It’s beginning to cause tension and I don’t know what to do, because I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong. The only thing I can think of recently that Julie excused herself from was another gal’s birthday dinner (which clearly wan’t my plan, the birthday girl picked), and a few concerts months from now that the rest of us bought tickets to. We are also planning a trip next year that she says she can’t afford and I know she feels left out. The rest of us are pitching in to cover her as a surprise, we just haven’t told her yet. She’s a dear friend and I don’t want her to feel the way she is, but I don’t think it’s fair to project her disappointment onto me. Any ideas? — Her Once Counterpart
You mention that your friends always do things that Julie should be able to afford, but then you go on to list examples of things she can’t afford — places with cover charges where she’ll be expected to buy drinks and cab fare home, concert tickets, pricey birthday dinners, and a group trip; it should be noted that you don’t give a single example of the plans you think she should be able to afford. Since you say you don’t think you’ve done anything to cause the tension you feel from Julie, I’ll take your word for it, and I’ll also have to take your word for it that she’s directing her frustration toward you since you don’t give a single example of how she’s doing that either.
Because you give no concrete examples of inclusive activities you and your group of friends plan that Julie should be able to afford, I wonder if there are actually fewer than you believe there to be (especially if you’re waiting for Julie to speak up when she’s unable to afford the group plans, something that may be difficult for her to do when she’s now the only person with such a limited budget). If Julie has a hard time paying a cover charge and buying a couple of drinks and paying for cab fare home, it’s safe to say that what’s affordable for her is probably more like hanging out at someone’s house, enjoying a dinner in and some wine with girlfriends. Do you have nights like those? If not, I’d suggest you get some on the calendar. I’d also suggest you plan some one-on-one activities with Julie, just the two of you. If you feel like her frustration is directed at you, her “once counterpart,” it’s possible that it isn’t frustration over being the lone lower-income pal in the group so much as she might feel that you two aren’t as close as you were when you weren’t working extra hours as a consultant and going to concerts and birthday dinners she can’t afford.
Finally, it’s wonderful that you are in a position that you can reap the financial rewards of hard work, especially since you’re a single mother with no help from your ex-husband. You shouldn’t have to feel guilty about enjoying activities you once were unable to afford. But there’s a fine line between enjoying something and being insensitive to someone whose financial position hasn’t yet been elevated like yours. If you’re bragging about your new lifestyle or even simply making plans that you know Julie’s financial status excludes her from — including the trip she doesn’t know you and your friends want to gift her with — then, of course, there’s going to be hurt feelings and tension. And it’s going to be directed at you first because she knows that YOU, more than the others, know how she feels. You were just in the same boat. And what she might perceive as your cavalier attitude about making plans that exclude her and that would have excluded you not too long ago feels like a betrayal to her. After all, you were her counterpart! You understood where she was coming from. Has your perspective changed as quickly as your financial status? She wants to know it hasn’t. She wants to know you still understand her position and are looking out for her. She wants to know you get her. Isn’t that what we appreciate the most about friends? That they get us? Sure, fun times and companionship or shared values and common interests are super important, but to be understood is one of friendship’s biggest gifts. Remind Julie that you know where she’s coming from, you understand her, and you’ve got her back. Invest time in her because, on that front, she can be your equal, and the time she can invest in you will serve you well, too.
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