Sometimes “Nice” Doesn’t Pay and Take It Under Advisement
Dear Dr. Hurd,
Several years ago my sister and her husband were in trouble financially. Specifically, they owned a struggling restaurant and were about to be evicted if they didn’t come up with back rent. I loaned them the rent money (in excess of $8,000). A few months later, what I suspected (but didn’t want to admit would happen) did happen: They finally closed, owing rent. I feel awkward asking them for the money, but I do need it. How can I approach them about this?
Dr. Hurd replies,
When you subsidize something, you get more of it. Let’s stand back and look at this objectively: Your relatives owned a failing restaurant. There must have been reasons why the restaurant failed. Whatever those reasons were, they apparently remained in place even after you gave them the cash. Money does not fix errors or solve problems; at most, it buys a little time and postpones the inevitable.
Most likely, they’re not paying it back because they don’t have it. This is probably what they’ll tell you if you bring the subject up. And frankly, it’s believable. So should you bring up the subject anyway? Yes, if you feel that the principle is as important as the money. That’s up to you. But either way, don’t expect a payback anytime soon—or at all.
Was there any kind of verbal agreement when you loaned them the money? For example, did they say, “Thank you so much, and we’ll have this repaid in six months”? If so, make reference to what they said and ask them if they still plan to follow through on what they promised. Like I said, your $8,000 probably just delayed the inevitable, given the ongoing factors that were contributing to the restaurant’s downfall. If you’re a fan of Robert Irvine’s Restaurant Impossible on Food Network, you quickly learn that poorly run restaurants eat up money faster than most other businesses.
If you had asked me about this before laying out the money, I would have told you not to loan it. But I would have suggested you perhaps treat it as a gift. Whenever you loan money to relatives or friends, it tends to not be repaid. If you call the money a loan, but in your mind think of it as a gift, then you won’t feel the same level of resentment when it disappears forever.
As an aside, beware of the “Heaven’s Reward” fallacy; the idea that by doing something with a benevolent or noble-seeming intention, you automatically get good results. People become confused when they do something they think is good—even if it makes no sense on its own terms—and then it backfires. “But I was nice, and not mean!” they cry. Sorry. Your intentions alone can’t change reality.
I know that $8,000 is a lot of money, but it is certainly gone for at least the foreseeable future. You might make yourself feel better by calling it a tuition payment at the School of Hard Knocks. After all, if we’re living life fully, we’re always learning. And that’s not such a terrible thing.
Dear Dr. Hurd,
I have two friends (they are a couple; I am single) who are constantly critical of me. In the beginning I took it as advice given out of friendship, but it never seems to end. I’ve known them for a long time, but I find myself making up excuses to not get together with them. I’ll admit that some of their criticisms are accurate, but at this point I’ve pushed them so far out of my life that I’m starting to enjoy the view. I miss them on one level, and, truth be told, maybe I need their advice. But I just get resentful when they harp on me about things I do.
Dr. Hurd replies,
When people give unsolicited, pushy advice, that usually says more about their own wants and needs than it does about yours. Sometimes people give unsolicited advice because it places them in a “one up” or superior position relative to you. People who do not need or want to feel superior, and feel just fine about themselves usually have no need to proselytize.
Sometimes the advice-givers are frustrated about issues or struggles in their own lives. This tends to put them in a bad mood. They feel helpless or angry about what they are unable to control. In that state of mind, they see something in your life which (in their mind) needs fixing, so they dive in, eager to help.
People often tell me that they clean their house or garage as “therapy” when they’re frustrated about people or situations they cannot control. It gives them a sense of relief to accomplish something. Maybe your friends see things to “pick up” or “clean up” in your life (you admitted that you sometimes agree with them), and they assume you appreciate the feedback. Any questionable motives on their part belong to them, not to you. But if you do not convey to them your dissatisfaction with what they were doing, then that blame is on you.
Michael J. Hurd, Ph.D., LCSW is a psychotherapist and author. His office can be reached at 302-227-2829. Email questions or comments to Dr. Hurd.