I Made A Mistake; Will He Ever Forgive Me?
November 7, 2012 8:12 AM   Subscribe

I borrowed a friend's car and let it run out of gas during the super shitty gas crisis we're having in NYC, now my friend is really mad at me and even though it's for a good reason and I tried to make it up to him he still won't talk to me. I want to try to make this right. What do I need to do?

I had just started a job the week prior to the hurricane and was getting anxious about not being able to show up for work. My friend, who lives nearby to me and was already in the city, offered me a favor by allowing me to borrow his car to get to the city via the ferry in Weehakwen. I left in the morning thinking there was enough gas to get me there and then get us back, but I very badly misjudged - I got stuck in terrible traffic for 3 hours and burned through most of the gas in the tank, and then, unable to find a place to top off, I panicked, parked the car at the ferry terminal, and went to the city, thinking I might be able to get gas once I was in midtown. This was very much not a good call on my part, and I am terribly ashamed about this.

I was also wrong - no gas in the city either. When I broke the news to him he got very angry, understandably.

The next day we took the ferry back to NJ and then started driving home. We actually did almost make it back, but ran out of gas about 20 minutes away from home. He got even more pissed, but managed to reach his wife, who sent one of their neighbors down to rescue us with a couple gallons of gas.

I've spoken to him since this weekend and apologized again, and he's told me not to worry about it as it wasn't the end of the world, but things definitely do not feel the same between us.

I feel horrible and ashamed and like I've really messed things up. I feel like he no longer trusts me and won't want to be friends with me anymore, and won't want me to be a part of his or his family's lives anymore. And I wouldn't blame him -the gas shortage problem is becoming an issue state-wide after the storm. It was a very careless mistake and I really should have known better.

How can I fix this? Is it possible for me to somehow make this up to him in some way? If so, how?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (37 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You misjudged gas in a car. There's a once-in-a-generation shortage of gas. He's pissed at you? His problem to fix -- he's being a complete asshat. There's nothing you can do that will somehow make this guy's unreasonable expectations about convenience and friendliness change; it sounds like he needs to not lend out his vehicle in crises if he's uncool with the potential outcomes.

You apologized, so let it go. You didn't do anything wrong.
posted by ellF at 8:20 AM on November 7, 2012 [23 favorites]

Beyond saying "I fucked up and I'm really sorry and if there's anything I can do let me help," there's not a whole lot to do right now. I mean, if your friend is a decent human being, I doubt he wants to see you plead and beg for his forgiveness. He's pissed off and you're not going to make him less pissed off. Friends fuck up. It happens and you just have to hope he understands that (and it sounds like he does.)

The gas crisis is still going on (I am looking out my office window to a giant traffic jam outside of a gas station,) so I'd give him some time to cool off. When things are a little more back to normal, you can get him an apology card and put a pre-paid gas gift certificate (or whatever) in it. But for now, just let him deal with all the shit he needs to deal with.
posted by griphus at 8:22 AM on November 7, 2012 [10 favorites]

I panicked, parked the car at the ferry terminal, and went to the city, thinking I might be able to get gas once I was in midtown.

I don't follow this part. You were going to get gas and take it back to the car?

I feel like he no longer trusts me and won't want to be friends with me anymore, and won't want me to be a part of his or his family's lives anymore.

Your reaction is a little over top, in my view. He may very well be acting seriously pissed off with you at the moment, but if this is relationship-ending, there are probably other issues.

I think the best thing to do is, don't apologize for this any more. I don't know what your apologies sounded like, but if they sound like this post, they may be causing him some discomfort. When people apologize kind of over the top and repeatedly, and emphasize how bad they feel, it puts a demand on the other person to reassure them and make them feel better. Note that I have no idea whether you've done that in fact; just whether you have or not, don't do it now.

