How much responsibility do I have toward my tennis instructor?
February 24, 2020 3:23 PM   Subscribe

A couple months ago, I met a new friend Jessica through mutual friends. Jessica suddenly needed an income source and started to give tennis lessons. I think her lessons are very good. It started as group lessons, but everyone else dropped out except me. I've been going alone and paying a "private lesson" price, which is outside my original budget. Now I'm not sure if I want to keep going, but losing the income from my lessons could create financial hardship for her. What are my responsibilities toward her?

I met Jessica a couple months ago. She was just getting out of a relationship where she was financially dependent. After suddenly losing the financial support from her ex, she needed a new income source.

Since she has an impressive record as a tennis player, she started giving out tennis lessons. At first, I went to the lessons along with a few friends. It was fun. We chatted & bonded in addition to learning tennis. We each paid a rate for group lessons. Jessica's tennis instruction is very good.

The other friends dropped out, citing schedule, travel, etc. Now it's just me going to the lessons. Jessica suggested a new price that's fair for private lessons, and I agreed. Private lessons are overkill for my level of beginner ability, but since I didn't have the choice of group lessons any more, I decided to give private lessons a shot.

After having some private lessons, I have doubts. One reason I liked the previous group lessons was the bonding and positive energy. Jessica is going through a hard time in her life due to the breakup, and she is often sad (understandably so). When it was a group lesson, the other students made it happy. Now that it's just her and me, it is less upbeat. I feel like I need to cheer her up sometimes.

She has told me a lot about her love life and financial struggles, and I've given her emotional support. She hasn't asked me many questions about my life, so it doesn't feel like a two-way friendship. I've tried hard to generate more tennis customers for her, and I don't feel appreciated in that effort. She (probably rightfully) feels wronged by many parts of her life right now, and isn't in a mental place to give appreciation or positive energy to me.

I'm becoming increasingly less interested in paying outside my original budget to take these lessons. I know that losing the income from my lessons could create a financial hardship for her, and I'm struggling with how much responsibility I have toward her.

1. If I end the weekly private lessons, how much notice should I give her? The arrangement has been informal, and we just schedule each subsequent lesson at the end of the previous lesson.

2. I'm thinking of ending the lessons by saying, "I originally intended to take group lessons, and I think private lessons are overkill for my level of ability. If you start up group lessons again in the future, let me know." Does this seem good?

3. I'm thinking that once per month might work better than weekly, because it would give me more time to practice tennis in between our lessons, and would fit into my original budget. But there's a chance that I'll find monthly to still be too much, and then I'll need to give her bad news a second time by ending the lessons. Is it kinder to try out monthly, or just to end it entirely?

4. Losing the income from my lessons may mean that she has to delay her educational goals or could even lead to her getting evicted. How do I balance being a decent person and wanting to help her, with my own preferences around lessons? While the private lessons are outside my original budget, paying for them doesn't create hardship in my life.

Thank you!
posted by cheesecake to Human Relations (8 answers total)
You're already giving her more emotional and practical support than it makes sense to be giving your tennis instructor. You definitely don't owe her even more. Her finances are not your responsibility. You can give a week or two of notice if you want, or cut back instead of quitting if you want. But quitting wouldn't make your a bad person.
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:30 PM on February 24, 2020 [24 favorites]

Best answer: The answer to your question is that you don't have a responsibility to employ this person. Provided you're kind and professional, quitting this is fine.

1) I would give her a full lesson of notice--like, let her know when you set up the next lesson that the next one will be the last.

2) I think that's a perfectly fine way of phrasing it, as it's both true and kind.

3) Don't switch to fewer lessons. It's already fraught, and if you end up wanting to quit entirely you won't know how to do it. End it entirely and if you realize in a month that you'd like a lesson, call her and ask for one.

4) Think of other things you can do for her. You can do things like help her find new clients, act as a referral, offer her other job searching support. If you feel like you want to keep being friends, you can take her for coffee and still cheer her emotionally, but do it on your time, without feeling like you're paying for something you don't want.

It's very kind of you to be so considerate of her, but that doesn't mean you have to take lessons you don't want. Good luck.

Honestly, if she's barely squeaking by, it might be better for her to go in another direction. You can
posted by gideonfrog at 3:35 PM on February 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Start from the perspective that you do not owe her anything. You did not owe her anything when you started taking tennis lessons from here, and you certainly don't owe her anything now that you have been taking tennis lessons from her for months, but they aren't working out well for you. You have received tennis lessons but you have paid for those, so you don't owe her for that, especially considering you were not exactly in the market for tennis lessons in the first place.

