Wednesday, November 14th, 2012
17

Ask Polly: I Feel Guilty About How Absurdly Rich I Am!

Appearing here Wednesdays, Turning The Screw provides existential crisis counseling for the faint of heart. "Like a really wise friend who doesn't respect your personal space!"

Dear Polly,

I grew up in a tiny, rural, working-class town in the middle of the country. My family was wealthy—old money. Mom didn't work, and my dad tinkered at an obscure craft/art in what was mainly a ranching and coal town. In contrast to my peers who had never left the state, my family traveled internationally, did the country-club thing on vacations, and ordered Parisian dog collars for our mutts. When I was a kid it didn't matter that I was rich because I wasn't spoiled, so I was just a regular kid. But then I got older. I started noticing that I was different and privileged. When I became aware of all the opportunities and luxuries, I grew so embarrassed. I'm 29 and have spent my life obsessing over hiding how rich I am from my friends. My wealth is my deepest shame. I am cruel and self critical, wondering if I've earned anything I've ever accomplished in my life. Did I buy my successes? Am I smart or just skating by on the fumes of a fancy education? Do I know what its like to truly struggle for anything? When I am feeling hurt, sick, overworked, underloved, lost, questioning, or tired, I don't give myself permission to feel these things. I am rich and don't deserve to feel sorry for myself. My suffering is not real.

I have a fat inheritance and realistically don't have to work for, like, the next ten years. But I keep a low-paying job because a) I'm afraid of not knowing what its like to suffer at a job and b) to blend in with all my twenty-something, financially fragile friends. My friends and classmates are all poorer than me. I've never felt comfortable living the kind of lifestyle that's expected of people in my tax bracket. Instead, I live simply and I like it. But when friends ask if I've gotten my financial aid check for this term yet, I lie and say yes-phew-thank-god-now-I'll-actually-make-rent-this-month! But I don't qualify for financial aid. I pay full price and always have: 2 degrees and no college debt. But they don't know it, because I'm lying to them.

And I actually wish I didn't have the money. Money has fractured my entire extended family. Because I have it, I've never had to ask for help or be humbled that way. My boyfriend tells me he really appreciates how I'm not uptight about money… and that's because I have too much to care, not because I know what life is all about! I'm not flashy. I work my ass off in medical school right now and plan to work for the rest of my life. But I lie to my friends! I hear how everyone talks about rich people. That's me they're talking about. And it's mean! And totally justified! Rich people suck! I did not participate in Occupy, although I am a progressive young person and had something to say in the movement, because I AM THE FUCKING 1% AND I CAN'T COME OUT ABOUT IT.

So here's what I need help with. I want to be honest to my friends when they ask me about this part of who I am. And I want to forgive myself for being rich. I wonder if you'll tell me that we all suffer no matter how much money we have to be nice to yourself. Or if you'll say what everyone else is thinking: take a look at how lucky you are and shove it.

Sincerely,

Ditch The Trust Fund

Dear DTTF,

Yes, yes. You bought all of your successes. You're not smart, didn't earn anything you've accomplished in life, and are just skating by on the fumes of a fancy education. There's only one way you'll prove your worth in this world, conquer your shame, and feel the down-to-earth goodness of poor-folk suffering: By losing all your money. Thankfully, this can be accomplished in an instant. Write me a check for the remaining balance of your trust fund immediately.

Because I was raised by a single mother who made minimum wage as a secretary after my parents' divorce, with only a pathetically small child support check to help with the bills, I have suffered my way to authenticity. Did I mention that my father was raised among the Eastern European toughs of the sooty working-class neighborhoods of Johnstown, PA? That my grandfather was a coal miner? That, as a kid, my mom repeatedly reminded me that we qualified for food stamps? That I raked leaves and painted walls and cleaned toilets so I could purchase a vaunted Izod shirt and thereby remain viable in the competitive go-go upper-middle-class marketplace of junior high school?

