford your friends? Do the changes that have occurred in your life thus far, allow for your friendships to flourish? Are you receptive and conducive to the changes that are occurring in your friends’ lives? If not, I find no shame in pulling the rose-colored glasses from our eyes and letting life take its course. It could be that what we fear to lose is merely an impediment to what we stand to gain.

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