Over the last couple of months, I’ve talked a lot about how dysfunctional my relationship with money has been. Tonight I have another confession to make – the degree to which I have used money to hold others at arm’s length, and even to destroy relationships.
My senior year in college, I lived in an on-campus apartment with a couple of friends. Unlike the other dorms on campus, this particular building required that we pay our own electric bill. One of my roommates, Rachel, was the one who gave her name to the utility company. The details are a little sketchy to me now, but as I recall, we didn’t get an electric bill for the first several months we lived there. Suddenly, one month a bill showed up for many hundreds of dollars.
The bill was obviously wrong – our friends in the building were getting monthly electric bills for under $20, so even if we were paying for a few months at once, the bill still should have been under $100. Rachel called the company to get it corrected. They said that was what the meter read, so that was what we owed and they weren’t going to budge.
I wanted to help. The problem was that I didn’t know anything about electricity or billing, so I was at a loss for ways to offer to help. I was terrified that I’d have to come up with $200 that I didn’t have and that I couldn’t ask my parents for.
Instead of asking someone for guidance or finding a way to educate myself, I withdrew from the situation. After offering to help a couple of times, I decided that it was Rachel’s responsibility to find me if she needed something – rather than seeing us as a team that could and should work on it together. I became ashamed that I didn’t know how to help, which caused me to withdraw further. I was ashamed that I didn’t have the money to pay if it became necessary, so I withdrew even further. I was desperately afraid that I’d have to admit that I didn’t have money, as if that made me a bad person.
Rachel was someone whom I had admired throughout college…someone I had wanted as a close friend. We had finally become the friends I wanted us to be and I pushed her away over fear about a couple hundred dollars. I cut myself off from a friend I adored because I was too afraid to tell the truth – I didn’t have the money.
To my regret, I never told her. In fact, I’m not sure that I’ve ever told anyone this story until tonight. Worst of all, I have no idea how (or if) the situation was ever resolved.
After graduation, I wanted to keep in touch. But I was afraid that if I contacted her, she’d tell me that I owed her money. It’s now 15 years later and, although we’ve been in contact I don’t think we’ve had a single conversation since we left college.
Because I was ASHAMED.
I was ashamed of not having money. I was ashamed of my behavior. I was ashamed of not being a better friend.
Which brings me to tonight… when I realized that once again I’ve been keeping a friend at arm’s length over money for the last few months. The situation is completely different (I don’t owe her anything, thank goodness!) but the shame is there nonetheless.
Tonight I contacted her to apologize. Tonight it’s time to face another set of demons – the demon of shame that causes me to withdraw and isolate.
Tonight I will contact Rachel to apologize as well.
Shoot – this stuff isn’t easy, but every little bit is taking me a step closer to being financially and emotionally free. And that is a big, fat miracle.