rich man, poor man




It’s sad to see money coming between friends. Max in London writes:

In ATM294 you discussed the issue between two friends, one of whom made money on the advice of the other. I have a similar problem with my friend (let’s call him Tom) which I worry is going to to ruin our lifelong friendship.

My friend and I went to school together and have been lifelong companions with the same interests, sense of humour etc, and even now that we are grown up and married with children, we don’t live far apart. Until recently we spoke and got together several times a week. Our families always got along well, meeting up regularly, going for meals and we have even gone away for short breaks and on holiday together. Perfect, you might think.

After school Tom and I both went to university and I became a teacher soon after; Tom on the other hand opened his own business. He is a great entrepreneur and soon his business thrived and he now has several very successful operations around the country.

Here lies the crux of the problem. Tom with his success is now very wealthy, while my wife and I live on a very modest income. We struggle to make ends meet he has the best of everything. He has purchased a huge house, thankfully not too far from where we live, drives several expensive cars and so on. Please don’t get me wrong: I don’t begrudge him his success and he truly is the same guy as before, just with more money.

The problem occurs when we share activities together. Tom always wants to do things in style. The ordinary sorts of places we used to go no longer seem good enough so it is always fancy restaurants, expensive hotels etc. Frankly we cannot keep up with the expense. Whenever I we suggested going somewhere more modest he said he would rather not. I tried hinting that we couldn’t afford things he could but this went right over his head, so one day I confronted the issue explaining our position. Being the generous guy he is, Tom said he understood, but said that because he could now afford the best he would pay for me and my family at these places. Suggestions that we eat more modestly were always rejected. I told him that I would feel uncomfortable with him paying, so he told me to pay what we could and he would make up the rest.

My wife and I tried this arrangement for a while, though unhappy with it, even going away on holiday with them to the Bahamas (for which we felt we had to pay a lot more than we could afford and this has left us with many thousands on a credit card). Eventually I talked to Tom again and explained that I really felt uncomfortable with everything and really couldn’t carry on with it. Tom really couldn’t see my point and so there was no real resolution. He thinks I am being ‘proud’ about the money and that he doesn’t mind. Maybe this is the case, but the whole thing doesn’t sit well with me. One remark that really did cut deep was when he referred to me being ‘only a teacher’ and so he didn’t mind ‘subsidising’ things. Another thing that makes me uncomfortable is that my eldest child has remarked how their uncle Tom pays for everything and how we aren’t as rich as them. Am I being proud?

The result is that we see less and less of Tom and his family and our conversations on the phone are awkward. It feels like that we are at an impasse and that eventually we will drift apart.

What should I do?

This is a real pisser, Max. Let’s turn to popular entertainment for assistance:

1. Watch Friends series 2 episode 5, where the group is similarly divided in two by their income disparity. Unfortunately for you, the episode does not offer a proper solution to the problem; it merely resolves it by having Monica losing her job, meaning the poors outnumber the riches. However you may at least take comfort from the fact that your own friendship is not being tested by Hootie and the Blowfish.

2. Watch Trading Places. Go into a little reverie about how you would treat Tom if your situations were reversed, then in real life nudge Tom towards behaving like that. If/when that doesn’t work, consider an evil clandestine scheme for ruining his fortune. Also, look into obtaining a gorilla to help you out of tricky situations.

3. Read Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth. The travails of Lily Bart may help you realise the folly of trying to keep up with people of significantly different means. Also, ‘Aunt Peniston’. Fnarrrr!

4. Give Tom a copy of Jane Austen’s Emma to show how twatty people are who let their wealth warp their relationships. Also that bloody novel is so horrifically nihilistic, enduring it will be a little punishment for him for making you unhappy.

Readers, can you go to the comments to offer Max some help that is more useful than mine/film and literature’s?

Also, do you think Tom is being a bit of a shitty friend by forcing Max to compromise all the time while never doing so himself? (Not to mention his ‘only a teacher’ twattery?)

Alternatively, is there a socialist paradise to which Max and Tom could relocate, thus erasing this inequality in an instant?


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One Response to “rich man, poor man”

  1. Martin Says:

    This is a tricky one. First of all, I imagine that Tom meant “only earn a teacher’s salary” rather than the literal interpretation of “only a teacher”. He’s sympathising that your chosen career isn’t a high paying one rather than criticising your chosen career.

    As for what to do, don’t go out for dinner or go away on holiday together. There’s plenty of other fun things to do and still be close friends. Have dinner parties at your house and days round his pool rather than going to The Fat Duck and Necker Island. If he invites you to something that is too expensive, simply say “I’m sorry, that’s not going to work for us, but what are you up to on Sunday?” or something similar. You’ll find that it’s the company that matters, not the activity. Unless it is the activity only, in which case ditch him and hang out with someone else.

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