Favor from friend, maybe doesn't want it to be transactional, now what?
August 3, 2016 5:28 PM   Subscribe

A friend spent about four hours, plus some travel money, moving me out of my apartment while I was across the country kind of having a nervous breakdown. I was sort of gushy-apologetic-thankful, repeatedly.

It was just a room, no furniture moving, throwing a bunch of stuff out and donating the rest, and two suitcases that got shipped to me. I've reimbursed him for shipping.

I've asked him what he thinks is fair, and he got huffy, said he had offered to help, said he ate a bunch of my food and took books and other things that I said to throw out or donate, and then he asked me what do I think is fair.

The way I'm reading this is that I'm trying to be transactional, and he just wanted to help a friend.

Anyway, when I pressed, he said it took about four hours and, travel-wise, it was on his way each day.

I was thinking that I could give him $20/hr for sort of "trusted nonspecialized work" * 4 hours * 3x multiplier for being a "freelance contractor" = $240.

But now I don't know how to offer it, and now I feel weird just saying, "You're right, I'm sorry. You're a great friend. I owe you."

Is there a middle ground or a way to do this gracefully? Is $240 too high and insulting?

I don't rely on other people a lot, so I just don't know what people do in these situations. Part of this is that I feel guilty, like I took advantage of him while I don't feel like I'm that great of a friend. But, he was there for me.
posted by zeek321 to Human Relations (29 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: (He was struggling with money for a while, freelancing, which is where I initially got the money idea in my head. But, he might be doing fine for money right now. And this might not matter either way.)
posted by zeek321 at 5:31 PM on August 3, 2016

I recently had some uncomfortable conversations with a friend who tried to pay me for some help. I was miserable and a little hurt--I had thought we were friends enough that paying me was inappropriate. I think your friend's huffiness was expressing the same feeling. I would not attempt to pay him. Maybe--maybe--you could give him a nice gift, nothing too expensive or ostentatious.
posted by primate moon at 5:36 PM on August 3, 2016 [26 favorites]

The way I'm reading this is that I'm trying to be transactional, and he just wanted to help a friend.

Pretty much. It seems like a thank you gift, with a note that says 'sorry, I wasn't trying to be weird, I'm really grateful for all your help' would be appropriate. That's what I would do, in your situation.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:37 PM on August 3, 2016 [40 favorites]

I don't rely on other people a lot, so I just don't know what people do in these situations. Part of this is that I feel guilty, like I took advantage of him while I don't feel like I'm that great of a friend. But, he was there for me.

Tell him this and defer to his wishes. Then journal about and sort it yourself if you still have feelings on the matter. Stop making it his issue.
posted by Michele in California at 5:38 PM on August 3, 2016 [10 favorites]

"You're right, I'm sorry. You're a great friend. I owe you."

This is actually great wording, I think.
posted by mekily at 5:47 PM on August 3, 2016 [11 favorites]

I think anything you do that tries to compensate him as if he were someone you hired is going to come off as disrespectful of the friendship. If a friend helped me out on something like this, which was a big favor, but not, like, impossibly huge, I'd probably thank them thoroughly, tell them I owe them one, maybe send a small token gift like flowers or chocolate, and then probably thank them publicly on Facebook, so they got some public recognition for being a good person. (To be clear, this wouldn't be any long effusive post, just something like, "man, FRIEND really saved my bacon by helping me move cross country. He's a good dude!")
posted by MsMolly at 5:48 PM on August 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

Literally just say: "You're right, I'm sorry. You're a great friend. Thank you and I owe you."

And then stop bringing it up.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:48 PM on August 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

For whatever it's worth for the future, I've done this in the past, but I prefer to phrase it in terms of (in addition to enjoying their company etc) their help saved me a bunch of money that I was otherwise going to be spending to get this done, and it's only right that they deserve a split of some of that windfall. But if I do this, I've already figured out beforehand how much I'm giving, and I make it clear it's just another token of appreciation, not payment for - or the value of - services rendered.

