Some friends came by for…

Some friends came by for dinner and a playdate last night, and it was great, but also weird. The house -- it's getting close to done. Oh, there's still plumbing unhooked, and shelves unbuilt. But we're mostly unpacked and straightened and it's all starting to like it's supposed to. Which is, y'know, kind of fancy.

When we were house-hunting, Kev and I agreed that we weren't looking for a super-showy house. No marble foyer. But at the same time, there's no way we can pretend that this is a modest home. It has four bedrooms, but also two offices that could easily be bedrooms if you added closets. So, y'know, a six-bedroom house -- that's big. No way around that. I'm not sure what our square footage ended up at, maybe 3500 sq. ft.? Something like that.

And it feels kind of weird. I grew up in first an apartment, then a condo, then my parents' four-bedroom house, which is a little smaller than this. And after that house, I lived first a dorm room shared with two other girls, then in tiny, crappy apartments for many years. Many, many years. For a lot of them, I was pretty poor -- living on either scrambling temp jobs or student loans. For a solid decade, I never made more than 20K a year, and some years much less.

Eventually, my jobs got a bit better, although I still make less than 50K a year. Mostly, I live in higher-end housing now because of Kevin. Kev and I were in a two-bedroom condo in 2003, then a three-bedroom one in 2005. And now this place. And it's lovely -- I really enjoy having all this space. It makes parenting the kids easier; it makes being at home with Kevin easier; it makes entertaining easier.

But it also makes entertaining a bit weird. Class status is a funny thing -- it's not really about what you earn, exactly. More a set of a mixed markers: salary yes, but also education, profession, the way you speak, the way you dress. The house you live in. And our house has suddenly taken us on a big apparent-class jump.

The friends who came by last night -- they all have similar education levels to us; some of them are much more professionally accomplished than I am, and have higher salaries. But most of them are in smaller houses right now -- and importantly, at least a few of them want to be in bigger houses. Houses like ours. That part is key, I think -- when Ben was visiting, I didn't feel nearly as much of a sense of awkwardness, because I know that Ben has no interest in a big house. He prefers a smaller one. So there's no envy, no weirdness. But with my other friends last night, who said things like, "This is the kind of house I want to have!" -- they meant to be complimentary, which I appreciated. It was so much fun, showing off my house to people who would really notice and appreciate all the great details. I am totally house-proud, and while I didn't earn most of the money that paid for this, I did work awfully hard at making it come together in a coherent, beautiful way. So it's fabulous and wonderful, having people appreciate that. But the praise also felt a little strange.

I'm not used to being the rich one. (Or more accurately, looking like the rich one, because of course, Kev and I aren't actually rich. We're on a very tight budget now, to be able to afford this house; many people wouldn't choose to sink so much of their money into their home. I remember overhearing some of the contractors talking about somebody else's house that they were working on. They were commenting on how dirty it was, and how cheap the owners were, that they didn't hire cleaners. And they said, "With a house that big, of course they can afford someone to clean." Well -- we can't, not right now. Which maybe just means we made some not-ideal financial decisions. Or maybe it's just a question of priorities. I'm okay with having to clean my own house, or live with it being a bit dirty, if it means I get a little more space to stretch out in. Others might not make the same decision, and that's fine.)

My point was, I think I need to learn how to gracefully navigate this change in class status. Because regardless of what our monthly budget is, for a lot of people walking down the street, for a lot of my friends, we're now the people who live in the big house.

I remember when I was poor, and I couldn't afford to just split the tab with friends on the rare occasions when we went out to dinner, but had to carefully choose the entree that with tax and tip would still come out to less than ten bucks. Most of my friends, for many years, had a lot more money than I did, and at first, it was awful and stressful, being the poor one in the group. I got used to it, and luckily, my friends are great, and did their best to ease any financial awkwardness.

Now that's my job. And luckily, my friends are still great, and while some of them might feel an occasional pang of envy about the size of my house, they're also sincerely happy for me. Somehow, we'll manage the occasional awkwardness together. And I'll hope that they all end up in their dream home someday, whatever that looks like.

4 thoughts on “Some friends came by for…”

  1. We live in a comparatively modest house for our income, and we have sort of the reverse situation. It’s sometimes a surprise to me when friends have to think carefully about a $20 purchase, or when they can’t afford an occasional indulgence in the $200-$500 range. On a recent school trip, I was slightly cranky because we could have easily afforded upgraded accommodations and more convenient transportation, but then had to remind myself that for some people the rock bottom accommodations were a huge sacrifice. I can certainly remember the days of scrimping and saving (we still try to save, of course), and I do have a touch of guilt. But at least moving up in the world gives us the opportunity to be generous, and that’s a wonderful thing.

  2. Oh, I totally have house envy over your new digs. Mostly office envy (because of the high ceiling!) but house envy too. But you earned that place, because you have a great eye for design and an inordinate amount of patience in seeking out all those great fabrics and doorknobs and whatnot. It looks fab, and that’s the most enviable thing.

    I just don’t have that skill–if I ever get a big house that needs all that decorating, I’ll just have you come over and tell me what I need to get and what colors to paint everything. 🙂

  3. I think part of what you’re getting at is the difference between income and net worth. Even when you were a poor college/ grad student, you were still upper middle class. Your income was low but there were, what, 9 adult years of expensive liberal arts education that would leave most people with a lot of debt.

  4. There is the difference between envy and admiration. In view of what you have accomplished over the past year in guiding the house renovation, dealing with raising the family, working on your writing and teaching school, one can only have admiration for your efforts. While your financial books may not show much in the black, the tangible part of the increase in your net worth has grown due to the self driven accomplishments above. If anything, some may envy the energy you have expended doing all that.

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