#892: How do I get my sister to pay me the money she owes me?

Hello Captain Awkward,

I have a long question about how to get a family member to pay back the money they owe you. First bit of background: I recently got married and moved to another country VERY far away. It’s been almost a year now and really wonderful (except where my sister is concerned).

My “close knit” family (ie- intrusive at best and emotionally abusive at worst) has not taken it well. My sister and I grew up incredibly close and she was an ally to me with our parents/extended family (usually). She’s one year older than me but we always hung around together and went to the same college ect. Long story short, she’s always been a high achiever but also immature and VERY emotional/needy. There’s some deets behind that but I won’t get into it.

Well cue a few months after the move she informs me she just booked her tickets and is coming for 10 WEEKS and can’t wait to STAY WITH US! We live in a studio apartment, are still getting settled, money is tight, and we are literally newlyweds. I tell her hey this may not be the best idea but she insists she has so much travel she’ll be doing she’ll hardly be there plus it’s booked and she’d have to pay a massive fee to change. Okkkk i guess? She comes and is an absolute bitch. Every day she wants to go out (spend heaps), never pays for anything like groceries or household items, even makes my husband do her laundry (long story), and complains shes bored. Has more than one crying session about me making her feel like she’s “not a guest”. Everything is about her even when she literally lit the kitchen on fire – really tho, big fire (really long story). Apparently it’s so hard for her to be home all day with nothing to do but refuses to do anything by herself (except lighting the kitchen on fire – that was all her). She’s a passive aggressive bitch and I’m stressed to the max.

Turns out that travelling she wanted to do… She thought I’d be going with her (but not the new hubs) Ugh. I refuse to take more than 2 weeks vacation. Those 2 weeks were all about her and quite frankly stressful/not fun at all. She takes up all my additional time and is so HORRIBLE even my new burgeoning friends notice how mean she is to me. But hey it’s family and I’ll deal. In hindsight it was like she took every script out of our mother/family’s emotionally abusive playbook and threw it at me and I should have kicked her out.

Anyways, here’s the real issue. She kept asking my husband and I to pay for things on our card because “hey we’re booking together it’s easier to just do it at once” and she’d pay us back. Also at one point her wallet was stolen/lost and she had to get new cards sent ect which took a while. Recipe for disaster I know (now) but I also know how much she makes (ALOT more than me – we’re talking mid 6 figures) and that she would definitely be able to pay back. We had a long talk about her paying us back right away – she agreed. We’ll long story short, trip ends we present the spreadsheet with everything she owes us and she says she’ll pay asap, when she’s home no problem.

Now that she’s left she won’t pay us back, is dramatically bad mouthing me to all our family – who in turn are sending me harassing emails, says I’m bullying her ect. And she will not respond to any of my emails (they are actually quite nice). I’ve said basically is everything OK? I’m concerned about you. If you can’t pay back now lets determine a timeline/payment plan. NO RESPONSE at all. We didn’t even ask her to pay the apartment deposit that we obviously lost because of the fire she started (possibly/likely on purpose). Which was a lot of additional money!

It’s been 6 months since she left and we really need the money. I’m at a loss about what to do and honestly devastated that one of my closest relationships has been ruined but also that she’s ruining a lot of my other family relationships which used to be really important to me. With me being so far away I can’t defend myself and I’m feeling really isolated (I’m sure that’s her intent).

No one in my family is helpful and basically have all sided with her in a very “I don’t want to get involved but…” way. So no allies there. Some of our mutual friends have stopped speaking with me as well and it’s hard to enough maintain contact with the distance even without this drama. I think I have some details on the BS she’s telling people but it’s so long I can’t really fit it all in here.

Please help me with scripts to use with her – at this point just to get that money back, but also with other family members and my parents. I just have no idea how to handle this anymore.

PS- she’s gone on multiple vacations since she gone back to the US (long weekend skiing in Vale, now she’s just gone to some exotic island for a week long “girls trip”, 2 different weekends in Vegas) all of which are clearly on the luxury end. My parents love to tell me how great she’s doing, how much money she’s making and how great it is she can afford to travel so much, and she didn’t need to even move out of the US. Which is very upsetting.

B*+ch better have my money

Dear Better Have My Money:

First, a dance party. (It’s the explicit version with language, nudity, and violence, if you’re at work or not into the idea of Rihanna fantasy-kidnapping people and fantasy-holding them naked-hostage for non-payment of invoices).

Here is my read on the situation.

A) Your money is gone and is not coming back.

B) Your sister is not on your team (and isn’t going to be).

I know that’s a lot out of the gate. You’d love to fix this. If she would just pay you, maybe you could fix it. If your relatives could just understand, maybe they could help you fix it. If you could just tell your side of the story then maybe…

This is a possible story about what happened, emotionally speaking:

You and your sister grew up in a close-knit family viper’s nest of manipulative people.

Eventually you met someone great and moved to the other side of the world. You started a new life, surrounded by people who like you and treat you well. You’ll visit your family and call, but the truth is: You left. You made a happy life outside the nest.

So one of vipers came to visit you, ran up all your credit cards, and set your kitchen on fire. She forced your world to revolve around her for 10 long weeks. Maybe she did intend to pay you back when she said she would – ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ – but now she has something she didn’t even know she wanted: Your attention. Your energy. You, right back in the middle of family drama. You didn’t think you could just move away from all that and be happy, did you?

Maybe my read on the situation has too much in common with Tana French’s novel Faithful Place – you’re a better judge than me of whether any of this reads true. But from her actions with extended family and mutual friends, it seems like every time you ask her for the money it gives her an opportunity to play out a scene where She Is The Good One Who Stayed Close (And Achieved $ucce$$) and You Are The Bad One Who Left (And Who Is Petty About Money). She’s being a jerk to you and using a manipulation tactic called triangulation to get others to be a jerk to you – you expend energy trying to convince them, they talk to her, she talks to them, she gets more material to mess with you.

You know that you’ve acted with integrity. You took your sister at her word that she’d pay you back, you did what you could to make her visit pleasant (despite her rude and entitled behavior), and you’ve only asked for what she promised you. That’s one of the “wins” to be found here – You did your best, and if you walk away from the relationship, knowing that you did your best can be a comfort.

Now, here comes the hard part:

a) Make a Plan B for how you’re going to get by without the money she owes you. Whatever energy you are spending on chasing her for the funds, redirect most of it into that, whether it’s picking up a part-time job or seriously reworking your budget.

b) Send one more email to your sister, cc: your parents.

“(Sister), I’m sending the spreadsheet again. You said that you’d pay us back if we covered the following expenses during your trip. It’s been (time period) and you haven’t paid us back. This is putting us under considerable financial strain. Please pay ($Total) by (Date) via (Preferred Method). Thank you.”

c) Pull back on contact. Filter emails from your sister and family members who have been jerks about this situation into their own folder that bypasses your inbox. Check it once a month under controlled circumstances, like, having a friend screen things for you. If you use Facebook, put your sister and every family member who has been shitty about this situation on your Restricted list. Use the “mute” function on Twitter. For the time being, limit how much attention you give your sister, how much you know about her movements (like her other vacations), and interact with her flying monkeys only when you want to.

d) Brace for the avalanche of derailing and escalated attempts to get your attention:

  • “You only care about money! You don’t care about family!” 
  • “Here is some side issue that demonstrates why you shouldn’t care about the money!” 
  • “Why won’t you talk to (Sister)/(Relative), you’re just hurting everyone’s feelings!”
  • “You’ve always been distant/cold. We should have seen this coming.” 
  • “(Sister) loves you, whyyyyyyyyy won’t you talk to her.” 
  • “Now that you live so far away do you even want to be part of this family.” 
  • “(Sister) told us how petty and obsessed with money you are.” 
  • “Well, I can’t make a decision until I know both sides. I bet both sides are equally wrong.” 
  • “How can you be so selfish as to put money in front of family?”/”I can’t believe you are making some little amount of money more important than YOUR SISTER, WHO LOVES YOU.” 
  • “If you could be more successful like your sister you wouldn’t even have these problems.” 

Your family will probably have really creative ones that push alllllllll your buttons. They are all designed to do one thing, and one thing only: To scapegoat you at the expense of your sister and distract you from the fact that she is treating you very badly.

e) If you respond at all, be very boring about it:

  • Be a broken record with your sister. Every time she contacts you, even if it’s to send you a funny text, say: [Sister], you still owe me $$$$. What’s your plan for paying me back?” “[Sister], I miss talking to you too, but there’s nothing for us to talk about until this debt of $$$$ is settled.” Make it super fucking awkward. She is banking (literally) on you getting too annoyed or frustrated and giving up. Resist this temptation!  You’re not going to chase your sister, or change your sister, you’re just going to tell her that there’s nothing to talk about until she pays you and then stick to that. If she starts contacting you all the time, become the kid from Better Off Dead who wants his $2 . You will never not mention the money.
  • Be a broken record with your family & friends. Do not bring up the situation, but if they do, be blunt: “Yes, that sure is awkward, but [Sister] owes me $$$$. I really hope she’ll get in touch about paying me back, it’s been really hard for us financially.” If they give you the “Well, I don’t want to get involved” runaround, say, “Great! Why did you bring it up, then?” and let the subsequent awkward pause be as awkward as it needs to be until they change the subject. Your family needs to understand that they can either “not be involved” or they can STFU about it.
  • If you start getting pressure to visit family or to host a visit or contribute to a gift or a family event that you can’t afford, tell the truth, “I’d love to, but we can’t swing it until [Sister] pays us the $$$$ she owes us. So sorry to miss it!
  • $$$$ = Mention the exact amount she owes you, every time. Every time. To her. To family. To friends. I guaran-fucking-tee it that she is downplaying how much she actually owes you when she talks to others in order to make you seem petty, so they will be like “Ugh, I can’t believe Letter Writer is being such a baby about $90!” If these ‘friends’ and ‘family’ want to be her pawns in manipulating you, make sure they have all the information.
  • Get really diligent about check-splitting where family is concerned. Separate checks forever! “Nope, we’ll just call twice/book separately.

And remember, you don’t have to respond to every message from your family, especially from your sister. Start interacting on your schedule, not hers.

f) Be steady and unashamed about your boundaries. Manipulative people use your own good manners and the social contract against you. They want you to be afraid of how you look to other people. They want to turn things that they did to you into something you are doing to them by trying to hold them accountable. They want you to feel guilty and petty about things like, sticking to the ‘no’ you just said or taking your sister at her word that she’d pay you back. They believe that you should “rise above it” and “just ignore it” and “well, don’t stoop to her level or you’re just as bad.” The way to defeat this is not to ignore it, it’s to remember that your sister had choices about how to behave. She has chosen not to pay you back and to be a giant jerkass about all of it. If your relationship sucks now and is all about how she owes you money, she chose to make it that way, and she could choose to unmake it that way by paying you back and apologizing.

One reason I say this is that your sister might very well get to the “FINE, YOU WIN, HERE IS A CHECK, HAPPY NOW?” place, like, you are the mean, greedy one and she is the sweet, innocent one. If you’re steady, firm, and unashamed, you will be equipped to say, “Yes, of course, thank you” and cash that check.

I don’t think the money is going to come back and I don’t think a good relationship with your sister is going to come back, but I also think it might be worth letting things be as awkward as they really are between all of you and reminding yourself (and others, if they butt in) that you didn’t make it this way and that “being the bigger person” isn’t going to pay your rent or get your security deposit back. I’m so sorry, it sucks. It’s not fair. It’s so tempting to want to clear your name with friends and family and to make this right, but you’re not the one who made it wrong.

:Dance Party Outro:



231 thoughts on “#892: How do I get my sister to pay me the money she owes me?

  1. Not only cash that check, but cash it very quickly before it has a chance to bounce! I guarantee sister is taking all those ski trips on credit card debt and is probably maxxed out a lot of cards. In fact, I wonder if the conveniently stolen wallet covered up that fact.

    1. Maybe even don’t take it as a check. Do paypal, if that’s a thing that’s available to you, or maybe MAKE it available in this case. Like, Sister, you owe XXX please send it via paypal to XXXX@XXX.com, thank you, it can be all one speech

      1. There are a couple of apps available either third party or from your bank directly these days that will do similar things to paypal, and might be an option as well. Also, just as a general piece of advice, if you are really worried about someone writing you a cheque that will bounce, take it to the bank it’s drawn on and have them either pay it in cash or issue a cashier’s cheque for the amount. You will know immediately if they wrote the cheque with insufficient funds to pay it, 1, and 2, if you take it to the bank immediately they usually won’t have had time to put a stop on it.

        1. PayPal woks internationally and does currency conversion (for a fee), though, and a lot of the other apps are restricted to use within one country. I was going to encourage a PayPal invoice.

          1. Seconding this recommendation. Paypal invoices are secure and when they’re paid there’s no way for the payer to single-handedly reverse the charges, or for the payment to fail due to insufficient funds.

        2. That works great if there is that bank around, but it’s hard to do if the bank its drawn on isn’t anywhere near you (which is likely considering the country differences)

      2. Heck, if you’re using paypal, you could even send her an invoice and everything. Sitting there, on her paypal, waiting to be paid…

    2. +100 this. I know the sadness of not being able to connect with your sister- even if we weren’t especially close, my sister and I always ‘got’ each other, until one day it seemed like we just didn’t. I’m so sorry for you. All that negativity can be quite draining, so when it gets too much, invest your time and energy (and your thoughts) in your new friends and your marriage.

    3. Yeah I’m thinking this too. It doesn’t matter how much some people have coming in – if they can’t manage money responsibly they’ll manage to have a whole lot more going out. I’m even wondering if the SURPRIIIIIISE visit was a bid to escape from some responsibilities at home. She’s certainly telling people that she has a ton of money coming in and can afford all of this… but she wouldn’t be the first person to lie about that.

    4. I was having similar suspicions. This sounds like someone who is desperate to cover up that they do not actually have money (she might have a good job, but she’s also spending a lot of money you know of, and people who earn a lot frequently spend a LOT without noticing it). And given the dysfunctional background, and that she’s held up as the successful one, I’d be very surprised if she felt she could go up to anyone and admit that she’s in trouble and needs help to sort things – if she *isn’t* generous towards selected family members or at least visibly splashing out, *her* status might be in trouble.

