Generosity is a sign of a great friend, but when generosity becomes expectation, you’re at risk of losing more than a few bucks.
“Sometimes I don’t want to hang out with you because…well…you’re cheap.”
That’s what I want to say. The questions is…how?
The setting: Nice restaurant. Not bank-breaking but not Denny’s either. I sat there with Brad and Marty, two pals whom I’ve known for years. Brad scored free tickets to a Lakers game. I had never been to one and had always wanted to go, and the free ticket was an unexpected bonus.
It was also a bonus I felt the need to reciprocate, so I planned on springing for Brad’s portion of the pre-game dinner that night. I know it wasn’t necessary because Brad hadn’t paid for the event and was content just having my company, but I wanted to show my appreciation for the invite. I wondered if Marty would follow my prompt and split Brad’s portion with me, though there was no obligation.
When then check came I set my card on the table and turned to Brad and said, “I’ve got you.” What happened next blew my mind. Without so much as a gesture to his pockets Marty added, “Thank you for dinner, Mikey.” What happened? Had I not angled my words enough to Brad that it was clear that I was covering him, not the entire check?
I was so mad that you know what I did? I paid the damn check. That’s right. I grumbled under my breath, gave the waitress my card and signed it without even an offer from Marty to cover the tip.
I know I should have stood my ground, but there are two things that keep us from acknowledging the Mooch in the room.
1. We don’t want to cause conflict. While the conflict was not even my fault, I would be the one stirring up the pot.
2. When we bring it up, we end up being the one that appears cheap by starting a conversation over money.
Taking your friends for a night out is a great gesture and makes us feel all warm and gooey, so why fret it? Why? Because it wasn’t the first time. Or the second. Or even any number I can count on my fingers (and maybe even toes).
Yet why do I always fall for it?
Not long before a group of us went to brunch at the restaurant I work at. The manager gave us an overly nice discount, and most of us having worked in the service industry gave a considerable amount over what we owed to leave a wow tip. When I asked Marty for his card, he pointed to a five he put in the bill and a five that I had put in and said, “This covers mine.” Wait…what? But I-
Again, rules number 1 and 2 came into play, and no one said a word.
Later I called Teddy, a fellow brunch attendant. “Is it me, or did we all just pay around $25, and Marty paid $5?”
“Oh my god! You noticed it to?”
We were dumbfounded, and, again, we only had ourselves to blame. We had been going out with Marty for nearly a decade. Almost every time we arrived to a bar, Teddy would buy a round of drinks. When that round turned into us batting around ice cubes with our straws I would buy the next round. When that next glass was dry, Marty would excuse himself to go to the restroom and come back with a refilled beverage for himself. That’s right, just the one. It got to the point that we formed a group pact: in outings when Marty was present everyone took care of their own drinks and no one bought a round. Perhaps this should have been the moment we drew straws and one of us had a mini intervention, but again, how do you bring this up in as kind a way as possible?
It wasn’t about the actual money. I understand broke. Being a comedian and writer is the equivalent of saying sometimes I eat Ramen Noodles for dinner. There are nights when I reply to a friend’s invite with, “Not tonight. Assets are temporarily frozen.” If that’s met with an offer from my comrade to cover the cost of the evening then it is a much appreciated yet never, ever expected gesture.
It was the feeling of being taken advantage of, not to mention it was by someone who had a better income than I did. When he invited me over to his new apartment I was greeted by wall-to-wall brand new furniture and art. It was gorgeous. Yet I was scoping Craigslist for a new coffee table.
Whenever I vent to someone who doesn’t know Marty, the same question always comes up: “Why are you friends with someone like that?”
The not-so-hidden Mooch is a part of Marty’s social persona, but that’s not all of his personality. He bears the usual qualities that make a great friend. He’s a shoulder to lean (and sometimes cry) on. He’ll text some humor my way if I’m having a bad day. He shows up when he knows he’s needed. He’s simply the kind of friend that’s available to be a friend, a quality not always found in the company we keep.
The problem is that the inclination to take advantage of that availability drops when the night’s itinerary involves the exchange of currency. Is it fair that Marty suffer the repercussions of his actions without knowing what those actions are? Or is it possible (or even likely) that he is 100% aware of his behavior and naïve to the notion that others have taken notice?
Whatever the case, it is impossible to move past it without addressing it. So how do you tell someone, someone you care about and whose friendship you care about, “You sir, are a Mooch, and it has dramatically affected our time together?”
The idea that problems go away when ignored ranks right up there with playing the Powerball as a retirement plan. Thus, when the moment is right, and Marty asks me why we don’t spend more time together, I will tell him. I have no idea how the outcome will be, but if I’m honest I can’t fault myself. Although as a comedian, I can tell you that 75% of it is delivery.
He may verbally retaliate by pointing out my own hang-ups about money or any other annoying quality that I wasn’t aware existed. Very few people let their confronter get away without a blemish when their own flaws are handed to them. If that’s the case, then I decided to venture down that rabbit hole, and I hope I will be a better man for finding out some new information about myself.
In the meantime, I will do my service to others. If you are the Mooch of your friends, guess what. They know you are. They’ve discussed it. It bothers them. Stop it.
Photo: Dan4th Nicholas/Flickr