A while ago, I was talking to an associate of mine, another single mother. I was poo-pooing my significant drop in salary (after six months out of work and at least 300 job applications, I took the first thing that batted its FICA-filled eyes at me). By virtue of our relationship, I am privy to know how much she makes. Anyone who has lived in the DMV can give testament to the fact that the mere thought of the cost of living here should cause anyone to break out in hives. And yet, this young woman who makes less than me, whose salary barely covers her rent, proceeded to share how she lives in an affluent part of Maryland, will soon be moving to an even more expensive apartment, has put a son through private school, has another child in college, goes on trips, buys clothes, etc. Ad nauseum… Never meeting a subject I wasn’t afraid to broach, I felt compelled to ask the woman: how do you do it?
With a nod of her head and a twinkle in her eye, she stated proudly, “Well girl, I’ve got friends.”
“Friends?” I asked naively.
“Yeah. Friends that look out for me.”
“Oh…” I confirmed knowingly. “Must be nice to have….friends.”
Her friends are so proficient at looking out for her, that her salary from work merely supplements the….gifts? Er, love offerings….earnings ….proceeds?… she gets from her “friends”. She didn’t go into detail about what she herself contributes to her many friendships, but it was clear that for at least one, she simply acted as a…friend. No really, as in a buddy…someone to talk to, hang out with, maybe grab a bite to eat with.
And it was in that moment that a decades long mystery (at least, a mystery to me) began to unfold. I’ve often wondered, how do these women not only take care of their children, but live with relative ease and comfort? In my dispensation as a single mom, I have never had a time when I was not living paycheck to paycheck, even when I was making $25K more and was in the exclusive “middle class” club. Unfortunately, I had only one major take-away from my time in middle class: you get to make just enough…to be broke.
So now I realize how so many women in my position are able to not only survive, but thrive in the midst of a economic and job wasteland:
As I watched the mother of 9+ children drop at least four off at the inner-city school in which I taught in Southeast DC, only to go somewhere, anywhere other than a job….
As I waved hello to the neighbor who lived in the same crappy apartment complex as mine while parking her Cadillac Escalade….
The solution: you gotta have friends!
Which then led me to self-ask: have I ever had any potential friends?
I recall many years ago, when I was fresh out of college and a newbie transplant to Baltimore, that I asked my circle of friends if they had any nice, or cute, or sane friends. But that was more so I didn’t have to face another Friday night alone looking at the corners of my one bedroom apartment, a stack of unchecked Spanish quizzes, and whatever was being offered on public television. I got a few free dinners, but no one who even so much as offered to pay the laughably minute car note on my 1996 Ford Escort!
A few years ago, a guy I was dating sort of offered to be my “friend”…as long as I married him so that he could stay in the country. And all for the bargain basement price of FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS! When it was clear that the amount wasn’t elevating my level of interest, he offered to be my extended friend, throwing in the bonus of a huge 4 level single family home in Mitchelville, a Mercedes truck and all the disposable cash I could handle. After some consideration (truthfully, I did consider it), I concluded that the amount of deception required of me AND my then five year old daughter was not worth all the marble counter tops in the world. Thus, on the little folded note asking if I would be his friend, I circled “no”.
But, again, I return to the question: why have I, a charming, sensitive, quirky, intelligent, mildly attractive woman, not been approached by more men to be my “friend”? Am I putting out some vibe that has told men not to “try it” with me? Am I not with-it enough? Am I not cute enough? WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME?!?!?
(Sorry, momentary path back in time to a less secure version of me. The confident version of me is back. Again, my apologies).
For the past 2 years, my mom has been begging me to move back home, get some “little job” and use her as a “friend”, rent-free. And using her it would be. My dear, sweet, misinformed mother has the illusion that Michigan is the land of opportunity. Anyone can get a job there! Unbeknownest to her, I don’t just come with two kids, but at least $1000 in monthly bills, sans rent. So I think I’ll keep our friendship to the daily calls in which she interrogates me for answering the phone on the third as opposed to the first ring.
And yet, I ponder, how does one get someone to be a “friend”, particularly without the obviously assumed benefits? Do we really have a sample population of people so lonely, that they are willing to financially provide for someone, solely based on the hope of something more? A hope, that may never be fulfilled?
And how exactly does one qualify to get one of these friends? Is there a telepathic application that you fill out during your first few meetings? If the converse contribution to the friendship isn’t sex, is there always a fear that one day, you’re going to have to pay up? Is there a designated length of contract…or can one lose their friend and the financial benefits…terminated without cause?
When it’s all said and done, I think I may be way too proud to give myself willfully to such an unstructured relationship. The eerie thought that I would have no control over the amount of the benefits, or when/if they would end, or how I would have to pay for the benefit (and ladies, we always have to pay it back…eventually), is too overwhelming for my highly-sensitive little soul. Besides, I hate owing ANYONE ANYTHING. But I would never stand in judgment of the single mothers who, I am confident, do what they must to make sure their babies are cared for. To an almost Malcolmian extent-by any means necessary.
The reality, as far as I can see it, is that there are few folk who are able to survive in 2013 without some form of “friendship”. Whether it be government assistance, or family support, or even a friend (fine, a sugar daddy-there, I said it), when the average median household is just over $50,000, and 46.2 Americans live below the poverty line (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/12/us-poverty-census_n_1877197.html), it would be foolish for anyone to assume that we can get by without a little “help from our friends”. And it’s downright insulting to be browbeaten by politicians and corporations for needing it.
Then there are the kindly folks who read my first entry into Poverty Chronicles and reached out to me to ask if they could help in my time of need. Folks who cast angel wings in their shadows. Friends who cry over me, check up on me, pray for me. These are the kinds of friends I don’t mind having. I can sleep at night with these kinds of friends. They take “friends with benefits” to a whole new meaning.
So maybe tonight, when you pull out that last packet of ramen, you might find yourself looking in the mirror and asking yourself:
Got any friends?