    5. I second not asking for a cheque, but for an electronic transfer, just for the reason that LW is in another country. In many European countries, cheques are almost obsolete, so depending on LW’s location cashing a foreign cheque would be impossible or a major pain in the butt.

      1. Yes, the bit about “check” jumped out at me, too. Unless the home country and the current country have banking systems that work together (it might work within Europe, say), transferring money is a huge PITA. Wire transfer is best.

        Oh, assuming OP has an account in the home country, be careful about letting sister deposit a check into it. I had a roommate pay me back once by depositing a check in my account. It bounced, I got hit with a fee.

        1. Giving someone you don’t trust your wiring information is not the best idea, security-wise. Paypal transactions are a safer bet.

        2. Maybe the answer is a cashier’s check, which must be paid by the bank. Also, it sounds really bad, but the LW should consider a law suit against the sister for negligence in the matter of setting the kitchen on fire, especially if it ended up costing a security deposit.

          1. Given that it would be an international case, just sorting out what jurisdiction and laws apply would alone bankrupt a small country. This regrettably one of those cases where pursuing it will cost you multiple times the money you’ve lost in the first place.

      2. If “cheque” also includes something like western union, then it might work. But otherwise, this.
        Even in places where personal cheques are (still) a thing, cashing or depositing a foreign one is likely a no-go.

        1. I’m in the UK and I deposit several US dollar cheques a year into my bank here without any problems at all. They do stress, though, that the money is only in my account conditionally until they get the funds from the issuing bank.

          1. And that’s true here in the US too. For any check deposited into a bank, the funds are only conditional until the check clears the issuing bank. (Just one more reason why direct deposit is a good thing.) Because a check isn’t negotiable currency, it’s more like a IOU with tracking information.

    6. I’m curious how this will affect her long term job prospects. If she’s doing a job that makes six figures, how on earth is she getting all this vacation time? (Not to shed doubt on LW’s story at all, I’m just curious how she’s managing to keep her job. Or maybe she won’t, in the long run. Also, I really want a 6-figure job where I can take 10 weeks vacation at the drop of a hat).

      1. I assumed she was doing something along the lines of IT contracting. If she’s taking well paid short-term contracts it’s more than possible for her to work for a while and then take extended time off between contracts.

      2. I don’t know about 10 weeks vacation, but I do know jobs that pay well that have very good vacation allotments or sabbatical arrangements. My company offers 6 weeks PTO per year for all staff and you can ask for more. Its a culture of “work hard, play hard” where play hard is “go away and recharge” rather than the more common “drink a bunch with your coworkers” interpretation.

        The “work hard” part isn’t joking though – I don’t think this job is doable with less than four weeks off a year.

      3. OP here – she’s a contractor. So she generally takes contracts that are 4 days a week on site and Fridays are “work from home”. So she easily does long weekend trips. She came for 10 weeks after one of her contracts ended and she had lined up a new one beginning 10 weeks later.

    7. Depending on what kind of work she does, she may be spending frightening amounts of money in order to keep up with wealthy clients (or potential clients). There’s a stage of “entry-level upper class” that can be incredibly precarious for someone who is class jumping and doesn’t have established family wealth backing them up. It doesn’t excuse ripping off family members and triangulation, but it’s there. And it catches a lot of people in the trap of “spend money to make money” until they are paycheck-to-paycheck in a wealthy burb.

      1. This, hell even wealthy coworkers and/or friends can cause this. I spend more right now because I’m surrounded by spendy people, even though I’m trying to pay down debt – it’s very very easy to go with the flow, and quite hard to bow out of things for financial reasons. The credit card thought seems very plausible to me actually. I know a lot of fairly well off people in a very deep credit card hole.

        1. Oh heck yes. I have a co-worker who jumped up the payscale considerably (think $XX,XXX to $XXX,XXX), but based on the purchases he’s posted on social media, I would be absolutely shocked if his net financial situation isn’t equivalent (or possibly worse) than it was before he made the jump. The thing is, everyone I’ve worked with who’s in that pay situation is a big consumer – properties, cars, big homes, crazy vacations and piles of stuff. But even $XXX,XXX can’t cover a boat, and jetskis, and two new luxury cars, and a freshly-built home on the beach, and premium vacations and more.

          CC debt is extremely plausible. I’m sorry OP. You acted on good faith.

        2. I always assumed that people who spent a lot more money than I did must be making a ton more money. I commented that a guy who was a peer at work had just bought a new BMW and went out to eat all the time and wondered if he had family money. A friend said, “Probably not. He’s probably just living paycheck to paycheck, just on a larger scale than people who work minimum wage.”

          Some people (who make decent money) just don’t save money. I don’t get it. How do they think they are going to live when they are old?

          1. Some of them haven’t thought about the question, and some think they won’t live long enough to retire. Mickey Mantle was quoted as saying “If I’d known I would live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself.” Mantle died at 63, significantly older than he had expected based on his family history.

  2. This whole thing reminds me SO much of my (manipulative, narcissistic) mom. Hang in there, LW. You can’t change her behavior, or that of the rest of your family, but you can sure change yours. And over time, you will be able to change your perspective too. It just takes time and consistency. The Captain’s advice is great and I hope you give it a try.

  3. LW, I am sorry to say that your money is gone and is not coming back. You can spend even more money and time chasing after it, or you can write it off as an investment in a new life free of your Toxic Family and get on making a new life with your new family in your new town, far, far away from them.

    And because I am pretty sure it will come up: there is no rule that you MUST open up your home to visitors, even family, and if anyone comes to your town to see you (especially Horrible Sister) and they haven’t made other arrangements for a place to stay, that is on THEM, not you. Perhaps you could arm yourself with the names of a couple of cheap hotels not too nearby that they could book a room at. Or perhaps you could just let them own that problem that they created. “Sorry, the last time someone stayed here, they set my kitchen on fire” is a pretty compelling argument for why you aren’t having guests right now.

    1. LW, I want to second and emphasize that you are under no obligation to let your sister or anyone else stay with you ever, much less for ten weeks, even if they already bought the tickets. In fact, her booking the tickets without asking you about your schedule or ability to house her is a total red flag that she doesn’t respect your boundaries at all.

      The fact that you went along with the whole shebang indicates the extent to which these manipulative people have accustomed you to not asserting and/or maintaining your boundaries, and that’s their shitty mentality and behavior, not yours; they’ll push back against you if/when you resist, but that’s also their shitty mentality and behavior and not yours. You are not rude, disrespectful, or unloving if/when you tell them no.

      (Caveats: If *you’ve* told someone to buy tickets and can’t make the trip work out, you’re *still* not obligated to let them stay with you but should probably help pay for the tickets or a hotel, depending on the situation. Also, some visitors with healthy boundaries will buy tickets to a city you live in on a whim, but then will 100% understand if you can’t house them or have limited or no time to see them.)

      1. “LW, I want to second and emphasize that you are under no obligation to let your sister or anyone else stay with you ever, much less for ten weeks, even if they already bought the tickets. In fact, her booking the tickets without asking you about your schedule or ability to house her is a total red flag that she doesn’t respect your boundaries at all.”

        I would also suggest talking to the police in the country you’re now in about whether someone showing up when you’ve specifically told them not to could be considered trespassing. Like in the U.S., I doubt the police would force you to take your boundary-violating sister in, but other countries might be more geared toward “all families support all members no matter what.” It’s just good to know ahead of time, if someone else shows up when you’ve told them no, whether you can call the police or if you’ll be told to let your family member in.

      2. Absolutely. For one thing, if sis is making six figures and can (theoretically) afford to come for 10 weeks, then she can dang well afford a hotel.

        Also, keep in mind that she made her own problems. Ever hear the old phrase “Failure to plan accordingly on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine”? This is exactly what your sister did. So she’ll have to get a hotel, and changing her flights will cost her extra money? Tough cookies. Maybe she should have consulted you to find out what was feasible before booking everything.

        Finally, for future reference, sit down with your husband and determine the maximum time period you’re both willing to host a guest. I can’t remember if it was Dear Abby or Miss Manners who said, “Guests and fish being to stink after 3 days.” I can tell you from having done some travelling myself and hanging out on travel forums that 3-4 days is common. Barring truly unusual circumstances, more than a week is usually considered to be long enough. Your sister expecting to stay for nearly 2.5 months is not only unrealistic, but the height of rudeness.

        Honestly, your family sounds like mine was for many years, which I describes as “The Princess and the screwup”. Thankfully, in my case, my parents figured a few things out as we got older. For you, it regrettably sounds like this is going to be a continuing thing. The best you can do is try to let it have as little impact on you as possible. IF you’re missing family-type interactions, I would ask how awesome/not awesome are your in-laws? For all the horror stories we hear, there’s also a large contingent out there who practically adopt their new daughter/son-in-law. Heck, my parents did that with just our boyfriends.

        All that said, stick to your guns and do not let people invite themselves to stay with you. It is *your* house and *your* time and *your* money, and if they didn’t bother to have the basic level manners to check with you before making their plans, then they can deal with the consequences of those plans. Heck, I’d never pick out a hotel to say in, then not bother to make a reservation and just show up on arrival day.

        Certainly they can extend you the same courtesy they would (theoretically) extend a hotel.

        1. ““Guests and fish being to stink after 3 days.”

          ‘Twas Ben Franklin to that particular tune. 🙂

    2. Yup. I live in a city that’s a popular vacation destination. After too many years of hosting horrible family houseguests for weeks and weeks, I’ve learned to draw the line. The guest who did her own laundry and changed out the sheets on her bed before she left? She is welcome to stay for a month. The guests who used my toothbrush and destroyed my bathroom fixtures? Get a hotel.

  4. I think this is why the rule “never lend money to family” came into being. I fell for it too, LW. I lent my sister about $500 years ago for [variety of reasons] and now she’s unemployed and can’t work and I’m basically never going to see that money again. It’s a hard rule to learn.

    1. I will lend money to family and friends, but only if I am in a position where that money can be a gift. So yes, I will lend someone $500 if I have it, and if my finances are such that I can hand it over with zero expectations of ever getting it back. I usually get it back, even if it’s very slowly, because most of my loved ones are the kind of people who pay back loans, but sometimes I don’t–usually because they hit a very bad patch in their lives and money owed to people who can’t cut off their electricity/evict them/etc. is just not on their radar at the time. And my mindset of “I am giving them this money” lets me (a) not nag them about it and (b) not resent them if they don’t pay it back.

      It also means that I say “no” a lot, because if I can’t afford to never see that money again, I don’t lend it in the first place.

      1. Yes, I have learned that’s the only way to do it. I will “lend” (gift) money, but only if I feel comfortable with never seeing it again. I do this for small things, too, like picking up the check at dinner or getting tickets for myself and a friend: if it would be a burden to cover that cost in perpetuity, I make sure I insist on separate payments. If I cover a friend for something, I may remind them once of it, but otherwise let it go. For the health of my relationships and my own personal sanity. (If someone abused this generosity, as the LW’s sister did, I would pull back on the relationship.)

        My immediate response to the post title of “How do I get my sister to pay me the money she owes me” was simply: you don’t.

        1. I think this is a smart way to go in the future, and I’d go even further to say that if I am not struggling, and someone I love IS struggling, and I have the power to make a gift instead of a loan I’m going to do that, like, hey, take care of yourself, and don’t worry about paying me back – get on your feet and then pay it forward.

          For the LW, it’s too late to decide this. She believed her sister, and she needs & expects the money back. So “just don’t lend to family” or “consider it a gift” isn’t going to help right now. The other side of “let the money go” is “or be willing to let the person go.”

          1. Yup, you are so right. Hindsight is 20/20 and I was thinking back to all the times I was in the LW’s shoes and never saw a bit of that money back. Took a lot of years to come to a place of calm about it. None of which helps the LW in this moment.

            LW, I hope your sister does the right thing and pays you back. The Captain’s advice as to how to increase the chances of this is, as always, spot on.

        2. Agreed. five years ago I lent a friend in a desperate situation $4000. She had a history of borrowing money and not paying it back, so I was really her only option as I was the a) the only person in her circle of friends she hadn’t borrowed from before and b) had the means to write a check for that amount out of the blue. I knew as I was writing the check that I’d never see the money back, at least not all of it, and was determined to not be resentful if I turned out to be correct.

          She attempted to pay me back in dribs and drabs of $25 here, $50 there, but I eventually just told her that I considered the loan forgiven, because watching he struggle to come up with even those small payments made me feel terribly sad. When I let her know she was as immensely grateful as I was relieved to not have it hanging over us anymore. We’re still close, but had I really counted on her paying back the loan I doubt we would be.

          1. During the 2008 financial crisis and aftermath, there were two separate times when my husband gave small to us but large to our friend-in-need sums of money to friends. On each occasion, it was given freely without a request for repayment, the recipient promised to pay us back anyway, and we never spoke of the money again. It was more important to us that our friends not be in dire straits than that we had that money.

            Outside of an actual business deal, I think that having the attitude that the money is a gift to someone you love is the only safe way to loan friends/family money and have a relationship after the fact. If the amount means something to you financially at all, do not loan it.

          2. I “loaned” a friend a considerable sum a few years ago. It was to help him emigrate to a different country, so I gave it knowing I would never see it again…

            A few months ago his mother knocked on my door with an envelope full of cash. He had repaid it in full. I was so shocked and amazingly grateful and happy. It was an incredible feeling and restored my faith in the awesomess of humans.

            Imagine if I had been waiting for those repayments and getting resentful. I would have felt like shit for 3 years, and merely neutral now. I will take ‘gifts + possibility-of-awesome’ over ‘loan + potential-to-destroy-relationships’ any day of the week.

        3. I would also add (similar to what others have been saying) that I will give someone a loan (of money/items I can afford not to have returned) *once*. If they pay me back/return the item, I have learned something important, and will consider it again in the future. If they don’t, I have learned something different, also important, and will not make loans to that person again. I much prefer gifts for this reason (hate following up on loans), but have a decent circle of people that I can count on to make good on loans (or, say, we’re all doing something together so one of us puts the cost for tickets/reservations/etc. on a card and everyone else sends them the money).

