John D. Spooner is an investment adviser, author and novelist. His most recent book is No One Ever Told Us That: Money and Life Lessons for Young Adults. Here, he responds to queries from advice seekers of all ages. Send your conundrums to email@example.com.
I’m in my late 20s and have lived in Boston for the past five years. But full-fledged adulthood is setting in and many of my close friends are getting married. As excited and happy as I genuinely am for them, I’ve noticed that their free time afterward wanes and now it’s always me taking the initiative to stay in their lives. That said, each time we get together, either one-on-one or in a group, the chemistry is wonderful. But all the initiative work is starting to wear on me, and I don’t want to let that turn into festering resentment toward the people I love best. My question then is two-fold: One, how realistic is it to keep married friends for years to come and at what point should I simply stop trying? And two, since my boyfriend and I are starting to talk about marriage ourselves, what carrot and/or stick options are there for us not to fall into the same world-omitting trap, particularly if we don’t want children and will be reliant on our social group for years to come? Well, everything changes in life and not necessarily for the better. We have to change as well—sometimes, to survive. Maybe that sounds dramatic, but it’s true. People also grow at different rates. Perhaps you’ve outgrown boyfriends in the past because they proved not as open as you are to certain things.
My answer to your first question: I would guarantee that as your friends increasingly marry, most of them will fall off your radar as time goes by. You’ll change your job perhaps, live elsewhere, find that they didn’t grow over the years and got boring. Or divorced. You’ll look back and say, “Can’t believe we were such good friends years ago.” But you’ll have to reach out to friends on a constant basis if you want to keep them. It is up to you. If you think that you are worthy and interesting and fun, you don’t have a problem reaching out—because you know that you’ll always be a treat for them. How do I know this? I’m a free-range chicken (or rooster) myself. I’m out with married couples constantly, and I most often make the call to keep the friendship rolling. Despite all the challenges of relationships, it is still a world of couples. If you’re alone, you have to work at a social life. Most of it doesn’t get delivered.
As for you and your boyfriend, couples in the best long-term relationships I know really only need each other, not necessarily children or friends. They’re a unit—swans mating for life. This is rare but it can be done. Part of me thinks that if he becomes your husband and your best friend, a lot of things that worry you will be meaningless. Friends come and go; these things evolve. You make new friends. You lose old ones. A precious few survive as friends of yours forever. More important is your career and giving yourselves “the good life,” doing well economically. You do that, and everything else will follow. Including friends.
What is your advice to recent college graduates who have a full-time job and are trying to build up their savings account but pay rent and are paying back mountains of student loan debt, all while trying to maintain a social life? Is this all fair? Of course not. Last year’s class came out of school with an average of $37,172 in student debt, far more than past generations. Fortunately, we don’t have debtors’ prison anymore. You can stretch out your debt payments for years as long as you contribute something toward what you owe on a regular basis. Or you can take an aggressive posture and invest your way out of debt. If your job offers a 401(k) plan, invest in it for maximum growth, not income. Try to put the most allowed into the plan, even if you have to have one less tequila at night. Put a little more into your future, growing your assets, and a little less into your past, paying off loans. I don’t mean to give a quick answer to a very complicated question, and college costs are out of control, with often too much money for too little education. But I’ve always believed that growing assets has been the best way to eventually pay down debt. ◆