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Auntie SparkNotes: My Friend Borrowed Money and Won’t Pay Me Back

Hi Auntie,

My friend and coworker—let’s call her Suzie—borrowed $200 from me about 8 months ago. It was for her medication, so being a good friend I lent it to her after she promised that she would pay me back when she got her next paycheck (in 2 weeks).

Since then, Suzie got a new job and a small raise. I asked her many times to pay me back, but she kept saying that she was paying off her credit card debts and was broke. Yet, she had money to get her hair and nails done occasionally. After repeatedly asking her over many months and telling her how angry I was, I only got $50 back from her. So, she still owes me $150.

A few weeks ago, she lost her job, her friends, and revealed to her family that she had an eating disorder and is going into treatment. I feel bad for her, but honestly whenever I think about her, I just get so angry over the fact that she hasn’t paid me back. Her family is wealthy while mine is not, and I have worked very hard to save some extra money.

I don’t know what to do since she is in a vulnerable spot right now and doesn’t have an income anymore. However, I’ve waited long enough and she always had some excuse for why she couldn’t pay me back, even when she had a job. Should I be a good person and forget about they money she owes me? Should I keep asking her? Should I tell her parents (she’s 22 but still lives at home)? Should I take her to small claims court?

Am I a bad person for not being sensitive to her problems right now?

This entire fiasco has made me hate her even though I know it’s just money. Please help.

Well, let’s start there, darling, with the whole “just money” thing. Because yeah, sure, it’s just money. It’s just money that you worked hard to save, that you could have used for virtually anything, and that you ended up paying for the privilege of being taken advantage of (and being taught a harsh, expensive, unpleasant lesson about the dangers of lending to friends.) Of course you’re pissed—not because of the cash itself, but because your friend was apparently willing to take it off your hands without any intention of paying you back.

Which is why, just for the record, it’s good practice to never lend money to anyone unless you’re prepared for your loan to become a gift—because often as not, that’s what happens. (It’s also why some people refer to the money you lend to a friend and never see again as a “stupid tax,” because that’s how it makes you feel.)

So, are you a bad person for not being more sensitive to your friend’s problems under the circumstances? Um, no. Most definitely not. You’ve already been sensitive to her problems to the tune of $200; additional sensitivity is neither required nor expected. And if you no longer care to invest in this friendship, then that’s okay, and it doesn’t make you a materialistic or ungenerous person. As you pointed out, the money isn’t the big deal; it’s the fact that she apparently feels no compunction about ever repaying you, even after eight months, even after you’ve asked repeatedly, even after you told her you were getting truly angry at being taken advantage of.

In short, it’s not just that she didn’t care about your finances. It’s that she didn’t care about your feelings, either. (And if she’d ever apologized sincerely instead of blowing you off or making excuses, you’d feel differently about both her and the money, no?)

And with that out of the way, here’s the deal: your friend is never going to pay you back except, possibly, under legal duress. I’m sorry. But since that’s the case, unless that remaining $150 is such a financially significant sum for you that it’ll be a genuine hardship not to get it back—and unless it’s worth more than the time you’d have to spend in small claims court to try to recoup it—then yes, I think you should let it go. Not for her sake, but for yours, because the emotional cost of carrying around this kind of resentment is so steep. (And whatever you do, please don’t involve her parents. Everyone in this scenario is much too old to go tattling or be tattled on to Mom and Dad.)

The best thing you can do is chalk it up as an expensive life lesson and move forward. The path that frees you from continuing to dwell on this is the path you want to take. And considering that you’ve been un-paid-back for the better part of a year now, you know you can live without the money—so maybe all that’s left is to stop being angry about it.

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