  5. Signed a cell phone contract for my 18 yr old sister who was living independently because none of the companies considered her adult enough to own in her own name. She promised to be responsible for paying it.

    18 months later she decides she wants a different phone and thinks she has cancelled the contract on the phone – but the phone company didn’t cancel because technically in my name. I don’t know any of what is going on, because the bills etc go to my sister’s email. Well, even though she didn’t use the phone, the phone bill ran up and interest piled up, and suddenly she owes a $1,000 on the phone that is in my name. Guess who had to pay it. Guess who hasn’t paid me back and likely never will.

    Yup, feeling your pain. I hope it works out better for you than it has for me.

    1. One time my sister and mother called from a car dealership asking me to cosign a loan. They couldn’t get a car loan. I said “I’m not doing it for the same reason they won’t. They know you don’t pay your bills on time and so do I. Love you, see you next family dinner!” Lo and behold, they lived fine without that car.

      1. Yeah, this. I’m happy to loan money that could be a gift if necessary. The sort of “help me out because you’re doing a bit better, and if I’m ever doing a bit better, I’ll help you out (or for some people, maybe not) but we don’t really expect it to be paid according to the literal dollar amount.”

        But if I’m accepting a financial liability, I want to be clear in advance, if “oh, no, sorry, I can’t deal with that, your problem” is a likely answer. I feel like a shithead for insisting on it (it hasn’t exactly come up much). But if someone has this plan where it’s no hassle if nothing goes wrong, I want to know if they’re prepared and able to pay if something goes wrong, even if it’s in my name. And for lots of friends I WOULD trust them because I know they WOULD be able to (barring exceptional disaster, which I’m willing to risk).

        But I really hate the sort of vague compromise between the two. “Here, accept an open-ended liability. No, I refuse to talk about the details, don’t be so uptight, just sign. Don’t you trust me?” or “Oh, yes, that $10, I will TOTALLY pay you back. Eventually. But yes, keep worrying about it, don’t write it off.”

        1. After years of siblings trying to use me like a free source of cash, both younger and generally less financially stable than me, and who would always, always promise to pay me back (and I was always, ALWAYS last on the list of people to pay back, sometimes they would borrow money off me to pay back parents so they could pretend to be good at paying debts), I came up with the ‘deferred debt’ rule: if they borrow a significant chunk that I know full well they won’t be paying back, I write it down (FYI emails are good), tell them I won’t ask for it til they have money to pay, and then wait 2-5 years or whatever until they have a good job. If they ask for more, I let them know how much they owe, and lend it.

          The best thing this did was it actually massively cut down on a) actually borrowing because it suddenly wasn’t free money they could ‘forget’, and b) cut down on stress at my end over whether I wanted to lend them money and be responsible for ‘managing’ their debt.

          That worked great for sibling 1, who ended up owing me thousands, stressing massively about their debts in all directions so pushing at the time would have nuked things, and then set up a payment plan happily once they had a decent job. Sibling 2 is still getting to that point, but will probably happily pay me when feeling generous AFTER they are feeling rich, but will just ‘forget’ any time before then.

          (Obviously I don’t lend more than I can afford to lose at the time, but constant emergency requests add up…)

          1. The best for me part was the way it took away their plausible deniability 😀 “Oh, can I just borrow $100?” “sure, so you currently owe me $756, so you know” “I absolutely do not” “here’s the email trail!” “…”

          2. I did the same thing with my younger kid! And when our situations turned around – she was in a stable, well-paid job and starting to build some savings, and I was abruptly widowed in a new city with a new job and apartment and my savings drained from funeral and moving expenses, trying to get back on my feet – she didn’t wait to be asked, she volunteered. She just paid the last $200 she owed me, and it’s been a godsend through these transition months.

            But the thousands and thousands of dollars we “loaned” his kids… I’ll never see. CA (or maybe a commenter? It was definitely on this site, but I don’t remember the context) once said something to the effect that “sometimes throwing money at a problem is the cheapest way out” and writing off that debt definitely falls under that category for me.

      2. You are almost better off lending an irresponsible family member a very small sum at the beginning. They won’t pay it back, but you then have an excuse to never, ever lend them another penny. You can always bring it up when they whine and beg. Also, as in my brother’s case, if you are asked to go in on a party for another family member, make sure to specify that you will only write the check directly to the vendor. He asked for a large check from me, supposedly for a birthday party for our mother. When I told him I was willing to pay, but that I would need to speak to the vendor and write the check to them, I never heard about that party again. I ended up throwing my mother a party on my own, without his participation. My brother’s scheme was to get the check written to him and to just keep the money and never throw a party or pay the money back. We found out later than he was back to using drugs again.

    2. When I lived in the UK, I had a brief fling with someone who was flatting with good friends of mine. The fling didn’t work out, but we saw each other regularly enough and I considered her to be a casual friend. When I returned to my home country, I had three months left on a very generous mobile phone contract, so I asked her if she wanted to take my old phone, because I knew she was short on cash and job-hunting. I emphasised that local calls up to [generous minutes] were free, as were 500 texts a month (this was the late 90s).

      Returned home, all good, until one day I got a call from my UK bank telling me I was 400 quid overdrawn and when was I intending to make payment? I was like, WTF, I had 500 pounds in the bank and what happened?

      Turns out Little Miss Poor had been calling her family in South Africa on the phone I’d kindly given her, and talking to them for hours at a time, thereby racking up 900 POUNDS worth of calls in a single month. The phone company noticed the “unusual calling pattern” and finally cut it off.

      I managed to track her down, since obviously I knew where she lived – trying to call someone when they don’t want to talk to you with a half-day time difference is still challenging – and her response was “Oh.” She finally said she’d pay it back – I said that she could take her time. 100 quid a month would have been OK. Not great when I was house-hunting and needing rent bond, but OK. Never saw the goddamned money.

      One galling aspect was I had called the phone company before I left and asked if I could place a block on international calling from my account. No, apparently that was not possible. So I just thought I was being over-paranoid and let it be.

      Still kicking myself about it, 18 years later! These days that amount of money would be much more manageable for me, but even NOW, 900 bloody pounds in one month of calls is absolutely gobsmacking to me.

  6. That sucks. I used to be blocked from a writer, but I’m not now. I don’t know if changing who I followed made a difference or what. I’ll quote retweet anything from her I want you to see.

    Sent from my iPad


    1. I don’t know what this comment was meant at, but, two things. One, if you block someone, they cannot see your tweets in quote retweets. Two, if person A has person B blocked, DON’T try and get around person A’s block! That is incredibly not okay. So many boundaries crossed! And if you do that to many people, you are putting them in danger. Writers are people, too. They deserve boundaries.

      1. I’m pretty sure that’s not true. I noticed a writer I used to follow being retweeted and thought, hm, I’ll read back in her stream, see if I want to re-follow. I’m blocked. (I don’t think I’ve interacted with her, so dunno what that’s about.)

        On the other hand, I wouldn’t be surprised if Twitter is full of the world’s most giant security holes.

        1. Quote retweets and retweets are not identical things. When someone retweets something from someone who has blocked you, quote retweet will show “this tweet is not available” if the person has blocked you. Also, http://www.loopnauru.com/content/twitter-updates-its-block-button-hide-retweets-users-timelines

          Regardless, that’s not the point. The point is that trying to get around a block is a gross, boundary trampling thing. It doesn’t matter why they blocked you, or anyone else. They did, so now leave it alone. I know a great many people who face a lot of harassment on social media, and that’s how stalkers act. Not okay.

  7. I’m sorry you had to discover how awful your sister was in a way that hurt you financially. Your willingness to lend money should be reserved for people you know to be trustworthy- someone you can sit down together with to make a payment plan (someone known to respect your boundaries). I know that ‘family’ is a loaded term- we’re all told that we should sacrifice for family, but not when the dynamics are so toxic and non-reciprocal. “I’m coming over!” “Actually, we don’t have the room to put you up, you’re welcome to visit on our terms but please stay at a hotel or B&B.” “But it was expensive to fly here!” “Yes, it is, which is why you should have asked before making such a big purchase. International travel shouldn’t be done on a whim. Sorry about it!”

    1. Agreed. In my opinion, it was an attack on her part to come visit without asking first. She ignored LW’s and LW’s-Partner’s boundaries and guilted them into putting up with an unwanted guest for two and a half MONTHS. That was not an unintentional oversight on Sister’s part.
      LW, you’re not your sister’s keeper. You are not responsible for covering her ass. Someone adult enough to book international flights ten weeks apart is also adult enough to figure out their own lodging arrangements. I think she decided to scam you the moment she decided freeloading in your house would be more convenient for her than paying for her own accomodation. If she had ever intended to pay you back, her attitude would have been different during her stay (paying for groceries, doing chores, etc).
      TL;DR: Next time she or another family member drops for a visit without asking first, I suggest letting them fix their own mess. That includes leaving them stranded at the airport and slamming your house door on their face if needed. Since you didn’t ask them to come, it’s not your problem nor you mistake to fix.

      1. If I recall correctly, in the medieval period it was not uncommon for kings to use “a protracted visit” as a subtle form of attack a noble. The king was entitled to hospitality, but having him & his court around would strain the noble’s resources, sometimes with quite dire consequences—without the noble really having the opportunity to respond or resist. It was basically pillaging without soldiers.

        History is full of useful examples of how things that we consider “vaguely awkward” have been taken quite seriously from time to time.

        1. That is a really insightful perspective. I think the sister was trying to disrupt the LW’s marriage, either from jealousy or simply from spite. If she continues to refuse to give the money back, these reasons for this totally inappropriate visit should be raised with the rest of this toxic family, who no doubt, will be glad to scurry to the sister and spread it around the family.

          1. I don’t think it jealousy over LW’s marriage, but that LW now has a life that doesn’t include regular and constant devotion to her sister. I mean how *dare* she get married and move away? Who will be around to constantly make sis look good by comparison?

  8. LW, the letter #404 touches on this topic too. Maybe the advice given there would also be helpful to your situation, specially if you’re forced to deal with your sister in person at some point in the future. Jedi hugs if you want them, what your sister is doing is awful 😦

  9. If I “loan” personal money, I consider it a gift. It means I have to afford never getting it back. If I don’t get it back, I never loan that person money again. My own sister would do this.

    I wouldn’t go as far as CA suggests by bringing it up. If it came up naturally, I’d just say things like “Well I’m not loaning you money again since you didn’t pay me back. I can’t really afford it. Instead of paying me back, why don’t you save up so we don’t have to keep having this conversation.” For a while, every call would start nice enough and would end with her bringing up asking for money. So then I told her if that’s how she wants to bring it up, I’d rather talk less.

    It would always be some emergency. Of course then I’d see the expensive purse or whatever. So I just say things like “Take the kids to a friend’s house until you can get your lights back on.”

    There’s a lot of irrelevant information in this letter. It’s not really important how much Sister makes. That’s her business. If she promised to pay you, whether she made minimum wage or a billion dollars a year, she owes the money. Whether she goes on vacation or sits at home eating ramen, she owes you the money. Stay away from any of those details.

    Personally, I’d just accept that this money isn’t coming back. Accept that family members feel how they feel, that’s not your problem. Don’t mix your money with any of these people again. Cite this incident as what taught you this lesson going forward.

    1. The problem here being that LW needs the money. It’s not like it was spare money/LW and husband have a safety net. Sister came in and dug deep into their “need to survive” funds.

      1. For myself, I believe loaning out money that I don’t have to loan is not responsible. Even if it was under the best and most trustworthy circumstances, what if the sister was injured or hit upon unexpected expenses of their own?

        The sister didn’t hack into a bank account. It was given by the LW to the sister, which means they do share some responsibility for the situation in a practical sense. Sometimes being trusting does get us into trouble. I’ve definitely learned this the hard way myself, so I am sympathetic to the situation. What the sister has done is not okay.

        1. Okay, but we’re not talking about you. We’re talking about LW, and this is good advice for the LW. “Ignore that your sister owes you money at Christmas” does not work for them.

        2. But you learnt to do that through experience with your deadbeat sister. This was the LW’s first experience with people who never pay you back.

        3. Sympathetic is not a synonym for preachy.

          My sister collected double rent from me for six months because half was going into a fund to turn the garage into living space — it would all go to my dad for materials and what was left over (quite a bit) would go to my dad for the work. We had a written contract. Knowing my sister as well as I did, it included a ‘return-if-not-used-for-building’ clause. I asked for it back when I found out Dad was paying for the reno, but nope. My family shushed me on the non-existent building fund, because I owed sis double rent and contracts don’t matter between family. That didn’t make me in ANY way *responsible* for the choice my sister made.

          So I started saving to move out, sold all my stuff, bought my escape ticket — and all my move-out money disappeared the week before I left. Wandered into the house in a daze, told my sister, “My money’s gone!” Her reply? “I didn’t go into your bathroom!” Yeah… that’s where my money was *hidden*, alright. I hear she got a gaming system and a new car (while Dad paid her electric bill because she had two kids) right after my broke ass left town. Of course my family spent the next 20 years talking about the time I tried to pretend my sister owed/stole my money. Not that I had to listen to any of it, because the reason I bought that bus ticket was I was NEVER GOING BACK. I looked at that money as the cost of cutting them out of my life. Well worth it.

    2. I kind of agree with you (sorry other commenters) – even though the LW is right that her sister owes her money, the line about continuing to email her sister about it when she doesn’t respond back made my hackles rise. As “right” as she is, she’s harassing her sister. No response is kind of a response – it’s up to the sister to answer her emails, but sending more of them isn’t going to get the result LW is hoping for, and is edging into bad behavior. It doesn’t matter if the message is “nice,” it’s still harassment.

      Send the first email saying you need the money back – send a second email as a reminder, or just in case the first one was missed. Then drop it. It sucks if you need the money, but there’s nothing magic you can do to make your sister give it to you other than bring her to court (and even then…).

