The economics of friendship

First of all, I have a Miley Cyrus song stuck in my head because after watching this parody, I went and watched the original, before watching the parody again. So technically I have a parody of a Miley Cyrus song stuck in my head. Hmm, still doesn't help my case.

Secondly, I was walking to work yesterday morning with a friend - the same friend who has dial-up and mocked me for writing about My Feelings on this blog - who found even more reasons to divorce herself of my friendship. Last week she said my life wasn't scandalous enough to warrant us hanging out. This week, as a consequence of my non-scandalous life, she complained that our walks together are so draining that she needs to grab another coffee afterwards to wake her up for the second time for the day (she feeds on scandal like a plant feeds on sunlight. My presence obviously starves her). "What, is there not enough caffeine in my breath to keep you awake?" I joked.

So along the way, whenever a coffee shop passed us by I offered to buy her a coffee. She refused of course, knowing that I was only doing this to annoy her, but after maybe the 3rd coffee joint she came up with an excuse for her refusals: "I can't! Because if you spend money on me, and I haven't got any money to spend on you, then it creates an imbalance in the bank of friendship." (OK so that's not the exact quote, but it went something like that).

In response I asked if she wanted to apply for an overdraft, or hear of various loan repayment schemes (I would have taken payments from her mum, but I kept that line to myself), but it got me thinking about whether or not there was something more to her choice of metaphor; whether there is some sort of economic model I could apply to this situation.

Bad economics
Where my friendship could be headed

I looked to the internet to see if somebody else has tried to do a similar thing, and several people had. Some were more philosophical than others, some were very technical and I even came across a few scientific papers on the subject. One page seemed to sum it up best with our good friend, the law of supply and demand:

One of the first things they teach you in introductory economics is the law of supply and demand. A price equilibrium is reached at the point where supply and demand intersect. All that means is that both parties are getting what they want for what they think is a fair price.

Supply and demand graph

I guess you could say friendship is established at that equilibrium point where both parties are happy with whatever they're getting from the other person.

The kind of relationship between dial-up girl and I is simple, but there is a mutual equality to it. We don't really organize to see one another but talk when we do, usually at friends' parties or when our paths happen to cross. Dial-up girl however has a tendency to feel a tremendous amount of guilt at the smallest infractions, and so my joke of buying her a coffee to make-up for the boring-ness that is my life was perceived as throwing a little - but just enough by her standards - imbalance into the equation.

[L]ooking at friendship as an economic transaction might seem a little cold and callous, but really, it's what we were all taught when we were younger. Life is about give and take. You can't just give give give or else you'll burn out. It's also the trademark of a sucker. And if you take take take, eventually people are going to realize that they're not getting anything out of your friendship. We should always be aware of what we're offering to other people. If we look at it like that, it'd be easier to understand why people interact with us in a certain way.

I can think of a few people who could learn a little from watching what they offer. Hug nazi in particular used to give too much, and then started feeling bad when people stopped accepting her generosity, thinking that people didn't want her help anymore - she failed to understand that those on the receiving end started to accumulate some guilt at having taken so much. Several younger siblings of families I know often take too much, and then become ungrateful when the charity comes into question or stops - they fail to realize the effort being made by the gift-giver.

So what did I learn?

  1. I shouldn't have joked so much about the coffee.
  2. I totally should've said I'd take repayments from her mum.
  3. No more coffee for dial-up girl :P