And do you know what this remarkable, hard-working icon of all that is real and good and pure in the world would do with your money? I'd buy fancy tequila and get my hair professionally colored and send my dogs to a groomer and pay someone to clean my filthy house. Oh, but I deserve all of that cash, because I am an incredibly egocentric, myopic asshole who cobbles together a shitty living by writing dyspeptic prose for various newspapers and websites. I do something so self-indulgent and pointless that almost no one wants to pay me for it. And why should they? I don't contribute meaningfully to society or boost the general welfare in the slightest.

But I deserve your money because I'm genuine and real (unlike you, who are fake and filthy and shameful) and because I also feel like a big loser (like you do) (but unlike you, I deserve to feel my emotions, because I'm not rich). I suspect that I'll feel much more important and special once I wear beautifully tailored clothing and vacation in Belize.

And won't you feel much better once you're poor? Suddenly, all the good things people say about you will feel true, right? You'll feel more authentic, more worthy! And I'll feel more worthy, too! I'll be special and important at last. No need to write or struggle or even wake up in the morning. Other people's indifference won't matter anymore, because I'll be so well-fed and gorgeously dressed and drunk that I won't give a fuck.

Are you beginning to understand the big, clumsy moral now? Money won't change a thing for either one of us. For other people, sure. For us, no. We're both doing fine. We both belong to some well-fed, comfy, advantaged upper tier, even if you're in the tier that wears cool shoes and eats delicious things created by culinary artistes and I'm in the tier that scrubs the floors on its hands and knees (like Cinderella, only older and uglier). Our shared problem is that we can't appreciate our own accomplishments. We both imagine that some magical force will change our fate. We're both dead wrong.

Yours is an emotional problem, a habit of self-abnegation that arises from the sorts of hard-assed parents who dictate that all children should be wholesome and productive and never, ever the slightest bit selfish. Yes, your parents did prevent you from becoming your basic Little Lord Fauntleroy style of fuckwad, and let's give them a tip of the hat for that. But let's get real about the load of guilt and shame that they encouraged you to internalize instead. They raised you in a working-class town (on purpose?) so you wouldn't be spoiled, but when it came to the stuff they wanted—adorable dog collars, international travel—the cash rolled out of the coffers. It reminds me of that scene in the parody "Grizzly Bear Man" where "Werner Herzog" eats a delicious donut in front of Timothy Treadwell's hungry girlfriend, because sharing it "simply wouldn't be appropriate."

And now you're supposed to be heroic, truly heroic, or nothing at all. You have all the advantages necessary to become a hero. (Which is admirable, really. I mean, I just want to write shit about how I feel, or maybe create some kind of performance art that involves giant vats of chocolate pudding.)

You have an emotional problem, not a money problem. You're struggling to allow yourself to feel what you feel, for reasons that probably have more to do with the emotional dynamics of your family than your family's net worth. I'd like to tell you to go ahead, come out of the closet, tell everyone about the money, but I can't help feeling like it's none of their business. How do you know how much money they have? Are they submitting budgetary spreadsheets for you to examine? Did I mention that my dad was a professor at Duke? Of course not, because that would've made me sound less authentic and gritty-suffering-poor.

Are you prepared to defend every purchase you make? To pick up the check every time you go out? I would hate to see your shame congeal into unfocused resentment (um, like mine has?). If you get serious with someone, I guess you'll feel like you should tell that person. But be careful! Money is like fame or big tits. People will love you for it without even knowing that they're doing it. Then one day your guy wakes up and thinks, "How did I get here? Hmm, maybe it was the big tits." You don't want that.

And I hate to say this, but you're going to feel differently about that money as you get older. Life gets a little more brutal as you age. You get tired of working your ass off year after year, and you care more about the miso-marinated black cod than you want to. Certainly don't give all of your money away now (out of guilt, a real possibility for you actually) or blow it all on some boyfriend (another strong possibility, considering your guilt) just because you're confused and it doesn't seem important right now. Save it until you're older and you're thinking more clearly about your rights as a human being and your place in the world. By then, everyone you know will be making plenty of money as a doctor—and probably blowing most of it on stupid shit, too.