Some might suggest giving him a gift like a bottle of wine or a dinner out. That might be a good idea depending on your relationship but I'd wait and just do something nice for him soonish, like if he celebrates Christmas send him some gourmet food or something.
posted by BibiRose at 8:24 AM on November 7, 2012 [16 favorites]

It could be that he just needs some time to calm down about this. And you need to chill too. He probably doesn't want the extra aggravation of having to soothe your hurt feelings.

Running out of gas can be bad for a car. But if I read this right, he was there when the decision was made to drive it on almost empty tank. I feel like that one is on him.
posted by grouse at 8:24 AM on November 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Agreeing with ellF - a gas shortage is a freak-occurrence.
You know your friend better than us - is he someone that would appreciate some apologetic gesture, like I don't know - steaks and a case of beer? If so, and it's within your means, do it.
Or he might be the kind of guy to let things just blow over.
I'd side with a token gesture though - he loaned you the car, do something nice in return by way of apology.
posted by ergo at 8:24 AM on November 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Everyone is phenomenally stressed out right now, and he seems to have hit his breaking point. Once he cools off I'd be surprised if he didn't apologize to you. Give him some space to work out his reaction.
posted by thatone at 8:25 AM on November 7, 2012 [18 favorites]

You didn't do anything wrong.

Let's not be silly about this. When someone borrows a car and lets it run out of gas, it's pretty difficult to pin the entirety of the blame on the person who lent the car.

He's pissed, reasonably I think, and I agree that it will not make him less pissed to have to coddle you.

Apologize, let him calm down, and then let it go.
posted by toomuchpete at 8:27 AM on November 7, 2012 [41 favorites]

Yeah, let it go, he'll forgive you for what is, in the end, not a big deal. He's just stressed and he's a bit annoyed at you and also at himself, and he's letting it all out about the car. In a week it will be forgotten, you can thank him by buying him gas later, but until then just stop apologising.
posted by jeather at 8:28 AM on November 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

You inconvenienced your friend during an already inconvenient and stressful time; he was angry, but that anger probably has as much to do with the larger situation as it does with you personally and what you did. He probably already realizes this, but it can be hard to stay rational when tensions are high.

What you can do now is just give him the space to get over it and not pester him with unneeded and unhelpful apologies. Dealing with someone else apologizing to you can actually take a lot of energy, and further apologies aren't necessary right now anyway.

When things have blown over and the crisis has passed, you can call him up and say you feel badly for putting him in a bad spot, and would like to buy him a drink/take him out for dinner/pay for a full tank of gas/some other thing.

I promise you, this will not end your friendship! I totally understand how anxiety-inducing these kinds of situations can be, but it will be fine! It's like a scab that needs a few days to heal -- don't pick at it!
posted by Narrative Priorities at 8:30 AM on November 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

You apologized, and he said not to worry about it. That sounds like you've done all you can.

Whatever residual "vibe" you're getting off him could simply be him processing the initial anger - there was a webcomic I read that put it really well, where one character said "I just need to finish letting my anger metabolize. I'll be okay later."

Just hang back for a few days and be patient. I think you'll be okay.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:30 AM on November 7, 2012 [10 favorites]

Yeah, I'm not sure that the extent of your wrongdoing justifies the level of guilt you seem to be feeling over this. Errors in judgment, fine-- but forever losing someone's trust? It's not like you left his three-year-old alone in the ferry parking lot overnight, you know?

With that said, if you're interesting in conciliating your friend, I'd say (a) think through whatever actual inconvenience he's experiencing as a result of this-- does he now desperately need to drive, but can't find gas? was the car damaged at all? and exert yourself to help address those inconveniences as much as possible, and (b) when you interact with your friend, focus on emphasizing his good deed, and how great it was of him to lend you the car-- NOT how sorry you are for having used the gas. You might get him some sort of gift, but definitely make it a thank-you present, not a sorry present. You're much likelier to win forgiveness by reminding him how generous he is than by reminding him how irresponsible you were.
posted by Bardolph at 8:31 AM on November 7, 2012 [6 favorites]

Give him time to calm down. He's allow to be mad at you. Your desire for peace of mind does not trump his right to be mad. Especially at such a shitty time.