      1. I thought the idea from the Captain was to continually bring it up when Sister reached out. Sister doesn’t get to try to normalize the relationship and forget about the money — every time she tries to just send a joke or something, she should be reminded that the debt is owed. This isn’t about sending unsolicited constant messages about the money, but about reminding Sister (and anyone who tries to mediate on Sister’s behalf) that the debt needs to be paid.

        1. Right, LW should send 1(!) reminder and then stop contacting sister altogether. When sister eventually contacts LW, then be a broken record, like, “thanks for updating me about Dad’s birthday. You still owe me $$$$, what’s your plan about that?”

          Nobody is harassing or chasing. The money probably isn’t coming back. The broken record of bringing it up says “hey, I am not going to pretend things are normal or cool.”

          1. Exactly!

            My mother has never apologized for the time she threw me out of the house at Christmas. My dad will occasionally say things like, “I wish you two were closer! She misses having a good relationship with you!” so my response is, “well, mom has still never apologized for throwing me out of the house, let alone anything else she has done so that is too bad.” It effectively ends the conversation while putting it back on her – I am not going to pretend things are normal or cool because they aren’t. That is what CA is suggesting for the LW (obviously not harassment).

  10. ITA with the Captain’s advice. Make things very awkward for her and your family. Mention the kitchen and the loss of your deposit as a result of the freaking fire she caused (set?) for good measure, and point out that you’re not asking her to reimburse you for that. “IT was an accident!” “Yes, and if I caused an accident like that, I’d get a damn second job to pay for the damages. I’d also pay back what I owed.” It probably won’t get you your money but it will make it clear to them that when they pull shit like this you’re not going to make things easy for them. And yes, don’t go sweating any trips to see them or any efforts to stay in touch. Nope. They need to treat you with respect.

    Maybe your sister was always like this and you didn’t recognize it when you were in the thick of your family’s BS. Maybe she got like this in response to you moving far away. Either way, it’s toxic and you don’t deserve it. She won’t change and they won’t change.

    Also–and I know you’re not there yet–but you might want to consider pulling back very dramatically. Allow an estrangement. Make it awkward as hell and if they decide to cut off contact, bless them for it and welcome the peace. Not only does family know how to push our buttons, they created the damn buttons. If they’re emotionally abusive and manipulative, it’s all the worse.

  11. Add the cost of the fire damage and deposit to the spreadsheet and include it in the total. She also owes you for this.

    Use your current credit card interest rate in your spreadsheet amortized from the date of her departure and include it in the total. This is what it is choosing you to not have the use of your money due to her refusal to pay her debt.

    I agree you will not likely ever see this money again and that it’s not worth your effort to pursue it any longer. If, however, you would like to share the pain of your financial debt, you could develop a script to add to her every social media post indicating she has spent money: “I can’t believe you spent money on this when you owe us $$, leaving us in financial straits. You’re demonstrating a cruel disregard of your own family.”

    1. I think that script would only result in backlash for LW from family members and “friends”. Shaming people doesn’t make them inclined to do what you asked, and is not exactly moral, besides.
      Of course, Sister doesn’t intend to honor her debt anyway, but I think this kind of commitment on the LW’s part would only result in her falling back into the viper nest of toxic family dynamics. Better to put that effort into disengaging from Toxic Family Inc. and making more money, or spending less; the LW will gain more, even if it’s just the peace of not being subject to all that stress and manipulation.

        1. Unfortunately, it won’t work at all. Even though the LW would be in the right, for those who do not know them well (or even those who do), they will likely see it as “proof” that the LW is the one creating drama. It really is better to just disengage.

        2. It’s immoral to tell someone how to spend their money (ex: how dare you buy X when you owe me Y/when you earn Z?), or to assume the reasons behind a purchase someone made (you bought X when you owe me Y, that means you’re cruel) because judging people is not ok. One can ask for a debt to be honored, of course, but the judgy side of the request shouldn’t be included.
          And in this case, I think that triying to solve the problem via social media passive aggresivity/public humiliation would only result in a massive shitstorm that would cost the LW lots of time and effort.

    2. I think the captain is right here: Sister wants LW’s attention, therefore silence and lack of attention until the money is paid and making it clear that is the boundary is the likeliest thing to get a result (not, super likely, but likelier than hunting it down, and easier on the LW when Sister inevitably doesn’t pay). Facebook comments are hard on the LW, and give the sister that attention while making it easier for Sister to draw other people in.

    3. Whoa, not a good idea.

      It’s one thing to address the issue when other people bring it up on their own, but going around on social media yelling about it only makes a person look bitter and petty-and dramatic as hell. Basically, no matter how large the sum is, the sister is suddenly proven right. (“LW is just lying about the figure and oh, she just can’t let go of it, she’s being so horrible to me, look, she’s harassing EVERYONE now! She doesn’t care about this family at all!”)

      Just don’t do this. Seriously. Creating more drama for the sister and family to feed on, instead of handling it in an even handed but detached manner CA suggested, is not going to solve anything. It might sound really good and satisfying in your head to be able to make the sister “get hers” by publicly shaming her, but it will NOT work in practice. It’s just going to make the circus keep on going. The opposite of what LW needs.

  12. Hey, LW. I already see a pile-on happening, so I just wanted to say that I really feel for you. You did nothing wrong. You tried to do the good thing, and the right thing, and be kind to people you love. It went horribly awry on you, and that’s not your fault. As a financially struggling newlywed myself, I feel your pain, and really hope that you and your partner find a way to make ends meet in the aftermath of this.

  13. Am currently dealing with a parent who is selfish with money and reneges on promises. It is hard! (Especially when, like LW’s sister, my parent makes a six-figure salary and always has money to buy herself very nice things, and up until recently I was rationing out ramen servings per day so I’d be able to eat just enough not to faint and still have food the next day.)

    Three years ago, I went back to school despite already having punitively expensive school loans in order to reroute my career path. My mother promised to pay my tuition expenses. She did not pay my tuition. I have even more ridiculous school loan debt now. I pay what little I can, but it is never enough for the loan company. Because she co-signed the loan papers, she complains to me about the loan people also nagging her, and does not seem to make the connection at all. She could easily write a check to cover the tuition she promised to help me with, but won’t. The school even offered 50% off, and she made me jump through hoops asking them to give an even larger discount (!) and once they were sufficiently pissed off and I was tired of dealing with it, she opted to pay nothing.

    A year ago, I was nagged into moving most of my furniture and belongings into a storage POD, which costs about $200 a month. The lie I was told was that this would be for 2-3 months, tops. It has been over a year. The items were sup[posed to be accessible, but the people packing the POD did not get that memo, so I have lived without things like warm winter clothes, etc., because I can’t reach them, can’t move the items blockinh them, and can’t afford to buy new ones. The promised “help” with the cost has never materialized.

    Last month, I had a minor accident. Two years ago, my mom gave me her shitty 1999 car but, as I was job-hunting, retained the title and helped with basic insurance and tag fees. I was told I could sell it and keep my slightly older car or sell my car and keep the gifted one. I made the wrong decision and kept her car. She referred to it as my car and I put a lot of money into it as parts kept falling off and breaking (e.g., the center console, which was sun-rotted and brittle and exploded into tiny fragments when a cup of cold soda was put in the cup holder, and the gear shift knob, without which the car cannot be put into or be removed from “park.” Kind of important bits!).

    So, long story short, my minor accident caused the front bumper to detach. The value of the car was far less than the cost to get the bumper, as the car manufacturer went out of business years ago and parts are not thick on the ground for this unpopular and ancient make and model. I tried to offer to pay the difference, but my state does not permit that option once a car is officially totaled out. So the insurance company offered to buy the totaled car and issued my mother, the title holder, a check. Suddenly my car is her car all over again and everything I did to minimize inconvenience to her (e.g., not calling after her bedtime with the news about a fenderbender, but waiting until my next free moment at work the following morning) by responsibly dealing with the associated burdens and handling it on my own has been magically turned around to be described a negative, deceitful action that my mother has chosen to take offense to. My mother has picked a fight with me (i.e., she has called me a “liar” about the car accident because I said “my car was hit” rather than “I hit another car,” though both are accurate) to be punitive and assy, and, of course, keep that check.

    As far as she knows, I am still paying out the ass for renting a car every day even though insurance stopped helping with that cost three weeks ago, and I have no vehicle with which to get to work and back. Instead, fuck her. I impoverished myself by emptying my meager savings that were going towards Xmas expenses and a GTFO Fund to help me move back to my previous city, put a downpayment on a new used car, arranged for a loan to cover the difference, got decent car insurance, it’s going in Saturday to have a mechanic check it out thoroughly before my state’s 30 day Lemon Law grace period is up, and I have chosen a plate and will go to the DMV to get my tag well before the deadline to have the tag. I am having to space out payments on other utilities and delay getting Rx meds, and I’m eating cheap food for a while, but I am going to squeak by. Best news is that I got the same kind of car that I have wanted for ten years (and it is a convertible!) and I love it and am delighted that nothing has fallen off of it. She doesn’t know about it, unless my brother or SIL spilled the beans, thus she is probably perplexed and raging because I am not jumping through her usual abusive hoops and apologizing for things I actually am not responsible for and could not prevent (and thus am not sorry about), nor am I begging her for the check, though she knows I need it, and knows that renting a car is expensive, and knows that downpayments on used cars are expensive, and even though she knows she gave me that car and I have been paying for repairs and tune-ups and new wheels and baths and so on for two years.

    It feels good to have handled the whole “got a new car!” process on my own, without her being critical, punitive, negative and awful, while withholding financial support. It’s all mine.

    Unfortunately, as you can see, my scenario does not end with my mother deciding not to be a selfish a-hole and giving me the check to help me transition into a new car. She might shock me, but I am not waiting around and arguing with her to do the right thing. Because she has repeatedly shown me that she values not paying for things she has promised to help pay for more than she values a congenial relationship with me where she isn’t an abusive asshole, doesn’t reframe everything I do or that happens in my life in the worst terms possible, doesn’t blame me for everything that goes wrong, doesn’t attribute the worst possible motives to my well-intentioned actions and choices, doesn’t call me insulting names and doesn’t accuse me of horrible things I did not actually do.

    You might have to bite the bullet and figure out a way to cover those expenses on your own. It took me a lot longer to learn this lesson, as my examples show. I am a slow learner, always wanting to believe my mom when she makes promises (including promises made in front of friends) and then blithely breaks them on a whim.

    My mom, like your sister, also triangulates and complains about me to family and friends, conveniently leaving out any context that would make me look like a decent human being with the right to have emotions, beliefs, motivations and needs independent of my mother’s. It hurts, and she never mentions the promises she has broken or the emotional/verbal/mental/financial abuse directed my way, but there is not a thing I can do about it.

    My mother used my free labor and effort to care for my grandmother when she was terminally ill, and she has used my free labor and effort to maintain a house that has been undergoing constant repairs for 10 years, and those are just the highlights. Now that I have eased myself out of much of that scenario by getting a good job that pays a decent wage, there have been attempts to sabotage this, or to make me spend more money than I am making (I am staying with a friend while the most recent renovations are going on rather than renting an apartment and transferring utilities, etc.) but they have failed. I suspect she’s going to be as big of an asshole as humanly possible to me until it sinks in that I have steadily extricated myself from her sphere of influence.

    It still sucks, though.

    1. Your situation sucks, and I salute you for all the steps you’ve taken to get out of it – that sounds like *a lot* of hard work.

    2. …are you my long-lost sibling? Because, wow, your mother sounds just like mine.

      GO YOU for getting the car you want and need, and for refusing to jump through her abuse/control hoops!!

      1. If you have a Golden Child brother, we might be. 🙂

        I was distressed and then oddly soothed to discover that there are a lot of mothers who act like ours did and do roaming about out there. Misery loves company, I guess. Though I’d prefer it if our moms were less assy. :/

        1. Yep. Finding some parts of reddit* where people with narcissistic family members can trade tales, rant, and share empathy, has been very helpful to me. I’ve realised it’s NOT just me. I DIDN’T imagine stuff. I DIDN’T cause stuff. And I’m NOT alone.

          Really powerful to discover that and be validated. I recommend it to anyone who’s the scapegoat rather than the Golden child.

          * Before everyone piles in to say what a hotbed of misogyny and immaturity Reddit can be, these particular subs are extremely well moderated and about as safe as a publicly viewable forum can be. Thankfully.

          1. Who’s piling in? Lemmat at them! There should be a water slide between this site and those subs unnamed. Blessed may they be.

          2. Honest to god, finding /r/raisedbyborderlines was an epiphany. I bawled through about 5 pages’ worth of posts, realizing it wasn’t just me.

      1. Know what makes me maddest? Because I was actually raised (mostly by books, not wolves) and value honor and fairness, there were many, many, MANY scenarios where I would complain about my mother’s abusive behavior to a friend, my friend would say (accurately) that my mom was a total asshole and abusive, and then I’ve feel like I was being the bad guy for criticizing my mother and possibly being unfair towards her. So I’d mitigate her bad behavior with excuses. It would drive my friends BUGSHIT NUTS, and deservedly so.

        I just didn’t want to treat my mom the way she has treated me since I was a baby (i.e., she accuses me of many things I would never even think to do, and regularly, as assumes the worst motivations and dishonesty on my part, all of which indicates to me that her opinion of me is extremely low and distorted, as literally everyone else on the planet I have met and interacted with at length TYPICALLY has a POSITIVE impression of me overall–it’s not 100%, but I’m not the kind of person who inspires anyone to pour sugar in my gas tank or anything).

        I ran out of fucks earlier this year when she kept pushing and pushing and pushing and being as vile and selfish and horrible as possible, and stomping my reasonable boundaries (e.g., please call before just showing up unannounced, unlocking the front door and stomping loudly in, shouting for me, with a list of free labor-intensive work you want me to stop what I’m doing and attend to right away for you, as it is not OK…this oft-repeated request was scoffed at and ignored).

