Fred learns the social cost of the careless pursuit of self-interest. He wants to hide his money problems, and he knows that pursuing a loan through official channels will mean revealing his troubles to his uncle Bulstrode. He chooses to find a co-signer through a more informal channel: friends. He settles on Caleb Garth. Fred soon learns that financial favors obtained on the basis of friendship incur far greater debts than official loans. Unlike a defaulted official loan, his inability to pay means more than the loss of pride, minor personal embarrassment, and a tirade from his father. He tries to save face by hiding his money problems, and nearly loses something more important: the woman he loves and the respect of a friend.

Like Bulstrode, Fred manipulates the web of social relations to his personal advantage. But his failure to meet his financial obligation entails a serious loss for the Garth family. Fred thus incurs another debt because he cannot meet the first. He will have far more difficulty in repaying this second debt. The second debt is more difficult to quantify because it cannot be measured with a determined amount of money. There is no way to measure the cost that the Garths suffer when they cannot apprentice their son. There is no way to measure the cost they suffer in having to ask their daughter for a portion of her savings. Mrs. Garth loses several years of earnings because Fred cannot pay the one-hundred-sixty pounds he owes Bambridge. Her ninety-two pounds represent years of hard work and frugality.

The relationships between men and women are characterized with unrealistic, stereotypical ideals. Lydgate's ideal wife is little more than a beautiful ornament. Rosamond's ideal exists only in romance novels. Dorothea's ideal is a "great soul," not a man. Casaubon's ideal is an utterly submissive servant. All of these ideals are produced by conventional gender roles. Men and women do not often relate to one another as individuals, but rather through the distorting lens of social expectations and their own self-delusion.

Lydgate's desire for independence from the entanglements of petty social obligations and politics continues to be frustrated. He believes naively that the merit of his work will automatically bring him professional success. Wrench loses his lucrative position as the Vincy family physician to Lydgate, and he resents the loss of income as well as the professional embarrassment. Lydgate wants to reform medical practice, but he doesn't take the time to deal with social and professional politics. Rather than including Wrench in his treatment of Fred's typhoid fever, he alienates him. He would be a more successful reformer if he took the time to include Wrench and educate him tactfully. He incurs resentment instead. In doing so, he breeds resistance against his new and improved methods of treatments.

Lydgate's entanglement in professional politics leads to a further social entanglement. His treatment of Fred draws him into Rosamond's proximity. He flirts with her as though he were merely playing a romantic game until social opinion forces him to be a gentleman. His disregard for the rules governing the relationships between men and women leads him into a troubled marriage.