After time has worn off, then make it up to him with whatever floats his boat.
posted by Neekee at 8:32 AM on November 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

You've apologized twice. Give him some space. Since he's told you it's not the end of the world it sounds like he knows he's going to get over it, he's just not there yet. Give him some breathing room - he is probably stressed, as many ppl affected by the storm are just now.
posted by bunderful at 8:37 AM on November 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

He was pissed off in the moment. He may still be a little pissed off right now, but I suspect that it is at least as much because of the stress of the situation in NYC as it is about the actual situation with the car. He says to let it go. Believe him.

I think you may be reading too much into this. Unless there are other issues in your friendship that you're not mentioning, this shouldn't be relationship ending and he should get over it soon. If you really feel like this is a big deal and like your apologies aren't enough, take him out for dinner and fill up his tank for him once things are back to normal.
posted by asnider at 8:41 AM on November 7, 2012

When things get back to normal again, get him a $50 gas card for Christmas and his birthday. He's frustrated; it's okay. Let him get through his frustration so he can get back to being reasonable. It's a stressful time. Don't pester him for reassurance right away, but after everything has cooled down, make it up to him with the gas cards and reiterating how sorry you are for what happened and that it won't happen again.
posted by discopolo at 8:50 AM on November 7, 2012 [5 favorites]

Definitely give him space to calm down and unwind. The hurricane really stressed folks out past their breaking point, and small things very easily pushed people to react much more harshly than they might have under other situations. We had similar stuff going on - I had very close friends staying at my place for a week while they had no power. These are friends who we've spent a lot of time around and who I love dearly. There was more than one "omg why did you just leave towels on the floor" mini meltdowns during the week that would ordinarily have been shrugged off. Being on top of each other, the stress of worrying about gas, food, and everything out of our control led to some very frayed tempers some evenings. I agree with the "buy him some beer & steaks when this is all over" sentiment, and phrase it as a "thanks for loaning me your car" kind of thing.
posted by lyra4 at 8:53 AM on November 7, 2012

Why don't you offer to refill his gas tank for him? He's probably pissed because he now has to wait three hours in line- if you offer to do so, I'm sure it would make things amenable.
posted by suedehead at 9:04 AM on November 7, 2012 [5 favorites]

Everyone has covered the "chill out" part nicely, but do make it a point to give him a gas card or buy him a nice dinner or something after it's all settled down. You say that you have apologized and tried to make it up to him but do not say that you ever offered any money.

Think about it this way - completely discounting the gesture of loaning the car, the hassle of running out of gas, and the miles on the car, and assuming only 7 gallons of gas (five in the tank and two from the container to get started after you ran out), that's $30 that your friend is out of pocket. People can get weird when they do a favor and don't think they've been appropriately recognized for it; that's particularly true if they are actually subsidizing the favor. Yes there's a lot of ancillary stress from Sandy, but maybe it's more basic than that and he is feeling some lack of recognition.
posted by AgentRocket at 9:04 AM on November 7, 2012 [5 favorites]

It's the kind of thing that probably had some consequences for him and he's probably a little irritated as they emerge - basically if you live within driving distance of the city right now, having a car is a huge headache.

He said it's not the end of the world, which basically means it's not nothing at all, but it's not a huge huge issue either. Just let him be a little irritated for a while. When I've done similar cock-ups in the past, I've found that a 12-pack heals many wounds. But otherwise, just give it a little time and don't keep bringing it up as that will just remind him of it - just let him get over it.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:23 AM on November 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

It sounds, to me, like you didn't act very considerately to your friend. He lent you his car so that you could get to work, and you used the resource without replenishing it. You say you thought there might be gas in midtown - but it sounds like you just went to work without checking that, or getting a gas can, or making any attempt to do so. You made sure you were at work, but not that you guys would be able to get back to whatever your friend wanted to do. Then, his wife had to get their friend to rescue them with a can of gas - which was essentially burning a favor, as gas is now precious - that friend now may feel he is owed a favor in recompense.

