Q: A friend of mine borrowed $500 from me and said he’d pay me back in a couple of weeks. It’s been just over three months and I haven’t seen a dime of it. I still see him but it never gets brought up. Should I say something?
A: Uugh! I loathe these scenarios! Certainly not because you’ve done anything wrong, but rather because they’re so damn awkward. Perhaps I can give you clarity about one thing and that is that while you may be wistfully toying with the idea that perhaps he has innocently forgotten that he owes you money…he hasn’t. Five hundred dollars isn’t exactly along the lines of you buying his favorite microbrew at Happy Hour because he forgot his wallet. It’s a lot of money and there isn’t a chance that it just slipped his mind.
So where does this leave you? With a flakey friend and an uncomfortable situation on your hands. What always most aggravates me about scenarios like this is that while YOU haven’t done anything wrong, YOU’RE the one feeling frustrated and conflicted about the situation. Something is just egregiously bass ackwards about that but there you have it. So the way I see it you can choose Door A or Door B.
Door A follows the sage like wisdom that you don’t LOAN money to a friend or family member in need you GIVE it to them. If you can’t afford to give it away for nothing more than the good karma that you’re putting out in the Universe then don’t do it. Don’t even think about doing it unless you can be truly detached from any expectations of having the money paid back. I will also caution that for as sound as this principle is, it can still impact relationships and create an underlying current of disappointment. So before you go this route make good and sure that you truly have it in you to acknowledge that even the best of us, yourself included, could use a little grace now and then and what a privilege that perhaps you can provide that for someone you care about. I have also found that with this scenario it is often better to give it as a “gift” of paid rent or some such thing. Or even put the cash in one of those money holder cards and give it so it cements the fact in both your minds that this is a gift and that payback is not just unexpected, but unwelcome. Can you retroactively go back and make the intellectual amendment to consider your $500 a kindhearted donation from you to a friend in need? More power to you if you are able, but I would consider that a mental adjustment of heroic proportions as that wasn’t the agreed or original expectation.
Door B involves you saying something to your friend realizing full well that the future of your relationship may hang in the balance of his response. If he says he doesn’t have the money to pay you back right now, his next statement should be a definitive commitment as to when he will pay it back. Call them what you will, goals, deadlines, ultimatums or expectations, but the reality of the human psyche is that we don’t function well without them. Leaving it open ended that he will pay you back “when he gets the money” is a commitment that has little weight and less meaning. But I would ask you to look on this as an opportunity for your friendship to either deepen in its respect or for you to leave something and someone behind that isn’t worth your time much less your frustration. There was an instance not long ago where parents were buying materials for a project the kids were involved in at school. One of the boys in the class had parents who volunteered to pick up the items for the entire class and then they let us all know our share of the expense. To be fair it was a nominal amount; under $10.00 but a couple of parents neglected to pay them back right away and they sent out a very polite reminder email about the money that was due. Needless to say, I was one of those being reminded and I was mortified. I felt truly awful that my absent-mindedness put them in a position where they had to ask me for money I owed them. I don’t care if it’s $10 or $1000 it isn’t right. So I immediately put the cash in a card along with a Starbucks gift card worth more than the amount of money I owed them and most importantly an extremely sincere apology for having dropped the ball. They were, of course, appreciative, but once again, it was my mistake and therefore on me to try to make it right. So trivial as this example is, if once you bring it to his attention, your friend goes out of his way to make it right and OVERDELIVERS in terms of what is due, then your friendship will surely strengthen in its mutual respect and appreciation. If however your friend acts unaffected by the quandary he has created or worse yet, somehow entitle to your charitable giving then the friendship is most likely doomed. The bright spot however would be that if, indeed something of this insensitive sort is his response, this is a person that will undoubtedly continue to take advantage of you. Hard as it may be, you are far better off to put an end to the relationship now as what it will “cost” you in terms of not just dollars, but stress and heartache in the future is a price I can only hope you are unwilling to pay.
For matters where money is not the object, there is a Door Number 3 if you will. Some of you know that I have been very involved in horses all my life. Many years ago a horse of mine had to undergo a colic surgery and needed a lot of layup time to just heal and recover. I had a new baby and an enormous amount going on and we asked some very good friends of ours, who had a lovely horse facility, if they would care for him and allow him to rehab at their farm. We of course paid them just as we would if he was elsewhere, but it was an enormous mental relief to me to know that he was being cared for and looked after by a friend and someone I trusted. To make a long story short when the time came that life settled and I was ready to start riding again, I brought Max to an equestrian center Greg and I had bought and I cannot begin to explain the sense of crushing shock and distress that followed. Max, my pride and joy that was my first “baby” of sorts came off the horse trailer nearly 300 pounds underweight, uncared for, unkempt and looking like absolute shit. This is a magnificent animal that was worth a phenomenal amount of money and here he was looking like an animal that you’d be hard pressed to spend a nickel on at auction. My first emotion was being bitterly upset with myself. Max was my horse, my baby, my responsibility and I had let him down dreadfully. I hadn’t paid close enough attention to his well-being and he had suffered tremendously because of it. And while I will never be able to shake the feeling that I let this splendid animal and loyal friend down, I was beyond disappointed in the fact that friends and people I had trusted had treated him and their responsibility with such negligence and carelessness. But here’s the Door #3. I had to decide then and there that the past and future relationship I had with these friends was more important to me than what had happened and I never said a single word to them about it. Not one. What was there to be gained? There was no money that was to be paid back, no reasonable “compensation” for what happened. So I made the decision that ultimately Max was my responsibility and that I was the one who had fallen short. These friends didn’t owe me, I owed Max for letting him down so unspeakably. Do I consider this the literal truth? No, not really. But in the interest of our friendship combined with my own personal guilt, this is the path I chose and things have worked out for the best. So keep in mind that money is pretty cut and dry. It’s precise and relatively free of “interpretation” but other scenarios where friends disappoint you and let you down things aren’t quite as simple. So commit to trying your best to let the Big Picture make the decision rather than any immediate emotions you may be feeling. I don’t always manage these scenarios with Solomonic wisdom, but I’ll continue to give it the college try and hope you do too.