Friends on a Budget

A while ago I took an International English Language Testing System test in Bangkok. There was a speaking test where I sat in a small room no larger than an elevator with an assigned examiner. One examiner appeared to collect his test taker and I recognized him right away because, two years ago, he had sent unsolicited photos of his penis to seduce me on Grindr. Fortunately he wasn’t my examiner.
The IELTS speaking test covers general topics such as family, career or relationships, which could be hard or difficult depends on the level of honesty you intend to use at the test. My examiner started by asking me about life in a big city and somehow he asked me how many friends do I have in Bangkok. That was when I started giving answer like I was having a breakdown—whining about how I don’t have any friends. The examiner, forbidden from getting too personal with the test taker, just nodded and gave me a look, which seemed to say; ‘You know I am not your therapist, right?’
Just into my late twenties, my friends are starting to disappear. It is becoming harder to invite a friend out to party. When I go online looking for connections — I wind up receiving a bunch of penis photos I could use to start a porno gallery website. I own that phone that you have to shield from your colleagues when you open photos on your camera roll.
“Don’t swipe the photo any further.” I told a colleague who was enjoying photos of my cat on my iPhone.  Come lunchtime our budgets are limited to a promotional hamburger at McDonald’s. Happy Hour is now an extravagance that if we want to drink, we have to partake of the parking lot of our office building. If this has happened to me I’m sure that my friends are the same.
We have reached a certain age where it would be embarrassing to get financial support from our parents for things like parties and weekend getaways. Most of my friends are struggling to stand on their own two feet. Some are in a relationship just because they can split the rent with their partner.
Planning things ahead is often bound to fail as what begins with five to ten people expressing their enthusiasm always ends up with two, or less when it’s time for travel. We become wiser by not planning anything together anymore. Because we know that it’s when we don’t have any plan that is  most effective. If a friend calls me out of the blue on a Friday night, I know for certain that I’m in for a night of drama as it’s always an occasion for a friend who has just broken up with her boyfriend, a friend who got fired, a friend who got a new job…
We are descending into a different circle of friends and keeping the original circle for reasons like “Sam, I need to borrow your money.” A friend will call on a Friday evening asking if I can transfer money to her bank account. She’s going to a party with her new bffs while I get down on my knees to scoop cat shit into the garbage can and racking my brain for my mobile banking password.
It’s clear that I , too, am in need of a new crew. But the only progress I seem to have make so far is getting a new cat that gives me a load of extra chores.
Living in the CBD has its drawbacks. One of them is that my friends live far away and they hangout in Izakaya restaurants in their neighborhoods. It’s hard to convince them to come over when the bars and restaurants in the center charge you twice as much for the same thing you can get elsewhere. Whenever I go out into a bar and see someone my age with a glass of Hoegaarden or an extra-large seafood platter on table I no longer think “Whoa! A yuppie.” But, “Whose money are you spending?”
I steer my social efforts toward colleagues. All of them are over thirty and I think I could use some of their hindsight and avoid making potential mistakes people make in their late twenties. But it’s hard to understand them when you’re the only person in your twenties at the office who wants to make friends or grab a drink with someone after work. Unless you can relate to some of their problems: their children’s tuition fees, health insurance, or cervical cancer. They are on a budget. The only person at the office who hits me up for Happy Hour is a man who hates his wife’s cooking and I’m the only available one.
It seems the budget only gets tighter and tighter as you’re aging and get serious about making a living. Somehow hanging out with new friends in a fancy brunch restaurant is part of making personal growth when you move to a new city. The friendship that costs you double regular price tells you what you  think of your friend – the one you take for granted and whose money you borrow, who hangs out with his thirty-something colleagues and scrapes cat shit off the floor.

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