Yesterday was Kristina’s birthday. If it wasn’t her birthday I would have held off calling her for who knows how long. The last time we spoke the conversation went something like this – (me) So how’s your new job going? (her) Great I just asked for a ten thousand dollar raise and I got it. (me) yeah, I just asked for a raise too, my boss didn’t give me an answer.
I did end up getting the raise. A three thousand dollar one and a new title. I was hoping for more than that. I didn’t even tell Kristina about the promotion because it felt so pathetic. Even with my raise she now made over twenty thousand dollars more than me. I felt like this was “it”. This was the end of a very predictable story – Kristina had always been very focused on money, she’s an accountant after all. I had always been the “save the world” hippie working at non-profits. I backpacked, she hoteled. When we were eighteen we traveled around Europe together. We fought over what was worth spending money on – I wanted to eat baguettes but pay for museums, she wanted to try nice restaurants. Yet, we’ve been friends for about twenty-five years now, so I guess our yin and yang worked.
I didn’t think I cared about money. But I have realized that I do, I care a whole lot about having money. Not having money to put into savings at the end of the month makes me anxious. It makes me feel like I have no control over my life and that the ground could fall from under me at any moment. I am extremely debt-adverse. I also care that I don’t have the things a lot of my friends do – namely, big houses, or any property at all. Renting an apartment at thirty-three makes me feel like a failure. It symbolizes how I do not have it together. I don’t have the kids and the house and the well paid job. I haven’t “made it”. Renting means that I am not good enough.
So when Kristina told me that she now made twenty-two thousand dollars more than me – well it highlighted all my insecurities, all the ways I’ve construed money to symbolize success. I felt shitty for days after that phone call. I replayed the conversation in my mind, each time with more spite, more self-loathing. This is how the story ends. I am a pathetic excuse for an adult who just can’t hack it. Kristina wins. I lose.
I realized of course that I couldn’t stay mad at Kristina forever. And of course, that I wasn’t actually mad at her, I was mad at myself. Furthermore, I couldn’t unfriend anyone who earned a better pay cheque than I did. I’d have no friends left. What if all my single friends unfriended me because I have a loving husband? Objectively, I acknowledge the reality that there will always be people who have more than you and always people who have less – whether this is in wealth, health, love, friendships. Overall, I have won the life lottery. But I still refused to call Kristina.
Ultimately, I got over my self-pity to give her a birthday call. She was away at a retreat for the weekend. My thoughts spun. Of course she’s at some expensive retreat I could never afford. Did I know how much it cost? No. But my spiteful self-narration continued. Kristina texted when she was back from the retreat. It was 10pm my time.
Hey are you still awake? Have time to talk?
I saw the text and thought Hell no. I did my part trying to call her on her birthday. Her birthday’s over. It’s 10pm, I’m lying on the couch watching the Simpsons. My defenses are down. I can’t take another kick in the gut like our last conversation. So I didn’t reply to the text. I’ll just pretend I am asleep, I thought. I’ll call her back when I’m in a better mood. When I’m “on”, when I can roll with the punches.
Then she called. Okay…well ignoring a text is one thing but ignoring a phone call when I’m lying on the couch staring at my phone is another. So I answered. I asked her about her retreat. She talked about how great it was to make closer friendships with some of the women there because at this age, it’s hard to make good friends. I told her about how work wasn’t going well for me and I might have to find another job. She empathized. She told me how talented she thought I was and that I could always call her when I needed a pep talk in my job search. She said that I should look out for what’s best for me whether it’s at this job or another.
She was a friend. Her raise had not made her any less of a friend. And I was glad I didn’t screen her call.