She has me over all the time, and it's getting awkward.

By Amanda Richards
May 20, 2019 @ 12:45 pm
Richard Chance

Petty Cash is a weekly advice column where the experts (plus a millennial InStyle editor well-versed in pettiness) weigh in on your awkward and annoying financial faux pas.

DEAR PETTY CASH,

My husband and I have a super rich, not-too-close friend who always hosts us at her apartment. She invites us over at least twice a month — breakfasts, dinners, parties, you name it. She’s lovely, but I’m starting to feel the creeping obligation to invite her to my place. Unfortunately, I can’t — my apartment is way too embarrassing.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s a mostly-clean and relatively normal living space, but it’s just not at the same level as her place. The last time she invited me over, I faked an illness to get out of going. My logic was that if I didn’t go to hers, I could continue putting off inviting her to mine. I can’t keep making up excuses, but I also don’t want her to see our place. What do I do?

I LOVE GOING TO MY RICH FRIENDS' HOUSES. There’s just something about wandering from room to room, admiring the square footage, questioning every life decision I’ve ever made while I delicately run my hand across the Smeg toaster. Oddly enough, having friends with much more money than I do makes me feel at peace with the randomness of the universe. The wealth gap between millennials is on track to be the widest it’s been in generations, and my rich friends and I all started with a relatively similar level of privilege — they just happened to make choices that resulted in them obtaining a metric fuckton of money, while I made choices that did not. I’m happy for them, especially when it results in them making me a fancy coffee in their Breville espresso machines.

The thing is, I also invite them to my house. Quite a bit, actually. Nothing about doing so gives me pause or anxiety. And that’s where I’d like to begin addressing your issue.

You said it’s a not-too-close friend. Perhaps it’s not your best friend, but it’s obviously someone you like, describe as “lovely,” and care about impressing. She invites you to her house frequently. Assuming she’s not just some weird, rich asshole who invites all of her pauper friends over to lowkey gloat about her lifestyle, that means she enjoys your company, too. All of that feels really equitable and nice and exactly what a friendship should be.

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So what about that seemingly fair and respectful dynamic makes you feel like you can’t show her your living space? Is it that you’re afraid she will judge you? If so, that’s not an indicator of a great friendship, and you’re probably right to continue passing on her invites. Any friend that will judge you for your financial situation isn’t a friend at all, and you’re better off keeping your distance.

But your letter doesn’t read as if that’s the case. What I’m gathering is that you don’t invite her over because you don’t feel like you can possibly measure up to her lifestyle, even though she hasn’t said or done anything to make you feel like she expects you to. Your feelings of insecurity are coming from within. So, what causes feelings like these? I don’t know your entire story, so it’s hard to say. Perhaps your family didn’t have a lot of money while you were growing up — poverty shame is very real, and has lasting consequences on people’s relationships with money and socialization. Perhaps you had a negative experience with a friend in the past, one who made you feel like shit for your living situation. Or maybe you’re just another millennial with financial FOMO — according to recent survey by Credit Karma, 40 percent of millennials have gone into debt to keep up with their friends.

If any of these things are true, try to stop being so hard on yourself. You’re doing the best you can, and you don’t have to be loaded to throw an excellent party, or host a brunch, or even just invite this friend over for a nice cup of coffee, brewed in a totally lowkey machine. The people you want in your life are there for you, not for lofted ceilings and mid-century modern credenzas.

All of that considered, I think that part of the issue here is that you don’t feel great about your own living space. Even though you described it as clean and nice, you clearly don’t feel like it’s fancy enough to show off (or even show, period). I talked to Streeteasy spokesperson Lauren Riefflin to figure out how to reimagine your own living space in a more positive light, and to start considering why you think your friend’s home is so much “better” than yours in the first place.

“Expensive and fancy are 100 percent relative and all a matter of preference,” Riefflin says. “In NYC, these terms are most often rooted in two things: location and amenities. Regardless of an apartment’s aesthetics, simply living in a popular, amenity-dense  — or even historical  — neighborhood, could tick off the ‘looking expensive’ or ‘looking fancy’ boxes. In terms of the architecture and finishes, that’ll always be based on personal taste. Some may consider crown molding and original floors in a pre-war townhouse to be the epitome of elegance, but others may consider marble countertops, stainless steel appliances and floor-to-ceiling windows essential.”

Think about it. Do you put your friend’s living space on a pedestal because you actually like it, or because it seems desirable based on a number of market and personal factors that have absolutely nothing to do with you? And think about your own place: What do you like about it? Is it small, but with charming details? Do you love your neighborhood? Is your closet absurdly huge? Does the color of the bathroom speak to you on a fundamental level? Are the hardwood floors easy to keep clean? Making a list of the small things you enjoy about your place will help you start to realize that just like you, it has value.

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If you finally work up the nerve to invite your friend over, Riefflin says there are things you can do to be more deliberate about how you present your space, particularly the aspects of it that you’re not fond of.

“Hide parts that may not be as easy on the eyes,” Riefflin says. “Ugly radiator in the corner? Maybe there’s a  bookshelf or storage bench you could strategically place in front to help guide the eye to something more appealing. On the flip side, adding elements like trendy indoor plants or twinkly string lights are always a hit with guests. Display items around your apartment that make you happy, and give them space to breathe. Have a bunch of throw pillows and blankets? Consider putting some inside a storage ottoman and only have one out on your couch. Tons of books? Maybe a bookshelf with cabinet doors is a better choice. Simplifying what the eye sees as it makes its way around your apartment can go a long way for helping it feel ‘fancy.’”

Remember, this isn’t about staging your home so that your rich friend doesn’t judge you. It’s about making small changes (both mentally and physically) that help you feel better about where you live. Once you take more pride in your space, however modest it may be, I guarantee that you’ll be more into inviting people over — and for all you know, your friend might be waiting for the invite to bring over that bottle of fancy wine she's been saving. 

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