To set the scene for this: My female roommate and I have lived together the past two years of college and have one more year to go. About six months ago, a [guy] moved in with us, and in that time he’s honestly become my best friend… and her boyfriend. Well, my female roommate just had a birthday, and she always expects a huge blowout celebration. He’s had some emergency expenses lately and is short on funds, so he bought her a new game, a bottle of cheap wine, and I suggested making a card because that would be sweet? I gave him some supplies, and I thought he really put in an effort to make a handmade card.
She was devastated that he didn’t do more for her birthday, and she complained to me that “he’s so cheap, he bought CHEAP wine and didn’t even BUY [me a] card, he made one.” I don’t know if I should tell her I suggested that?
Sometimes I feel like she gets jealous of my friendship with him, so maybe it would make things worse. But right now, I feel really angry and kind of disgusted with her, but we all have to continue sharing this space for another year, and I still want to be friends with him. I’m just over petty situations like this with her, but I don’t know how to keep doing this.
Hey Fed Up,
I grew up poor and have spent most of my adulthood earning just enough to survive, and that’s really helped me with having very reasonable expectations around gift-giving from friends. It’s easy for me to focus on the sentiment of receiving a gift from someone—especially a handmade one—and to really feel the love that we are trying to express when we give people things. With respect, I don’t think that your friend has the life experience to understand that some people are just broke and that it’s not fair to expect expensive items or gestures out of people whose money is funny. I don’t want to see the people I care about breaking the bank to give me a present, and I don’t think it’s OK to assume that someone doesn’t care if they literally can’t afford to spend money on you. I’ve known people who want to see their lovers go broke for their birthdays or anniversaries, believing that the act of depleting their livelihoods is the truest expression of love. Basically, capitalism is a disease, and it ruins attitudes and relationships. It turns otherwise wonderful people into greedy, whiny babies who are more focused on a dollar amount than the fact that someone cares about them.
Your roommate definitely needs to grow the hell up and open her heart, and I think it would do her some good to know that you suggested he make the card. Explain fully where you were both coming from with that: He cares about her and wanted to give her birthday presents, and you care about her, too, so you and her boyfriend put your heads together to come up with something manageable for him that she would appreciate. Hopefully she will just feel like an asshole and do an about-face when she hears that—I fear she’ll express disappointment in your idea or ask why you didn’t just give him money or something. Honestly, she just sounds pretty green at the whole “having healthy relationships based on mutual adoration and positive reinforcement” thing.
I agree that this isn’t a conflict that would necessitate a move-out, but I’m sure it’s frustrating and annoying to have to constantly deal with someone who has such different values than you do. I assume she comes from a very indulgent household if she feels so justified in being demanding about her birthday, and this is just one of those life lessons you have to learn the hard way. (Dating roommates is another “hard way” lesson that I’m positive you’re both learning right now, too.) I think you two can still be good roommates and friends to each other without turning this into a big dust-up, and I would advise you not to get involved in any boyfriend drama if you’re sure she’s a jealous type. Trust me: Not worth it.
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