The Day I Decided To Do The Unthinkable
I turned to a friend for money. And then this happened.
It wasn’t until the eviction notice came by personal messenger that I really grasped how dire our financial situation had become.
There are several stages of destitution: The first is denial. Looking back, it was a perfect storm of global recession, illness, layoffs, unpaid credit card bills, cell phone cutoffs and more. We were hopping from ice flow to ice flow, and at any moment we could go under.
In his novel Brideshead Revisited, British author Evelyn Waugh referred to going flat busted as being on “queer street.” That was our current address. I lay awake at night wondering how two smart, college-educated professionals with a BMW could lose everything over the course of three months. We had no savings, needless to say, like many of our peers. I applied for unemployment, but that ran out. I borrowed money from my widowed mother to pay the month’s rent. My husband’s family coughed up some. My job search went on. I was too old, overqualified.
My nightmares always included desperate scenes where I lose my purse. (No need to consult Freud.) We sold everything we could. An art dealer bought the paintings, china and antiques. We held an “Estate Sale” every weekend, putting signs up on telephone poles. We sold our clothes, a Bottega Veneta bag, Jimmy Choo shoes. We pawned our wedding rings and jewelry. We sold my husband’s Swiss watch on eBay, and my Tiffany diamond studs. I had never known such panic. We were doing everything we could to stay afloat.
Then I decided to do the unthinkable: Ask a girlfriend for a loan.
I kept putting it off, too embarrassed to admit we were impoverished. I envisioned a horrifying, humiliating request. It’s not often a comfortable subject. According to a survey by Bankrate.com, nearly half (46 percent) of adults who loaned money to friends or family reported having a negative outcome.
I knew one friend would help me out. Finally, I confided in her when the rent was due and we had 56 cents in the bank. She immediately sent a check. I promised to pay her back with interest, and she refused. “It’s not a loan. It’s a gift.” That was followed by another desperate month of unemployment. I decided to appeal to my oldest friend, one I had been close to since high school. She didn’t hesitate. The check arrived the next day via FedEx. On the subject line was penned, “Friendship Dues.”
But not everyone was willing to help. One longtime friend (who was wealthy) told me she never loaned money to anyone — even her own family members. It was too fraught, she explained. Too much guilt on my part, and resentment on hers that I wasn’t more fiscally responsible or couldn’t pay her back.
I know everyone says don’t borrow money from friends. It will ruin the relationship. But in my case, my true friends came through for me in the end, as I would have for them. I have since found a great job at a nonprofit. My husband is back teaching. Life sometimes throws unexpected curves, just to remind us how fragile we are. Healthy one day. Sick the next. Cruising along comfortably with two incomes one day. On welfare the next. Many healthy friendships can survive — and flourish — by breaking the rules. And yes, even sometimes come with dues.