Thursday, September 1, 2016

You Owe Me BIG

by Giselle Renarde

Glad to see I'm not the only one with three books on the go. I'm such a commitmentphobe I can't even commit to one book at a time! heh.

One of the books I'm currently reading is Margaret Atwood's PAYBACK: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth. I'm going to excerpt some of the book blurb to give you a clearer picture not only of what this book is about, but of what it isn't about:

[Margaret Atwood] doesn’t talk about high finance or managing money; instead, she goes far deeper to explore debt as an ancient and central motif in religion, literature, and the structure of human societies. By looking at how debt has informed our thinking [...] from the stories we tell of revenge and sin to the way we order social relationships, Atwood argues that the idea of what we owe may well be built into the human imagination as one of its most dynamic metaphors.

This is a highly academic work. My brain needs to be fully engaged any time I sit down with it, so it's not the book I pick up with my morning coffee, but debt is a topic that's always interested me. I'm the kind of person who pays off their credit cards in full every month, the kind of person who'd rather go without life's frills in favour of squirreling money away.

This book deals with debt as a concept, but it's got me thinking about one particular debt in my life:

A few years ago, my best friend was in dire straits. I know she wouldn't want me to disclose specific details, but if you were to imagine three of the worst things that could possibly happen to a person you probably wouldn't be anywhere close to how bad things were. She needed a considerable amount of money and I loaned it to her.

She wanted to set up a payment schedule, legal contract, interest rate, all above board. I didn't care about any of that. I wrote her a cheque. She could pay me back when her life stabilized.

"Neither a borrower nor a lender be; / For loan oft loses both itself and friend.." Wise words, there, from our man Polonius. As someone who is debt-averse, I've never been a borrower. Except in this particular instance, I've never loaned anyone money. In fact, I don't tend to loan people much of anything. I don't have a lot of stuff--certainly not the kind of stuff anyone would want to borrow.

Here's the thing: I loaned my friend money knowing she would absolutely pay me back if and when she could afford to do so. That said, I wouldn't have loaned her the money if I absolutely needed it to keep a roof over my head. While the money wasn't a gift, I wasn't counting on getting it back. That's not to say she's absolved of her debt. The debt still exists, I just don't let it get to me.

This girl is not a shifty person. We've been friends for over 20 years. She knows me better than anyone, and I know her pretty damn well too. That said, we'll often go long stretches of time without being in contact. Doesn't matter. We have a heart-to-heart connection. If we never spoke again, we wouldn't love each other any less.

My mom and my girlfriend have kind of teamed up on this one. They've decided my friend has pulled a fast one on me. I almost never think about this debt, but they bring it up often. "Have you heard from her lately? Has she mentioned the money?" They have this immense emotion attachment to my money.

Lending money can ruin a friendship. That's what they say. If you know me well, you know I can't be pressured into doing... well, anything, really. I loaned that money because I wanted to. Maybe that's why I'm not boiling over with resentment. And while it might be nice for the debt to be acknowledged every so often, I understand that money is a touchy subject for a lot of people and debt can be a source of shame.

I wish I'd made a note of it because I'm sure to misquote, but somewhere in PAYBACK Margaret Atwood mentions an antiquated notion (from the Bible? from the Romans? I don't remember) that every seven years all debts should be forgiven. Not a bad idea, if you ask me.

Giselle Renarde is an award-winning queer Canadian writer. Nominated Toronto’s Best Author in NOW Magazine’s 2015 Readers’ Choice Awards, her fiction has appeared in well over 100 short story anthologies. Giselle's juicy novels include Anonymous, Cherry, Seven Kisses, and The Other Side of Ruth. 


  1. Here's a twist on the idea of loaned money affecting a friendship: On one or two occasions over the years, I loaned a friend money and found that the friend seemed to let the debt—which, like you, I wasn't concerned about and which I never brought up—get in the way of the friendship. I theorized that no matter how much of a non-issue the money was to me, the lender, in this instance the borrower felt awkward about it, to the extent that interacting with me was a reminder of this "unpaid debt" and, ergo, interacting with me was uncomfortable. (Please know that I'm by no means saying you shouldn't have loaned money to your friend in need; I'm just sharing my "man bites dog" experience in this area, as a point of general interest.)

    1. Yeah, because the phone rings and they're not thinking "yay, it's my friend," they're thinking, "great, it's a creditor." That has been somewhat my experience too.

  2. I think that we all have been in this kind of situation. When we did a "Losing Friends" topic on these pages a while back, I cited owing money as one of most common reasons to distance both borrower and lender. We know how it is. I hate owing money to anyone,so try to pay it back asap. I think when money is borrowed, the borrower usually has every intention of paying it back. Knowing the borrower and their past history re: money matters can be helpful in separating the good risks from the bad. Last guy I loaned considerable cash turned out to have burned all is friends too. Live and learn. All too often when we loan money, we lose a friend.

  3. And, if you would have kept knowledge of the finances between you and the borrower, you wouldn't have to deal with the fallout from those not involved. It's nobody else's business.

  4. Giselle, what you did sounds like a beautiful expression of concern for someone who needed it. I really hope you don't lose her because of the debt. Recently, I reconnected with an old friend after 32 years apart, and we all (my friend, her husband, her sister, my own spouse, some of my friend's other old friends) had a marvelous 2 weeks enjoying the sights of Vancouver together. After I returned home, I realized how immensely relieved I was that my friendship with Joan (kept alive all these years by emails from Canada to Australia & vice versa) is still intact. I realized after the fact that I had been terrified that some little misunderstanding or disagreement within the group could result in Joan becoming distant emotionally as well as geographically, since friendship doesn't usually carry the same commitment to working things out that a sexual relationship does. (Mirtha & I have had many misunderstandings & disagreements over the years, and we've survived them.) I would like to think my closest friends can be honest with me and accept me when I'm honest with them, but this assumption is never justified until or unless it is tested.

  5. Sounds like a really intriguing book, Giselle. I wonder how the author came up with the concept.

    I've been really fortunate in most of my lending (and my very occasional borrowing) from friends. Just recently a friend from over thirty years ago came to visit, and reminded me about how my DH and I had loaned her money for an operation she needed. At the time, her finances were very shaky. We didn't really worry about whether she'd pay us back; we just wanted her to get well. However, she did repay the money, after several years. Now she says we saved her life. Makes me feel a bit weird, but in a good way.

  6. Borrowing and lending between friends messes with the power dynamic, at least in the mind of the borrower, and makes them uncomfortable. Even if neither party wants this to happen, it's almost impossible to avoid, but we still need to do what we need to do.

  7. It looks as if borrowing and lending could be a fruitful topic here at the Grip.

  8. Agreed on this making a good topic, Jean.

    The book sounds fascinating. I love stuff like that.

    About the friend, I wonder if the contract, etc, would have made her feel safer about the debt. I can feel weird about accepting gifts or help, and sometimes a formal structure can help me compartmentalize in a good way.

    Either way, I'm glad you were able to help your friend, and I hope things work out so the friendship survives. :)


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