So I would say you owe your friend two mediumish inconvenient favors. NOT buying him a gas card or a dinner - throwing money at the problem - but engaging in some actual difficult and inconvenient work. Mowing a lawn, helping him move, helping him fix something, etc.

Your friend is upset because he feels like you don't respect his friendship - take tangible steps to fix it and I'm sure it will be fine.
posted by corb at 9:46 AM on November 7, 2012 [5 favorites]

I can totally understand how this could have happened. If I had lent you the car, I would expect you to do all the really hassly stuff and return the car to me. End of story.

So, you'd call AAA, or get enough gas in the car to get it to a gas station. I wouldn't expect you to put more gas in than you used, but at least enough to get me back to the gas station to top it off.

It would be nice if you paid the parking fee.

The good news is that you didn't get the car impounded, or cost him a bunch of extra money.

I agree that a gas card and a thank you are pretty much all that are due here. If that. Here's what I'd write in the card, "I really appreciate that you lent me your car and I'm so sorry that I got it stranded at the ferry building. I really want to make this right. Here's a gift card for a tank of gas. Let me know what else I can do."

If he won't accept that, he's a jerk.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:53 AM on November 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Agreeing with others that you need to give him some time.

When someone screws something up for me, this is what needs to happen:

1) Immediate, sincere apology. This doesn't have to be some fancy, protracted thing: a simple, "wow, I am really sorry about [thing]. I really fucked [thing] up."

2) Concrete offer of assistance. "To help out with that [thing] I fucked up, can I please do [other thing] to make it better?" (I may or may not take them up on this.)

3) Back the fuck off. Once you've apologized and tried to right the situation, your job is done. It is now on me to deal with it.

Instead, what always seems to happen is something along the lines of this:

1) "Hey, this [thing] got screwed up. I tried to do [such and such] but then [vague excuse] happened. I'm sorry...are you mad? Please don't be mad!"

2) "I feel so bad about [thing], what can I do to help you!?!?" (Making me devise some way for you to "atone for your sins" so to speak is really annoying. I have no interest in doing this.)

3) "Are you mad at me? Please don't be mad at me! I said I was sorry! Hey, it's not fair for you to be mad at me!" &c.

Long story short: 99 times out of 100 I will be totally fine. I just need the person to, again, back the fuck off so that I can have some space to deal with said fucked up [thing] and decide how I can fix it. Having to take care of someone else's feelings just gets in the way.

Sorry if that sounds harsh. It's just how I work. Your friend may work the same way. Give him time.
posted by phunniemee at 9:57 AM on November 7, 2012 [18 favorites]

Can you offer to take his car this weekend to a gas station and wait in line to fill the tank? Can you get your hands on a Jerry can and fill it with gas for him?
posted by Orinda at 10:17 AM on November 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, you screwed up but it sounds like this was just one more thing on his plate and he's really frustrated. I think you owe him two tanks of gas and that you ought to cover the parking fees at the very least. Running out of gas does much more damage to an engine than many people realize, so he might be stressing that this incident could leave him stuck with a bigger problem soon.

Back off, approach him in a week, and say something like...

"I really messed up last week when I didn't take the warning signs about the gas shortage seriously. I am very embarassed and hope you know that I would never shortchange you in the way that I did on purpose, but I know you're upset and rightfully so. I would like to pay for the parking fees as well as the car's next two tanks of gas. Please let me know what you think."
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 10:24 AM on November 7, 2012

From the OP:
Hi everyone - I appreciate the answers so far.

Just wanted to clarify something since I left it out of my original question: I did pay for the parking fee at the ferry terminal, and for his ferry ticket back to NJ. I offered to reimburse my friend for the gas I used, as well as pay for his next tank of gas, as well as the gas that the neighbor brought us. He refused. I have a great deal of student loan/credit card debt and was unemployed for a lot of last year (hence my stress over the new job), and he's aware of that, and said that he wasn't going to take any more of my money. The ferry ticket and the parking fee was quite minimal compared to the cost of gas, so this kind of made me feel even worse.