Asking someone how much you should pay them is a bad idea - it's shifting all the awkwardness onto their shoulders and asking them to walk that minefield in your place. If you want to help out with money (and I do think it can be helpful) I think it's best to treat it like simple appreciation-gift so that both parties know the etiquette and it stays free of overtones and implications and precedents and valuations etc.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:48 PM on August 3, 2016 [8 favorites]

I agree that a thank-you gift would be a lovely way to keep the friendship friendly. You could even make it something you share together--taking him out for a nice dinner, or buying tickets to a concert or play? I think that would be a good way to thank him but also build your friendship by hanging out.

Bless you for being a considerate, appreciative friend, by the way.
posted by spelunkingplato at 5:49 PM on August 3, 2016 [6 favorites]

Is it going to be possible for you to do anything nice for/with him together, or are you moved far far away now and not planning a return? If you can do a nice thing for him then reciprocation in kind is the best reciprocation (or just, "dang, you are such a great friend, let's spend time together and be friends!")

A gift or gift card or something as a token is fine but yeah I would make it absolutely clear as a thank-you present and not "payment". Everyone else has great words.
posted by Lady Li at 5:58 PM on August 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

I agree that a gift is more appropriate than a cash payment. I'd say take him out for a nice dinner, but it sounds like you're not in the same locale. Maybe something like a gift card for a massage at a local (for him) spa, with a note like "thanks for everything you did, here's some relaxation on me."
posted by ejs at 6:01 PM on August 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

I had a friend going through a hard time and I spent many many hours and maybe a thousand dollars on her during that time- travelled to see her, deferred my own commitments and jumped when she needed me, bought meals, paid for some needed things, etc. At the end of it she offered me $200. I was really hurt- I hadn't done it for cash and the amount was so below the time, mental energy, love and emotion I had poured into the situation, and the hard cash I had "spent" anyway. I would have much much preferred that she write me a specific note that said she appreciated how thoughtful I was, or that she promised explicitly to do the same for me some day (I have an un-voiced inner fear that nobody will look out for me like I look out for them). The cash was NOT what I was after.
I think a heartfelt and specific note, and maybe taking them for a thank you dinner would be much much better.

**My friend is wonderful and would totally do anything for me- I think she was just overwhelmed at how many people had helped her so much, and wanted to try to check off some of the endless obligation she felt. Over time, and before that time, she has more than "paid me back" in love and care and fun and friendship- I don't hold it against her at all, I'm lucky to have her and adore her for ever.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 6:07 PM on August 3, 2016 [15 favorites]

Send him a nice card, like a really awesome beautiful one (make it yourself if you're artistic), and mark him down in your head as being someone you will help if he asks. Don't make it his problem to sort out.

Also I got some great advice once - 'never thank anyone more than twice, never apologise more than twice.'
posted by Sebmojo at 6:50 PM on August 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Handwritten thank-you note on nice stationary with a gift card to say, Starbucks or the like. Everyone appreciates coffee or a little snack now and then. FWIW, I have a pickup (so I have helped dozens of people move, or move appliances) and generally like to help people; even people I may only know tangentially or through other friends or an organization I've been associated with, and people have frequently tried to pay me for my time, fuel, and effort. I ALWAYS refuse money, but I never turn down coffee, beer, or pizza.
posted by sara is disenchanted at 7:23 PM on August 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Covering actual cash costs from them is cool, but if they are trying to help as a friend if a friendly offer of cash is rebuffed let it go, and a dinner or something else would be nice
posted by TheAdamist at 7:27 PM on August 3, 2016

A follow up to the great advice above- keep in good contact with this friend, ask THEM how they're doing in the future, and then be there at the ready when they need to lean on you. Everyone above has great advice on thanking them in cards and so forth.
posted by raccoon409 at 8:02 PM on August 3, 2016

I would write a great thank you note expressing your gratitude and appreciation at both his help and his friendship. Then, this Christmas or holiday season, I would get him a really nice gift.
posted by AugustWest at 8:10 PM on August 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Amazon gift card in a thank you card. You can buy so much at amazon it's practically cash, but somehow less impersonal than cash?
posted by pazazygeek at 9:17 PM on August 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Bake a pie.
posted by artdrectr at 9:46 PM on August 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

