Oh, so THIS is why they say not to mix money and friendship....
August 26, 2011 7:16 PM   Subscribe

How should I deal with a friend who owes me money and is (apparently) avoiding contact?

I recently made a decent-sized loan to a friend who was in a fairly urgent financial bind. He needed X amount, which he said he could pay back in three months (which I still feel confident is true). I told him that I could lend him 80% of X for that time, and could spot him the remaining 20% as well, but I would need that bit back much sooner. He offered to repay it the following week, which I said was fine.

He then called me, on time, to set up the repayment of the smaller amount. I knew I'd be seeing him soon, and said that it was no problem if he just wanted to get it to me the following week. We did get together then, but there were other people around and there wasn't much of an opportunity to discuss it.

I now haven't had any contact from him, and two more weeks have passed. I've sent him one message that didn't specifically mention the money, but that I hoped would generate a response (and indicate that I'm not seething mad, if it helped). He has not responded. I know that he's been traveling during part of this time, and is now mired in hurricane prep, fwiw.

My suspicion is that he is having a more difficult time coming up with the money than he'd thought and is ashamed about it. I'm torn between (A) feeling disrespected as a friend, both that he'd fail to keep his promise, but also that he hasn't shown the courage to just TELL ME (and apologize!) that he can't make the payment yet... and (B) wanting to be generous with a friend in need, not just financially, but emotionally. Forgiving, and kind.

It turns out that I am okay without the short-term repayment, but of course there's no way that he would know that, and honestly, it kind of hurts. Also, I realize that this whole he-can't-and-is-ashamed explanation is just one possible scenario of what's happening here. I recognize that it's possible that he's a jerk and is coldly taking advantage of me. I doubt it, but I know some version of that could be at play.

Should I just sit tight until he initiates contact with me? Should I try to re-establish a friendly connection without any mention of the loan? Should I be gracious and simply volunteer an "oh, by the way, I know we haven't had a chance to follow up on this, but it's cool if you just want to pay me back the whole X in three months?" Or should I be aggressive even if it risks pushing him further away? I'm sure there are other approaches that I'm not thinking of, too.

I feel very comfortable having a heart-to-heart with him about this once we've gotten over this apparent impasse, and definitely getting the overall repayment terms in writing, it just feels like there needs to be a baby step first to get us back into a functional, communicating relationship.

I'd be happy to provide any additional context but tried to keep this to the nub of the issue. Thank you in advance.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Money makes people crazy, and I've always believed that you should never loan money to someone unless you're fully prepared to get back none of it.

That said, if you really feel that he's ashamed at being unable to pay back the shorter-term loan, be up-front about it. Don't go into what you think his feelings are on the subject, but let him know that your circumstances have changed (being able to get back the full loan within three months).

Also be conscious of the fact that his lack of contact may have nothing to do with the money.
posted by xingcat at 7:20 PM on August 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

Send him an email, be kind and professional - DO NOT BE EMOTIONAL OR MUSHY.

In addition, and it has been said here before... Don't lend money you are not 100% willing to write off.

Nothings really gone wrong here (yet?) except that this is a business transaction and you are taking it personally thus far.
posted by jbenben at 7:24 PM on August 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Call him or send him an email in which you say something along the lines of, "hey, [friend], I haven't heard from you in a while, are you all right? Anyway, just wanted to tell you that you can repay the 20% with the rest, and that I don't need it as urgently as I thought I was going to. You busy Wednesday night? Let's get a pizza and watch some Arrested Development."
posted by phunniemee at 7:26 PM on August 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

Crud, hit post instead of preview. I meant to add:

That way you'll be able to 1) see if he's avoiding you because he's embarrassed, 2) remind him that he does, in fact, owe you money, and that you'd like to get it back at some point, but 3) you're not mad about it (yet) and you don't want to lose contact with him. (Because he's a friend and he owes you money.)
posted by phunniemee at 7:28 PM on August 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

It sounds like he respects clear boundaries but takes advantage of fuzzy boundaries. Here's an alternative imaginary story: First you needed it instantaneously. Then, a week later was fine. Then, you see him but left without talking to him. Then two more weeks go by. Now, he thinks you don't actually need it urgently, and he sure does! So, maybe he paid one part of it to one of the twenty other bill collectors knocking on his door, figuring he'd have another paycheck in hand before you two connected about this "immediate" need of yours that doesn't seem to really be a solid deadline at all. (Sorry to be uncharitable in the telling -- I'm not sure it's like that either.)