Another clarification: he had an empty gas canister in his car, I took it with me when I got on the ferry and my intention was to fill it up in the city. I visited five gas stations during my off time from work trying to get more gas, and struck out at each one. I don't know why I had it in my head that it might be easier to get gas in the city.

I'm not trying to say that I am blameless because either of these two points - but wanted to make it clear that I realized as it was happening that I'd made a bad call and did the best I could do given the circumstances to try to make it right. It just was a debacle. It looks as though the consensus is that having apologized I need to back off a bit and give him a chance to cool down and let it blow over. I do think that my harping on this is probably not helping the situation. I like the idea of giving him a thank you card in the next few weeks for loaning him the car and enclosing a gift card for gas and plan to do so.

Thanks again for answering everyone.
posted by jessamyn at 10:24 AM on November 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I feel horrible and ashamed and like I've really messed things up. I feel like he no longer trusts me and won't want to be friends with me anymore, and won't want me to be a part of his or his family's lives anymore.

He told you not to worry about it because it's not that big a deal! You have said this yourself! You are catastrophizing a simple mistake that occurred during a situation of dire regional emergency, and this is Not Healthy.

On preview, you clearly did everything humanly possible to rectify the situation as it was happening. You really need to stop beating yourself up over this. Hovering over him with continued apologies and handwringing is only going to make him more frustrated with you.
posted by elizardbits at 10:27 AM on November 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

What has he actually said to you, besides "[don't] worry about it as it [isn't] the end of the world"? Has he just let it slide?

This reads like you're really upset about it, but he isn't. It seems like you're really catastrophising things. Are you bringing it up with him repeatedly, even though he's sort of told you not to?

If he's being distant, not returning calls, cancelling plans with you, etc, then I'd agree that he's annoyed with you. You've tried to make reparation and he's refused to accept it - you can't really do any more than that. If he's not mentioned it and is carrying on as normal with you, then follow that lead.

I understand the impulse to debase yourself in front of someone who you accidentally caused some kind of penalty to, but having been on the receiving end of it, I realise just how annoying it is. you've done what you can, and it doesn't seem like he's overly bothered. Let it go, now.
posted by Solomon at 10:41 AM on November 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

phunniemee hit one of the most important parts of earning forgiveness: allowing someone the space and time to be pissed. A sincere apology and contrition are meaningless if you refuse to allow someone their anger. You may be regretful but to the person you're pummeling with the STOP BEING ANGRY WITH ME feeling it just comes across as a refusal to accept your responsibility.

Yeah, it would be nice if everyone was a good enough communicator and cognizant of your headspace that they said "look, I get it, and I appreciate that you feel bad and want this all to be good, but you need to back off and let me stew a little before we're back to cool, k?" But it's a little unfair to require someone give you that reassurance and absolution right out the gate.

Give it time, it'll be fine if you let it.
posted by phearlez at 10:48 AM on November 7, 2012

Please let him cool off a little bit. It was very stressful here, as I'm sure you know. He's not lying, probably, when he says "It's OK." However, you're not wrong that you're getting weird feelings to the contrary, probably because he's still a little annoyed (about EVERYTHING, including the snow storm tonight).

Just give him time to cool down, IMO. Nothing is more annoying than a friend that pissed me off accidentally, constantly getting in my face: "are you still mad at me?"
posted by teabag at 1:42 PM on November 7, 2012

I borrowed a friend's car and let it run out of gas during the super shitty gas crisis

I got stuck in terrible traffic for 3 hours and burned through most of the gas in the tank, and then, unable to find a place to top off, I panicked, parked the car at the ferry terminal,

You are being far too hard on yourself here, actually. You have mis-characterized what really happened in your own mind. You did not run his car run out of gas, in point of fact it was the car's owner who did that.

