I can't fix this and I don't know what to do
May 19, 2021 8:43 AM   Subscribe

I have damaged the property of someone who trusts me for the second time and I am panicking and don't know how to tell her or proceed.

I live and volunteer on a friend's small farm. Today I was mowing the grass and I damaged her car with the mower. There is a small dent in the side of the car and the paint has come off in a small area.
The car is old, in otherwise very good condition, and very sentimentally valued by herself and her father, having belonged to her deceased mother.
A month or so ago I made another very emotive and potentially costly mistake by damaging the membrane of her polytunnel with a tool while cleaning it. She was extremely upset by this and I know that she will be extremely upset about the car.

I am here to ostensibly help her, not fuck up her valuable shit. I am completely freaking out and panicking and I have no idea what to do. I haven't yet told her about the damage to the car. I know I have to but I feel sick to my stomach and absolutely terrified. I can't not tell her but I don't know what to do. I doubt she will notice until I tell her. I have retreated to my room but will see her later at dinner. Should I text her? If I tell her in person I will break down and I don't want to make this about my emotions.

I could offer to pay for the damage but it's the emotional value of the car, the inconvenience of the repair, and the fact that I've done this twice that means just apologising and offering to pay for damage is not enough.
In my panic I want to pack my shit up and leave. I'm due to leave here a week on Friday anyway and she has other volunteers to help her now. I am so so so so so so so so ashamed, I don't know what to do, I really feel about to have a panic break down.

Right now my feeling is to do my evening chores, pack an overnight bag, and drive to stay at my folks' nearby, texting her to tell her what's happened when I'm gone. I just can't face her reaction but I know this is so cowardly.

I guess if you were in her shoes what would you want me to do? How can I proceed in this non-salvageable situation?
posted by Balthamos to Human Relations (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Facing this head-on is the right thing to do. Ultimately it's a car that can be repaired. Did the mower throw up a rock, or some such thing? That's not necessarily completely your fault and often cannot be avoided. Point out the damage and ask her how she would like to proceed. This is only as big of a situation as you make it, and running and hiding will only make this worse, IMO. Good luck.
posted by SoftSummerBreeze at 8:53 AM on May 19, 2021 [9 favorites]

Response by poster: No it was my fault for mowing too close to the car itself.
posted by Balthamos at 8:55 AM on May 19, 2021

Best answer: I am so sorry. I do not have a good answer for you. We all make mistakes. We. All. Make. Mistakes. Please try to be kind to yourself.

For me, if you could take a picture of the issue and ask an autobody shop the details of fixing it and then offer to facilitate and pay for this, if that would be helpful to her, you want to present this as an option. Or you could offer to do this.

Also, perhaps if you summarize your points and communicate them as you have in this message - I've damaged something for the second time, I'm panicking and ashamed, I know this is of value to you, I don't want this to be about my emotions, if I could fix this in any way I would in an instant, I feel like I should pack up and leave as to not burden you with my presence, I don't want you to have to manage my feelings and the damage to your valued possession as well, (and if you have - I contacted the autobody shop in town, they said they could fix this if I take it in on Wednesday and it would be ready on Thursday, I would like to pay OR I would like to contact the autobody shop in town and facilitate the repair).
posted by RoadScholar at 8:57 AM on May 19, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: There's something going on here that's deeper than a scratched car. When it comes to the car, just telling her about it at dinner and offering to take care of a repair would be entirely appropriate. Shit happens. It's part of living in a physical world. And neither accident sounds like it has destroyed anything that's irreplaceable or even too hard to fix. If I were her, I'd want to know about it so it can get taken care of before it can rust. And it wouldn't be a big deal. Because it isn't actually a big deal, even if it feels like one at the moment.

Being extremely upset that someone ripped a bit of fabric when trying to do you a favor is not normal. Feeling terribly ashamed and having a panic attack because you made a small dent in a car is not normal. I don't know whether you need to move out or not, but if you do, it isn't because denting a car makes you a bad person. Taking a walk for an hour and trying to figure out what's actually so upsetting about this might not be a bad idea before you make decisions that are hard to undo.

