Friends, Money and Social Class

How to be friends with people from different social classes.

I spent a number of years in Africa. The richness of my time there is in the relationships I formed. But one tension was always money. Who had it, who didn’t, and how it was leveraged.

In my context in the US, I am thoroughly middle class. My house is close to average, maybe slightly above, as is my income. That income in the African context looks very different. In the expatriate, political and business community, my income is low. For the average person, paid expenses versus disposable income make no difference. I was rich. Very rich.

I recently listened to this great podcast about social mobility and the idea that if you factor for everything, the number one determiner of your future income is your social connections. It got me to thinking. I have the uncommon but not unique experience of having relationships on all levels of the social class spectrum. In some, I’m the rich guy. in others, I’m far below the norms. Here are some random ideas, in no specific order, for navigating these kinds of relationships.

How to be a friend to someone who has more money than you; how to be a friend, who has less than you;

If you have less than your friend, be genuine. Be authentic.

Don’t see that relationship as an opportunity, but see the person in front of you. You might have wealth of relationships, you might have a wealth of peace or joy or experience that is attractive to that person. 
If you’re friends with someone who has less than you, make the money conversation easy.

For example, If you want to travel or go out to eat, or participate in entertainment that cost more than they can afford, ask them to participate at the level that they can, not at the level that you can. Equal participation, not equal amounts.  
IDEA: Offer your capital. This doesn’t mean cash, you have all sorts of relationships, friendships connections that can, and would advance this person in life. You are beneficiary of the sum total of your relationships, and pulling someone into your network would be valuable. 

If you are the person who has less money, and you are invited into a place, don’t presume that invitation is permission to self-promote. Take your time, make your connections, honor the person who opened the door for you, and make sure that the things that happen are genuine and flows from who you are so that when you are presented with an opportunity, you don’t burn the social capital of the person who brought you into that circle. 

If you are the person who makes less, invite and welcome the person who makes more into your circle as well, but protect the person. Socially connect them, in friendship, connect them, but don’t financially connect them. Let them be known as a person before they are seen as a dollar sign. They have enough of that in their lives.

Is it possible to be friends across social classes? yes. But it is awkward unless we intentionally work at it, and constantly work at it.