Is there anything more complicated than money and love? Relationships — romantic or platonic — feel at their most vulnerable when they are dealing with financial obstacles, and cold, hard numbers can be the kind of thing to put a wedge between even the best of friends (or lovers). I try my best not to judge any financial akwardness someone might be experiencing in a relationship, and even when, to an outsider, the problem seems easily solved, I try not to assume I could solve it. We don’t know the complex human dynamics behind peoples’ money problems, and it’s frankly egotistical to feel that we do.
That said, there are some general rules that we should all live by when it comes to setting our own boundaries, and deciding where and when we have to draw the line. It takes a lot to decide what financial boundaries look like, particularly if money wasn’t heavily discussed growing up, but it’s a huge part of becoming an adult. And those boundaries are what this week’s question is all about, from a TFD reader whose relationship with her best friend is extremely strained because of a serious financial-screw-over. Without further delay, let’s get to the Q&A, and always, don’t forget to send your most burning questions to firstname.lastname@example.org!
I’m going through a really tough time with my best friend of about ten years. We’re both in college right now (different colleges in the same city), and decided that we wanted to live together in our junior year because we could finally live off-campus and honestly missed spending every day with each other. So we found a four-bedroom house that was well-located for both of us and cheap, and each brought one friend from our school to join the group.
At first, the housing situation was perfect, because we were all pretty much on the same wavelength in terms of going out/noise level/cleanliness/etc. The fact that each of us could really vet the “extra” roommates made it easy to know we’d all get along, and we did, for about six months. But the fact that I was very close to the girl I’d brought from my school really, really upset my best friend. Basically, she was really jealous and territorial over our relationship, and started making this girl’s life really difficult. Long story short, there were a lot of bickery fights and nastiness and passive-aggression that culminated in a night where we were all pregaming a little too hard, they got into a serious argument, and my best friend pushed her into the kitchen counter, knocking her down and busting her lip.
Needless to say, this necessitated a house meeting the next day where it was decided that my best friend would have to move out. She was absolutely livid with me for “not taking her side” on the issue, and basically looked at me as if I betrayed her friendship, but I couldn’t condone her being violent to a roommate and friend. I had to take a hard line, and said that she would have to move out within 60 days, which felt like ample time for everyone.
She flipped out, rented a truck the next day, and was moved out completely within three days, leaving me (the person on the lease) totally screwed for her portion of the rent, and with no time to find a replacement. She also stiffed me on several bills she owed me for other housing-related things, and even though it’s been over five months since this whole debacle, she’s still acting as if the situation is entirely my fault because I “chose” the side of this other girl over her. From my perspective, my BFF was acting like a huge asshole and had to go for some time, the violence was just the final straw, but I stand by my decision. Her screwing me for nearly $2,000 total (that I had to borrow from my parents, who are beyond furious at me, still) is something I have a hard time just letting go.
I love her and want to keep her as a friend, but I’m starting to feel like the friendship may be too fractured because of this money issue. What do I do?
So, Lucy, I think the first thing you should accept is that this issue isn’t just about the money: your BFF is someone who, for whatever reason, has a really hard time accepting your relationships with other people. Some people get really jealous and territorial (and even abusive) over significant others’ other relationships/friendships, and some people do it over friendships, too. People can be just as irrational and blinded by envy when it comes to a seriously close friend, and it’s easy to feel that a tried-and-true BBF relationship is threatened when a shiny new friendship comes along (like this person from your current school, who met you at a different place in your life and offers you different things). If all parties are mature and secure in their relationships, this isn’t an issue. But we’re all humans, and sometimes people are jealous and act out (and the way you describe this situation sounds borderline abusive, to me), and that’s something you have to deal with.
You definitely did the right thing asking her to leave when she got physical with your friend, and 60 days is more than fair. But judging by the situations that led up to it, it doesn’t surprise me that she would have flipped out and stiffed you the way she did. Nearly everyone who has lived in roommate setups has some unpleasant story or another, and this one just happens to be very, very unpleasant, and also involve your BFF. But having to chase someone down for the money they owe you is, unfortunately, not all that uncommon. Tempers were flaring and she was feeling wounded and humiliated. Her behavior (while not excusable by any means) makes a lot of sense in the context.
That said, five months is more than enough of a cooling-off period, and she should have gotten herself together enough by now to say “Hey, I messed up, here’s that money I owe you” if she truly values your friendship and respects you. She has to know the mess the money has gotten to you in — not to mention her behavior leading up to it — and the fact that she’s not owning it or doing the right thing, even five months later, is a terrible sign for the friendship. Which means you really have two choices here. First, do you want to get the courts involved to get your money? That is an option, and something you frankly might want to explore if your parents are holding you accountable. You deserve your money, and you shouldn’t abandon the hope of getting it if it’s something you need.
But the second choice, even if you don’t want to get the courts involved, is do you want to maintain this friendship? If you want to salvage it, there’s really only one thing to do that is both true to yourself and charitable to her: send her a detailed, clear email laying out the situation and what is owed to you, making sure to stick as close to the facts as possible without getting too into accusations or speculation. Lay out simply that you love her and want to keep her as a friend, but can’t do it without closure and compensation on what happened this year. Be clear that you have to set boundaries for your friendships, and that this is one of them. Give her the sum total, broken down into the individual items, and give her some terms/options for paying it. If she totally rejects this, it may be time to start seriously removing yourself from the friendship, or pursuing legal action if that’s something you want to do. If she takes this as an opportunity to do the right thing and own up to her mistakes, great. Either way, it’s time to put the final ball in her court and start moving on, with or without her friendship.
Best of luck.