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What’s a Little Money Between Friends?

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“Every time that apartment comes up, I just have to leave the room,” Liz huffed, her cheeks flushed, her arms gesticulating wildly. “What drives me nuts is that she does not credit Mommy and Daddy! I cannot handle it! When someone I am ‘friends’ with spends $1.5 million on something, and I can’t ask her where she got the dough? She’s under 30! There’s no way I can be down with that. I will just lose my shit!”

For Liz, Miss X’s apartment—the price of it, the casual attitude toward it—has taken on a symbolic, somewhat perverse meaning: proof that the New York of Liz’s childhood no longer exists. The sale of Stuyvesant Town devastated her, and she often complains about how the city is being overrun by “bankers and banker spawn.” And when she confronts the fact that some of the wealthy people making the city less affordable are her own friends, the issue becomes even more loaded and distressing. “We’re not talking about some shack!” Liz continued. “We’re talking about some nice apartment that my parents could never afford. Give some respect to the purchase. Otherwise, I’m sort of like, you’re an asshole!”

Sara, who recently quit smoking, stood up and searched out an emergency pack of cigarettes. As Liz went on about Miss X (She thinks the average salary is $1 million! She lives in a different fucking universe than I do!), I watched the expression on Sara’s face change. The easy smile had morphed into a tense glower. It turned out that what bothered her wasn’t just the way Liz was talking about a friend—Sara could sympathize with Liz’s struggles—it was that Liz had a way of being more forgiving when it came to men with money.

“I think you make snap judgments about people if you don’t have romantic intentions,” Sara said, opening up a second bottle of wine.

“That is not true!”

Sara turned to me. “Liz will let herself get manipulated and hurt by people she gets involved with because they’re rich and they’re Jewish. ”

“I don’t want to get into this,” Liz declared. “The degree of psychosis that I have when I’m dating is pretty severe. It’s not linked to money. Well, it is, maybe.” She shook her head, as if trying to purge the thought from her mind. (But days earlier, she had admitted as much to me: “It’s like this,” she had explained. “I want to live in New York and I want to be a scientist, which means I’ll probably never make very much money. If I meet someone with money, I could do this. If not, I don’t know. Is that such a terrible way to think?”) Over dinner, Liz eventually said to Sara, “Who I date and who I am friends with are very different things. It’s not consistent, but ...” She waited for the thought to gel. “My approach to all relationships is different and retarded.”

Sara seemed satisfied with this, put in a better mood. I asked her how she felt about Miss X, if she was bothered by her wealth and nonchalance.

“It’s hard. You have these feelings you don’t want to have. It helps being able to say, ‘I’m envious. I’m proud of you, but I’m jealous.’ ”

“I don’t react that way to money,” she replied. “I’m much more stoic. More than that, I know the world that she travels in. I’ve studied with them, I’ve worked with them. To them, it’s not a big fucking deal.”

Exactly,” said Liz.

This conversation—not particularly pleasant as it happened—took on a vengeful life of its own in the days that followed. Sara was clearly more bothered than she had let on, and related every nuance (what Liz said, how Liz said it) to Alex and Michelle, who related it back to Miss X, who then sent me a caustic e-mail for starting the whole thing. Over the next day or so, I became something of an inadvertent (and ineffectual) moderator in a nasty four-way argument. Liz was on the outs. Michelle was siding with Miss X. Sara, her loyalties torn, decided it was all too stressful and didn’t want to talk to me anymore. “As you can see, it’s just raised too much shit,” she said before hanging up.

The whole affair made a twisted kind of sense. You go to write a story about how money can come between friends, and suddenly you’re watching money come between a group of friends because of a story you’re trying to write. To encourage friends to discuss their relationships in terms of money is perhaps inevitably to hasten the end of those friendships.

Everyone stressed that money wasn’t the “real” problem here, just a catalyst making other long-festering “issues” impossible to ignore. And maybe that’s true: Friendships are complicated, and an outsider can never have the full story. They’re also wonderfully resilient and—who knows?—it’s possible that Liz, Sara, Michelle, Alex, and even Miss X will make peace and agree to never again talk about average salaries and shopping sprees, to tiptoe around the subjects of expensive apartments and vacations.


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