        I also noticed a pattern: the farther away geographically I am from my toxic mother (who can only be consistently nice to me when she wants to brag on me to her friends, but who tears my self-esteem to shreds and clearly doesn’t LIKE me as a person when we are one-on-one), the more I thrive! So I am still focused on moving the hell away from her and never, ever, living full-time within the same city again if possible. And continuing to screen my calls.

        She has been deprived of the fun she has being a bully to me over the past 4-5 Christmas holidays and made the mistake of shifting her shitty behavior and critical, nasty, accusatory crap onto my sister-in-law, and she has tried to chide the grandkids (without consulting my SIL or brother, who raise them well but differently, thankfully, than we were raised and do not want her barking at their kids). So now my SIL and my brother and I are all aware of what she is doing, and though my brother is conflicted often, as the Golden Child, he is also far less likely to tolerate my mom being a shit to his wife and children, whereas he previously ignored or glossed over her abuse of me, and blamed me for much of it, when it was the status quo.

        But yeah, the whole “I was so brainwashed by a lifetime of being treated like shit that I actually believed I was the terrible person I was told I was, and to blame for absolutely everything going wrong in my life and maybe even stuff that went wrong in other people’s lives, too (financial crash in 2008? 9/11? WWII and Nazis, that happened before I was born? ALL OF IT CLEARLY MY FAULT AND I AM DEEPLY SORRY OKAY), and I also actually DEFENDED my abuser, REPEATEDLY” thing makes me want to projectile vomit.

        Another handy tip I have learned is to play Spot the Projection, Don’t Absorb It. So if she says I am materialistic or selfish or rude or don’t like her or lying about something, it is a sure bet that RIGHT WHEN SHE SAYS IT, she is being materialistic/selfish about something, she is being rude, she doesn’t like me, and she is lying about something (or picking a fight to justify why she is being an asshole, and lying to herself that my behavior justifies picking a fight).

        All I know is that I am not signing up for elder care should it become necessary in the future. My brother can take his turn. My grandmother was good to me, and elder care was still hard and derailed my life for about FIFTEEN YEARS. Someone who has been pretty much horrible to me since birth can arrange for her own nursing, because it won’t be me. I’ll send flowers and chocolates from afar.

        1. Thank you for articulating this so well, and for mentioning the issue of elder care. Does anyone have any suggestion of how to deal with this in the situation where long-distance elder care becomes a necessity and there are no other children (with a better relationship with parents) to pick up the slack, and other family members think it’s your responsibility as the child? I don’t want anything terrible to happen to my parents, but having responsibility for them thrust upon me gives me all kinds of heebie-jeebies which I have a hard time explaining or dealing with (separate from the practical issues).

          1. I’m sure Your Turn For Care has been recommended here before, but maybe check out the first chapter and see if it might give you some ideas of how to work out what your options are?

            Sadly, I can’t give you advice out of personal experience: my mother worked in geriatric care until retirement and cared for my abusive grandmother until her death, lives in a state with a Death With Dignity Act and has a POLST on file because she saw advance directives ignored too many times. In short, as soon as she’s not able to look after herself, she’s out of here, and she has very firmly taken the decision out of our hands.

          2. Thanks Epiphyta! That may well have been mentioned here before, but it doesn’t ring a bell from my reading through the archives. I’ve read the first chapter and am sufficiently piqued to give the rest of the book a go.

          3. If you’re in the United States, your local area has an Aging and Disability Resource Consortium (ADRC – in some areas the “C” stands for “Center”), or what’s sometimes referred to as a “No Wrong Door Network.” You can find yours, or rather the one near your parents, here: https://www.adrc-tae.acl.gov/tiki-index.php?page=ADRCLocator

            The whole reason ADRCs exist is to answers questions like yours, and help people like you and your family plan for future options based on what you all actually need and are able to provide. (I consulted on the national No Wrong Door training pilot, and I guarantee you you’re not the only one who has a strained relationship with their parents and zero desire to turn into their full-time caregivers.)

            In my case, I gave my mom the number to the local ADRC and said “peace out, you can call or not, but I am absolutely not going to care more about your needs than you do about mine” — and that’s a valid option, too.

          4. Erm….. speaking from experience here, Do *NOT*, under any circumstances, dump that burden on a sibling because your parent is a crappy individual. I was the one on the receiving end, even though my mother was not a particularly crappy individual. That title belongs to my sister, who did the dumping.

            Over the next four years, I had to give up pretty much all my free time and hobbies (my 2 weeks of vacation from work were spent maintaining Mom’s house). I ruined my own life and my health to the point that I now have permanent and pretty much unfixable back problems. Meanwhile sis went about her life as usual, except to complain about what I was doing.

            If no one is willing to *voluntarily* take on the immense burden of elder care, then you need to look into other resources such as visiting nurse services and assisted living. Even with that, someone will still need to handle day-to-day business matters and medical issues.

            And if someone else does volunteer to take this on, the only thing you should be doing is thanking them for doing so and trying to help them stay healthy and sane. If you can’t deal with Mom all the time, fine. That doesn’t mean you can’t visit her for a day so that the main caretaker can get a break.

          5. @msnovtue: My brother is an adult who can make his own decisions. I am not responsible for my mother. (Neither is he.) She is also responsible and has life insurance, savings, and, no doubt, a detailed estate plan.

            In fact, I experienced exactly what you describe you dealt with caring for your mom while caring for my grandmother, except I already HAD a bad back and health issues, and my credit and resume both suffered from the experience, as I wasn’t working full-time and struggled to pay bills on zero income. I was never thanked, I got no time off whatsoever, and when my grandmother died, my mother and brother and SIL divided up pretty much everything of sentimental or financial value in the household and took off with it, including some items my grandmother had wanted me to have.

            I’m not doing this again.

            I gladly cared for my grandmother with little help from my mother and zero help from my brother and sister-in-law. All I am saying is that it is perhaps his turn to experience elder care first-hand, and if he is incapable or unwilling, he and my SIL have financial resources I did not and do not, a large house with four people (two who are ten years old or less, and there are no plans to have more) and ten bedrooms, and he can afford much nicer care options than I could offer. All I could do is physically be there with my mother if she needed care, once again putting my own life aside, to be a target for a lifelong abuser. And I know in advance that this is out of the question.

  14. During my brother’s first year of uni, my parents were paying his rent by credit card and he was paying them with his pay-check/student loan cash. This was all fine until my parents had to cancel their cards a few days before his rent was due. Cue calling me to cover it with my card. I did so and expected to get a cheque/cash in the next few days. Nope.

    I had to use tactics like the Captain described to the point where he got upset with me for not going out on my time to go with him to the bank to sort it out. Believe me, he had the money he just would not sort it out himself. Fortunately once my parents got their cards sorted out my Mum gave me the money and she did get the money out of him so it ended up working out but not with some bad feelings all round.

    I hope it works out for you.

  15. Wow. I’m so sorry your sister is being a jerk, LW. Jedi hugs if you want them!

    In terms of repayment method mentioned in any and all (minimal) current and future correspondence…

    May I (strongly) suggest going the cashiers check, money order, PayPal, or wire transfer route? Given the physical distance from your (manipulative) family and while I suspect the latter two methods above are more feasible, a regular cheque can bounce.

    And therefore extend the drama and cause further injury to you.

    Like The Captain pointed out: Your sister wants your time and attention in the most hurtful and destructive way possible (I mean, holy crap she set your apartment on fire!) It isn’t too far of a stretch that in the (unlikely) even she decides to pay you back with a cheque and it bounces (it will bounce! I suspect she’s probably living high on credit and other people’s good will–Ask Me How I Know), she will use this as a way to continue to fuel her terrible and slanderous campaign against you.

    Going low contact (or LC) and being a broken record about this dodgy behavior on your sister’s part can work wonders… If only to reinforce boundaries and the notion that your life is better now half a world away.

    FWIW: I’m deeply sorry this happened to you and your sister has shown she may not be the person you thought she was and/or has changed in unhealthy ways. Some things just cannot be fixed. They can only be carried (to paraphrase another).

  16. I’m reading a great book series right now and the sister of the main character tries to steal things from the mc’s house literally right in front of their mother. And their mother is like “Why wont you two make up.” (Seriously Molly Harper’s books are a hilarious fictional window into dealing with manipulative family members with no boundaries, and the audiobooks are amazing. How to Flirt with a Naked Werewolf, my starting recommendation.)

    This is sortof like that, except neither of you is a Vampire. I am sorry that you’re going through this. 10 weeks an absurd amount of time to impose on someone. Once you are staying for more than a weekend you are no longer a guest, you are a TEMPORARY TENANT. She completely trampled on the boundaries of your hospitality.

    You are in the right here. The problem is, that you will never get an apology for this. You might, MIGHT get your money back, but, you are not going to get an “I’m sorry I overstayed my welcome and made you unhappy for 10 weeks because I was feeling abandoned and then never paid you back because I didn’t want to face the consequences or even remember my own terrible behavior” apology that you deserve.

    I know your family, besides your sister, is probably feeling abandoned and left behind and sad. And instead of processing those negative feelings as they are “she left us and we miss her.” They are turning it around on you and making it something awful, because she is there, and she is sad, and they are all sad that you are gone. I wish I knew how to turn them into people who could identify feelings and appropriately respond instead of lashing out in all directions to make the sadness go away, but I don’t know if that is possible.

    I think the Captain’s tactics about just being very clear about how much she owes you and making shit awkward is great. I wish you all the best of luck and I hope your sister stops being a jerk soon.

    1. My friend got my How to Flirt with a Naked Werewolf as a joke because she thought the title was amazing (and so did I) – and then I loved it and starting reading her other books and foisting them back on my friend 🙂 Good recommendation!

  17. This advice. This advice about people who find extreme ways to make everything revolve around them even after you left, and if you try to resist or protest it gets you nowhere except back in their clutches: this advice is good advice. This advice is wise advice.

    Also, about the money. It sucks, but just restructuring your life around never getting it will set you FREE. I always feel a little embarrassed when I look at this quote, because the things in my life that it applies to are SO PETTY compared to the things in life this dude faced to arrive at the conclusion, but anyway I still find it soothes me every time:

    “You can’t spend life trying to collect debts no one is going to pay. That is not life. Life is tomorrow.”

    -Pepe Mujica (former president of Uruguay; for many years in his youth, political prisoner)

  18. My dad stole 2000 dollars from me (out of my bank account, when I was a minor and my parents had access to my account) and then denied that he’d taken it. I brought it up every time he’d talk to me, as my explanation for why I wasn’t going to meet him or talk to him or do whatever he wanted.

    After several years of that, he sent me a $2000 check! He framed it as a gift, and then demanded that I do something for him in return, but I just thanked him for finally paying me back the money he stole and pointed out that of course I didn’t owe him anything for that. Then I pretty much never talked to him again!

    The point is that CA’s strategy really might work, eventually, and perhaps you too will have such a happy ending.

    1. Sister! This is exactly what happened in my family. My dad still doesn’t get why my sister wants nothing to do with him. He’s twisted it in his mind to where nothing is ever his fault.

  19. A lot of people here are saying don’t lend money you want to see back, but people do stuff like putting tickets or a hotel on one card and then the other person pays back all the time. If it’s a good friend and you know they have the money, you expect that you’re going to email them the receipt and then they will immediately write you a check or email bank you the money or paypal or whatever. I’ve done this with friends and family many times. Rn I owe my Dad $200 for something he put on his out of country credit card to save me the exchange fees. LW, I guess now you know you’re not safe to do this with any family members. So annoyed on your behalf.

    1. yeah, this is exactly how all of my friendships work. In fact, I just bought a group of us 8 tickets to an event at the local aquarium, since I’m the only one with a memebership, and I 100% expect them all to venmo me the money on wednesday at the event. Just as I’ve done when they’ve booked my ticket to a movie so that we all get seat together, or whatever. It’s a really normal method of social interaction.

      1. Of course. But, that’s tickets to an aquarium, and then they pay you back before the next event happens. If you surround yourself with dependable and caring people, this is the way things go.
        This was a much MUCH larger chunk of money, and not paid as the events happened.
        My brother used to bake pies for people, and usually people returned the pie tins(he loved his pie tins, and anyone listening to him would know they should be returned and not trashed). People who returned his pie tins got more pies! People who did not return pie tins received no more pies. He didn’t cut them off as friends, but, he knew that if he sent more of his precious tins that way they would vanish forever, so no pie for them. My brother was a terrific baker, so that was a cost.
        It’s really hard the first time you find out that someone is willing to use your generosity and not reciprocate. It’s worse if you trust them or are influenced to give them more than you can afford to give.
        So trust in affordable amounts! Remember that you aren’t required to hurt yourself with your generosity. People who ask you to hurt yourself for them are not considering your needs, so you should definitely make your needs known.
        Also, my track record with people who insist that of COURSE they can be trusted(because FAAAAAAMILY) is that, no, really I should not trust those particular people.

    2. Yeah, this is a good point. I was sitting here nodding along about money you don’t expect to see back, and then as soon as you mentioned it, I remembered lending money to an undergrad who was travelling with me for fieldwork and didn’t have a credit card to cover her hotel. I definitely expected to see that money back! (and got it, albeit a bit belatedly.)

    3. Yup, we share season tickets with my husband’s parents for two different sports teams and both times we put it on our credit card and they give us a check a week or so later. This is not something people should have to be worried about, and yet clearly in this case the sister has made it clear that it’s not safe. I’m so sorry, LW. This isn’t fair and it’s not your fault.

    4. Yep, done this tons of times from both sides successfully, and the idea that anyone would break this particular social contract boils my blood, as it’s enabled a lot of really fun trips and activities in my life.

      Really sorry, LW, that fucking sucks.

    5. Yeah, I know where the “don’t lend money you couldn’t give as a gift” line of thinking comes from, but geez, I also feel like it’s an established enough part of the social contract that loans are not in fact gifts that I don’t honestly get the pile-on re: LW’s financial stresses at her sister’s hands.

      I’m sharing a hotel room with a good friend for an upcoming wedding. She booked the reservation and told me she’d only been charged for one night, so we agreed to see if the hotel would let us divide the remaining three nights between our credit cards appropriately (that is, two nights on mine, the remaining night on hers). If they can’t do that, we’ll figure it out, but I have no intention of taking advantage of my friend, especially since we agreed that we’d be splitting the costs and all!

