Last year, my daughter tried to convince me that getting her an iPhone would be “a great investment.” I had to explain to her the difference between an expense and an investment. An expense is the outlay of money to pay for an item or service; an investment is the outlay of money in order to gain a profitable return (e.g., interest, income, or appreciation in value). So if I purchase an iPhone, the money I spend is an expense. At the same time, Apple shows a return-on-investment for their development costs.
Money is not the only resource that can be spent or invested. Merriam-Webster online defines resource as (1) Something that can be used for support or help; (2) An available supply that can be drawn on when needed. In a relationship, the most common resources requested or offered are time, availability, and emotional energy.
A return-on-investment in a relationship means that the time, availability, and emotional energy you put out comes back to you. A relationship expense costs you without offering you a return.
How do you know if a relationship is an expense or an investment?
I offer two tests. First, how often are you asked to give as opposed to receive? The phone rings. It’s a friend asking:
- “I’m moving on Saturday. Can I use your truck?”
- “I’m so mad at my boyfriend I could scream! Can we meet after work?”
- “My fight arrives at 9:30 tonight. Do you think you could pick me up at the airport?”
If you are on the receiving end of these type of calls, your relationship might be an investment. But it’s more likely that over time, unless these acts are reciprocated, you will view that relationship as a giant Black Hole called a relationship expense. Either your relationship finds some equilibrium, or you might end up frustrated, burned out, or even resentful.
Which leads to the second test. How does the relationship make you feel and act? The phone rings, you receive an email, there’s a knock at your door. It’s your “friend.” What do you feel, what do you do?
- The phone rings. Caller ID tells you it’s your friend. You sigh. You ignore it. Or if you do answer it, you do it with a look on your face that would be familiar to anyone new to slaughter house work.
- You get an urgent email from your friend. You know it’s urgent because it’s marked URGENT. And all emails from this person are marked URGENT. Instead of reading it, you finish playing Mafia Wars, and then you walk away from your computer.
- There’s a knock at your door. It’s your friend, and you weren’t expecting to see him/her. You quietly back away from the door and hide in the shadows as if the visitor were carrying a stack of materials designed to sell you a new religion.
We all have limited resources, and we get to choose where we spend or invest those resources. In every relationship, there will come times where we are asked to give in a way that is disproportionate to what we receive. And there will come times when we have multiple demands placed on us, and it becomes impossible to expend our limited energy on both our top priorities and the top priorities of our friends.
Maybe you don’t have any relationships in your life that are expenses at this time. Is it possible that you have become an expense to someone else, that perhaps you receive all of the benefits while someone else pays for it?
For a relationship to demonstrate a positive ROI, it must have reciprocity. If you typically find yourself on the giving end, talk about it. If you have a true friendship, this will draw you closer together and not further apart. If your normal role places you on the taking side of things, what can you give back?