You don't need anyone's permission to have money. You need permission to have feelings. Only a really good, smart therapist will help you with that. (And I bet you can afford a therapist who's smarter than you. What a luxury that is!) Here's what a smart therapist is sure to say: You're a hard-working, good person and you have lots of friends who love you for who you are, right now. I do understand about the shame, and I get that you feel like an ingrate. The world is filled with privileged ingrates. But as far as I can tell, you're not one of them.

You give that trust fund of yours to 80% of the people out there, rich or poor, and they blow it all on drugs or a giant house or hot cars or whores in a few years, without half a second of guilt over it. 10% of them OD within five years. I'd like to think that I'd start a foundation to help the poor, but chances are I'd also waste an obscene amount on hair treatments made out of pig placentas and enormous flat screen TVs that emerge from the ceiling and heated floors and incredible desert wines and live-in masseuses and master chefs who fix me doughnuts the size of my head every Sunday morning. I would travel the world and feel vaguely disappointed by it. I would buy expensive gifts for my friends, and then I'd be annoyed that they didn't appreciate my expensive gifts enough. I don't deserve a cent of your money. But I do deserve to feel a little pride in my measly accomplishments, and so do you.

Lots of people will hate you for who you are, or love you for who you aren't. Maybe most people will. But some people, a precious few, will love you unconditionally for exactly who you are, warts (and big piles of cash) and all. When you feel sad or out of control or ashamed, pay attention to who draws closer, and who backs away. Stop being so good and pure and tough and start accepting the unconditional love that's already out there for you, including the love you have for yourself. Some bank account somewhere doesn't render that love obscene. You have everything you need to be happy already. That should make you feel grateful, and deeply alive. It's okay that it doesn't yet. You just need more practice.

Polly


Dear Polly,

I have tremendous admiration and respect for you, but I must (sorrowfully) take issue with the advice you gave to your correspondent Red Pen, the editor who wanted to write more. I believe that the kind of job Red Pen has doesn’t allow time for creative thinking/writing; therefore, Red Pen will be unable to obey your instructions and will end up feeling worse than ever, might even conclude that she/he has no creativity, perhaps never had, is unworthy of the humorous boyfriend, might as well get a prefrontal lobotomy so as to be no longer plagued by feelings of longing and concomitant despair, and so on…

I am hereby requesting that you contact Red Pen on my behalf and tell her/him that I am an excellent editor who would be delighted to take over her/his uncool job for a few months to give her/him the opportunity to explore the writing life without the responsibility of a full-time job.

Yours sincerely,

Excellent Editor

Dear EE,

What a generous offer! I bet you're charitable enough to accept a big check from Ditch The Trust Fund, too.

I disagree, though, that having a vaguely dissatisfying job will prevent Red Pen from doing any writing in her spare time. (Yes, I assume she's a woman, because she's read Writing Down the Bones and her boyfriend is a comedy writer [see also: straight, Jewish, loves the Jets, pees in the shower]. So sue me!) Remember how she told us that the stakes were already too high? Every time she couldn't find anything worthwhile to write about, she felt like a huge loser. Guess how that's going to feel when the credit-card debt starts piling up? Suddenly, an aspiration, a hope, is transformed into a good reason to toss and turn all night, break out, drink heavily, lash out, spiral downward, etc. Do you think her comedy-loving, J-E-T-S, JetsJetsJets-loving boyfriend is going to tolerate that for a second? He has bongs to load and clever one-liners to tweet! Never underestimate the stress of leaving behind a solid, comfortable job with no promise of a similar job waiting for you in the future, while trying to do something you're not sure you know how to do.