      1. You might be better off paying each other – hotels are notoriously terrible at complicated billing, and you might end up both being charged full amounts, or something else you’ll have to sort out. Just speaking as someone who’s had to organize groups at hotels for my job, I would recommend keeping it on her card but paying her as instantly as you can through paypal, venmo, or cash/check when you get to the hotel. It will usually be less of a headache.

        I think it is a good mindset to have – hope the money comes back, especially with people who’ve shown in the past a respect for your money, but if they’re not paying back the loan, you need to be able to let it go (or let the relationship go, in which case you still won’t get the money back).

          1. I have to disagree. I’ve worked at four different hotels, and any hotel that can’t put two nights on one card and one night on the other card is probably crap. They might ask to authorize the full amount on one card, but unless she’s using a debit card or goes right up to the limit on her credit card all the time, that shouldn’t matter. Most likely the easiest way to do it is to ask for the full amount (including tax, resort fees, parking fees) at check in. Ask the clerk when the best time to split the bill is. (One hotel I worked at, check in was the only time to do it. Another, any time was fine. Another, any time was fine but everything was charged to the card on file at exactly 11:00 on they day of check out, so don’t be two minutes late to check out.) Before check out, divide the total in half, ask to pay exactly $X on your card, and pay the remainder on her card.

            The usual things that muck this up when we’re talking about splitting a single room are:
            -People think a reservation is pre-paid, and it’s not
            -People think a reservation is not pre-paid, and it is, and now they can’t change cards because they paid a third party
            -People can’t remember which card they put on file, but still say “Oh just charge the card on file.”
            -Your reservation might just show the average rate over the four nights. Rates can vary, and when people walk up and say “I’d like to pay for Saturday and Sunday, and my friend will pay for Monday and Tuesday,” I have to ask if they wanted to split it 50-50 or if one person really wanted to pay $300 when the other is paying $600. Sometimes they really do intend to split it totally unevenly.

            Authorizations can get super awkward when people don’t understand that the hold doesn’t instantly go away when your friend pays their half. I am super low income, but I thankfully have a good credit score and my cards have a much higher limit than I ever use (or could ever pay off, which is why I don’t use it!). So even though I’m pretty obviously poor, it wouldn’t hurt me to authorize a hotel room plus incidentals. Other people who make about what I do might not be that fortunate. If you budget $400 for the hotel, but $800 is being held, and you go to pay for a drink for the bride and your card is declined… As previously mentioned, people who make 10x my annual income can max out their credit cards.

            Sooooo when you’re checking someone in, and you’re telling them you’re authorizing $1500 on their card, you’re hoping they don’t hear “I think your cards are maxed out!” But if their cards are close to being maxed out, you hope they can hear you say “I hope your credit cards aren’t maxed out!” so you can arrange something else.

            That said, I have had some really just terribly stupid coworkers, supervisors, and clerks working under me. You know, like everyone does. So hopefully you don’t run into the equivalent of “Ummm Raptor can you help me check them in?” “Bad Coworker, you’ve worked here two weeks, this is a pretty standard reservation, just seriously check them in.” [Later] “Sooo, Raptor, Bad Coworker just quit, do you have something to do with that?”

            This is such a long post. I just want to feel like an expert in something, guys!

      2. “I also feel like it’s an established enough part of the social contract that loans are not in fact gifts”

        Apparently it’s not, since this exact situation. “Loan” and “gift” do sound different and have different definitions, but some people use them interchangeably (e.g. LW’s sister). The social contract has plenty of wiggle room to allow less-than-scrupulous persons to defraud others and still feel like the justified victim; LW’s sister didn’t have to intend to take advantage of her sister, yet that’s exactly what she’s doing.

    6. I know not everyone wants to be this nitpicky, but if anyone else likes to split things exactly, I recently downloaded an app for friends who share bills frequently. It’s called Splitwise, but there’s various apps out there. It’s perfect for anyone with my love of being exact, but it’s also great if you think you have that friend who buys a round…but not as often as each other. Or it is always happy hour when they offer. Or they offer at the cheaper restaurants, but not the expensive ones. Or for some reason, you just think they do that, but it turns out they’re very fair and you’re the jerk.

      It will let you record cash (or bank transfer) payments, or it will Paypal people for you, or you can just let the balances continue indefinitely, and whoever owes the most can cover the next check.

      You can split a tab exactly, or by percentage, or by amount. Then it just tracks what each friend owes each friend. It has a mode where debts are transitive, but you can shut that off. (Example, I owe Brian $70 and Brian owes James $70. If I turn on the transitive debts, I owe James $70.)

      Sadly, this app became necessary because my good-hearted friend never seems to learn the lesson. This is at least the third friend to owe him thousands of dollars, and this friend is a total bum. The husband any my lease is up, so we’re actually moving in with the roommates and taking Deadbeat’s place. It will save us money, and Friend won’t have to pay rent for two.

  20. “I’m at a loss about what to do and honestly devastated that one of my closest relationships has been ruined….” I’m not going to tell you that you shouldn’t feel devastated, but I’d like to suggest that your relationship wasn’t ruined. This is the person your sister has always been, and your relationship was probably sustained by circumstance (for example, not living in a place she wanted to vacation) and by you kowtowing to her emotionally needy ways.

    The relationship has not been ruined, it’s been *exposed.* No matter how much it hurts right now, no matter what comes of all of this, you’re in a better position having this knowledge.

    1. Boosting the signal on this.
      One of my closest relationships was “ruined” when I finally woke up and stopped accepting whatever was thrown at me. As I became less compliant, the relationship soured. When their life stopped going where they wanted it to, I was no longer willing to be their personal slave and doormat.
      I was sad this great relationship had been ruined, but in thinking it over, I realized that the bad behavior had always been there, just smaller and less intense. They hadn’t changed from good person to bad person. They were just acting more like they’d aways acted. The change in the relationship was degree, not kind.

      LW, mourn the relationship you thought you had, because the pain is real. But even if you reestablish a relationship with her, it won’t be that relationship, because know you know.

      1. Yes to this! People are usually who they say they are or reveal themselves to be unfortunately, as much as we wish it were different or that we could say the one magical thing to make them see us and love us and treat us well.

        Side story about money and family and grieving that your mom will never not be who she has always been and learning to accept that and move on:
        My maternal grandmother recently died. She told my sister that some money would be coming to the grandkids, then she got Alzheimer and somehow the Will was not updated and the money went to her kids and now my mom, needing none of it herself after marrying a rich man, decided to start a “fund” out of the extra money to “lend” to heterosexual married people having babies or artists making “good” art. Basically good “god-fearing” people who deserve it aka neither of her kids.

        1. I’m sorry about your grandmother.
          That really sucks that her wishes weren’t followed. Side topic for another day: if you want to leave someone something in your will, don’t delay updating the will! So many people have gotten screwed because there wasn’t paperwork to back up the deceased’s stated intentions. A friend of mine went through a nightmare because her husband never got around to updating his will.

          1. As someone who works with lawyers who do estate planning (including wills and trusts) and as someone who has gotten dicked by family members ignoring stated wishes of another relative who did not make a point of naming the people who were to get specific personal items in the will after verbally expressing those wishes and naively trusting them to be honored, I endorse the above advice.

  21. Oh god. LW, the Captain’s advice is SO good here and I am so sorry this happened to you. I just want to underscore one point with a minor mishap from my own experience: the Captain is so correct that this is really about re-entangling you in the family drama and not actually about the money at all.

    I say this because I have a… friend… who constantly tries to sabotage the best things in her friends’ lives and involve herself in whatever is most important to them so she can tear it apart. I basically refuse to talk to her anymore. Unfortunately, at the point that I stopped talking to her, I owed her a bunch of money for a group shower gift. And… SHE WOULDN’T TELL ME HOW TO GIVE HER THE MONEY. I didn’t know her address, her bank account, anything. She just kept replying to my queries about where to send the check with more questions about the VERY personal life drama I was having. I finally just sent the money blindly to her email through a digital client and stopped replying, and lo and behold, she did manage to receive it. Because, of course, she never really cared about the money. She just wanted to use the obligation between us as an excuse to get her claws into my life again.

    Obviously the situation is not the same here — this sounds much more severe on all fronts, and the person refusing to pay you is the manipulative one — but her goal is the same: she wants to withhold something you need for as long as she can string out the drama. The Captain is right that there’s no way to win the game except to refuse to play.

    Ugh. I’m so sorry.

    1. I want to give a boost to this. This is about money for you, money that you can no longer afford to not have. For your sister/family, it is about bringing you back in close to them, re-enmeshing you in family system that needs you as “the bad one”/control rod in the nuclear reactor that is their dysfunction. Please, use the broken record strategy – if your only engagement is “pay me back,” you have a shot, since she’s clearly willing to do quite a bit to stay engaged with you.

    2. Yes, exactly this. She’s being weird about the money because it’s not about the money to her. I bet LW’s sister has spun some narrative that the LW owes her TIME, since LW is the one who moved away, and LW’s sister shouldn’t have to pay back the money because “she just waaaaaanted to spend tiiiiiime with her siiiiiister.” I bet LW’s sister has spun this narrative about how “cold and mercenary” LW is and how she “hurt her feelings” and “I just wanted to feel close to her.” When close = draining LW of everything she has, in order to make her come home and live in their toxic stew again. I would even go so far as to say that Sister is trying to sabotage LW’s financial situation, in order to force her to move back home. I know that sounds pretty extreme, but the fire in the kitchen is giving me serious heebies.

      I completely agree with the Captain’s advice. Become that paperboy from Better Off Dead. I am sending LW the switchblade comb with my mind.

      1. When in doubt, assume the worse. You’ll never be wrong, because human nature sucks.

  22. Be strong here, LW! The Captain’s advice is spot on, and if you take it, there will likely be many times when you finish saying something or typing something, and you close your eyes and think, “omg, I’m such a b**ch.” It might feel really awful. BUT! It’s about taking care of your future self – setting boundaries, sticking to them, being your own guard at the castle of your happiness and kicking out anyone who refuses to follow the rules.

    Tell your close friends/support network about these scripts so that when they see and/or hear you using them, they can give you the nudge or smile of support.

    You can do it!

    1. This is totally, totally true. And the first time is definitely going to be the hardest. After that it will get a lot easier.

  23. Hey LW, one thing I wanted to add on. It’s very very easy for commenters to sit and go “Never do ill-advised thing!” but I guarantee you everyone has done something that they knew was a terrible idea and at the time managed to convince themselves it was worth it. (My big example, I took a bridal commission for a friend. I KNEW the rule is to never, if possible, do something custom for a wedding and that goes doubly so for a friend that you will feel guilty about putting on your Professional Business Persona for to head off disaster. I did it anyway. I ended up out a chunk of money and with one fewer friend because ‘surely my friend will be better!’)

    The one thing that I would say is in these sorts of situations it’s very easy to cast your sister as The Villain, and everyone supporting her as The Victims Of Her LIES and feel like if you just managed to outwit or win against the villain it would be like the scene in Wreck it Ralph where the Candy Citizens get their memories back and are crying and begging Vanellope for forgiveness after they were tricked by King Candy. Life’s not a Disney Movie. The odds are excellent they know full well what they’re doing taking her side and they’ve done the mental gymnastics needed to justify it. Like with the money, take your daydreams about being Vanellope and regulate them VERY firmly to fantasy. Chasing that dream will only hurt you, put that energy into finding new friends where you are now and building your life with your husband.

    1. “The odds are excellent they know full well what they’re doing taking her side and they’ve done the mental gymnastics needed to justify it.”

    2. It’s very very easy for commenters to sit and go “Never do ill-advised thing!” but I guarantee you everyone has done something that they knew was a terrible idea and at the time managed to convince themselves it was worth it.

      Not only that, but like… someone *setting your kitchen on fire* is not anywhere near the realm of foreseeable consequences to letting someone stay with you. I don’t particularly understand how LW is supposed to have implemented the “don’t loan money you need to get back” advice in this situation anyway.

  24. LW, your sister is punishing you for getting married and moving away. I don’t disagree with a single piece of advice from the Captain but maybe also consider blunting responding with: “What is this really about?” or even “Let’s talk about what this is really about: you feel like I abandoned you when I got married and moved away.”

    1. If LW wants to try to salvage a relationship with sister, then opening a conversation about what’s really going emotionally for sister on can be a good possibility. But frame it as questions, not “let me tell you what you’re feeling.” Telling people what they think/feel isn’t a way to de-escalate conflict. Painfully learned for some of us.

      1. Seconding.

        There’s nothing guaranteed to make her defensive more quickly than providing her with a psychological analysis of her behavior. If you want to have a productive (or at least not-overly-confrontational) discussion with her, don’t do it. After all, how would you react if she tried to pull the same crap on you?

    2. Like 26acts said, you are being punished by your sister but also by your whole family. Your independence upends the dynamic that has existed as long as the family has.

      I’m betting that this incident happened shortly after you broke the cycle by forming non-family attachments and moved away. You were so close to your sister all the way through college and suddenly (in your family’s terms) the game has changed.

      Congratulations, LW, on breaking out of that game. I hope life works out well for you.

  25. Cosign to all the capt said. This is so tough and hard and i hope you can find all the space and support you need to grieve the really shitty things your family has done. You had reasonable and honorable reasons for wanting to trust her. Please be kind to yourself, none of the “should haves” help address thr breach of trust that already happened.

    1. 1+

      It’s super easy for people to say “Well I would never do X” or “That’s why I don’t ever Y”. Easiest thing in the world, but a) it doesn’t help anyone needing advice about X and b) it comes off as pretty smug.

      Now, when people declare “Well, if that was me…”, I cut them off. Unless they’ve been bitten by a retroactive spider and have the power to change the past, then I don’t wanna know.

  26. I can’t help but wonder if you can’t turn it back around if anyone tries that “you sister who LOVES YOU” crap. Like, “I don’t think she does. If she loved me, she’d care about how much she’s hurting me, how difficult she’s made things, how stressful it is for us to try to make ends meet. I feel like she just took advantage of me, and I’m very hurt.”

