In a world where even gold-dig­ging isn’t what it used to be, what’s a mod­ern mooch to do?


Town & Country (Philippines) - - T & C - By Mar­shall Hey­man

back when peo­ple still read books in­stead of binge-watch­ing net­flix, edith whar­ton’s The House

of Mirth was a cau­tion­ary tale for the as­pir­ing so­cial climber. Pity poor lily bart, who tried too hard to find a wealthy and el­i­gi­ble suitor and ended up—spoiler alert!—in even worse shape than sim­ply pen­ni­less and alone.

it’s likely a few strag­glers with stars in their eyes still scheme with the in­ten­tion of find­ing a rich hus­band or wife. but the reper­cus­sions of mar­ry­ing solely for money don’t al­ways play out so well, and the truth is it’s overkill. why chain your­self to an other­wise un­ap­peal­ing spouse when pri­vate jet rides, un­end­ing stays in that ly­ford cay guest cot­tage, hun­dreds of thou­sands of in­sta­gram fol­low­ers, or al­most any other mod­ern-day sta­tus sym­bol is at­tain­able via a strate­gic friend­ship?

“You don’t come to new York to look at but­ter­flies,” says one fash­ion pub­li­cist who mar­ried a man in the travel in­dus­try not for love but for ac­cess to in­ter­na­tional first class tick­ets. “You come with a goal. it’s very busi­ness-driven.” mean­ing it’s all about your net­work. in turn, gold-dig­ging, that clas­sic pas­time, has be­gat “friend-dig­ging”—us­ing your clos­est cir­cle to get ahead.

so­cial climb­ing in this man­ner has been around for cen­turies. Think of John Ja­cob as­tor, tru­man capote, madonna, or even don­ald trump. “You’re ei­ther on the Z list or the d, mov­ing to c or b or a,” says r. couri hay, a pub­li­cist hired by so­cial fig­ures to make names for them­selves in new York. “wher­ever you start, you’re mov­ing up with well-placed ap­pear­ances, well-writ­ten notes, and mem­o­rable con­ver­sa­tions.” or by get­ting tips from The So­cial

Climber’s Bi­ble, which the writer dirk wit­ten­born pub­lished with his niece Jazz John­son as a par­ody. one sec­tion dis­cusses how our Pilgrim fore­fa­thers “would have starved to death had they not shame­lessly sucked up to the in­di­ans and in­vited them to cater that first Thanks­giv­ing.” wit­ten­born says he was as­tounded to learn that many read­ers use it as an in­struc­tion man­ual. tips range from in­vest­ing in art or films to get closer to the right kinds of peo­ple, to how ex­actly to be­have at a cock­tail party. how­ever, read­ers of dif­fer­ent ages take dif­fer­ent mean­ings from the book.

“i’m from a gen­er­a­tion that wanted our lives to be a french movie, but i see a lot fewer peo­ple th­ese days look­ing to have an af­fair. it’s not a very ro­man­tic time,” wit­ten­born says. “The goal now is to make their lives seem more fab­u­lous than they are, and they go into the ex­change that way. There’s not a lot of guile any­more.”

es­pe­cially now that it’s eas­ier than ever to seem more ex­tra­or­di­nary than you might be. friend-dig­ging has be­come so wide­spread be­cause, in the so­cial me­dia age, it earns div­i­dends. in­sta­gram means there are ben­e­fits, both so­cial and fi­nan­cial, to ap­pear­ing to have a fab­u­lous life— be­yond, you know, ac­tu­ally hav­ing one.

“Peo­ple re­al­ize you can mon­e­tize so­cial ca­chet,” says one movie ex­ec­u­tive who has worked her way into many a golden globes party as a plus-one but who also has a hamp­tons house to of­fer in re­turn. “look at han­nah bronf­man. i made fun of her when she was post­ing all this stuff”— i.e., self­ies any­where and ev­ery­where— “but now she’s mak­ing a lot of money.”

The ex­ec­u­tive be­lieves that it’s all about align­ing your­self with the right peo­ple not just in real life but also vir­tu­ally. a stylist can get en­dorse­ments and deals by show­ing off her celebrity friends and clients, for in­stance. “then you be­come part of the squad.”