A couple of my friends and I did a similar favor for a friend who was unexpectedly out of town for a move. She ordered Indian takeout while we were doing the moving, and we let her buy our beers the next time or two we went out together, and then told her that was enough and we were good. If you'll be in the same location as him at some point in the near future, take him out for a tasty dinner, buy him some drinks, and call it good. It sounds like he doesn't want to be paid for helping a friend out, but covering a nice evening out can be a celebration of your friendship and gratitude without reducing it to something transactional and impersonal.
posted by JiBB at 11:49 PM on August 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Amazon gift card. Boom, done.
posted by fixedgear at 4:42 AM on August 4, 2016

Nthing a nice handwritten thank-you note, sincerely expressing how grateful you are for his help and friendship. A minor gift along the lines of a bottle of wine would be fine, but not required and I would lean towards just the note. Especially given what has already ensued, you should take care that any gift is not too lavish or it will seem like you're trying to pay via the gift. I would also take care that you don't mention or allude to your prior conversation in the thank-you note.
posted by slkinsey at 5:36 AM on August 4, 2016

Generally in my neck of the woods, compensating friends for their assistance with a manual job like this constitutes a case of beer, or a bottle of liquor. You could easily find a good bottle of his preferred variety of liquor, and send that to him.
posted by lizbunny at 7:44 AM on August 4, 2016 [3 favorites]

You know, I think I'd actually be similarly upset to get an Amazon gift card, because it's SO impersonal. A nice note or thoughtful gift or dinner out would be better.
posted by the_blizz at 8:43 AM on August 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

Yep, I was going to say nice bottle of booze with a friendly note saying how much you appreciated his help. If I helped a friend move, even if it was an interstate move, all I would expect was gratitude and pizza. Even if this had happened at the point in my life/career/finances where I had to deeply consider whether I should spend $2 on a box of tissues of swipe TP from the office bathroom. Helping a friend move is firmly in the 'favor' category, not the 'paid work' category.
posted by capricorn at 9:36 AM on August 4, 2016

I agree with your friend that I would be kind of hurt if my friend offered me lots of cash in exchange for helping them move (even when I've been at my most financially precarious). If you are curious, the book Debt: The First 5000 Years explores this issue a little bit, that in personal relationships it can feel offensive to try and "settle" certain kinds of debts because it's like you're washing your hands of the person and saying "I no longer owe you anything and so we can part ways and no longer be personally entwined."

I think your apology is great, if you feel the need to add more, I think it would be fine to ask if you can reimburse any expenses (although it sounds like you may have already done that), and/or say something along the lines of "And, I'd love to take you out for a drink/dinner/coffee sometime soon as a thank you and to celebrate the move."

And you know, pay it forward! When this friend or another friend needs help, be the one to step up and help.
posted by rainbowbrite at 9:45 AM on August 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think a lot of the advice in this thread is good for the future if you receive help from another friend, but in this case you have already gone back and forth and gotten into that weird space between transaction and friendship. If you were to send an Amazon card now, it would be really weird and would look like a payment. If you offer to take your friend to dinner or send a gift, it could be seen as yet another volley in the "But let me do SOMETHING for you!!" agony game.

I'm not a relationship expert, but I think if I were your friend at this point, I would much rather that you sent your short suggestion: "You're right, I'm sorry. You're a great friend. I owe you." and then QUIT mentioning it, for a very long time and maybe forever. Then keep on the lookout for any other favor that you could do, for him or for other friends, but DON'T mention it as "paying back" for that big favor last time.
posted by CathyG at 10:23 AM on August 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

Captain Awkward: The sandwich means "I love you"
posted by mon-ma-tron at 9:35 PM on August 4, 2016

I don't think you should get him a gift card of any stripe because he's already made it clear that he doesn't want reimbursement for his time / expenses and sending a gift card would just be like you were trying to be sneaky and still "pay" him.

If you are even remotely artistic, and it's still awesome if you aren't, could you make him some small art card and write a short note inside? That would mean more to me personally than any amount of money.

But yes, I think he got a bit cranky that you were trying to formalize what you "owed" him like he was someone you just hired off the street rather than recognizing that he was helping you out of the goodness of his heart.

I totally understand the impulse of wanting to be exactly squaresies to show him how much it meant to you but you gotta pay this one forward.
posted by amicamentis at 12:56 PM on August 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

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