I'm a huge proponent of taking big leaps, taking risks, in pursuit of your dream. But she needs to accumulate some written work before she takes that leap. With no written work accumulated, you don't just up and quit your job (unless you have a trust fund, and even then a perilous and insecure emotional journey awaits). Besides, in her case, there's no reason to quit. You don't need eight hours a day to become a writer. Sure, it helps to read books, and to exercise. But you should be doing that anyway, right? You need two or three hours to write. Almost anyone can find those two hours. You put down the bong, stop watching "The Daily Show" and go to bed early instead. Then you get up one hour early and write.

But let's talk about you instead, EE. You believe that there might be some magical solution to your problems. You believe that Red Pen has the one relaxed, high-paying editing job in the world. I'm not accusing you of taking it that seriously, but some small, reptile part of your brain believes in this magic. You have a haunting sensation that a change of fortune might occur through some grand act of destiny.

As modern humans in the throes of late capitalism, many of us think this way in spite of our best efforts to do otherwise. Maybe because every dimension of our lives is thoroughly commodified, we imagine that everything we see can and should be upgraded. Money not only makes anything possible, it transforms us into different sorts of people. Sometimes I sit in my backyard and think: "God, this is nice. I should do this more often." Then I notice a messy pile of leaves in the corner, and I think, "If I had more money, I would have a gardener, and then there wouldn't be leaves strewn about. I'd also get some cool lounge chairs, and an umbrella. A red one. No, a blue-green one. No, no…" Next thing you know, I've got a Pinterest page with 15 criminally overpriced umbrellas on it. Is that therapeutic (as a close friend of mine recently suggested here) or just deeply fucked?

Maybe I just need to rake up my fucking leaves.

And maybe you also need to get off your ass. You know how you get the right editing job? You work really hard to find it. I'm sure there aren't that many relaxed, easy editing jobs out there, but there might be a job you'd like better than the one you have now. The Sun is looking for a managing editor, aren't they? I heard a rumor that Vulture was hiring editors. Go to Mediabistro and look around. Send out a few emails, make a few phone calls. Be bold, and mighty forces will come to your aid.

Polly


Who's to blame for all of your troubles? Write to Polly and find out!


Previously: Ask Polly: I Miss My Maniac Ex


Heather Havrilesky (aka Polly Esther) is The Awl's existential advice columnist. She's also a regular contributor to The New York Times Magazine, and is the author of the memoir Disaster Preparedness (Riverhead 2011). She blogs here about scratchy pants, personality disorders, and aged cheeses. Photo by Eric Skiff.

17 Comments / Post A Comment

Aw, you're not the 1%. The 1% is a rhetorical device – it's really the 0.000001% that are billionaires. So relax. Except you can't because you're in medical school. Ha! Hey, you know what would be cool? Giving a little bit – not a lot – of your money to a very small group of feminists or people who work to change immigration of something occupy-related. You have the luxury to write them an anonymous cheque that would actually really help. Help them make late capitalism the late late capitalism. Or just write me a cheque and I'll do it for you. Polly and I must be the 2 nicest people around.

@Hiroine Protagonist

*or…. OR something occupy-related. Jesus.

Nabonwe (#12,500)

@Hiroine Protagonist

I would just like to chime in with the opinion that if the LW feels deeply guilty about having more money than she "should," that a practical solution would be to give a significant amount of it away. Not all of it, by any means, not enough that she won't be able to stay in medical school, but… a lot. More than she feels immediately comfortable with. Enough that it is a sacrifice.

The truth is that with enough perspective, most of us should feel at least slightly guilty about the disproportionate amount of the world's wealth we possess. One solution is to go to therapy and try to erase those feelings; another is to do what we can to make the balance right.

Steph Cha@twitter (#239,045)

You don't have to apologize for your wealth. It's not something you chose, and it doesn't make you a better or worse person. I also have two degrees and no loans, and I'm fairly open about this because I feel like I'd be taking credit for things I didn't earn if I pretended I had lots of debt (the default). It seems pretty disingenuous to lie about your wealth to peers because here's a hard truth – many of them had to work a lot harder than you to get where you are. You say you wish you didn't have all that money, but are you also assuming that you would've accomplished the same things? Hard work can get you far, sure, but privilege definitely helps.