Sympathy and best wishes.
posted by eotvos at 9:05 AM on May 19, 2021 [86 favorites]

Just pay for it. Don't "offer" to pay for it, which then puts the burden on her to decide if she should accept your offer: just pay for it. Replace the thing you tore. Call a body shop and get an estimate for fixing the dent, make the arrangement for a couple days from now. Then when you tell her you can tell her that you've already made the arrangement to get it fixed and you'll take care of it.

None of these little accidents need to be a big deal, but if you don't pay for it, then it leaves you feeling guilty and her feeling resentful (and guilty for feeling resentful.) That way lies poison. Just pay for it and then the whole thing goes away.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:13 AM on May 19, 2021 [22 favorites]

Best answer: Stuff breaks on farms all the time—ask me how I know. I recently caught the top wire of the electric fence on the back of the Kubota, and the whole damn thing whipped right off. I've also mindlessly put too much weight on a piece of equipment and given it a flat—twice. I forgot to put a block under the chicken tractor's tire and it flew down a hill and into a tree.

None of these are sentimental things, no, but they are HUGE ENORMOUS TIME CONSUMING PRECIOUS LIFE WASTING things to fix. I was ashamed and had to face up. Like, face-burning shame. But I managed to talk myself down and dispassionately confess, while taking proactive steps to fix it myself.

Like, before I told my boss about the electric fence, I'd already formulated a plan: I'd called up the store to put the parts on hold, and I'd fix it myself for no pay. He wasn't happy, but also knew he didn't have to deal with it.

So, maybe bring her a solution along with the problem? And also calmmmmm down. I know this seems a big deal, but in the end, it's fixable.
posted by functionequalsform at 9:32 AM on May 19, 2021 [11 favorites]

Gently, I would urge you to reconsider your framing of this situation - a dent in a car is a fixable problem, not necessarily a catastrophe. It may be more your friend's issue than yours if you are so fearful of her emotional reaction to this.

A grounded approach would be to speak to her directly as soon as possible, explain what happened, and let her know how you'll remedy the situation - you'll take it to the shop and get the dent fixed.

Her being upset about something getting damaged is okay, but I will note that it feels odd that she got extremely upset earlier about something that was an accident and happened during physical labor - stuff gets messed up that way, its expected. You are freely giving your labor and time to her... just feels weird that she's so proprietary about stuff, especially on a farm.
posted by RajahKing at 9:33 AM on May 19, 2021 [15 favorites]

It sounds she's someone that totally overreacts in a very not-normal way, and that unfortunately, you're someone already conditioned to accept that kind of behavior like it's normal. I'm very uncomfortable with your description of this "friendship", because it seems much more like you're being taken advantage of.

Make arrangements to pay for it, and please try to understand that YOU are not responsible for HER emotions about it, just the damage and the repair. I'm glad you're leaving soon. Please try to give this relationship some space, and maybe, if it's a possibility for you, talk through some of your reactions with a therapist, because the reactions you're experiences are very stressful and not good for your mental health.
posted by stormyteal at 9:37 AM on May 19, 2021 [17 favorites]

Best answer: when i had way over the top responses to things like this ("i am such a stupid piece of shit for denting my car! how could i be such a complete fucking moron to snag my fake berber rug with the vacuum") it was because my depression/anxiety was WAY OUT OF CONTROL. these are not normal or healthy responses to accidents that happen to everyone existing in the world. now that my mental health is a lot better, my response is "well fuck, now i have to deal with another thing." and i'm pissed for a few minutes and then can move on and deal with it.

definitely look into therapy or meds or meditation or something to help you.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 9:40 AM on May 19, 2021 [21 favorites]

I agree that there's more to it. This doesn't sound like it's about a dent in a car.

