I'm poor and you aren't...can we still be friends?

Well, duh. Yes, of course you can be friends with someone who is in a different tax bracket. It happens every day, and has, for eons.

But can you be good friends? Like best friends? Can you walk alongside each other through the day-to-day and still relate?

As those of you who read this already know, I'm poor. No, not homeless-poor or food-stamp-poor (yet, because you never know)...but compared to the people with whom I rub elbows with on a daily basis, I am for sure considered less fortunate.

You know how you sometimes classify the people in your life? "The rich one" "The super fit one" "The funny one" "The divorced one" "the intense one" "The drinking buddy" "The smart one". I think we all do that, to some extent. Not really even consciously, more like if we were to divide our acquaintances up like we used to categorize our Barbies or Dawn dolls: The tan one, the one with the good hair, the ugly short-haired one (oh Midge..you are to Barbie as Sabrina is to Charlie's Angels)....you love them all the same, but your brain automatically compartmentalizes* them. I think it's human nature to want everything in its place. It's why God made pre-labeled spice racks.

Or maybe that's just me. But, whatever.

I spent a few hours with a friend this past weekend, a friend who is more on my side of the tracks, money-wise. We drank red wine and wept a little over our current state of affairs, bemoaned the ills that had befallen us, and talked about what it's like to be a Have Not in a world that is rife with Haves.

And it felt good to let it all hang out. It felt good to talk to someone who knows what it's like to not be able to go somewhere because you don't have enough gas in your vehicle, or what it's like to apply for reduced lunches for your kids and get a letter back saying, "Hey, forget the reduced price, you poor sap...this year they're free!". Or what it's like to sit there and smile while a friend goes on and on about how hard it is to pick out fixtures for their new house or how insane they're going because their cleaning lady took a week off and the house is SO DIRTY.

Don't get me wrong: I love my friends, intensely. I'm not one to do anything half-assed, and if you're my friend, you are my friend with a capital F. You are friends with someone because of who they are on the inside, not because of what they have on the outside. I know that's how it goes. I have friends who honestly don't know what a gallon of milk costs, who have no idea what's in their checking accounts. And I don't begrudge them for that. I love them and I'm genuinely happy for their successes. Truly. (I can also tell them not only what a gallon of milk costs, but can also give them a coupon for it and tell them which grocery store will give them Fuel Perks or Monopoly game pieces for buying it there).

But sometimes, I worry. I start to think that some of my friendships have expiration dates. That being friends with me is an exhausting endeavor, a task which drains a person until there's nothing left. You see, I'm not only "the poor one" in my circle of friends, I'm also "the one who needs help". "Quite often".

It wasn't always this way, but man, it feels like I've been the needy one for a long time.

In this little corner of the world, where I live, in my community, when you become "the one who needs help" the hens come out full-force. They circle the wagons, they nourish you physically and emotionally, they care for your kids, they call in the cavalry. They hold your hair, they talk you down. They got your back, is what I'm saying.

When Big Daddy first left me, I was needy. Not financially, especially that first year after our divorce was finalized. I was needy emotionally. And my friends were there for me through every panic attack, every sob session, every lonely weekend. When things got dicey, and I became needy in the money way, again they were there. They helped me get an attorney, they helped me move out of my house, they helped me give my kids Christmases and birthdays. They quite literally saved my life.

But I'm starting to feel like I'll never shed this label, that of "the poor needy one". I don't know... it's like, when someone goes through a tough time, you think of it as an arc: the bad thing happens, the person struggles, and then the person overcomes the trials and tribulations and goes back to living like everyone else again.

I feel as though my arc is something big, like Guinness Book of World Records big, you know? Like I should be in a better place by now, my listing ship should have been rightened already. I'm starting to feel as if I'm wearing out my friendships, the same way you wear out your favorite pair of jeans.

Like they are nearing their expiration dates.

I started this post more as a "can someone who is poor be friends with someone who is not", and I see now that it's turned into a "can anyone be friends with someone like me?" whine. It's not like me to think about things so materialistically, to see things with such a judgy eye. I love my friends for so many reasons: how absolutely freaking hilarious they are, how fun it is to just sit and gab with them, how they can sit down at a table full of Thai food and feel almost turned on, just like me...I love them not because of what they have that I don't, not because of what they have done for me...but because of the richness they give me in other ways. I don't keep score, there is no little notebook with tally marks under the "Received" and "Given" columns, but to be frank, I am starting to fret that I haven't done nearly enough giving, and have done way too much receiving.

I wonder if there's a point when I'm going to to be seen not as a friend, but as a charity case. If there is an invisible stamp somewhere on the cartons of my friendships that says, "BEST IF USED BY 12/01/2011".

Of course, the sane part of me knows that this isn't the case. I know exactly how blessed I am to have people in my life who also don't keep score, people who are going to be on the sidelines of my life, cheering me on until things finally do go in the right direction. People who know my potential, just as I know theirs.

Someone pointing out the obvious would elbow me in the ribs and whisper, "Honey, if you did have friends who kept score, they'd be long gone by now."

That someone would be right. I just wish I could be "the helpful one" for a change.

*oh my GAWD what a Scrabble word that would be. Just saying.


  1. I'm sure it's possible but it would have to take some work. Then again all friendships sometimes need work, much like marriages.

    It's funny that you mention getting a letter for free lunched cause my brother & I used to get free lunches at school because we were so broke. I hated it. It was the 'uncool' thing so I actually opted to not eat just so I wasnt seen getting in the free lunch line. Damn, I was so vain back then. I wish someone would give me free lunches now :)

  2. I know you already know this, but just a reminder--there are lots of ways to be the helpful one. This from someone who knows all too well what a gallon of milk costs and doesn't mind paying for it with food stamps. At times I get exasperated with friends who have money, but most of the time I figure they are paying the piper in one way or another. I have come to firmly believe that the material is not what our lives are about, and honestly at times feel I'm better off by not having much in the way of money.

  3. Speaking of Scrabble. If you have the Kindle app on your phone with some books you can turn on highlighting and definitions. I'm trying to get through Mamet's book. It's taking forever because I have to highlight and define every 10th word. Might come in handy. You never know.

  4. Lin, my kids are not thrilled about it either, but between the four of them I was spending around $350-$400 a month on school lunches. The secretary at our elementary school gently forced me to apply for reduced lunch, which I did after completely swallowing my pride. School lunches aren't so horrible anymore! And like I tell the kids, there is nobody giving me free lunch...enjoy it while you can!

  5. Mamet? Girl, you're getting deep. Try the Hunger Games series next. You won't need that highlighting app.

  6. Linda, you and I have touched on this subject before, and you are TOTALLY correct: it's not about the "stuff" at all. And here's a crazy story: when Big Daddy first stopped paying the child support, in Sept or Oct of 2008, I applied for help from the state. Food stamps, cash, help with utilities, whatever! I sat there in this guy's office and cried when he told me I didn't qualify for anything. Not one bit.

    He then told me I should have fudged my income a bit, because they were still taking into account the child support/alimony that had been paid already that year, plus any $$$ I had made on eBay.

    I walked out of there, feeling horrible. Horrible that I didn't get any help, and even worse, that there were women with kids out there who were in more dire conditions than mine.

    You hang in there, and more power to you!

  7. Mamet's not deep; he's hilarious! (But he has an advanced vocab.)

  8. Just so you know, I first read this sentence:
    'But I'm starting to feel like I'll never shed this label, that of "the poor needy one".'
    "But I'm starting to feel like I'll never shed this label, that of "the poor NERDY one".

    It's trivia night tonight, what can I say?


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