Economics can be really hard. During my Academic Decathlon days, I filled in all the ‘C’ bubbles on the answer sheet and handed it in to the proctor, who would always give me side-eye. In college, however, something clicked and I ended up getting a BS in Econometrics and Quantitative Analysis. Go fig. For those of you that didn’t study economics in school, I’ve included a YouTube clip that explains how supply and demand (in theory) actually function.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the economy, and people’s general disposition and moods tend to fall. There’s more depression, coping behavior, general unhappiness, less money, fewer jobs, and it takes a lot more than it used to to stimulate both the economy and ourselves. With the economy in the dumps, does that mean eventually our hearts and heads get the same way as our wallets? Empty?
A forever student of economics, I am a firm believer that it’s applicable to our lives and relationships. In my markets, there are two types of people: producers and consumers. There are those for humor – the producers are the ones that make the jokes, and the consumers are the ones that laugh at them – and those for advice – producers are the ones that the consumers always go to for guidance – and….if there are producers and consumers for these aspects, is there one for friendship?
Friendship is supposed to be a two way street – you both share good and bad times, lean on each other, and generally have a symbiotic relationship. But if the P&C theory is true, there are friendship producers, who I would hypothesize are the “good friends,” the ones that lend you a hand, the shoulders to cry on, the perpetual advice givers and check-picker-uppers. The friendship consumers are the ones that….well…need all that stuff. Sometimes, producers go overboard – maybe they’re always taking you to lunch, or picking you up, or offering to listen to you when you bitch about work. In a perfect economy, the consumers would follow the demand curve, and there would be a surplus of good deeds – eventually demand of these deeds would fall, and the world would be at equilibrium again.
But life is not a perfect economy. In life, when producers produce too much, and the supply goes up, why doesn’t demand fall, and instead it seems like the consumers continue to suck up as much as the producers will give them.
I have a friend – she’s a nice person, and is thoughtful and cares about the people in her life. But she’s a friendship consumer, and sometimes I wonder if she even realizes how much she does it. The other day, the phone rang while I was at lunch, and even though I know it’s wrong, I ignored the call. She called immediately again, and I once again ignored it – but I did send her a text that I was in a meeting, so what’s up? Of course, she told me to call when I could, and so I did….
Twenty-two minutes and forty seven seconds later, we hung up. I had said literally 35 to 40 words, including “Hey, what’s up? Sorry I couldn’t take your call before, I was in a meeting.” The rest of my words included, “Mmhmmm,” “yeah,” “awwww,” and “Ok, see you later, talk to you soon.” Sometimes we need to vent, but the two times previous to this call, I was on the phone for an hour plus, and two hours plus, because perhaps she just wanted a different perspective, or maybe she wanted sympathy, or maybe she just needed to unload. But-three strikes you’re out. She’s a friendship consumer.
My other friend is a producer. He’s thoughtful, generous, and willing. He’s got a good sense of humor and can sometimes get taken advantage of when he’s in full-on producing mode. I see people consuming all the effort he produces, and sometimes it ends up biting him in the ass. That being said, I do try to reciprocate – I’m letting him use a large section of basement as a free storage unit, until he buys a house; he catches a free ride to the races in New Jersey (because driving there is horrible); and I occasionally send him home with baked goods.
Because friendships seem to lack Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand, they need to be guided by our interactions. So at what point do I, as a producer, tell her to back the freight train up and actually be appreciative for once? Or that I can’t always be there picking up the phone to listen to her complain about her family for hours on end, when it’s the same stories over and over? And at what point does the other friend snap and stop letting people use him as a walking doormat? Is there even any way to say those things? In a perfect world, it would be a self-fulfilling prophecy where the producers would reduce because consumers would need less, and we’d be at a happy medium, but unfortunately it’s not, and both he and I will have to say something eventually. But sometimes, when you do finally say something, you have a big fight and you end up just like the real economy: down in the dumps.
But sometimes….just sometimes, if you’re very, very lucky, you experience the perfect equilibrium friendship – for me, this is the relationship I have with my best friend. We both produce and consume the amount which the other person needs, when they need it. It’s a forever moving supply and demand chart, and somehow, we always eventually figure out the equilibrium price and quantity before it’s too late. Granted, it took us over a decade to reach this point, but the bottom line is that we’re there, we’re stable, and she’s the only one for whom I will never stop increasing the supply.