Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

The Cheap Friend

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on June 18, 2012

Maya comes in fuming about Lauren, age fifty-two. Lauren’s relationship to money, like her relationships to important people, speaks to a certain amount of withholding and selfishness. Maya, fifty-one, complains to me that her dear friend Lauren is “incredibly cheap.” “We go out to dinner and she always has to use a coupon, and then she never wants to contribute to the tip, and then, she thinks it is fun if we can go to an event, even one we don’t care about, if there is free food. I just hate it,” Maya continues. “I hate that each time we hang out, the focus becomes on how we can get something for free or for very low-cost. I just want to connect with her and have a really good conversation, whereas she is focused on having an evening where she can then brag about how she got something for a really good price.” “Is this a new problem?” I ask, knowing that Maya has been friends with Lauren for at least the last fifteen years. “No, but it is getting to me more. Now, I know you are going to ask me why I have become more sensitive to this, and of course, I have been thinking about that. My hunch is that as I get older, I am more and more focused on enjoying my relationships and so this makes me less patient with my friends and family who seem to be so neurotic that it detracts from our connection. Lauren may be having a good time, but I am not and Lauren knows that I don’t get pleasure out of getting something for half-price, so I see Lauren as being a bit selfish in those moments.” I pause to reflect on Maya’s analysis of her upset. “It sounds like you are saying that Lauren’s constant search for a bargain is a narcissistic act and as such, it takes away from the intimacy of your relationship.” “Yep,” Maya enthusiastically agrees with my re-stating her understanding of the disappointment that she experiences when thinking about Lauren. “I suppose you could talk to Lauren about this, or you could assume that this is an irritant to you, but that you will put up with it, given all of the other goodness that she brings to your life.” “Yea, I know that, but I am not sure what to do,” Maya says, acknowledging that she has already thought about whether to confront Lauren or whether to suck up her discontent. “Friendship can be hard when narcissistic forces dominate the interaction.” I say, making an overarching comment, not specific to Maya and Lauren. “Yea, I don’t think her cheapness dominates our relationship, but it certainly gets to me,” Maya says, reminding me that she has maintained perspective with regards to this irritant. In this session,  Maya has done most of the psychoanalytic work, while I sit back and appreciate her reflecting on this important friendship.  I have a deep sense of pride that I have helped Maya analyze her dilemmas in a way which is both balanced and authentic. It was a good day.

4 Responses to “The Cheap Friend”

  1. Shelly said

    I’m sure it was exciting to you to see that Maya used the tools she learned in sessions with you to analyze her discomfort with Lauren. Although your job is to teach Maya how to evaluate her feelings and dissect her relationships, it still is important for her to learn how to give and take in order to maintain these friendships, is it not? If after explaining to Lauren how she feels about eating out each time on a coupon, and that sometimes she would prefer to pay full price, etc… and that she really enjoys spending uime with Lauren…could she not learn the art of compromising too?

    • Yes, Maya needs to learn to give and take, but as you say, first, she needs to understand her discomfort. Friendships can be complicated in that the give and take needs to feel balanced, more or less, in order for resentments not to dominate the interaction. Generally speaking, Maya feels that she gives more than she takes and so she feels that her task is to become more assertive in her relationships so that she does not simmer with bad feelings. On the other hand, she deeply appreciates how important Lauren is to her, so she does not want to alienate her. This dilemma presents an internal struggle in which she often gets stuck. Thanks.

  2. Jon said

    Much to her credit, Maya seems to have learned a great deal about self-psychoanalysis. To my mind, this brings up the question of a “Stopping Criteria” – when to reduce the frequency of psychotherapy sessions and when to say that they are no longer needed. If a patient has gained enough understand to correctly self-assess the psychic landscape, it might be that that patient is well on the road to live a life with less frequency sessions with a doctor. Perhaps a periodic “heading check” would be good. Are there any guidelines to how the doctor/patient relationship changes as such growth occurs?

    • Oh Jon, you bring up a very important point. Like development, there is a period of time where is a child is very dependent on their parents, but gradually, independence comes such that the relationship between child and parent changes. In a similar fashion, the therapist/patient relationship evolves to a point where the frequency diminishes, but the connection is deep. The “guidelines,” as you say, are intuitive, highlighting once again, the art of psychotherapy.

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