To start with, I don't want to get too deep into details of how much blame each person deserves, but I do kind of feel like if this car is her most prized possession, that she should be leaving it out in the open, where things like small dents from lawnmowers, or turtles being dropped by eagles, or whatever are fairly likely to happen over time. There are these things called garages, which is where most people keep their vehicles parked. And that doesn't excuse you for denting it, but she could have taken preventative action if she so chose, and she didn't.

Unless the car is like a 1962 Ferrari or something (in which case, again, get a garage), the repair shouldn't be terrible. Probably around $1000, in my experience. Her car insurance might even cover it, although I'd probably recommend not going that route - too many variables to think about. The repair is not inconvenient at all. Even if the panel is completely ruined, a good body shop can take care of it in a couple of days. I'm kind of getting the impression that this is the only vehicle on the property, so maybe that would mean going carless for a couple of days, but that's at odds with the hypersentimentality. Normal wear and tear happens to daily driver cars.

As a disinterested observer, the question to me is why/how this happened. Why were you mowing "too" close to the car? Were you not paying attention? Were you trying to be careful but the mower got away from you? Did you miscalculate something? Some combination of the above? Then why/how did the polytunnel thing happen? One of the best pieces of work-related advice I've gotten: Don't make the same mistake twice. If you damaged the car for the same reason you damaged the greenhouse, that could be a problem. If you made two unrelated mistakes in five weeks, though, congratulations, you're doing a lot better than the rest of us.

Like everyone else, I'm... interested in her response, which seems disproportionate. One thing nobody else has yet noted is that your friend is getting much more than her money's worth from you, because you're doing all this work for free. If she wants professional-quality work, she knows how to get it. If she expects flawless work for free, well, isn't that the dream? You get what you pay for. (Also note that most professional service providers are required to carry liability insurance, for exactly this reason: they realize that accidents happen and things will occasionally be damaged.)

I wonder if that actually is her reaction, though. Is she unreasonably angry, or are you just misperceiving that? Because you are giving off HEAVY anxiety vibes, and it's pretty well known that anxiety distorts your perception of other people's reactions. Obviously nobody's thrilled to hear that there's a dent in their car, but there's a difference between "oh I wish that hadn't happened" and "you're the scum of the earth for doing that". I am doing the Metafilter thing and suggesting therapy, but before then I'd like you to try to objectively assess her previous reaction. What does being "extremely upset" about the car look like?

Because that's going to determine what the course of action is here. If she's going to throw a tantrum, insult you, and threaten your safety, yes, you probably should pack up your stuff and leave. Maybe throw another big rock at the car on your way out. Fleeing an abusive relationship is almost always the right course of action. If she's more reasonable than you're making it sound, though, it'll probably be OK to tell her and stick around, even if it does upset her. But I can't say for sure. Only you know that.

Try to visualize how it would play out if it were the other way around, if she had damaged something of yours. You'd be upset too. You'd want her to make it right. You'd prefer she not continue doing whatever it was she did. All normal reactions. But you wouldn't scream at her. So: If her reaction is more like what you'd do in her shoes, the responsible thing to do is to stick around, tell her, and be accountable.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:59 AM on May 19, 2021 [22 favorites]

A few things to mediate your panic:
-If you don't think she will notice until you tell her, it certainly doesn't sound like that big of a dent/scrape.
-A second mistake is hardly a pattern of destruction and carelessness.
-Being a volunteer in exchange for housing position (which sounds like this is) means the farmer is agreeing to have low/no cost help that is likely untrained or inexperienced, so such is the risk.

Her previous reaction understandably adds to the stress, but fleeing in the middle of night? She might be a high strung, unreasonable person, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't act like an adult. I'd suggest sending a text and say what happened, arrange to get it repaired, and offer to discuss in person if she prefers. If she is always this hard to deal with, leaving early is an option, but do it on your own terms.

It sounds like you might be hyper anxious about perceived criticism, feeling judged, etc.. so consider therapy/meds to help you deal....

