Remember the time you loaned a neighbour your ladder but had to bug them to return it? Or the time you were out at a restaurant with friends who ordered two bottles of wine and then just divided the bill in half even though you and your spouse shared one glass between you? How about the time your daughter condensed all of her science binder into two pages of organized study notes and was asked by a friend if she could borrow the pages so that she could make photocopies? Often the awkwardness of these moments leaves us speechless. Here are some thoughts on what to say:
When friends don’t return borrowed items:
You were doing the neighbourly thing by loaning out your ladder to the family next door. I’m sure that most neighbours would do the right thing and return it in a timely manner. But what if they don’t? What if a week or a month goes by? The next time you see your neighbour outside, you might say, “Hey neighbour, you finished with my ladder?” They might slap their forehead, apologize and admit that they’d forgotten about it. They may promise to return it that evening. When they don’t, you may leave a sheepish message on their voice mail reminding them about the ladder again. At this point, you are likely wishing that you hadn’t loaned it to them in the first place.
knock at their door and say “Hi, I’ve come to get my ladder.” Be prepared for a slightly rude comment, such as: “Wow. That ladder must mean a lot to you.” They may even storm outside with you, retrieve the ladder and shove it into your hands without so much as a thank you. Even though it is your ladder and your neighbour is in the wrong, the borrower has turned things around to make it seem as if you — the lender — has the problem. Remind yourself that this isn’t true. If someone doesn’t have the decency to return things in a timely manner and appreciate your generosity, then they should be embarrassed about their behaviour, not you. Don’t stop being generous to people who appreciate it, and absolutely assert your rights.
Splitting the tab
Splitting bills at restaurant,s can bring about some awkward moments. Some people feel uncomfortable asking for separate bills, perhaps because they don’t want to be perceived as being stingy or cheap. However, my take on this is that everyone is entitled to order off a menu according to his or her means. Why should you have to worry about what your friend is ordering? It’s especially difficult when the restaurant’s policy is not to split bills. You may feel doubly uncomfortable about using a calculator to divide the bill according to what you ordered. Ordering alcohol can really jack up a bill, so this can be an especially contentious issue.
Honesty is the best policy. My policy is that if you are dining out with good friends, then they should respect your restrictions. If not, then perhaps they’re not the friends you thought they were. Before you even place an order, you may say something like “I hope you don’t mind if we ask for separate bills this evening. We have a budget we’d like to stick to.”
When you don’t want to lend something:
If your daughter relays uneasiness or annoyance about a friend asking for something that she has put a lot of effort into, you should first validate and acknowledge her feelings of being taken advantage of, especially if this is not the first request of its kind. You can also acknowledge that this is a difficult situation, because although your daughter likely wants to be perceived as being generous and kind, she also doesn’t want to be seen as a pushover.
You may want to discuss the difference between having a reciprocal sharing arrangement with a friend so that each feels that the other is putting in equal effort, or being asked for a one-time favour compared to this type of request being made on a regular basis. If it’s regular, you may want to help your daughter find a way to express her feelings, such as: “I’d love to be able to help you, but I’d feel resentful because I’ve put in all the work. So, I’m sorry but I can’t.'”
Awkward moments are a part of life, but after you’ve tackled a few in a way that yields positive results, you will build increased confidence in your ability to manage them.