Leon (#6,596)

You don't have to apologize for being rich, but you should probably apologize for being a condescending asshole who thinks their "friends" are incapable of seeing the real person behind your wealth.

WaityKatie (#79,377)

@Leon Saint-Jean Also, I don't know where she's going to med school, cause if med school is anything like law school, tons of people are paying full freight/getting it paid by their parents. And people will bitch about "massive loans" that turn out to be like 10,000 dollars a year for "extra expenses" or "that summer at the study abroad program in Florence." So it's probably a safe assumption that a lot of her friends are rich too. But maybe she's going to the Hard Knocks Med School of Appalachia or something and everyone there is poor, I guess.

themegnapkin (#201,538)

I'm really curious how much LW1 is talking about? She shouldn't feel guilty regardless of how much it is, but she might feel better if she can put it in perspective, and the commenters might be able to help with that. I mean, it doesn't sound like the LW1 has Warren Buffett amounts of money, so maybe if she just met some people who are similarly well-off and not terrible people, then maybe she wouldn't feel so terrible?

mishaps (#5,779)

Anyone in medical school is working for a living, even if they are paying full-freight for the privilege. I have tremendous respect for anyone who can survive that torment, even as I think the emphasis on endurance training in medical education in this country is wildly misguided.

Look, LW1, I think you need a good therapist before you give away ANY of that money. But I also think you need to stop lying to your friends about being in debt. Say, "actually, I'm lucky enough my parents could help out" next time someone asks you about your financial aid and leave it at that. Then buy the next round of drinks.

red pen (#239,415)

just to set the record straight: i'm a straight jewish woman (the "guy" was rhetorical), and my boyfriend is an ex-catholic bears fan from the south who, yes, sticks out like a sore thumb among all the coastal jews.

ee, i must (sorrowfully) inform you that, even if i become the most famous writer in all the land, i'm never, ever leaving this job. wink!

and thank you very very much for the advice, polly! i'll see what i can make with it…
~red pen

nyet (#239,416)

Something hilarious happened to me when I was in college. Some rich young people thought I was rich too! And they invited me to their support group. Yup. I guess I seem rich! Hey, I wish I really was. Anyway – they had their own foundation, and they wanted to bring rich youth into the fold so they would not be alienated from humanity [like you] and could be socialized into a lifetime of supporting lefty progressive causes. It seemed like a good idea for folks like yourself. And that is the moral of my story. You should get involved and help progressive causes. Help out causes that most rich folks won't help out with – like unions. But be careful. The foundation that thought I was rich went down in flames eventually, because the rich kids I guess didn't really want to pay close attention. Second moral: pay attention.

(link on that foundation:
http://www.blueavocado.org/node/562)

Claire Zulkey (#6,639)

I agree with Polly that money-guilt becomes less of an issue as you get older. My parents have helped me out quite a bit in my life which I am incredibly grateful for. I used to feel more guilt about this but as I get older and I have a lot less of what I make to spend on "fun" things thanks to insurance and daycare and medical expenses and all that, I'm just happy for my good fortune. I think the fact that LW is mindful of his/her situation is a good sign. And it's a good idea to keep working. I've known people who have blown their inheritances (wasn't there a piece on this on the Billfold a while back?) so you never know–the end COULD come and it's good practice to attempt to live and work like you have a lot less money than you do.

bellacoker (#239,544)

On Friday I sat through a five hour training on how to be an ally to LGBTQQIA people, and while it was not what they were talking about, I kept thinking about our trust fund friend. In fact, I made a notation in my book, in case I forgot, it says, [Ally across social class]

I am not anywhere on the LGBTQQIA spectrum, but it doesn't do anyone any good if I sit around feeling guilty about getting to marry or walk around holding hands without having beer bottles lobbed at our heads. We did not build this system. But we can call people out for their bad behavior and be safe people for those who are struggling to bring their problems to. And you can do the same thing for your poor friends, without giving them money, unless you want to. Also, when you are around other people who *are* as rich as you, or people who aren't but who hate poor people, stick up for the rest of us. Point out the systemic problems that lead to debt for almost everyone and poverty for way too many people.

