when you can’t afford a friendship

QUESTION FROM A GREEK TRAGEDY READER: A dear friend is getting married, across the country from me, in Florida She wants me to be there; I cannot afford to attend her wedding. And when I say I cannot afford it, I mean, I am on food stamps, haven’t bought new clothes (even shitty ones from Old Navy) in ages, and live in an apartment where people regularly overdose on meth or get murdered. But, she wants me there. So much so, that she is willing to take some of the money her mother is giving her for this, her second wedding, to fly me to her wedding.

I am almost comfortable letting someone buy me a cup of coffee, but I have the instinct to twitch when they buy me lunch and I can’t reciprocate. So, allowing someone to fly me 3000 miles? Oy to the vey. How do I deal with the fact that if she does this, I still can’t afford the cost of the train to the airport here without sounding like I’m squeezing her for more money? How do I tactfully say, “I know you’ll be swamped with a thousand details, including friends coming in from other countries, but you’ll be able to get someone to pick me up and bring me back to the airport in Florida, right?”  She said something in an email to me about, “If you can swing an air mattress…” I don’t want to be bitchy, but I don’t think she gets that I can really, truly, barely swing rent. I do not own a couch. So no, I definitely can not swing an air mattress. I am fine with sleeping on a floor, because the important thing is a friend wants me to support her on her special day. But I really cannot financially support the cost of emotionally supporting her?

Also, what do I do about getting them a wedding gift? I’m already almost two years late getting my own brother a wedding gift. I don’t want to be tacky by showing up without a gift. I know the “you have a year” rule, but I have no way of knowing if my financial situation will right itself in a year. Or, do I get her and her future husband a really cheap, blatantly tacky gift like chocolate hearts and make a corny joke about it?

Or, going in another direction, if the best thing is to just not go, how do I tell her tactfully (she is of a different, more formal culture than mine, and I’d hate to offend and ruin our friendship)?

straight up advice

As always, the floor is yours. Please try to offer anything that might help out our wedding-challenged friend…

Though I will say, off the cuff, that friends really don’t give a shit. I mean, sure, they want you there, but please. I, for one, adore my friends, feel they’re my family, but the world would not end if any of them couldn’t attend my wedding. I would completely understand and wouldn’t take it personally.

I get that she wants you there, is willing to pay, but if I were you, I’d send her a picture frame, engraved (it’s $20, plus shipping) with the year and location of her honeymoon inscribed: Hawaii, 2011. It shows forethought and isn’t cheap looking.

I also get that you don’t want to explain your whole situation, because you don’t want anyone feeling burdened or sorry for you. But, you know what? You live once. And your being at her wedding isn’t all that important, BUT being honest with her is. My script would go something like this (and the color girls sing…)

I adore you, you know that. And I’d love to be there with you, and I am so appreciative of your offer and recognize how much you’re willing to do for me to be there… and you know a “but” is coming. Before I give you the “but,” I want you to know that this is not personal, at all. I quite simply can’t afford it. I really wish I could, but I can’t. And there are all sorts of small expenses that add up, and I really don’t feel comfortable, as gracious as you are, accepting your offer. I love you and don’t want you to feel anything but deliriously happy.  I am thrilled for you and will be raising a glass (of water) in your honor. P.S. That was a joke. For real though, I will 100% be there in spirit.

Only, I wouldn’t write it. I’d say it. Less room for misinterpretation and analysis.

go ahead, ask




If you have questions or need advice on anything from where to eat to how to get over the bastard, just email your question to my advice email address.



  1. In reading this question I found myself thinking “It’s only a wedding, and you really have more important issues here”. What can you do to improve your current lot in life? Without knowing your background or circumstances I am making general comments, and it is nothing personal here because I don’t even know who you are. You control your life; no one else does. I believe most people have special God given abilities which make each of us unique. What can you do to make your financial situation better? Work two jobs if necessary. Make a plan Stan. Lack of money creates much stress in one’s life. Not to sound corny here, but tomorrow is the first day of the rest of your life. Wake up early, do some exercise, and figure out what to do improve your economic life so you can feel good about yourself! As far as the wedding goes, if she is a real good friend, then, you should be able to tell her you love her and truly care about her, etc. Speak from your heart and let her know what you are feeling. True friendship should be unconditional.
    It’s a beautiful day and tomorrow your life is going to change…for the better once you dedicate yourself to finding that gold ring at the end of the rainbow.

