I Love You, But I Can’t Afford Your Birthday Trip

Photographed by Beth Sacca.
One day, you pick up your phone and see you've been added to a groupchat for one of your friend's birthday trips. There's a full-blown agenda with the location, potential excursions, color schemes for outfits, and last but not least, the price of the entire trip. Immediately, you start to panic because you want to be a supportive friend, but just a few weeks ago, you made a budget (you can barely afford life as is). Still, regardless of your struggles at the moment, now that you've been added to the chat, an unspoken ultimatum has been presented to you: will you be a real or a fake friend? 
If your immediate response is "Oh girl, the trauma!" you're not alone; Black women across the globe have been facing the same unrealistic expectations when it comes to their friends’ birthday celebration for years. I say it's time we discuss this culture of entitlement as it concerns birthday trips that have become both impractical and irresponsible. 
Let's start with the hard, inarguable data. The median wage for Black women in the United States is $36,303. Say you have a friend group of three, and each girl wants to do an overseas trip. Based on this viral TikTok, a trip to a destination in Mexico is $3,350. If each member of your circle  wanted to travel across the country for a vacation that would cost a similar amount of money, in total, you'd be spending $10,050. That’s approximately 28% of Black women's income if you go off the average median wage. Now, let's put that into perspective. For Americans, 30% of their salary goes toward rent. Therefore, to be a “good friend," based on the examples and data provided, you'd have to spend almost the same amount you'd pay for rent in a year... on three trips. 
Is living above your means really a requirement to be a good friend
We're living in an era that's promoting a soft life, black girl luxury, and building generational wealth. You'd think that friends would want you to prioritize putting yourself in a position to achieve that lifestyle... even if that meant sacrificing a birthday trip or two. But that's not usually the case. These expectations aren’t just financially irresponsible; they’re pretty sketchy on an interpersonal level, calling into question our level of care and empathy for other people.
In a conversation with Moala Bannavti, 25, a postdoctoral research fellow, she shares that a conflict between her desire to get her finances in shape and the rising costs of a friend’s birthday trip resulted in a painful falling out.

We're living in an era that's promoting a soft life, black girl luxury, and building generational wealth. You'd think that friends would want you to prioritize putting yourself in a position to achieve that lifestyle... even if that meant sacrificing a birthday trip or two.

"I was traveling a lot during the months leading up to that particular time, so it came across as 'Well, you've been going here, there, and everywhere. My birthday just isn't important enough’,” Bannavati recalls of the fight that almost cost her a relationship. “I was like, 'No, your birthday is just unfortunately coming during the time I have financial responsibility’."
First and foremost, clocking how someone is spending their money (especially if not asked), is always inappropriate; you never know why people had to spend money to go to certain places or if there was extra money a person received. Bannavti's friend’s decision to view her choices as a lack of prioritization was unfortunate. "Communication is critical to thriving friendships," Bannavti adds. Secondly, if a friendship has true depth, the parties should trust each other to know that if they could, they would. You’d think a friend would say to themselves, 'Hmm, I know this person's character, and they'd never easily decline an invitation for such a monumental moment. Since they are, there must be a valid reason.' Fortunately, Bannavti's relationship was mended, but other women haven't had the same luck.
When a friendship ends over one person not having enough money, did the relationships have actual value to begin with? Ashley Oken, 31, an entertainment journalist, had the same question. After a childhood friend got upset with her for not being able to afford a trip, when the friend knew how much she made, she thought, If that's how you feel about everything. I don't want this friendship anymore; I think we're done. Oken's friend knew her struggles as a freelancer, and they were childhood friends who’d seen each other through breakups, grad school, and their parents' respective health. Yet, there was no consideration for her financial struggles, making Oken feel like she “wasn't really being listened to.” If not being present for one week out of the 52 in a calendar year makes someone a bad friend, the way we define healthy and mutually beneficial relationships needs to be addressed. 
In my personal experience, friendships have become surface-level. Developing and maintaining meaningful connections has become less of a priority than posting us at brunch or vacation on social media. I've been invited to multiple birthday trips and dinners without really knowing the birthday person. We were close in childhood or college, but now, not so much. Within the past year, we never touched based on how their family is, how they like their new job, or even where their mental health is ... just a few heart eyes in the DMs and interactions in a group chat that's struggling to stay alive. Yet, I was expected to blow a bag on birthday festivities. I respectfully declined; one, because of finances and two, because I needed to learn about those individuals again. If you're ever in a situation like mine, speak your truth politely. Say you can't afford the trip, but you still want to make the season memorable for them by paying for dinner or drinks. Then, when you both link up, start to rebuild the friendship. As you're growing the relationship, remember to save money for next year. It could all be so easy if both parties are level-headed and in the relationship for the long run.
As Black women, we must stop putting extra strain on ourselves and our relationships over birthday trips — there's already so much we have to fight through as a community financially. Statistics report that 30% to 40% of Black women work harder than white male and female counterparts to get the same results in corporate roles. Black women receive less than 0.35% of all VC funding. And, it's predicted that Black women won't reach pay equity until 2144. Allow these facts to paint a bigger picture and put things into perspective. A few viral TikToks cementing our expectations for birthday trips have us out of touch with the reality of struggles we’re all facing. 
So, the next time your friend says, 'I love you, but I just can’t attend your birthday trip this year,” consider not throwing away the relationship.

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