JennyBeans (#7,034)

I am absurdly behind on my Awl reading, which is too bad. Look, LW#1, I am also a trust fund baby, and I feel your pain. Being in the 1%, but not the top part of the 1%, can sometimes be complicated. Not complicated in the way it's complicated to be poor, no, and not hard like that. But complicated. Because for people who have struggled more financially it is easy to lump all the "haves" together. There's a big difference between my trust fund — which, in total, at its highest pre-recession level was less than Mitt Romney paid in taxes less year — and the income of the Really Really Obnoxiously Rich. And yet! I have a huge house and last week bought a car (a toyota, but still) for cash because I didn't want to deal with the repairs the 10 year old car needed.
I work in the arts. My friends have different problems.
I don't talk about it, but I don't lie about it. No one has straight out asked "hey, do you have a trust fund?" but maybe they know. The BFF knows, of course, and it doesn't change her view of me. Do my other friends know? Maybe. I dunno. The ones who have visited the town I grew up in could probably figure it out (is that why I moved across the country?) Sometimes I pick up more than my fair share of the check at dinner. When I host parties I provide more expensive booze than my friends do, because that's what I like to drink. But I don't care when they bring yellow tail. I don't always wait for sales. I don't worry about last minute (economy) airplane tickets across the country. I can meet my material needs (which, thankfully, do not include designer clothes or first class plane tickets or vacation homes that haven't been in the family for 80 years).
And I give away a lot of money. I tithe, anonymously, to the theater companies and art galleries and other nonprofits that employ my friends. I donate to every cause that a friend emails me about. Sure, none of these are big donations — my day job doesn't pay much, and the first rule of a trust fund is that you don't spend your principle. So between my expenses, which are higher than my friends' expenses because I'm not counting as hard, and my tithing, I generally end the year where I started. Which is in a good place, relative to everyone I actually see on a daily basis, but an unfathomable distance below the people rebuilding Versailles.
I don't know where I'm going here, except to say: you don't have to be in the same position as someone to empathize. You may not understand, but you can still say "it sucks that things are so tight for you this month" and then maybe pick up the check at dinner, or at least round up on your share of the bill. You don't have to lie and say "me too!" because that's not fair and that's not honoring their struggle. It's trying to make equal things that aren't. You have struggles too, but your struggles are not the same as theirs because you can buy your way out of some of them. Not all, but some. So empathize because you love your friends and things can be terrible and hard, but don't lie to them.
It won't be a thing for your friends, they love you for you.

SweaterWeather (#239,730)

@JennyBeans This is almost a year old and I don't know if you'll ever see it, but this comment actually helped me a lot. I'm also a trust-fund baby (but not, like, a Romney-level TFB) and it's pretty weird, for all the reasons you outlined so well. You sound like me, but with more perspective. Can I ask what area of the country your family is from?

amazinglyso (#248,672)

@JennyBeans I love your response to Polly's article. I agree entirely that you don't have to be in the same position as someone to empathize with them, yet the struggle to maintain a lifestyle choice will always be at your door if your immediate circles and friends expectations are that you will always pick up the bill etc.

As you rightly point out, if your friends and those in your life care enough about you, they will not demand or expect you to pay each time you go out for dinner etc. I have stupidly housed even the homeless into my life before, despite living in a one bedroom rented flat and they have needed far more than I was capable of giving them, yet did it simply out of demonstration of my ability to 'put others' before myself, even though the expectation wasn't there. My need for their approval outweighed my need for self full-fulfillment. This happens whether you are poor or rich even, when human beings are not emotionally evolved to necessarily reason with their own behviours to make logical choices.

amazinglyso (#248,672)

Beating yourself up for achieving your goals is a tremendously painful life indeed. I am not wealthy at all, in receipt of social security benefits and because my life ruined by sexual predators during my childhood and teenage years. However, whether you are wealthy or not, I genuinely empathize with the overwhelming value placed upon 'individual success' within society, the government are someplace guilty of pushing people forward into the abyss of our dreams, even before we may or not be ready to pursue them to the surface, and at our own leisure.

