A few weeks ago I wrote about why I would not be attending my best friend’s bachelorette party, citing the exorbitant cost of participation and my limited resources for such discretionary expenses.
In response to the article, the concept of a “Friendship Tax” was introduced to me.
Just like there’s a cost of doing business, there’s a cost of doing friendship- attending social occasions, meeting for drinks, etc. But the difference between business and friendship expenses is that one is a necessity and the other is discretionary, which is why I don’t go for the whole “tax” concept.
While taxes are something I have to pay, friendship is something I feel should be financed out of desire and love. As soon as I start to feel obligated to spend rather than compelled to spend, it’s time to reassess. Perhaps this is why I’ve struggled so much with friendship and the wedding industry. Suddenly, what I would like to spend in celebration isn’t enough by societal standards. What should be an act of joyful giving becomes resentful and stressful due to pressure and judgment.
Last weekend, I attended the bridal shower for this same friend (yet another expense) and sat there for two hours as I watched gifts being opened. I thought to myself, is this really what this is all about? Watching my hand decorated, personalized wine glasses hastily opened and set aside next to a Dyson vacuum and an artisan knife set? (And that’s just for the shower!) Where’s the celebration? The only thing I see winning is the material culture of the wedding industry. Suddenly, everyone in the room feels like they need 20 place settings of china.
The point of this isn’t to bash my friend, I love her and to be fair, she’s just following the example set by the “norm” around her, (this is Northern New Jersey, NYC suburbs, I realize the norm is different depending on where you live, your culture, background, etc). My issue lies with that “norm”, the expectation, the so called “friendship tax”.
My other issue with this “friendship tax” is the way in which the expectation is applied. Rather than being shaped by the friendship itself, it seems to be dictated by the occasions and life choices of one friend. Perhaps it started this way because the majority of people followed the same trajectory, but in today’s day and age, where alternative lifestyles are increasingly common, the balance of “friendship tax” seems to be way off.
For instance, my aunt never got married nor did she have any children. She has spent her life attending weddings, baby showers, and other celebrations of life events. But when has she been celebrated? When does it come back around?
If it truly is about supporting one another, perhaps we should eliminate the expectation of gifts altogether? What if our presence was the present? It could be, but with material standards so very much ingrained in society, it can be hard to opt out without offending someone.
My friends are important to me, and their friendship holds enough value for me to spend less than 100% selfishly. However, I will not stop questioning what is a gesture of love and what is simply overblown material expectation. I’ll do my best to act from my heart without offending. I hope my intentions will be met with gratitude rather than disappointment or judgment. And I hope that I can inspire some who feel so pressured to spend according to industry “norms” that they put their own finances in jeopardy, to think outside the box and find alternative ways to give and participate from the heart rather than the wallet.
The moment my friendships start to resemble my taxes, I’m afraid I’ll have lost touch with what it’s really all about- the love and camaraderie that makes me want to give and celebrate in the first place.
Have you ever heard the term “friendship tax”? How would you define it? How do you feel about it?