I can guarantee you will screw things up again in life--we all do! Treat yourself the way you would treat a dear young friend or family member. Mistakes happen!
posted by rhonzo at 10:18 AM on May 19, 2021 [3 favorites]

Like everyone else, I'm... interested in her response, which seems disproportionate. One thing nobody else has yet noted is that your friend is getting much more than her money's worth from you, because you're doing all this work for free.

If I'm doing extensive volunteer work for someone, didn't misrepresent my skill level, and wasn't being grossly negligent, I'm not going to beat myself up if something gets damaged. If the person wants a skilled and fully accountable workman, they can pay that person. I say this as someone who actually is reluctant to stay in people's houses because I'm fairly clumsy and I am always anxious I'm going to damage something and not be able to fix/clean it. (Last time, somehow I managed to break some slats in blinds just pushing them aside to open a window. I wasn't even intoxicated, though I was half-awake. I mean, what....? How....????)

I agree very much with kevinbelt. It's important for you to figure out whether this is your own anxiety spiraling out of control, which is understandable in These Times, or whether your friend is browbeating and taking advantage of you. She should not be losing her shit over a ding to her car, that she seems to be storing outdoors, especially if you pay for repairs. If she does, I really think you should reconsider being in this situation.
posted by praemunire at 10:19 AM on May 19, 2021 [12 favorites]

I mean this in the nicest way possible, you are over reacting. these are normal events that happen to literally everyone on the planet. I can count many times that I have had someone have to tell me they broke an expensive thing of mine through just sheer happenstance. This is part of living and working with other people! One time my then-fiancé spilled and entire can of wood stain on our beige apartment carpet, and another time my sister was changing a tire on my car and shattered the hatchback window. Neither time was there even an argument or anything. Is it possible that your friend is taking their anger out on you for other things? Sometimes I can be harsh to the person I co-habitate with because he has a habit of not paying attention, and I've reacted disproportionately. This is also a normal mistake people make, could your friend have over-reacted the last time you made a mistake?

I agree with the others, don't offer a solution, just do the solution. But otherwise this is not a big deal and just taking some deep breaths sounds like a good idea.
posted by FirstMateKate at 10:55 AM on May 19, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: As someone who has admittedly outsized reactions to stuff breaking, I can kinda empathize with your friend. (Although "extremely upset" can mean a lot of things; to me, it would be acting kinda broody about it, not screaming at you, which I hope is not the case here.) I have done a lot of self-work on this and my over-the-top frustration always happens when my resources are all worn down to nothing: I don't have any extra money to fix and it sucks to live with having to look it every day, I don't have time in my life right now to deal with yet another big multi-step project on the to-do list, I don't have the energy to manage my feelings or other people's in this situation, etc. When I have more bandwidth available, I am so much more able to roll with it and live out the "stuff is just stuff" mentality. When I don't, hoo boy, I definitely manage my external-facing reactions entirely appropriately but man, it generates a lot of inner turmoil, as much as I'd like to be all breezy and philosophical about it. I bet something really similar is happening here. In any case, that part is entirely her problem to handle and not yours to take on, as much as she's making you feel that way.

apologising and offering to pay for damage is not enough.

It is, though! It really, really is! That's literally all anyone can do in these situations. One thing that truly helps me recalibrate and remember what's more important in life is when people who have broken my shit treat it like the low-grade life annoyance that it actually is instead of the code-red emergency has ballooned to in my head, and I strongly encourage you to proceed this way. Your responsibility here extends only to the car, not her emotional state. I would definitely vote for telling her sincerely but straightforwardly over text so she can have time and space to manage her reactions away from you. Apologize only once, acknowledge the significance of the item to her but don't belabor it, have an estimate and a check ready or leave instructions with the body shop to charge your card when the fix is complete.

Like everyone else said, please don't be extra hard on yourself. I'm sorry this has caused so much distress and so close to the end of your time there.
posted by anderjen at 11:00 AM on May 19, 2021 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks so much everyone for your incredibly compassionate and kind answers. I feel a lot better. I have found an at-home body repair guy in the area and will offer to organise the repair as well as pay.

