In 2007, I was a multimillionaire. I traveled the world, I attended expensive galas, and (with my husband) donated vast sums of money to charities and political causes. I had friends in abundance; everyone returned my calls, invited me to their parties, and wanted to be “besties." I can’t lie, being in demand felt great—but I discovered the flip side of the coin in 2012, when my family and I lost everything.
Suddenly we needed friends. Badly.
I’d thought that when bad things happen to rich people, their friends dissipate like fog burning off Long Island Sound. We did have friends abandon us when the chips were down, but we also had plenty who stuck by us, stayed in touch and genuinely cared about how we were doing. In the process of navigating the tricky waters of friendship after losing everything, I discovered a few keys to building lasting connections across any financial strata.
1. Focus on what's real
I’ve had the chance to meet plenty of exciting, interesting characters. But I’ve also had to endure a lot of inane conversations, where people are talking about things like the practicalities of bringing a private hairdresser on vacation or the joys of finding a non-chatty chauffeur. Those conversations don’t have much substance, and I've learned that relationships built on discussing unimportant worries aren’t very reliable.
No matter what your income level, focus on friendships that are based in the true essentials of being human: love, kindness, family and the lifelong quest of cultivating empathy. Make sure the people you’re connecting with have some depth.
2. Don't try to draw a straight line between wealth and kindness
In theory, wealthy people have a lot more ability to be generous than people of lower income levels but in practice that doesn’t bear out. In fact, study after study have proven the exact opposite: Less financially secure people are more prone to acts of charity.
When my family was hard up, many of the people who stuck by our side, brought meals and passed hand-me-downs our way were people we knew in a service capacity: waiters we’d made friends with, personal assistants we’d had to let go. I learned the key is to meet people on a human level, to listen, to empathize and to care without regard to how much anyone has in the bank.
3. Never, ever judge
What I’ve really learned about friendship through all of this is that true friends will surprise you. One day the mega-wealthy friend you thought had forsaken you will ask you out to dinner. The acquaintance who read something nasty about you in the paper will phone you and your relationship will grow. People are unpredictable and making blind assumptions about them is rarely productive.
To assume that a rich person only wants to associate with rich people would be wrong. So would the suggestion that a less wealthy person is a hanger-on who “wants something.” People are filled with infinite complexity and…yes…fallibility. The heart, above all things, is difficult to predict. You’re better off withholding judgment, giving people the benefit of the doubt, and reevaluating as your understanding of them evolves.
More than anything else, I’ve found that my best friendships are with people who I’ve been real with. The ultimate truth of building lasting friendships is simple: to have friends worth binding to your soul, you have to be that sort of friend too.