Ask A Helping Han #8: Loaning Money To People You Love

First off, I want to apologize to everyone for how long it's been since I updated! I was having a major mental blockage about putting my thoughts down in writing. I'm going to try to catch up on my inbox ASAP. I'm sorry to those of you who have been waiting for answers! You're fabulous and I appreciate you. And now, without further ado, on with the show!


Dear Han,

I'm about six months out of an emotionally and financially draining relationship. While I don't make much money as a teacher, my partner had much less financial stability moving from one freelance writing job to the next, and I found myself supporting him, with the expectation that he'd pay me back when he could. Rent, bills, groceries, entertainment, trips, I covered it all.

My biggest mistake was not keeping track of what all he owed me. He kept an itemized list, but I don't know what it amounted to. At the very least I know he owes me two months of rent. When I attempt to bring this up to him, he says I am a shitty and vindictive person looking to harp on our difficult past. However, money owed is not simply a past problem; the rent money alone would've helped me tremendously. 

I'm at a loss. I'm in a financial bind as a result of this relationship, and I can't bring it up without being verbally attacked. I know he is unable to pay me back at the moment, but the assumption that he shouldn't have to "because I was his partner" is perhaps the most offensive part of this all when I know he wouldn't put a friend in this situation. What should I do?

At a Loss


Dear At a Loss,

I'm so sorry you're in this situation. I'm also sorry that I don't have a great solution on how to get your money back.

A piece of advice I've seen repeated over and over again in my years of advice column addiction is "don't loan money that you couldn't afford to give as a gift." The reasoning for this is twofold. 1) Unfortunately, for a lot of reasons, a lot of people who are lent money by friends or family will never pay it back. This can happen for a myriad of reasons: their circumstances don't change, their circumstances DO change but for the worse, or sadly, sometimes they just don't want to. Regardless, there's always a chance that you'll never get your money back. 2) Trying to get a loan repaid ruins relationships. If, for whatever reason, the loanee can't or won't pay the loan back in a timely manner (or at all), bitterness, recrimination, guilt, and feelings of uneven power dynamics can all come into play in really destructive ways. Loaning money to people you care about is SO TEMPTING. They've got a problem, you've got a solution, and you want to stop their suffering. I totally get the compulsion. But if you can't afford to gift the money, and not getting it back is going to cause YOU problems, you shouldn't lend it. 

This idea is pretty straightforward in theory, but in practice, it can get super sticky. This is especially true in situations like yours, where the person you're lending money to is your partner. I'm assuming you lived together, in which case just not paying the rent because he couldn't cover his half was not a super great option. Also, it would feel petty and terrible to do things like buy groceries for yourself and not feed him if he genuinely couldn't afford to feed himself. I really, really understand how you got here. Unfortunately, undoing the financial fallout is unlikely to be super feasible.

The fact that you got out of the relationship is really good. I'm so glad that you managed to do that for yourself. Regarding getting your money back, however, I'm afraid you may be out of luck. I don't know how much legal recourse is possible in a situation like this (any readers with legal expertise, please feel free to chime in!) and if I'm right that it's not much, you're pretty much dependent on his good will to get paid back - and it doesn't sound like he has any. I'd consider at least consulting with an attorney to see what your options are; it's possible that if he was on the lease, you can at least hold him responsible for that portion of what's owed. Things like groceries and travel, however, I suspect are going to be a total loss.

Again, I'm so sorry this happened to you. I wish I had better advice for you. Good luck with everything, and I hope you are able to bounce back financially. Being penalized for caring for people is super shitty.




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