That sounds mean and harsh, I know, but you don't owe other people ongoing financial support unless you are their employer or their government (you are technically their government, the state is the citizens and the citizens are the state, blah, blah, but those obligations are taken care of by paying your taxes, which presumably you do.) and you are not really either.

Now, the less mean and harsh perspective is what do you *want* to gift to her? Your ongoing participation in this relationship, even though it is no longer fun or entertaining or within your budget, is essentially a gift to her. Yes, you get tennis lessons in return, but they are tennis lessons you don't actually want. Would you ordinarily give regular cash gifts to a friend in need that you know about as well as you know her? Is that something you want to continue doing in this case? It's okay if it is! Great even! That's a kind and generous instinct on your part if you would help your friend in this way, but please recognize it as a generous instinct and not an obligation!

If you decide you don't want to continue gifting her money every week, but would like to continue paying her for tennis lessons, assuming she can arrange a group lesson, I would answer your questions this way:

1. You don't owe her notice, she's not an employee, but if you want to continue your past generosity, an extra week or even two would be kind. If she is running a business giving tennis lessons, she needs to be able to hustle up new clients, not rely on a single long term client.
2. I would focus on the things you've actually said are the real reason you want to go back to group lessons -- you found the group dynamic more fun. It doesn't have to be about her and whether she is fun, but you loved group lessons. "I really liked taking lessons with the group, the dynamic and energy was great and I liked seeing a bunch of people every week, but I'm not into tennis enough to want private lessons. If you get another group together, even if they aren't people I already know, I'd love to come back, but otherwise, next week will be my last lesson."
If she argues that you agreed to private lessons or asks if it is about price, I wouldn't really engage on that subject -- it isn't really about price for you, the price change was just the catalyst to make you think how much you really were into the group lessons and aren't that into the private lessons. Reiterate that what you're interested in is casual, fun group lessons with others.
3. I think trying out monthly would just be delaying the inevitable.
4. Again, I don't think you owe her anything. If you hadn't started taking tennis lessons from her, she would have been evicted before now. It's kind to have helped and to give some notice, but if a once a week tennis lesson is all that is keeping her from getting evicted, either that is a very damned expensive tennis lesson, or she really just needs to find one more client to replace you.
posted by jacquilynne at 3:51 PM on February 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

You may turn out to be far more valuable as a reference than you were as a student! Give a great recommendation and go in peace.
posted by 8603 at 4:01 PM on February 24, 2020 [8 favorites]

Best answer: "Hey there - I've really enjoyed the one-on-one tennis lessons but I think I'm going to give it a bit of a break for awhile. Have you put together a page for your coaching? Or checked in at any local tennis centers? If you need a reference or want me to write up a positive review, I'm happy to do so! Just let me know and thank you!"

It's great that you all got a nice experience and helped a person out at the same time. But she isn't being very professional if she is dumping personal info during your lessons. You're in a weird grey area and I think you should just do a clean break. I think if she wants to do this more, then she'll need to think of herself as a business and hopefully she'll set some of her own professional boundaries with her next clients. You two are probably in a conversational rut in that these are the things that you talk about when you are together but that is not fair to you and I think you shouldn't tie yourself in knots about it.
posted by amanda at 4:29 PM on February 24, 2020 [20 favorites]

If there’s no romantic underpinnings, offer lunch and make it a free standing thing. I mean you can still be friends, but the ball is in her court to make the move.
posted by geoff. at 5:59 PM on February 24, 2020

Best answer: You don't owe her anything but you owe yourself an exit you won't feel guilty about. Give a week or two's notice, be honest about the group lessons being more fun since she may need to think a bit more about the motivations and needs of casual vs. serious tennis players to succeed as an instructor, and most importantly, take an hour to give her enthusiastic reviews on Google, Yelp, etc. and recommendations to your personal network.
posted by xylothek at 4:24 AM on February 25, 2020 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Very helpful responses! I gave her two weeks' notice and offered to write positive reviews.

She seems unaccustomed to the mindset of being a business owner. Instead of "thinking about the needs of casual vs serious tennis players" (a great point by xylothek), she interpreted it as me being insufficiently devoted to tennis.

We had a private lesson, and she lamented how people are not committed enough to improving at tennis. I explained my reasons again, and she seemed to understand a bit better.

Overall I am relieved. Thanks for your answers!
posted by cheesecake at 8:15 AM on March 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

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