I was ecstatic when I achieved my first GCSE at the age of 22 and went on to study further adult education, yet pathetically anguished by the sheer self-expectation I should become 'something' more than what I was and am. Currently living in supported housing and again, having talking therapy about my fear of going outside, real and perceived fears of what I may or not be able to achieve stuck on benefits as an intelligent, capable human being who often resents the celebrity cultures that does nothing to eradicate the suffering of individuals who are trapped within their own poverty, trying somehow to get out of it and turn their lives around. It is unlikely that I will ever own my own home or enjoy holidays and trips to places I still long to visit, all because of people in my past who set out to destroy every ounce of self-esteem I may have had.

Although my situation is extremely different to your own, I do know that many people (regardless) of what they have achieved, suffer the 'guilt complex' as you have generously articulated. It has nothing to do with wealth, but more precisely to do with moral awareness and consciousness of the ability to overcome personal barriers that we, and the help of society places real and unrealistic expectations. I admire anyone who can surpass their own expectations of themselves, and this is what perhaps makes you immensely brave and different from many others who have achieved personal success?. I do not know, I haven't the answers.

I can say in all certainty however, you are not materially motivated unlike say, the celebrity cultures who largely base and flaunt their individual success by 'what they own' and not necessarily by what they have done to overcome individual struggle to get to where they have arrived at. You appear to me, as if though you have arrived at yourself, despite individual success and are now considering in some depth about where your personal journey is now taking you?.

Typhimurium (#255,527)

So I know it's FOREVER after this was originally posted, but as a fellow 1%er I totally understand where you're coming from. If it's OK, I'd love to share some of my strategies for friendships across an income gap.

My ex was a lot poorer than I was; I was in a ritzy college with my grandma paying sticker price, while he was supporting his parents while doing remedial community college classes. We worked out date-things where we would take turns organizing the activity. When it was his turn, we'd cook dinner together, go to a free concert, or to a park for a picnic. When it was my turn, we'd go to museums, concerts in gardens, nice restaurants, and whatnot, and I'd pay. By being honest, it felt proportional and fair. I expanded this strategy to organize outings with other friends whose parents were quite poor.

Do you have any good friend who would really appreciate a nice concert, and you could afford to just get her another third-row ticket? She'll feel a lot less bad about it if you explain that the money means a lot less to you than her company! You may need to explain this multiple times; after all, the cost of that ticket is a very, very small percentage of your money.

Also, there are going to be things that you can get into that people who were raised working- to middle-class just can't feel as comfortable in. Class totally exists, and, say, making charming conversation with muckety-mucks at Oxford's high table at a young age is frequently a class-related skill. You can make a difference in these places by speaking up when people make classist, racist, or other denigrating remarks, because you speak from a place of power. It's similar to how I can get white people to listen to me about why what they said was racist easily, while my Asian or Black friends have more trouble. You can also actively make these spaces more friendly to people who don't have your class background, by drawing out people who are hanging back in the conversation and disregarding the fact that they didn't use the umpteenth fork correctly. In the high table example, I noticed one guy who was kind of left out. He was a photographer who was an excellent artist; his stuff was hanging in one of the halls! But class is felt a lot more intensely in Britain, and he knew that his accent stuck out among the upper and upper-middle class people at the dinner. Once I started talking to him, he relaxed and got a great conversation rolling with the professors there. It doesn't take much to make someone feel a lot more accepted, and when they feel accepted they'll be more confident and more people will accept them.

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