When I was in college, I had a good friend named Steve. From practically our first week on campus, Steve and I were virtually inseparable. We pledged the same fraternity, attended the same parties, went on dates together, hung out together...and spent money together.
We used to joke that we didn't need separate bank accounts; if one of us had money, then we both had money. We didn't really keep track either. It wasn't a case of, "You paid last time so I'll pay this time." Since we were both poor students, we didn't really have a lot to spend anyway, and our expenses were low, so...we just shared it.
Even today, among my close friends, I find that sharing small amounts of money is almost a given. One friend can't cover lunch, or forgot his wallet? No problem; the rest of us will cover. This sort of free-flow of money among friends and colleagues is quite common (within reason, of course. If one friend is constantly mooching off of everyone else, then patience for that type of behavior goes away).
There seems to be a line that delineates good-natured sharing from business-like loans between friends. That line is somewhere over $20; if someone just 'happens' to need $50, most people don't just give it without asking for it back at some point (the line is probably and obviously higher for people who are wealthier than I). When the dollar amounts get larger than that, the situation gets trickier, and even the best of friends may write down a loan agreement or contract to protect themselves against their erstwhile friend who may have latent deadbeat potential.
Why is that?
It's just money, after all. Friends aren't (usually) talking about asking another friend to take out a second mortgage or not pay their own bills in order to lend the money. Most friends have good intentions about repaying the loan, and therefore most creditor friends should be willing. But money brings out the worst in us. Just as we don't want to give to beggars on the street, preferring to pass judgment on them, believing that they will squander the charity or that they brought it upon themselves, we don't want to give to even close friends for similar reasons.
This has become an acute thought for me lately, as I currently find myself in considerable financial need. No, this is not a plea for money (though I wouldn't turn down blog 'tips' in my donation jar). But rather a thought experiment: why don't I ask my friends for money? Many of them have it, after all--and even small amounts would be helpful.
I don't ask, simply, because I don't want to lose the friends. Several years ago a good friend loaned me some money; after a considerable amount of time, I was able to repay him (though without interest). He said that any time I needed money, I could come to him. Fast forward to five years later, when I, again, needed some assistance. This time he declined, stating that he didn't think it would help me, and that perhaps I should review my spending habits or financial decisions/planning. His reasoning? While he didn't state it explicitly, he must have thought that I brought this on myself by poor money management. Or that I would squander his charity by poor decisions and spending, and probably be unable to repay the debt. In his mind, therefore, my request placed me alongside the beggar in the street. Right?
Needless to say I won't ever go to that friend for assistance again. Not that I blame him; it certainly is NOT his fault that I have the challenges I have. But the simple act of asking him for money has changed our friendship forever, even though we both said there would be "no hard feelings" on either side regardless of whether or not money was lent.
Perhaps we are used to the It's a Wonderful Life type of giving: George Bailey, good guy with a heart of gold and poor as a church mouse despite his financial genius, needs money and the whole town gives to him and his family in a big basket. But that giving was essentially anonymous, right? Only Sam Wainwright from New York steps up to the plate to offer $25,000 in his own name--and only then after his former girlfriend sent him a telegram. Everyone else just tosses in money and joins in the satsifying chorus of Auld Lang Syne.
So that's how we give...anonymously. We give to Katrina victims--they needed it, right? We give to strangers and to organizations (Red Cross) and Salvation Army Santas and church collection plates (or their equivalent) and starving children in far away places. But to friends? To people right next to us who we know and love and with whom we have shared a friendship who could really use the help?
Not so much. And in fact, they would never ask anyway.
I hesitated to write this post, and after it was written I hesitated to post it. I don't want it to come across as a beggar's plea. However, the thoughts are true, and, despite the desperate-sounding nature of the content, I decided to post it anyway.