By Quentin Fottrell
“I’m not a ti-for-tat person, especially with friends. I often invite friends over for a drink’
After I hadn’t seen a friend for a few months, she asked if I wanted to go to a show with her that night, if she could get free tickets from work. I accepted with thanks. I expressed my enthusiasm throughout the evening and thanked her several times.
I felt that I was both openly and appropriately grateful. For example, I drove us to the theater and paid $10 for parking. When we had dinner I happily split the bill 50/50 even though she had a $15 cocktail and I had water.
The show was great! I told her how random it was because it ended up being a table reading of my all time favorite movie When Harry Met Sally. My friend had never seen the film. It was a Netflix/Seth Rogen (NFLX) fundraiser.
Later that evening, my friend texted me, “Since I got these tickets, can you get our next meal or activity?” I replied that she gave me the impression that the tickets were free. She replied that they were free, but, “It doesn’t matter because she still ‘got’ them.”
I said, “Oh, I guess you expected me to set dinner?” She replied, “No, that wouldn’t be fair because the tickets were free.” However, she repeated that I should still commit myself to taking care of our next social engagement.
I’m not a tit for tat person, especially with friends. I often invite friends over for drinks. However, this question confuses me. Was it distasteful not to set dinner? She told me about her new job and how she makes $30,000 more a year than I do.
She said she doesn’t want to go in circles about it and finds it very annoying. I told her I was sorry for disappointing her and sent her $30 through Venmo for her half of dinner. She didn’t accept it.
In the past year I have invited her and her husband to dinner twice and both times I have given them leftovers to take home. She has never hosted me and to be honest I never thought twice about it. I had her over because I wanted to.
If I took her out to dinner before the show, paid for parking, and drove, it would have cost about $80 for me and $0 for her. Is it reasonable to invite someone over to something (for free) and expect them to treat you?
I enjoy involving friends in fun activities and opportunities. Am I out of touch, cheesy, or unfairly unable to see where she’s coming from? I don’t know how to move forward with a casual friendship as that will feel like a elephant in the room.
I would like to answer her: “I would like to invite you to the next event, for which I will get free tickets. I’ll let you drive, pay for parking, and split the dinner bill, even if I get a second course and you don’t. I’ll make sure you pay next time.”
So far I have refrained from sending this SMS. What do you advise?
Your dilemma reminds me of this letter I received a few years ago. It’s very similar, but in this case the friend had snagged $70 tickets for free and surprised his friend by asking him to cover the bill for her pre-concert sushi ($150).
In that case, and in this case, you have been presented with a “gift tax”. Her friend put a monetary value on those theater tickets even though she got them for free, and believes she should be reimbursed for that market value.
This is of course ridiculous. First, she surprised you with her conditions after you got home, and second, she did it via text message. She could have said, “I’ve got the tickets, would you mind getting dinner?” You could have made a decision before you accepted.
You have two choices: admit it and invite that friend over for dinner? And do you want a friend who behaves so frugally? This is the kind of odd use of etiquette that can end a friendship, especially a casual one.
Even if you invited her over for dinner, there will be a bad aftertaste for both of you that probably won’t go away. With this friend, you’ll think twice about accepting or offering more invites, or even going Dutch in one evening.
Should you have offered dinner? That would have been generous and a nice touch, but I also believe that walking 50/50 and paying for parking and taking your friend home is just as acceptable. There is no right or wrong answer.
If you feel upset, uncomfortable, or bullied about asking your friend out for dinner, don’t do it. You offered her $30 and she didn’t take it. This is passive aggressive as she has made it clear that she believes she is out of pocket. (She is not.)
There is often a financial imbalance in friendships, but solid friendships are a safe place to discuss the state of affairs face-to-face, not via text and not after the fact. Your friend wasted all the goodwill of her invitation.
She can’t claim the moral high ground and ask you to pay for your next outing while refusing your $30. It’s too late for them to pretend it’s about anything other than monetizing free tickets. Do you really want a friend like that?
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