Once during a summer in high school, I was with Selena, Melissa and Amanda after having just spent the whole day at the beach. After we were sun-baked, we decided to go to Lick’s to gorge on some yummy hamburgers.
Upon arriving there, Selena asked what I was getting. Being 15 and having literally no money on me except for bus tickets, I said, “I can’t get anything, I’ll eat at home.”
She then said, “No, what are you getting because I’m getting it for you”, in a tone that made me realize that I had misunderstood her question before.
Confused, I reiterated: “No, I don’t have money. I’ll eat at home.”
She then laughed before saying, “You’ll get me back next time! This time, I want to get this for you.”
I must’ve looked distraught at this new concept because the entire time we were in line, Selena kept comforting me by crooning in my ear, “Today I have a job, tomorrow I won’t, so you’ll get me back when I don’t.” She bought me a whole meal complete with a drink that I would never forget, because when you’re 15 and unemployed, $8 for a meal at Lick’s was more than an hour worth of working when you’re just working minimum-wage.
And she bought it for me without even thinking twice about it.
For the rest of my teenage life I would use this event as the main jumping point for all my friendships. True to her word, there came a time where I would have a job and Selena wouldn’t, and so our night-outs would always be dependent on who was working or not. If I wasn’t working, Selena would pay for my ticket. If she wasn’t working, I would. It just turned out to be a tradition that we passed on amongst our other friends until eventually, we had formed a communal process where we would always have something to give when going out together.
A typical gathering between our friends would have one bringing a dessert without being told, another bringing appetizer, another bringing liquor while the others bring ingredients to contribute to the meal that we all cook together. It just worked out perfectly every time — if you were invited to someone’s place for dinner or a party, we just naturally brought something with us to contribute to the group. There were times when my friends would come empty-handed and then a day after, I would find $10 and $20 bills stashed inside my bookshelves as payment for not having brought anything. And if I ever try to give these bills back, I would be fighting against a barrage of “no’s” and “please, please just take my money”.
This is what I love most about my friends: the fact that we never let money get in the way. In a society where success is defined by our salaries, where small talks are grounded on what we do for a living, instead of who we are as a person, I am grateful to have found friends who doesn’t place money on as high as a pedestal as the rest of twenty-something year olds do.
My sister once warned me, when I was earning less than $20,000 a year, that I only hated money because I didn’t have any of it. Now that I’m earning enough for my lifestyle, with a couple of hundreds every month tucked away into savings, I still feel the same way.
I hate that cellphones are now considered part of the cost of living; the excitement of exploring a city has now been translated to just “getting lost” up until the moment we turn on the gps equipped in our phones. I hate that we need different types of shoes to do different activities (shoes for hiking, for the beach, for dancing, for the office, etc.) I hate that books has been reduced to digital text that can discarded and thrown at your convenience without a trace, as opposed to physical books where we feel the literal weight of the narrative bearing down on our hands as we turn every page.
I hate that money controls people: everything from their personalities, hopes and dreams, down to their relationships. People are so preoccupied with making money that they forget about their true passion. Instead, their goals are transformed from pursuing happiness to creating a comfortable lifestyle where you can manifest power through the concept of ownership, and creating your personality through the things you own, instead of the things you create.
Which is why it confuses me when I’m with other groups of people, who are so intent on separating bills when we eat out, down to the last cent. I always find myself asking: why does it matter? Aren’t we friends? Why can’t we trust that nobody is taking advantage of each other? Why is it such a chore to pay a little extra for something you don’t owe, when you know it’s going to be contributed towards the greater good?
When I’m with my group of friends, everyone just puts down $20, no questions asked, regardless of who is earning more or who ate more. If our pay exceeds our bill, then the extra goes to the waiter/waitress. It’s better to give more than what is expected of you, than to contribute less. Because by doing this, we show that we won’t take advantage of you, that we will give as much as we could, and that we trust that we are not being taken advantage of. Isn’t that what friendship is all about?