    Probably not, tho.

    1. You can also do it with the specific amount of money, “I can’t believe you’re making all this fuss over a mere €250!” “If it’s only €250, she could just pay me and there’d be an end of it.”

      1. (I mean, it wouldn’t be the end of it, because your sister has totally broken your trust and disrespected your relationship, and even if you decide to forgive her, you shouldn’t forget it too quickly. But that’s a different discussion.)

      2. I’m leaning towards “It’s lovely of you to say so. I’ve got an idea then- why don’t you give me this €250 and let Sis owe you for it?”

    2. I think this could be useful and important. The LW mentioned that family members are getting involved, that the sister is spreading a biased version of events. I don’t know how the LW would spread their side. I know some people who make FB posts about family drama, but I also know that I would never, ever, in a million years do that (and I don’t even have a family that would cause ALL THE DRAMA in commenting and passive-aggressively making their own status updates).

      But yeah. I think being direct and honest when people talk about it? And if people accuse you of being petty, maybe continue being honest and say “My sister visited and now my relationship with her is destroyed, and so is my kitchen, and she spent so much of my money, and is blaming me for everything? Any one of these things could have been worked through, maybe. But they all happened at once, and I honestly feel terrible and confused about it all.”

      1. Right, like, give yourself the gift of not pretending that you aren’t pissed off at the situation and the sister!

  27. I think the most important thing is to never get entangled in discussions (arguments) with other family members or with your sister. Don’t get bogged down in arguing about how much money she owes you, where you got that figure from, why you won’t talk to her, or other unrelated issues, because then they’re getting what they want, which is your entanglement in the abusive situation.

    So, don’t just reiterate that she owes you money in every exchange, but let that be the ONLY exchange. Don’t even talk about the rest of it, let them say whatever they want. Respond with stuff like, “Be that as it may, she owes me $XXX,” or “Hmmm, I’m sorry you feel that way. Anyway, you owe me $XXX.” Good luck!

    Also, I want to second that in normal situations you should be able to trust your friends and family to pay you back. I just want on a couple vacations with groups of friends and by the end of the vacation we all owed each tons of money. But we all sorted it out and paid each other. It’s only when they don’t pay you back that you learn that they’re not trustworthy, and by then it’s kind of too late. It sucks but hey, at least now you know.

  28. As an aside – Captain, I love all of Tana French’s books. So stoked you mentioned her.

  29. So as the Captain says, chances are good that you won’t get the money back. You might! You might. But there’s a great chance that you won’t.

    What I find useful in this sort of situation is to come up with a sort of a waterfall model, where I have Desirable Outcome 1 at the top, and then Desirable Outcome 2 under that, and so on to Least Desirable (Plausible) Outcome at the bottom.

    Your waterfall might look like:

    – I want to get all my money back.
    — If I can’t have that, then I want to get at least part of my money back.
    — If I can’t have that, then I want to cut off my sister and let my family know why.
    —- If I can’t have that, then I want to cut off my sister with a minimum of screaming and drama, even if nobody else knows why.
    —– If I can’t have that, then I want to be at a remove so that if there’s screaming and drama I can hang up on it, vs. being stuck there.
    —— If I can’t have that, then I want to cut off the rest of my family, except for Aunt Darling who I still get along well with.
    ——- If I can’t have that, then I want to cut off everyone.

    The point of the waterfall strategy is that you plan for your ideal option, but you do so while not closing any of the doors to the least-ideal option. You may not be able to get what you want simply because other people may be haters and may not play along; it’s possible. But it can be useful to actually chart out what you want,with alternatives where your plan relies on a certain response from someone else. And your last outcome should be something completely under your control–that means you won’t get trapped in a holding pattern where your last fallback relies on someone else who isn’t doing their bit.

  30. I think the “never lend” aspect of this conversation is harsh, but otherwise this thread is full of win.

    LW, you’re in a rough spot, but as the Captain said, the relationship with the sister, as it stands, is irreparable. Maybe in the future, things will change, but not now. Your money is gone, and so is your sister, for now.

    Incidentally, what well-paying job lets you take a 10-week vacation??

    1. Endless vacation, reckless spending, borrowing money without paying it back, and being so viciously defensive is waving big scarlet danger-banners for me. I think think that Sister has a big narsty secret. I think that Sister’s trying to outrun some personal financial calamity. But that’s just IMHO and gossip.

    2. I’ve a friend who often negotiates two or three months of unpaid leave every summer as part of his contracts, and uses it go to back to his other country and see everyone. He doesn’t do it with short notice, though – it’s part of contract negotiation before he signs.

      Similarly, she could be a freelancer and just not take on any clients for a couple of months. I agree it sounds kind of dodgy, but it’s not necessarily impossible.

      1. I’m a freelancer and I take my laptop wherever I go. I’ll be spending three months this year (not all at once) away from my home address. Of that time, I’m taking three weeks holiday (while still fielding client requests); and throughout the year I do things like spend 1-2 days away doing something nice while working evening/weekends. Not having to work 9-5 is one of the advantages of freelancing; and if you’re a content creator – writing books, making art, writing code – you might be able to work even more erratically. That doesn’t sound dodgy. (Running up bills and not paying people back when you have money in the bank is extremely dodgy, but that’s a completely different issue.)

    3. LW here – Her job is IT consulting. It’s contract to contract. So she just intentionally didn’t take a new contract right away to have a 10 week gap.

  31. Dear LW
    I’m so sorry this is how things turned out for you. I come from a super shitty family and have had to distance myself more and more from my siblings as the years go by, and it’s always really sad to see the folks who were my allies in survival turn into versions of our parents. I loved the response you got as it was all about setting appropriate boundaries in an attempt to save the relationship. If you manage to salvage a relationship with your sister, it will only be as a result of her respecting your stated boundaries. I’m sorry you’re going through this with your family. Take good care of yourself.

  32. Ugh! That is so awful! So very, very sorry for your situation!

    This may be out of line, but I’m going to just put this out there:

    I’m not sure where you are currently living, but does there happen to be a Bunz Group in your area? Bunz works through apps and social media to connect barter trades with people close to eachother. Do you have an old scarf you don’t want anymore but could use some packs of kraft dinner? Bunz! Do you need quick info on clearance sales in local grocery stores? Bunz! Beyond the trade for trade system, I’ve notices a lot of just plain helping eachother out. It’s kind of like this place, but near enough where the people can actually physically help you out.

    I am not associated with Bunz, I’m just a fan. I don’t know how dire your situation is right now. If you’re struggling with making rent and eating at the same time, this might be something to look into. I’ve found it incredibly supportive.

  33. Oh wow. LW, you were a kind person for allowing your sister to stay with you for SO LONG and to trust her that she would pay you back. *Jedi hugs* if you’d like them. I’m so sorry that your family has been so toxic, and have steamrolled your boundaries so thoroughly. I hope that you can find the funds so your sister taking advantage of you is at least less of a problem.

    I know that it can be hard to be the “villain” in the family when you’ve done nothing wrong beyond not having a large disposable income, but you are *not* the one who behaved horribly here– that was very clearly your sister. For me, I often find that those angry voices drown out my own inner voice that says “this is not acceptable”, “this is not how healthy relationships work”, and having someone who knows me, who knows how my family is to check in with. I hope you have a person that you can check in with. It helps to drown out the voices saying you’re being terrible.

    I haven’t spoken to my sister in a few years, for slightly similar reasons. We never got along since she was the golden child who could do no wrong, I was the one who was responsible for all that went wrong in the house. I gave up trying to have a relationship with her for good the day that she called, demanded that I start paying for some of my mother’s expenses, which I couldn’t afford. She was furious that I had no money to give, because I make more than her per year. However, her math discounted that she was engaged to someone who was able to pay for the majority of their cost of living expenses, where I am single and have to cover all of that myself.

    It is perfectly fine to chose to give up that relationship with your sister. You do not need to have a relationship with her because you’re related. The same goes for the rest of your relatives as well. It is okay to chose your own “family”, who know that you are a wonderful person and who don’t take advantage of your kindness the way your blood family has.

    1. Yup. When someone’s manipulation tactics are forcing me to look like an asshole if I say no, I’ve learned to embrace looking like an asshole.

        1. The sister is still relatively embroidery-free. Perhaps a slight adjustment on the text.

  34. …WTF is with letters that make my face look like Edvard Munch’s The Scream these days? Maybe I should change my avatar and get it over with.

    LW, I haven’t even read the Captain’s response all the way through yet because, in addition to the sheer OMGWTFBBQ of everything up to the end of your letter, the coda – a weekend skiing at Vail for your sister – made me do one of those sounds that, from a distance, might be mistaken for laughter but if you really listen to it obviously is either the sound of suppressed weeping or a dog about to throw up. Why? Because I am local-ish to Vail, and *I* can barely afford a weekend of skiing there…and I have a FREE place to stay 45 minutes away.

    All of which is to say that if your sister really wanted to, I feel like she could almost certainly afford to pay you back, and with interest. Why she’s choosing not to is…well, it IS your problem, because you definitely deserve the money she cost you, but I think the Captain’s right that you are not getting the money back, not unless you can make a case through claims court (and note that I am not necessarily recommending that, because international knottery + lawyer’s fees + an even bigger bullshit hurricane for your family to throw at you = even more stress, yaaaaaaaayyyy!).

    I am deeply, truly sorry that the one person in your family you thought was on your side turned out to be a raving shitbeast of the highest order, and I will keep my fingers crossed for you that Instant Karma wasn’t just a chart-topping thought that crossed John Lennon’s mind when he was most likely high and that you win the lottery or get an unexpected but deserved raise or bonus to offset the financial struggles.

  35. A few years ago I was living in FL with my hubby and kids. We were over a thousand miles from family and friends, I couldn’t get more than a low paying part time job and the three jobs my husband was working were barely keeping us above water. Our rent was paid but there wasn’t any food in the house. We made just over the income threshold for any kind of assistance. It was a tough time and one I hope never to repeat. During this time, my brother in law came to visit for an extended period of time. He had just rec’d a big settlement from a lawsuit (nearly 6 figures) and decided, on his own and without our permission, to stay with us. My husband often has moments of sentimentality and gave me the “but it’s faaaaamily” argument. I relented. BIL came to stay. During this visit (2 weeks!) he ate our already limited food, got into a theme park for free (a perk of my crappy part time job), got a tattoo for himself, ate lunch out everyday at a nearby restaurant, went to baseball games, sat on my couch and monopolized our only TV, tossed his laundry in with our stuff whenever I put a load in, bought his friends up north festival concert tickets. During this visit he didn’t clean up after himself, he didn’t offer to pay for one single meal or groceries, he didn’t spend any more energy to spend with his only niece and nephew (the reason he wanted to stay with us) than sitting on the couch would allow him to do, and he left a BO smell on every piece of furniture he sat on that we could never get out. Did I mention that I was barely working at this time so I was stuck with him most of the day? That ass went home and complained to everyone who would listen about his stay with us. He said that we didn’t “do anything fun” and that the “food sucked”. My husband’s parents called him to yell at him for making BIL’s trip so unpleasant and they actually suggested that we reimburse him for the cost of the trip down since we made it so miserable. WHAT?!?! My husband lost his cool and basically told his parents that his lazy brother had eaten us out of house and home and did not once offer to help with the cost of feeding him. They hung up on him and they didn’t speak for over a year.

  36. You have my sympathy, LW. I don’t have siblings, but I’ve lent money I couldn’t afford to people who didn’t pay me back. I’ve learned that (expensive) lesson! I think it’s natural to believe that family and/or close friends would never betray, rip off, or take advantage of you – obviously, this is not true, but “trusting loved ones” is natural.

    The lesson you have learned is that your sister is not trustworthy. Don’t feel bad about lending money to her in the past – consider it a debt from Hard Knocks University. I hope she pays you back – and I second the suggestion of PayPal, as checks can and often do bounce.

    And let me tell you, if I set someone’s kitchen ON FIRE – even accidentally! – I’d be groveling like nobody’s business. I’ve had a house fire happen and it left me traumatized and extra-careful around anything involving fire – I even use candle warmers instead of lighting candles. Causing a fire, especially a BIG fire, is something that is worthy of ABJECT, GROVELING APOLOGY. Yikes.

    Time, I think, to start building up a chosen family instead of the bio one you were saddled with! The Bible verse goes, “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb” – Jesus was pro-chosen-family! (that saying is so often misquoted!) One thing I love about being an adult is that I’m not stuck with people just because they are related to me.

    1. FYI, that verse isn’t actually in the Bible; it’s an old Jewish saying. Though given how frequently adoption is used as a metaphor in the New Testament, I’d say the Bible does agree with it.

    2. One of the best things I’ve ever seen was a friend whose deeply religious family kept trying to pull her back in and were constantly badmouthing her (wonderful) husband. One day, she said to her mother, “You’re always saying God doesn’t care about your body, only your soul. My body may have come from yours, but my soul is mine and I’ve joined it to my husband’s, so shouldn’t that be more important?”
      Note: I don’t believe in souls, but on a metaphorical level, I think she absolutely WINS.

  37. This sounds like Adult Life Stage I- when we discover what life is like without parents who pay for everything. It’s the setup for Life Stage II- when one’s contemporary (as opposed to elderly) relatives die, fall ill or need help recovering from surgeries. I adored my brother, had thought we’d be allies for life. I persisted in this, even after I told him I’d been hospitalized twice after complications of a surgery meant it had to be repeated. I’d had to stay a total of six weeks in a nursing home. He’d never offered help.
    He called me when his closeted-relationship lover had dropped dead of a heart attack. I was on a plane within 12 hours, even though walking was still scary and difficult. He promised to reimburse me after the estate was settled. Instead, he went on a couple long vacations and hosted other family who had not come to his aid earlier, who he wants to inherit from. There’s been no word to me, and he knows my helping him emptied my savings. After that, I finally heard stories about him earlier being hauled into court for spousal and child abuse- and being found guilty. He’s just a criminal. So, when I heard indirectly that he was having some surgery and needed in-home care… I just let it be a news item that didn’t need any action from me.