When you realized that there wouldn't be enough fuel to complete the trip, you stopped driving, and then you parked responsibly. Far from panicking, you accurately assessed a potential problem before it became critical, and then you ameliorated it, in a very logical and smart way. Then, you made your best effort to obtain fuel, using the only tools available to you. It's not your fault that circumstances beyond your control prevented this.

Upon the two of you collecting the car, it was the owner who made a decision to try to get home with just the remaining fuel. That was his decision, a gamble that he chose to make. He is familiar with his vehicle, its fuel consumption, and any idiosyncrasies of his gas gauge and tank, you are not. Running out of fuel when he was behind the wheel is his responsibility. The onus is on the vehicle's operator to ensure its safe operation. Given the once in a lifetime crisis situation that existed, he decided to chance it, as many people would, and lost that gamble. Frustrating, but in the broad scheme of things, not really preventable at all, and pretty small potatoes.

My guess is that he is more annoyed with the overall situation than he is with you. Sure the situation developed because he lent you the car, but that's what friends do. Sometimes things go wrong, and friends forgive each other when they do. Take a deep breath and relax.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 3:45 PM on November 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Am I missing something? There is a huge disconnect between

"I've spoken to him since this weekend and apologized again, and he's told me not to worry about it as it wasn't the end of the world"

and the following statement

"I feel horrible and ashamed and like I've really messed things up. I feel like he no longer trusts me and won't want to be friends with me anymore, and won't want me to be a part of his or his family's lives anymore."

Can I ask you where you're getting the bolded part from - is this just an assumption on your part or did he actually tell you this? Because unless he specifically said "I don't trust you anymore and I don't want to be your friend", you are seriously overreacting and as many people have said, you need to back off, otherwise you run the risk of coming off as super creepy and needy.
posted by echo0720 at 4:25 PM on November 7, 2012

If I were you, I would not borrow the car again. But I would not make any drama- or attention-inviting statement about it, I would not say "I'm never borrowing your car again because of how I screwed up that time," I would just quietly... not borrow it again.
posted by tomboko at 5:32 PM on November 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Send him a package of Beano with a jokey apology card.
posted by backwards guitar at 6:19 PM on November 7, 2012

Gotta say that, as you seem to realize, any notion that this friend is being a "complete asshat" strikes me as ludicrous.
posted by ambient2 at 9:29 PM on November 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Your friend had to handle:

- getting a disabled car home
- refueling his car in a time of scarce resources
- taking care of his family
- getting to work and back
- assuaging your guilt

Anything on that list you can help him out with? By saying "don't worry about it" your friend was actually saying "don't burden me with your guilt, it's not my responsibility to make you feel better." By you saying "I feel like he won't want to be friends with me anymore" you're not only NOT LISTENING TO YOUR FRIEND but you are ADDING TO HIS BURDEN. Stop doing that. The crisis your friend needs to respond to and deal with has to do with the hurricane, the fuel shortage, and his car. It's not about you.
posted by headnsouth at 4:32 AM on November 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

Give him some space to cool off. Relax. It will be ok. Or it won't, but if you press the issue now, for sure it won't. But really, you didn't cause catastrophic engine damage to his car or leave it stranded where it was wrecked by circumstances. You just inconvencied him and maybe made yourself seem irresponsible. He said it's ok, and for now you need to respect that statement.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:05 AM on November 8, 2012

He may also need cooling off because he's mad at himself. Lending someone a car is a very risky thing to do-- although I would be tempted to do it too, if someone's job was on the line. But if the car had been totaled, stuck in a flood or something, he would have been out of pocket and in trouble with his insurance company. The fact that everything did not go just peachy in this situation may have brought this to his attention. When it comes down to it, everybody got off very lucky in this situation but he may just be feeling like he did a really dumb thing by offering. I would say, in addition to letting him cool off, really try not to put him in this kind of situation again. I am sure you did not consciously put him under pressure but through some chain of events your problem became his problem; don't let that happen again.
posted by BibiRose at 7:20 AM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

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