been caught stealing...?
July 22, 2007 11:35 PM   Subscribe

A close friend has accused me of stealing from her. I didn't. How do I mend this?

I visited a good friend of mine in Chicago a week or so ago. She has since announced to me that she has found a lot of things missing from her room (mostly plastic jewelry, and a shirt I think... nothing of value) that she says I must have taken from her. She says that she will not listen to anything I have to say on the subject, and the impression I get is that she does not ever want to speak to me again.

Needless to say I am completely shocked, but most of all I am heartbroken - I would never dream of stealing from a friend. I don't know how to set things right with her, if that's even possible. Is there etiquette for this? I know I haven't actually taken anything, but should I try to replace these items? Send her a gift? Cash? (Oh, and yes, I rooted through all of my bags from the trip just to make sure that nothing of hers sneaked in, and I've got nothing. In fact, I think I left a few things there!)

For what it's worth, her room is such an absolute cluttered mess that if she's made up her mind that these things are gone, then they are effectively gone. Even if she were to find them, she is not the kind of person who would admit to it. Still, I want to make her feel better at the very least.
posted by timory to Human Relations (29 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
...she says I must have taken from her. She says that she will not listen to anything I have to say on the subject, and the impression I get is that she does not ever want to speak to me again....

A close friend did this all of a sudden? Really? Are you sure you're not leaving out some backstory? Sure sounds like it to me...
posted by vacapinta at 11:39 PM on July 22, 2007

So you didn't steal anything but you want to replace the items with cash or a gift? Yeah, that'll send the right message .

Based upon the brief description you have supplied your friend appears to be mental. If you really want to make the effort of mending a relationship with someone like this then I would suggest writing a thoughtful letter outlining your innocence and your willingness to to talk to her once she's had an opportunity to think things through. Or, you could go happily about the rest of your life and ignore her.

posted by quadog at 11:41 PM on July 22, 2007

Response by poster: vacapinta, there is really and truly no other backstory. this came completely out of the blue. i don't even know what other details to supply that could be relevant.

as far as sending her something, i just feel so bad about it that i want to be able to offer her something to make it up to her. it does sound really stupid, since there's nothing i've actually taken or done wrong, but it was just an "oh god what do i do now?" kind of reaction.
posted by timory at 11:47 PM on July 22, 2007

should I try to replace these items?

I don't know her, but I imagine that will be interpreted as pleading guilty.

I suggest dropping it. If she brings it up in the future, turn on some wrath at her thoughtlessness at jumping to nasty conclusions when her own clutter is the culprit.

But I don't think she'll bring it up again, because either it's a cover excuse to cut ties with you (or fill some similar need), or she'll find the stuff over the next few months and over time forget she's mad at you.

It also sounds like you can't stand to have someone not like you. Do not compromise yourself to try to make someone (who is acting unreasonably in this way) like you.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:51 PM on July 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

Sorry, I forgot the sarcasm tag on my first comment. My point is that by sending her anything (money, gifts, a coupon to Sizzler) you are effectively saying "Yes, I stole stuff from you and I am making it up to you by giving you something back." It would be an admission of guilt.
posted by quadog at 11:52 PM on July 22, 2007

Response by poster: i know you were being sarcastic, quadog. like i said, it was just a gut reaction - this is not somebody i have ever fought with at all, so it is really shocking and unsettling. it almost seems like getting angry with her for accusing me of doing something like this would be more likely to sound like an admission of guilt, but i'm not exactly in an objective frame of mind.
posted by timory at 11:55 PM on July 22, 2007

"turn on some wrath"

To clarify, the kind of person who would consider taking the actions you are considering, is often the kind of person who, if they go ballistic on someone, the reaction is "Holy *#@&! I've never seen her angry at anyone before! She must be dead serious about this!" and actually suddenly start believing you, rather than the usual "oh she's just spouting BS because she's mad" reaction

posted by -harlequin- at 11:58 PM on July 22, 2007

Best answer: The same thing happened to my good friend over Christmas, but with his grandparents. They think he stole $10 from their house, and refuse to talk to him until he admits it and apologizes.

