I was a latchkey kid with unlimited charge accounts at all the local stores before there were charge cards. As a kid I worried I was annoying, because people always rolled their eyes when I said “charge it please”. Now I understand that I was the only person in the city with a charge account at each of these stores. And they thought I was a spoiled brat. Oblivious to this social nuance, my parents had the idea that if there were no limits to what I could buy then surely I would be taken care of.
You know what’s coming next: kids don’t want money, they want nurturing. I am a very take-charge kind of person, though, so I used my open charge system to buy caretakers. For a while it was the clothing store. But when my mom saw that I owned more than forty sweaters, mostly never worn, she yelled so much that I knew my friendship with the clothing store owner was over.
Then I broke my glasses. And the optometrist was so nice. So I broke them again. Sometimes I’d go to the optometrist to pick frames “because I’ll probably break another pair of glasses soon.” After years of many, many broken glasses, he told me that I could just sit in the waiting area with him. I didn’t have to need new glasses.
But it felt weird to me just sitting there and not being a customer, so I went back to being especially careless with my frames.
So now I’m pretty much an expert on workplace friends because, at their core, workplace friends are like regular friends except someone is getting paid to show up.
1. There are many ways to mix money and friends. All are worth exploring.
When the Farmer met me, I spent a lot of time trying to turn our relationship into a financial transaction. I bought him plane tickets to come to NY and San Francisco with me because I was tired of traveling alone. I bought him gas so that I didn’t have to make the drive to his house. I bought him clothes so I could pick what he wore.
After only a little of that he said, “I don’t work for you. You don’t have anyone in your life who doesn’t work for you. But I don’t want to be a person who works for you.”
I was crushed. Pretty much everyone in my life works for me. Even when I’ve had an assistant who was hourly, I’d pay her to stay late with me and have dinner. So it was hard for me to stop operating this way, and the first time we had a fight—and the 900 times after that—he’d say that the only people who can put up with me are people I pay.
That is mostly right. My brothers are pretty loyal, though. But I’m pretty sure they couldn’t spend more than a week with me.
2. Realize that you are both there because someone’s getting paid.
The thing is that most people who have big jobs spend most of their time with people who are paid to be there. Even if you are out to lunch with a co-worker, it’s not like they are spending their vacation time with you. They’re salaried, so they are essentially getting paid to eat with you, and they are networking.
I used to think I’d know really who is my friend when I change companies. That doesn’t work now, when I work for myself, but earlier, when I was working for companies, it didn’t work either, because you are always a networking opportunity for someone you used to work with.
But let’s say, hypothetically, that the person who I used to work with has dropped out of the workforce. Let’s say he decided to make documentaries instead of have a paying job.
You know what? I’m not that interested in him. I don’t actually want to spend that much time with people who are not related to my work. I’m a very driven person. And I have a husband who I have left so little time for, that we have to schedule once-a-week sex or else we won’t do it.
3. Workplace friends are just real friends with real boundaries.
So you know what? It’s true that I’m most comfortable buying my friends, because then it’s a clear cut relationship where I won’t have to spend any time doing something I don’t want to.
Being with the Farmer is very complicated for me. In my first marriage, I was the clear breadwinner, so I could fix it in my mind that he was just another person I was paying to be with me. I tried to set that up again, with the Farmer. But in fact, he has this million-dollar farm with no debt, and I have pretty much zero money in the bank at all times, so it’s hard to say that I’m buying him.
It’s easier to say I’m buying Melissa, to be honest. Like, careerbags.com is advertising on this site, and I negotiated to get five free things on the site because I love shopping there, and I let Melissa pick one. And she was so happy. And Melissa is so happy being my teammate for webinars. I like to think she likes being my teammate because we have so much fun, but I know she likes being my teammate because she likes the money. Melissa doesn’t have friends, actually. Now that I think about it, she just has people she works for.
So, I guess I’m saying that Melissa is an example of someone who is probably my friend. My true friend, but she works for me. She edits all the photos on this blog. She does all the logistics and moderating for the webinars. And she finds links for me that I love. And even when she traveled to China, she sent back photos of goats for my blog.
I have spent a lot of my life trying to figure out who is my friend and who is my work friend. But now I’m thinking that I’m much more comfortable having everyone as a work friend, because then there’s a clear delineation of the relationship. and in the cases where it has to be a mushy, ill-defined emotional exchange, I have to keep it to just a few people. Which is why, I guess, I’m monogamous.