Anderjen is spot on that it's the hassle on top of her already-overloaded plate which is what I really wish I could have avoided and feel so bad about, not that she will blow her top.

I also definitely can see that my depression and anxiety have exacerbated my response to this, as well as childhood shit from a father who really would totally lose his shit whenever stuff got damaged. When therapy is an option for me logistically and financially, I will get it.

But thanks to you guys I feel talked down and reassured, and feel I will be able to handle this without flouncing into the night or breaking down in a puddle of tears. Thank you!
posted by Balthamos at 11:20 AM on May 19, 2021 [23 favorites]

I could offer to pay for the damage but it's the emotional value of the car, the inconvenience of the repair, and the fact that I've done this twice that means just apologising and offering to pay for damage is not enough.

Actually, it is enough. It really, really is.

If I tell her in person I will break down and I don't want to make this about my emotions.

Is this a thing that she or other people have said to you? That you getting upset in front of her is "making something about yourself?" Look, if you tell her with the expectation that her primary concern should be comforting you, THAT is "making it about yourself." But you being upset and scared in this situation is...totally an ordinary human response? I mean, what's the better alternative, NOT being upset to tell her? That'd be weird.
posted by desuetude at 11:23 AM on May 19, 2021 [2 favorites]

as well as childhood shit from a father who really would totally lose his shit whenever stuff got damaged

I grew up like this too, so I get it. Unlike you, I spent some years just not touching other people's things, which meant mostly only meeting in restaurants and not showing up "on the ground" for them. That resulted in no things breaking...but it made our ties and my ability to be part of the community weaker.

So, go you!

One other thing to remember is that in healthy people, feelings are transient. So even if she's upset for a little bit, it's just upset - a feeling - that can pass with time. I think you're doing the right thing, and I hope you feel as least bad as possible (preferably 'not bad' but I get why that might not be possible!)
posted by warriorqueen at 11:29 AM on May 19, 2021 [6 favorites]

"I will be able to handle this without flouncing into the night or breaking down in a puddle of tears"

That's all any of us can really do, isn't it? Then just get up again tomorrow and do it again.
posted by kevinbelt at 11:37 AM on May 19, 2021 [5 favorites]

Anderjen is spot on that it's the hassle on top of her already-overloaded plate which is what I really wish I could have avoided and feel so bad about, not that she will blow her top.

So you and the other people who are keeping up your friend's small farm are volunteers, who live and work there on a rotating basis. Volunteers are going to tear and scratch things, because humans are gonna human. If dealing with the tearing and scratching of things is a hassle for your friend, then she's not going to be able to avoid hassle as long as the all-volunteer arrangement prevails.

Thanks so much everyone for your incredibly compassionate and kind answers. I feel a lot better.

You deserve compassion and kindness! Your depression and anxiety brain weasels may try to convince you otherwise, but they are lying. (Seriously, the archives of the Captain Awkward advice blog are a great place for you to spend some time. You will see that our name is Legion, that we are as funny as hell, and that we all are still learning to treat ourselves kindly.)
posted by virago at 12:17 PM on May 19, 2021 [4 favorites]

as well as childhood shit from a father who really would totally lose his shit whenever stuff got damaged

Just sending you good vibes about this; I lived in a relationship for many years where accidents were responded to with disproportionate anger and I am still unlearning my panic responses to stuff like spills or scuffs. It's hard! Be gentle with yourself both for the accidents AND for the way you respond to them.

(lol also, just for what it's worth--one thing that helps is spending a lot of time around someone who just totally breaks shit and spills all the time and isn't particularly fussed...if you can find yourself a clumsy buddy I highly recommend it! The other day I got a grease spot on my sofa and my heart didn't even skip a beat, lol.)
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:25 PM on May 19, 2021 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Follow up: I sent a text following RoadScholar, functionequalsform and anderjen's scripts and ideas. Then she came to chat about it and was... totally calm, kind and understanding.

I think bad mental health is the real issue that was at hand here, not her and not even really the car. I will take this as an indicator that I probably need some help.

