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Favors and Other Crimes
By Lucille   

Last edited: Tuesday, July 02, 2013
Posted: Thursday, January 08, 2004

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The perils to friendship of borrowing and lending.

I did a terrible thing once. I lent money to a friend. The amount was not huge, nor was it insignificant; just enough to cause the word "friendship" to feel like a dress that didn't fit right no matter how much you took it in or let it out.

That admonition spoken by Polonius to his son, Laertes, to "Neither a borrower, nor a lender be..." must have dawned, too late, on an awful lot of other people as the most farsighted advice ever given to a human being.

Does this chain of events appear familiar to you? The first stage was an occasional mental shrug as I attributed to absent-mindedness my friend Jacqueline's failure to return the money. Next, I began to try out phrases in my head: "abused goodwill" and "being taken for granted" were two of the choicest. My emotions achieved critical mass when I found myself talking to restaurant menus. Unseeing of entrees, I muttered, "It isn't the money, you know. I made an investment of good faith in you," and "You have betrayed my trust!"

So far I had kept my feelings to myself, but my favorite foods began to taste like moldy albatross; my smile registered an 8.5 on the Rictus Scale; my humorous remark to someone, "You look wonderful, who is your taxidermist?" failed to amuse, and no wonder, since I sounded vicious when I said it. Sing Sing is not the name of a panda; it is a place where I began to feel my friend Jackie belonged.

It wasn't the money that disturbed me. It was the knowledge that Jackie didn't value me enough to keep my good opinion. I was suffering the slow death of my bond with her; it was causing me depression, bad dreams, high blood pressure, not to speak of how tired I was of dredging up a dozen minor sins against friendship committed by Jackie. I was looking for reasons to help me approach the moment when I had to confront her with my feelings. Surely, I thought, it was possible to explain my hurt while making her understand I did not care about the money. Easier to think it than to do.

A niece once told me (actually, she was pleading), "I really, really have to have this book back. Please don't forget." The booklet in question could have been purchased at any supermarket checkout stand for $1.95, a tiny sum of money about which to be raising a fuss, but there you are. For some reason, people are scared to death of having to dislike you for not keeping a promise.

An odd corollary to this tension between Jackie and me was that I realized she was beginning to dislike me. I told myself I should see things her way: other expenses were more pressing, or she felt I could afford to wait a little longer until she could hand the entire sum back to me. But then, I thought, wy did it never occur to her to mention that she had every intention of returning the loan? It didn't.

Our conversation became charged with sinister innuendo: "I like that outfit, is it new?" I'd say, or she'd say, "The price of a steak nowadays is ridiculous," or I'd say, "I worked hard to get that raise," or she'd say, "I could use a break from work; wish i could afford a long vacation," or I'd say, "My car is due for a big tune-up soon. I hate spending the money."

Pretty soon we couldn't say "Good morning," in a natural way. Jackie was probably thinking. It's none of her business what I buy or how much I spend. I'm getting good and tired of all this hinting for her money. What does she want, my blood?"

It's true , you know; the best line of defense is attack. One day her anger boiled over and we had words. We are now officially ex-friends.

I cannot fathom why most people get so far as this point, when all they had to do was mention the fact that the loan was on their minds. A simple remark to this effect from Jackie would have sounded like springtime birdsong to my ear. It would have added indefinite extension to a friendship that had somehow acquired a mortgage. Why can't people say something so obviously needful? Would they neglect to water their plants to keep them from dying?

Polonius goes on to say, "...For loan oft loses both itself and friend/And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry."

I have a theory about the husbandry part of that quotation. If you must borrow, there might be a way to make a profitable career out of it.

Return your loan on the appointed dot of the hour, day, and year. Don't forget to figure interest. Add on something extra for the favor of the loan and make your friend feel lucky to have you as a friend. She will then see you as a lustrous pearl amongst the largely imperfect exemplars of humanity. She will be made giddy with your display of elegance and, more important, the expression of your high regard for her.

Some time later, borrow a very large sum of money from her. Then disappear.

Web Site: The Dana Literary Organization.

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Reviewed by John Domino 11/24/2008
Dear Lucille,

I loved your article. Your point is well taken. I have "given" money away to friends in need. I have one who said that he will pay me back. I will not hold my breath for I know there is always a GREATER need than to pay someone back, especially in today's economy.

You have had a tough life and now you can turn that mess into a message.


John Michael Domino
Reviewed by Debra Conklin 1/8/2004
Man, this is why I have not or ever will loan to friends. If their friendship means a lot to me, I'll like them well enough to tell them no. Thanks for making a good point.

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