    1. Spoken like someone who has no idea of the economic realities of today…there are NO jobs in some places…my sister tried to get a job at McDonald’s and they wouldn’t hire her because she was overqualified. Having a college degree isn’t getting anyone a job these days…it’s just the luck of the draw. I am thankfully employed but have been in the position of the unemployed as has my husband. You have no idea how many people apply for jobs. Our last Teacher Assistant position in a teeny tiny rural community had 200 applicants…150 of them were perfectly qualified. How do you narrow it down when they all need the job NOW?
      Don’t give other people advice on getting a job when the general theme of the economy is NO JOBS AVAILABLE.

  2. Being poor is nothing to be ashamed of, it’s the stupid, that bothers me.

    Your Charlie Sheen size ego thinks that the show can’t go on without you?

    Lady, save yourself having to give road side blow jobs, to get back to your cardboard box, near the highway, after the wedding.

    Since you claim to belong to a ‘less formal culture’ tactfully tell her that you are doing an episode of ‘Intervention’ on her wedding day, and that you’ll send her her malt liquor, in the mail.

    Happy International Woman’s Day!!!

    1. What a cruel, cruel thing to write, Helen. I saw nothing in there that implied a big ego–just a friend who understands that declining an invitation may truly hurt someone’s feelings. Your attempt at assuming an attitude and delivery like Artie Lang is pitiful.

      Love how the ‘stupid’ bothers you. Oh, the irony.

      Anyway, Florida wedding gal, I hear you. I would tell your friend something like ‘with a heavy heart, i have to decline. I have agonized over this decision but my budget just won’t swing it–even with your kind and generous offer. Please know in your heart that I treasure our friendship, and if my situation were any different I’d be there in a heartbeat. I’m so thrilled and excited for you and wish you and ____ so much joy and happiness!’

    2. Geez Helen, did we read the same thing? Ego?? This woman could not have been anymore humble.

      Your response has me so perplexed.

    3. Not the first, second or third time Helen has made some seriously disturbing comments. Please disregard her negative comments. I wish you the best in making the most of your life. There are many social service groups that you may consider if you feel you need additional assistance. Take care.

    4. “Helen” (I doubt you have the balls to use your real name): You are obviously dying for attention, so I’ll go ahead and bite… You are fucking crazy. Not just cruel and heartless, but downright loco. Fortunately for this lovely reader seeking advice, one can get past financial difficulties. Unfortunately for you, I think only a frontal lobotomy would rid you of your crazy. Namaste, sweetheart.

  3. This is really a no brainer. Tell her that you can’t go and you may want to tell her why if she’s really that good of a friend.

  4. If she’s that good of a friend, then why doesn’t she already know of your living situation? That said, she’d know you cannot afford to be at her wedding 3000 miles away.

  5. Definitely call her but rehearse what you’re going to say so you don’t get over-emotional. Love Stephanie’s idea for a terrific, yet inexpensive gift. I’m sure your friend will understand.

  6. I, too, am wondering if she is a close friend why she doesn’t already know about your financial situation. That said, I don’t think a lot of the commenters above get it either. They are suggesting you buy an inexpensive gift when you’ve clearly said that even a cheap gift is taxing your already stretched money flow. You have to tell her straight what’s going on.

  7. I think once you tell someone that you have zero disposable income, they won’t expect a gift. Even a small one. Doesn’t mean you can’t take the time to handwrite a nice letter to the bride telling her how much you value her and that you wish them happiness.

    Hopefully a stamp is in the budget because showing her that you’re thinking of her should be enough.

  8. Dear friend,

    I applaud you recognzing your limitations. So many people are so over their heads and can’t say no. Whether you’re from a more or less formal culture really isn’t relevant. Stephanie’s advice is spot on – just send a lovely card with a wonderful message. I was married last year and some of the best gifts were heart written notes. As a side note, some of our capable (very) capable friends didn’t event arrive/nor later deliver the gift. Trust me a note will be a wondeful treasured gift. And for you, dear, – pat yourself on the back for living within you means.

    Kind regards,


  9. oops. A few errors here. Too much wine on a Friday night. I’m certain you get my gist.

  10. I think that the wisest root is honesty.

    Explain what you just wrote, the way you wrote it to your friend. Tell her that you care for her and will understand if she cannot afford to fly you over; but make sure he/she understands that you really can’t afford to do it.

    And don’t do it by email. Skip a meal if you have to, but call her.

    Kind regards,

    Cpt JPMSC

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