I know it's not a guaranteed solution, but I recommend doing what he did: write a letter that basically says "After being friends for so long, I'm sure you wouldn't accuse me of theft unless you were certain, and I can imagine that you'd feel shocked and saddened at the thought of me doing so. But the honest truth is that I'm not responsible for your missing items, and I'm not ready to let our relationship end over a misunderstanding. If you aren't prepared to accept my word, then perhaps you'll at least give me the benefit of the doubt and put this matter behind us. You'll see I'm not out to betray you."

I'd say the odds are good that your friend is feeling out-of-control in some aspect of her life, and clutching at straws relating to some missing junk is a way for her to feel powerful. She probably realizes on some level that she's behaving destructively. If you're feeling generous, you can try and let her off from this easily, but don't accept blame and don't give her any gifts or remuneration.
posted by chudmonkey at 11:59 PM on July 22, 2007 [15 favorites]

She says that she will not listen to anything I have to say on the subject, and the impression I get is that she does not ever want to speak to me again.

There just has to be a backstory.. even if it's not with you. Perhaps she has some other reason to cut off the friendship and is using this as an excuse.. jealousy, opinion of a partner, etc. Such a crazy reaction makes no sense in the scope of a friendship.
posted by wackybrit at 12:02 AM on July 23, 2007

Your friend doesn't trust you. It's sad and I understand that you are heartbroken.

Friends don't accuse other friends of stealing. Friends don't refuse to listen to friends.

Walk away and chalk this up to experience.
posted by gomichild at 12:02 AM on July 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: There just has to be a backstory..

okay, let me put it this way: there's no backstory *from my end*. we've never had an actual fight over anything, and we've never even been in the same city long enough to have any close mutual friends who could cause drama or anything like that. she might have all kinds of stuff tearing away at her that i'm just not aware of. i can only tell you what i know.
posted by timory at 12:06 AM on July 23, 2007

chudmonkey's advice is excellent. If something similar happened to me, I would write said friend off, for jumping to such hurtful conclusions, not giving me the benefit of the doubt and asking nicely (i.e. "Hey, did you happen to grab my shirt and bracelets by accident? I can't find them anywhere...")

It does sound like she's somehow resentful of you, to assume you stole something from her right off of the bat like that, or feels unhappy and out of control in some other aspect of her life, to immediately feel so victimized.

Definitely do not just accept blame to try and repair the friendship. You didn't do anything wrong, and your friend isn't really being all that friendly to you. If you want to maintain a successful friendship, call her on it, compassionately and gently.

If you don't feel comfortable doing that, I would say you probably just have to let it lie and hope that you can be friends sometime in the future, when she's worked through whatever it is that's got her immediately going for the throat like that with a close friend.

I'm sorry your friend did that to you, that's hurtful and painful.
posted by pazazygeek at 12:11 AM on July 23, 2007 your friend, who you came to visit, is accusing you of stealing, is pissing away your whole friendship over it, won't discuss it, will eventually find out she made a grave mistake, and won't apologize, talk to you, or own up to it?

This is a blessing in really, really hideous disguise.

(but yes, we've all been there at one point or another, and know how utterly devastating this can be. I am really sorry! It's really frustrating and saddening to lose somebody over a dramatic and unnecessary "misunderstanding" that you have no control over. And it sounds like she's exercising that power by disallowing you a voice or a way to fix it. This is fucked. I really hope you get over/through this as painlessly and quickly as possible. This sucks.)

And by "this" I mean "your crummy friend".
posted by iamkimiam at 12:18 AM on July 23, 2007

Response by poster: thanks for the voices of reason, everyone.
posted by timory at 12:36 AM on July 23, 2007

As an aside, how old is your friend? I ask because this can be a sign of dementia, which is of course more common in older people (over 50). If your friend is older I'd speak with a relation of hers. If she has dementia she may honestly believe you stole the items, and she needs medical help.