Thanks again all.
posted by Balthamos at 1:35 PM on May 19, 2021 [38 favorites]

Anxiety's a circle that way - you get anxious about damaging things, your stress makes your coordination and memory worse, and you're more likely to get things damaged. Even if you can't address it with therapy and/or psychiatric treatment at the moment, OTC herbal pills like valerian can be a half-placebo way of interrupting the spiral long enough to think of a logical solution. Hang in there!
posted by I claim sanctuary at 1:41 PM on May 19, 2021

I'm so glad you're feeling better. The damage was accidental, not caused by carelessness, or you'd probably be as blithely oblivious as this guy. Hope this gives you a smile.
posted by kate4914 at 4:01 PM on May 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

I think as the wounded party she is entitled to her emotions, and you do have a responsibility to hold a space for her and be accountable for your actions. Like what if you had done something even worse, like run over her pet. It would just not be okay to be a blubbering mess at her, nor would it be okay to let yourself off the hook with something like "well if she cared so much she shouldn't have let her dog run around where someone might run it over". There really is a point at which you have to admit that you fucked up and hurt her and she is entitled to be hurt about this. And you're correct that it's not appropriate for you to be a blubbering anxious mess in such situations, because that doesn't give her the space she needs to feel whatever she is feeling because of your actions. So you need to figure out how to be present in such situations.

Based on what you've said I think I'm a lot like you, and I think you're suffering from a messed up childhood in which you were simultaneously abused and also sheltered so that you feel like shit all the time and you never learned to make mistakes and grow from them. It's a nasty setup, because it makes you feel completely powerless in the world while also guaranteeing you keep fucking everything up and hurting people. You need to figure out how to accept yourself as a flawed person, and learn to stop trying to control other people's reactions. It may seem impossible now, but you can actually talk to a person that you have hurt and hold down a normal conversation and offer them support even while you feel like you're being ripped in half and torn into a million pieces emotionally. It just takes practice and a commitment to act logically rather than emotionally.

I suggest you try to root cause this and figure out why you hit her car. Not "it was an accident". It may be true, but you won't learn from it unless you look deeper. Ask why, and don't ever accept 'because I'm bad' as an answer, because people don't work that way, they are always acting for reasons. Why did you hit the car? Because you drove the mower into it. Why did you drive the mower into it? Because you misjudged how much room you have. Why? Because you really had no sense of where you were or how much space you were taking up. Why? Because you learned to follow orders rather than make your own way in the world, etc... You have to understand what are the forces that shaped you into who you are today, so that you can gain control over yourself.
posted by PercussivePaul at 5:48 PM on May 19, 2021 [2 favorites]

I grew up knowing some farmers; on farms, stuff gets dinged up, esp. something like polytunnel. if the emotional attachment to a car is stronger than the respect for a human worker, that's a problem. This is a difficult time, people are stressed; good luck.
posted by theora55 at 12:01 PM on May 20, 2021

I'm so glad it went so well! YOU did it, including by reaching out for help. Congratulations.

I would like to offer a thought that I am also trying to think for my own personal growth: in addition to "I will take this as an indicator that I probably need some help", what about "I will take this as evidence that I *am* capable of doing things differently, including interpreting/managing/supporting my emotions in new ways . It is also evidence that my social partners are themselves also capable of responding kindly and compassionately in ways my family couldn't give me in childhood. Change and better things are possible!"
posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 1:10 PM on May 20, 2021 [3 favorites]

> in addition to "I will take this as an indicator that I probably need some help", what about "I will take this as evidence that I *am* capable of doing things differently, including interpreting/managing/supporting my emotions in new ways

I wanted to add something like this and couldn't quite articulate it as well as rrrrrrrrrt just did. Yes, you probably should get some help but also...hey, check it out, you did a thing that you were scared to do and it turned out okay!
posted by desuetude at 3:11 PM on May 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

« Older Why is my friend putting in so much romantic...   |   How has your Veterinarian's practices changed... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.