I think it will be helpful moving forward if you view this as business - business - business and establish a pattern of expecting to be paid, not being embarrassed about talking about it, and unemotionally communicating. The money is no big deal to you, and he was able to overcome his shyness or shame to ask for a loan, so you guys ought to be able to talk about this. (I'm not ready to assume that he's avoiding you based on one unreplied-to email, unless the two weeks of no-contact is also unusual.) I'd try to stick to the terms of your agreement in the future, since he was proactive on that date, and avoid fuzzy deadlines.

Since you most want communication about the money, communicate about the money. Personally, I'd stick to the original plan of him giving you the money now if at all possible, just to establish a pattern that you like to get paid back when you all agree that you'll get paid back. "Hi Bob, Hope you are staying safe and dry during this hurricane. I'm just checking in on when we could do the hand off for that $1000. There were too many people around at the pizza party to do it there, but I still have some short-term financial obligations, so could we set up a time soon? If something has come up on your end, let me know so we can figure out how to get through this. Thanks man. I hope all this hassle you're going through is getting a bit better." And if he's salaried, I'd send it on Wednesday, because Thursday is September 1st (paychecks).
posted by salvia at 8:01 PM on August 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

"The money is no big deal to you" -- by which I just mean that you don't really have an urgent need for it, not that it's not a big deal. My point was, the conversations could actually be pretty low stress, because if he needs a little extra time, you could potentially give it to him. That said, I would not have that be your default communication style. Now, it sounds like you default to "no problem, pay me later, when it's convenient" and I'm recommending that you default to "the date we agreed you'd pay me is next Thursday -- so, what time should we meet?"
posted by salvia at 8:04 PM on August 26, 2011

Maybe when you didn't bring it up at the pre-arranged time, he thought everything was ok and you wouldn't mind extending the loan time.

Also, instead of sending a general email/message that doesn't mention the loan and getting hurt when he doesn't respond, call him up and say, "Hey dude, can you afford to pay me back the smaller amount?" If the money itself is important to you and you need it, say instead, "Hey man, we're past the agreed-on repayment date, and I could really use the money I loaned you."

Don't get wounded and assume he's avoiding you (hurricane prep sounds pretty important) until you talk to him directly. He may be avoiding you, but he may just be busy and a classic procrastinator.
posted by thelastcamel at 9:41 AM on August 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

This seems pretty simple: Don't beat around the bush. Just be forthright about the subject, and clear about your understanding and expectations. You nullified the original deal on the 20%. Now you must work with him to arrive at a new one. That may be uncomfortable, but it's the only way to do these things without smearing a broad streak of discomfort across the life of the rest of the loan.

In this case, you had a clearly delineated agreement, which he was honoring of his own initiative, but then you elasticized it with no prompting from him ("next week is fine"), then did so again (didn't pull your friend aside for a few minutes when among friends), and yet again (contacted him, but didn't broach the matter). By loosening the constraints in this way, you may well have removed all sense of urgency from his understanding of the situation. I think you need to firm up your processes. It's okay to have overt deals and boundaries at play in a friendship.

If you loosened your timeline constraints to be kind, but expected him to prioritize repaying you in a timely fashion anyway, such that you'd get much the same result without having to crack the whip to get it, that's really not as kind as it might have seemed, as it adds a new constraint: the strain of unfulfilled, unspoken expectations on a friendship that has already been put to the test by the act of lending in the first place. Plainly put, your expecations of how he ought to behave in this circumstance may be different from his. It doesn't make either of you right or wrong, but by deviating from your simple agreement, you made it possible to run aground on the uncharted shoals of each others' ethical architecture.

Now that you've given him an unspecified amount of slack (which at least exists within an outer envelope of the original 3 months), you will probably need to arrive at a new deal about the 20% in conversation with him. You probably ought not just go from a more or less "whatever" stance to unilaterally setting a new deadline yourself, because the slack you gave him can reasonably be interpreted to extend all the way to the 3 months, and in any case it's not good to seem arbitrary or fickle.

I'm in nearly complete agreement with salvia's take...except I wouldn't even say he's "taking advantage" of fuzzy boundaries. He may simply no longer perceive that there is a one less than 3 months out from the original loan.
posted by perspicio at 10:59 AM on August 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

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