If it isn't dementia, though, it's a control matter. The 'friend' is trying to keep you off kilter, hoping that you'll beg and grovel for "forgiveness" for something you didn't do, which allows them to have all the power in the relationship. Even her way of stating it - that she won't listen to you - supposedly takes all the power to "fix" this away from you and puts her in complete control of the relationship, allowing her to graciously forgive you once she thinks you're upset and confused enough - or once you've caved in to her demands and apologized for something you didn't do.

If I were you, I'd write her a letter saying you didn't take the items, you found her attempt to blame you for her clutter disturbing, and that you will not submit to her bullying (for that is what it is). And I wouldn't be too quick to continue the friendship.

Of course, as has already been said, you shouldn't do a thing to reimburse her. She may even be doing it to get money out of you.
posted by watsondog at 1:05 AM on July 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: heh. she may honestly believe i stole the items, but it's not dementia. she's 23.
posted by timory at 1:13 AM on July 23, 2007

Fair enough. Many people assume that everyone on the Net is under 40. But my dad did that once before he died, so I just threw it out there.
posted by watsondog at 1:21 AM on July 23, 2007

If you didn't steal the items in question, under no circumstances should you pay money or send some kind of replacement. It'll send the wrong message--like you're sending it out of guilt.

You should feel indignation and anger that a friend wouldn't take you at your word. That seems to be the case. Flip your thinking: she owes you an apology, or at least an explanation of why she believes you stole something. If you accept anything less from her, you might as well tattoo "Doormat" on your forehead.

This isn't the behavior of a friend. It sucks, and I've been there when friends suddenly turn on you, but just let it go. If anything express your anger (remember you should be angry), but don't play into her silly game. I'm guessing you're young like your friend--take some advice from and older person: friends can turn on you. It happens to everyone.
posted by zardoz at 3:11 AM on July 23, 2007

I had the same thing happen to me while I was in college. Basically, I had a nice pair of indoor soccer shoes for our intramural team. One night the floor was so dusty that we got better traction in our regular shoes, so we all left our shoes in the changing area.

Game over, I came out, spotted my shoes, and took off. The next week this guy is ALL over me saying I stole his shoes. I'm all "no, seriously, I just bought these like 2 weeks ago just for this season". Then I put them on and they were waaaaaay too big. He's like "They're too big because they're mine and you stole them."

As soon as I realized they weren't mine I gave them right back to him, and everyone else on the team was sympathetic that someone had stolen MY shoes, and that we just had the same brand of shoes w/i 2 sizes. Guy still hasn't talked to me to this day---but I consider it his problem not mine.

Anyway, I think what other people have said. If you really really care, write a letter, but watch yourself in the future, one way or the other.
posted by TomMelee at 4:59 AM on July 23, 2007

You have already marked chudmonkey's answer as best and I think that's a good choice. If she believes that you stole from her it puts her in a tough spot too. From her perspective, discussing her concern over some missing items is unlikely to do much for her. Unless the thief is a really bad liar she won't be able to identify the times the visitor is guilty and bringing up the subject will alienate the visitor on many of the occasions that the visitor is innocent. Considering that nothing much of value was lost she showed some bad judgment in making an issue out of it but I don't think she is necessarily a miserable person for her choice to do so.

Given all of that, it still sucks for you. It's something of an impossible situation and I think you show a lot of compassion in wanting to make her feel better.

And also, stay aware and consider if there may be other possibilities as well. If she has previously complained about others betraying her and the like, then sure there might be a connection. It could be patterned behavior given that history. I don't see any reason to assume that that has to be the case though.
posted by BigSky at 6:12 AM on July 23, 2007

I used to have a friend that when ever she lost something or misplaced it she was sure that someone else must have stolen it. Never fail. If she misplaced her cell phone- someone stole it- car keys- someone stole them. Even if she found the items- she would swear that the person returned them. It is a personality type where they believe everything that happens to them is because of someone else. No sense of personal accountability. If her room is a mess, then her stuff is buried somewhere in there most likely. But since you came to visit and that event was something out of the routine, then it is really easy to pin the missing items on you. Don't feel badly, just let it go. If she doesn't want to forgive you and you think all is lost make a joke at her expense and tell her if her room weren't such a mess then perhaps the invisible men would stop stealing from her...
posted by MayNicholas at 6:55 AM on July 23, 2007

I just want to support MayNicholas' comment: a close female friend of mine had a hellacious time with one of her friends who was like this. which case it might be an indicator for serious psychiatric issues that'll make you wish you'd broken off contact earlier. FWIW.
posted by aramaic at 8:03 AM on July 23, 2007

Maybe she just does not want to be friends with you anymore, and this is how she's engineering it.