The fact that it’s so easy nowa­days to con­nect with the peo­ple you as­pire to be­friend—via e-mail, in­sta­gram tags, di­rect twit­ter mes­sages—means the tar­gets of friend-dig­ging are more sus­pi­cious than ever.

“i get out­reach ev­ery day on so­cial me­dia for con­nec­tions, for fa­vors, for jewelry,” says one pop­u­lar and suc­cess­ful jewelry de­signer. “it gives peo­ple who are strangers the feel­ing that they can be in­ti­mate with peo­ple they aren’t.”

“no ques­tion the in­ter­net makes it eas­ier to find peo­ple,” says Jean shafiroff, a phi­lan­thropist and the sub­ject of a 2017

New York Times pro­file head­lined “climb­ing the so­cialite lad­der, one gala at a time.” now that she has ar­guably made a suc­cess­ful as­cent, shafiroff her­self of­ten re­ceives e-mails from peo­ple she does not know re­quest­ing in­vi­ta­tions to par­ties. “i’ll cer­tainly google them and find out what they’re about,” she says. “but you don’t do that. You don’t in­vite your­self to par­ties. if some­one wants to be a friend, they should in­vite me out for a cup of cof­fee.”

a sim­ple iced latte at via Quadronno, though, can lead to a life­time of field­ing re­quests from a re­lent­less mooch. hay, the pub­li­cist, be­lieves that so­cial climb­ing hasn’t changed much over the years. cer­tainly, hav­ing money to do­nate to well-re­garded and fash­ion­able causes helps, but some less ex­pen­sive tricks of the trade in­clude find­ing an older, es­tab­lished men­tor; send­ing sub­tle gifts; mak­ing wellplaced ap­pear­ances; and mas­ter­ing the art of sparkling con­ver­sa­tion.

“Peo­ple still ex­pect you to be clever and witty and smart and savvy and cur­rent while stay­ing away from re­li­gion and pol­i­tics,” hay says. “but it’s such a crowded space. it’s harder and harder to stand out.”

of course, there’s hav­ing money, and then there’s hav­ing ac­cess. “once you get the mcman­sion, you’re go­ing to feel hol­low un­less you have all the tin­sel on it,” wit­ten­born says, mean­ing that the quest for sta­tus doesn’t end with things. over the sum­mer, in st.-tropez, one globe-trot­ting so­cialite who has ma­neu­vered her way onto many a pri­vate jet watched as a blonde new Yorker made it onto a mu­tual friend’s yacht with­out an in­vi­ta­tion sev­eral days run­ning. the blonde took pho­tos of the scene and posted them on so­cial me­dia as soon as she got on the boat.

“she has her own money—it’s not that,” says the globe-trot­ter. it’s about be­ing in the right place at the right time with the right peo­ple. and if they can’t get there on their own, some strivers will in­vite pop­u­lar house­guests to stay with them in the hopes of tag­ging along to the hap­pen­ing party when they them­selves haven’t been in­vited. if in­sta­gram­ming from an ex­clu­sive event is the new so­cial cur­rency, some peo­ple will get it by any means necess­sary.

but per­haps friend-dig­ging is just a term that sur­faces when you sim­ply don’t like the peo­ple you’re hang­ing out with. “if i had a bil­lion dol­lars, i’d be happy to have my friends travel with me,” says the glo­be­trot­ter. “wouldn’t you?”

an­other new York–based so­cialite echoes that idea, ob­serv­ing that some­times those who seem like friend-dig­gers to out­siders are re­ally just peo­ple you hap­pen to en­joy hav­ing around. “You don’t look at it as if they’re us­ing you. You look at it as, ‘i don’t want to be lonely,’ ” says the so­cialite. “if you’re a bil­lion­aire, you have a lot of empty houses to fill.”

“You don’t come to new York to look at but­ter­flies—You come with a goal. it’s verY busi­ness-driven.”

The big dig The Tal­ented Mr. Ri­p­ley por­trayed the phe­nom­e­non of friend-dig­ging at its most mur­der­ous.

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