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Am I Supposed to Feel Guilty?
by, 05-17-2009 at 02:36 PM (2275 Views)
We are friends with a couple Iíll call the Joneses. The Joneses are exactly what they sound like. They are the ones on the block with the latest cars, toys, and gizmos. Despite that, they are nice people and weíve been friends for years. Each year we go on vacation together to a small resort in the mountains. This year we are going but the Joneses are not.
When I called Mrs. Jones to make arrangements, she hemmed and hawed about how things were so busy this year and things were crazy with the kids, and one kid needed to do summer school, and on and on down the list of excuses. I said, ďFine. I understand. Weíll make plans without you, then.Ē
About two hours later she called me back and said they could go, after all. I said, ďNo problem. I havenít called to make arrangements yet, so Iíll add you in.Ē
But that wasnít the end of it. Three days later I heard from Mrs. Jones again. This time she confided that they were having money troubles. Their mortgage has readjusted and the private school bill for kid number one has jumped significantly. Add onto that the rising cost of gas and food and this trip is out of reach. Mrs. Jones was willing to go anyway, but Mr. Jones said no (Mr. Jones is the sensible one, most of the time).
I told her I was sorry and that there was always next year and cancelled her portion of the trip. I thought that would be the end of it. We would go on vacation and the Joneses would stay home. But, no. Now, almost every time I talk to Mrs. Jones she makes me feel guilty for going without them. She says things like, ďIf you just didnít choose such expensive places,Ē or, ďYouíll be having fun up there while I sit here alone,Ē or (my personal favorite), ďI guess since you donít have kids, you donít know what itís like trying to deal with all these increases. You can just go off willy nilly without a care in the world.Ē
The problem here is not that the place is too expensive. Itís a steal compared to other, similar places we could go and we get great discounts each year. I didnít choose this place, either. Sheís the one who introduced it to me. The problem is that itís now too expensive for her, so therefore it must be my fault. And whether I have kids or not is irrelevant. The price increases do hurt me. I donít enjoy paying through the nose for gas and milk and Iím not unaware that prices are rising and that some people are having trouble making ends meet. I am having to cut down on some things, too, in order to make room for other things that are important to me.
The difference between me and Mrs. Jones is that I am not stretched to my limit paying for a house I canít afford, a home equity loan, two new cars, private school, and all the trappings and gizmos in life. I still have room in my budget for some fun. But Iím being made to feel guilty for being responsible. Mrs. Jones seems to believe that if she canít have some fun, then no one else needs to have fun.
Iím not the only one experiencing this phenomenon. I have several friends who tell me that their less responsible/fortunate friends are making them feel guilty because they can no longer afford dinners out, movies, or vacations. Some lay it on thick and others are more subtle, but the message is clear, ďI can no longer do these things, so I donít want you to do them either.Ē
Nationally, we hear on the media how everyone is cutting back and having hard times and we may start to feel bad that weíre still able to go on pretty much as usual. Maybe we should suffer more, we think. Maybe we should feel guilty for being able to go out while others are suffering. Maybe we, too, should cut back just to avoid looking like weíre rubbing otherís noses in it.
So, should I feel guilty for being responsible and frugal every day of my life? Should I cave in and stay home to avoid upsetting Mrs. Jones or others? Should those of us who, through a combination of careful planning, saving, budgeting, and consistently living beneath our means, find ourselves weathering the current economic environment without too much pain, stop having fun just to appease those who no longer can?
I donít think so. But the question arises: Is it ruder to simply exclude people from invitations that have always been assumed, or to continue asking even though the likely answer is, ďNo.Ē Should I stop asking friends to the movies or to dinner if I know their financial situation is iffy? Is asking rubbing their noses in the fact that I can do these things while they no longer can, or am I simply being a good friend by trying to reach out to them? If I stop asking, will they simply assume that I no longer care for them, thus ending the friendship? Is it good to suggest alternate forms of entertainment that are less expensive, or is this seen as forcing them to admit to their problems in public?
These are questions that, during the boom years, most people rarely had to deal with. Even if things werenít quite as good as they should be financially, there was always more credit to keep the good times rolling. Now that those days are over, there is a sharper division between those who are okay financially and those who are not. Where formerly you and your friends seemed to be on equal ground, now there is a gulf between you.
How do you bridge that gap and keep friendships? How do you respond to the guilt, whether itís laid on by others or brought on by your own sense of unfairness? These are delicate questions and I donít have all the answers. Many of the answers will depend upon the closeness of the friendship and how comfortable you are with each other. I offer the following suggestions, but only you know what will work with the people in your life.
(See the rest of the article below.)
-Author: J. Derrick