I suggest this: Tell her that in many many countries in the world, theft is punished either by burning the person to death or chopping of their hand. Now ask her, that if this were one of those countries, would she still think you stole her stuff?
posted by markovich at 9:44 AM on July 23, 2007

You sending her some kind of a gift would give the wrong msg.

And I think you are better off without her friendship, if she accuses you of stealing with out any proof
posted by WizKid at 10:17 AM on July 23, 2007

It might be that something happened during your visit that made her react this way: she doesn't want to be friends any more and she's using it as an excuse, she's jealous/resentful of you and is lashing out in this way, etc. I can't really tell without more information. But regardless, this sounds really immature, not to mention illogical, and I think you'd be better off without her friendship (as everyone else has said).

Also, is this someone you had a significant RL relationship with before your visit? Your followups say you had never lived in the same city before. If this is a first RL meet up of an internet friendship kind of thing, in my experience dynamics can change drastically between internet friends after they meet in RL.
posted by alicetiara at 10:27 AM on July 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: it's not an internet friendship thing, but it's kind of similar in the sense of how rarely we see each other. still, i have spent lots of time with her before - actually, i've visited before and stayed with her for about a week with no incident at all! so it didn't seem that a second visit would be any more trying than the first.

the more i try to think about backstory, the more i remember about all the times she bitched to me about how horrible all of her (close!) friends are and what kinds of horrible things they've all done to her. i guess maybe it was my turn?
posted by timory at 11:31 AM on July 23, 2007

There has been a lot of good advice in this thread (I think you marked the best one.)

I will add that if this is really "out of the blue" behavior for her, then she probably has some major shit going down somewhere in her life, is feeling frustrated and out of control and just happened to take it out on you.

If you can patch up the friendship then try to talk to her and support what else is going on in her life.

But remember, she is the one who has put the friendship in an unsustainable state, so she is going to have to be the one who fixes that. All you can do is reach out, but it is up to her to take the big step.
posted by Ookseer at 11:44 AM on July 23, 2007

Nth the "don't buy a 'replacement' gift" of any sort ... sends a wrong message.

there's base level psychology going on here. as someone being accused, with little to go on but circumstantial evidence, the reaction to being accused of something that is a crime (theft) is usually swift, uncompromising indignation and anger. Any response less than that is probably seen as an involuntary admission. How do you think cops get innocent people to say they committed a crime? Accuse the suspect, and when they don't react with outrage, well, then there *must* be some truth there. These aren't things I believe, but what I've observed in reading about innocent people who've copped to something they didn't do.

Honestly, you sound like a very sweet and nice person. You might want to put that aside for a moment and tell this person in no uncertain terms that not only did you NOT steal her stuff, that accusing you based on circumstantial evidence and insisting you did it is beyond the pale. Demand that once she really discovers where she misplaced these items (yeah, she probably just lost them in a messy room...), you expect a full apology from her (knowing full well you'll most likely never hear from her again). She should be the one buying YOU a gift as an apology!

Why be so harsh? Face it, do you want to be connected to someone irrational like this? Probably not. The bridge has already been burned from her end. Walk away and leave a ringing message in her ear that her behavior is unacceptable.

I speak a lot from experience ... i get accused of weird shit all the time by people who have either heavily masked psychological problems or by people who think they are big shots and can get away with sullying someone's reputation. In each of these instances, I've firmly cut contact with the individual and frankly, I live a good life with little time to dwell on the misbehavior and rudeness of twits who just seek to make innocent people miserable for unfathomable reasons.
posted by kuppajava at 1:20 PM on July 23, 2007

She's an arsehole. You found out. This is good news.
posted by genghis at 6:11 PM on July 23, 2007

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