  38. Somewhat similar – an ex of mine would borrow money from anyone who had it in the moment when he didn’t but very much wanted something, on the premise of repaying once his weekly paycheck was cashed. However, if the lender happened to mention getting repaid when it was payday, or any day after that, the ex would become explosively angry and tell them to “f-off, now you’re never getting repaid.” People with regular infusions of cash still would be guilt-tripped and threatened into lending him money, but over time some realized that the only way to avoid this was to cut off contact and move on to a different group of friends entirely (not even staying in touch with anyone who was still friends with the ex). Out of all the friends in the group there was one who was especially kind and exceedingly generous, for some reason he willingly stuck around and paid for a great deal of the ex’s spontaneous wants. Not only did he do so but most of the time it wasn’t as a loan (maybe friend decided that it was easier to simply buy things and supply cash on a ‘these are gifts’ basis, since it kept ex’s explosive anger to a minimum and that was good for the whole group?).

    This generosity established a pattern though, one that ex wasn’t going to let go of easily and ultimately sh!t hit the fan around the time Friend’s wedding was fast approaching. Ex had become my ex well before then, but Friend and I stayed in touch with periodic emails so when I learned he was getting married I sent him a wedding gift of cash. See, his generosity hadn’t been limited to giving ‘cash and prizes’ to the ex, he’d also helped me when I found myself in dire financial straits a couple of times in my irresponsible-with-money past. When I tried to pay him back he would refuse to accept the money or take it then stuff it in the silverware drawer or underneath the tv/cable remotes – but weddings are expensive, especially ones the couple is paying for entirely themselves. He and his wife had been living together so they had all the household stuff a couple would need, they didn’t bother with a registry either – but I’ve known friend for years, long enough to know that even if he was on the brink of destitution he wouldn’t utter a word about it to family or friends. Cash is always useful, it’s a gift the person can never not find a place for, though not especially personal or creative, it’s practical.

    Maybe LW’s sister has gotten herself into a pit of debt at the bottom of Lake “Can You Spare Us A Couple Hundred Dollars” where the extended family lives? Maybe she’s been living on credit cards so she doesn’t have to permanently reside at the lakeside family estate. These are things that can be addressed *IF* sister ever decides to admit she has a debt problem and *ASKS* for LW’s help in specific. Yes, it sucks that one has to write off family, particularly a sister they had been pretty close to, over sister’s behavior+unpaid debt. Probably sucked to write off an entire group of friends to start anew just to no longer be threatened and pressured into lending money to a person who had demonstrated a pattern of refusing to repay but it was better to be in the position of being an adult seeking new friends than broke due to one hostile demanding friend. You’ll have to patch together a plan to get through this financially challenging time, LW, but you’re not alone (your husband is your partner in this! Approach the problem together!) and you can get through it!

  39. Dear LW,

    It can be freeing to be the bad kid. When my father had a stroke, I became the bad kid who didn’t help enough or see Daddy enough. My brother was the good kid.

    So maybe if a relative says that you’re being rotten by placing money above faaaaaaaamily you can say Yep, I’m rotten, and Sister owes me X dollars.

    Jedi hugs if you want them.

    1. Ohhh yes. I’m the “bad kid” for not wanting to live near my parents, not visiting them enough, not having their grandchildren …. being bad is grand. It means that I am only responsible for my own life and my own household chores, and that I can have pets and a nice husband.

    2. This is so incredibly true! I spent from age 7 to well into my late 20s trying to no longer be the bad kid. I would give whatever I could, do whatever I could (to the point of putting myself into deep debt) but it was never enough, because I was the bad kid.

      Then, I met some wonderful friends who through a lot of very kind work on their part, made me realize that I am *not* an inherently bad person, and that I do not need to “reimburse” people for spending time someone awful like me. When I gave up trying to be the bad kid, I could all of a sudden Do Things, and Go Places that I want to instead of having to be an all inclusive vacation resort for other people.

  40. LW: you have excellent advice here. I hope it works for you, and I wish you all the best.

    Awkward Army: you are brilliant, and I am so glad to know that I am not alone in having an impossible bio family, and in making tough decisions about boundaries. I *love* this website; it’s been a life-saver. ❤

  41. Dear LW, I haven’t got anything to add as far as the practicalities go – I think the Captain and other posters have it covered as far as advice on doing the best you can to get the money back (making it super awkward etc) but being prepared that this may not happen.

    As far as dealing with the situation on an emotional level, I think it is very easy to focus only on the tangible loss (the money) to the exclusion of the less tangible losses, because reparation for this seems more achievable. I don’t want to minimise the real financial difficulty that your sister has put you in, but there is more to think about than just the money and you may find that taking a broader view may help you to decide what to do in the future. As other commenters have pointed out, we rely on a social contract within family and friendship groups, that what we put in (financially, physical labour, emotional labour) will eventually be returned in some way either by individuals or the group. Sociopaths and abusers take advantage of the social contract by accepting rewards with no intention of reciprocating. Some social groups function in a way that makes it very easy to conceal or minimise the fact that this is occurring – dysfunctional families are at the top of the list, but I’ve been in a hobby group that was the same (and let me tell you it REALLY sucks being victimised in the equivalent of a dysfunctional family with 500+ people in it).

    Which is all just a fancy way of saying step back, look at what you are putting into and getting out of your relationships with your family, be brutally honest in assessing how much you can trust them, and use that information to decide whether those relationships are safe and healthy to be in. As the Captain has pointed out before, “not taking sides” is utter bullshit.

  42. Holy heck, that link on Triangulation … that is my LIFE with my in-laws right now. I feel your frustration, LW, and I hope you find a way forward that keeps your financial and emotional needs met.

  43. Agree with all of the Captain’s advice on being repetitive and boring. Especially agree with the Captain’s insight that Sister’s actions draw you into giving her attention and your energy. The only thing I can add is some reframing that goes on in your own mind. Right now, you’re feeling 100% mean for wanting your money from your sister. Right now your family has you convinced that you’re being at least 50% mean for insisting on getting your money. (That’s what not getting involved comes down to, a 50/50 split on blame.) Now what if you realized that insisting on getting your money is the nicest thing in the world, something absolutely saintly, 100% good?

    Look at it this way: Growing up and becoming responsible is exciting! It’s wonderful! You did it when you married and moved away. Doesn’t it feel good? Granted being an adult has its challenges, but wouldn’t you say that it’s better than baby-style having other people do everything for you? You get to make adult decisions, face adult challenges, and feel that fantastic sense of accomplishment when you meet those challenges. And now, you’re in a position to give that gift to your sister. If by some miracle your sister did realize how horrible she was to you, and if by a 2nd miracle she did pay you the money she owes, if she 3rdly turned her life around and started paying her bills, she’d feel terrific too. You are doing your sister a favor. Imagine some day she came to you and said “You were tough on me, the only one to be tough on me, and it was worth it. Thank-you!” Every time you insist on getting your money, go to sleep happy because you’re being so good to her. You imagine that she’s happy with those expensive travels. Not likely. She’s being as spoiled on them and is taking advantage of people there too.

    1. Well how is it ‘mean’ to want someone to do the right thing? (Be a responsible person)

  44. Dear Letter Writer, I am so sorry she set your home on fire and stole your money.

  45. Thank you, Captain and the Awkward Army — some of the advice and comments here have given me ideas for dealing with my father and sister, who decided between themselves that my brother and I should be financially supporting our mother, who is disabled and on pension. Mother, brother and I were quite surprised and displeased to learn about this plan!

    1. If your parents are still married, then your father should be the one supporting her – where I live, “community property” is the law, but even if it isn’t, it’s the norm for spouses to support one another. If your parents are divorced, and mom is short of money, ideally supporting mom is a family (as in all the siblings) endeavor, depending on who earns what.

      As an only child, I’ve gotten so much pity from some quarters about not having siblings, because siblings are “a gift” and “friends for life” and “will be there for you no matter what” and “don’t you get lonely?” AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA I THINK I JUST PEED MY PANTS LAUGHING.

      1. My mother has four siblings, three of them sisters. She used to fret, CONSTANTLY, that I’m not close to my brother, because she can’t imagine what she would do without her sisters. One day I finally said, “I will pick up the phone and call my brother on the day that you say something actually positive about yours.” That shut her up – I may not be best buds with my sibling, but at least I don’t hate him.

      2. Oh, my parents are long divorced. Sister lives with mother, and deeply resents having to pay board, her share of bills and so forth. (She also objects to doing her share of the housework.) She refuses to pay, mother has to ask dad to intervene, this was their “solution” to save them the effort of having to deal with reality.

        (Brother and I do help mother out with bills and so forth when she needs it, we’re not complete monsters.)

  46. This is wonderful and a reminder that you are responsible for yourself. Setting boundaries is important and respecting yourself matters as well.

  47. I’m sorry. This all sucks horribly.

    My therapist once said a thing that I found insightful and I think you may, too. Major life events (marriages, babies, deaths) can reveal truths about relationships. If I were analyzing this as a novel, I’d say that the MC and her sister bonded deeply over surviving a nest of vipers and then the MC grew up and moved on. In fact, moved away. The Sister felt abandoned and scared and reacted in the sort of mindless and destructive way that a toddler would, only amplified by the fact that she’s an adult. She did things to specifically entangle the MC (the money) in the long run. She forced the MC to “prove” that she still loved her more than your husband: Travel with me and not with your hubby! Let me cram myself literally between you and your hubby in your tiny newlywed space! Let me burn down your kitchen, the symbolic heart of the MC’s new life with her husband. (If I were writing this as a novel, that chapter would be full of very dramatic imagery and mark the turning point of the MC’s arc.)

    This is all TOTALLY HORRIBLE behavior. I’m not excusing it.

    But I wonder if by understanding that fear at the heart of her behavior — my sister who was my only ally has abandoned me — you can understand just how powerful you’ll find the scripts that the Captain has offered.

    Good luck. I’m sorry. This is not OK.

    1. You are much more generous to LW’s sister than I am. I see the story very differently.

      Rather than fear of abandonment, it’s resentment at “betrayal.” Sister and LW got along fine in the viper’s nest as long as their paths were essentially the same or sister was doing better than LW. They might have been allies, but what Sister calls an ally, the rest of the world calls a satellite state: one of the “allies” is calling the shots. When LW went out on her own, there was no conflict yet because Sister wasn’t in a position that she *needed* LW and Sister hadn’t really registered that LW now has something very nice that Sister doesn’t have: a loving partner and a life of her own. So Sister thought she could drop in for 10 weeks and have fun, because surely nothing had changed, right?

      Surprise! Not only did LW not act like a proper satellite, LW is very happy with a loving husband and a cozy home, and Sister was not happy about it. Resentment and the green-eyed monster brought out Sister’s true colors. Her shitty behavior while staying with LW and her husband was semi-passive aggressive punishment, until she was no longer under their roof and could really flip them the bird.

      But whether it’s a toddler’s tantrum or a rotten person’s revenge, we agree, Sister is immature, insecure, and selfish.

      I hope LW can understand her story in a way that allows her to close this book and put it behind her.

  48. LW, I am so, so very sorry your relationship with your sister has gone down this way. I don’t have anything brilliant to add, but I want to be one more voice in the chorus. I know it’s awkward. I know it’s hideously uncomfortable. But ask for the money and don’t let up, and try not to get derailed by “how can you be so mean as to want repayment for ten weeks’ worth of unexpected expenses and a kitchen fire?” You are not being awful for that – your sister is being awful for not considering the hardship she put you through.

    Jedi hugs if you want them.

  49. I am sorry that this is causing understandable sadness and pain. There is much here that I can relate to and I have no smart answers. It is all right to honour the sadness that is here and look after you, protecting yourself triangulation can be tough when you are caught up in a drama of a siblings making.

    It is a kindhearted thing to want to share the good things you have and I admire that you developed that quality despite a dysfunctional family and that you extended if to your sister. Her poor behaviour reflects on her, not on you.

  50. To answer your question, at this point, you go to court. You really actually honestly NEED this money? Your sister actually incurred a debt from you and is refusing to pay it back? Go to court, get a judgement against her, get it enforced. Brutal as hell, but you NEED this money. You’re not damaging your relationship any more than your sister already has.

    1. “To answer your question, at this point, you go to court. You really actually honestly NEED this money? Your sister actually incurred a debt from you and is refusing to pay it back? Go to court, get a judgement against her, get it enforced”

      Even if a court would pass down judgement on a citizen in a distant foreign country, how exactly would they enforce it?
      I can’t imagine that many countries have extradition treaties pertaining to civil matters.

      1. Speaking anecdotally and from a US viewpoint – it is an enormous hassle to try and collect on a civil judgment, especially from small claims. You can sue, and you can win, but the courts won’t help you actually collect. I can’t imagine what an ordeal it would be to try and collect a judgment in another country.

        1. Small claims in the UK can be an excellent means of getting reparation from a company/trader that is taking the piss, that owes you money and you can prove owes you money, e.g. because it has provided a faulty service or refused a legally-required refund. Big companies in particular are known for paying up as soon as they get the letter because they don’t want to fight and lose and were just stringing you along. But in the LW’s case it’s probably hopeless, because LW has no means of proving that the money to her sister wasn’t a gift. The sister was allowed to visit, the LW put costs on her credit card and kept doing so, and people do that for visiting family all the time with no expectation of repayment (also people get paid back for doing this all the time, I’m not blaming LW, but it means it isn’t straightforward to prove without other evidence). It’s not even like two friends booking a hotel together and having an email saying “Cool. I’ll book and you pay me back. OK?”/”OK!”

        2. Virtually impossible. You’d have to go to court in the country where the person owing the money was residing so there’s travel on top of court fees and no guarantee of success. I was able to tell a debt collection agent to STFU (he was trying to bully a bulk payment I couldn’t afford, I was trying to negotiate a payment plan as the debt *was* my fault) because it’d cost so much to chase across borders – Australia to the UK in this case – that it wouldn’t be worth it.

        3. Exactly! Disconnect isn’t the first person in the comments to say “Take her to court!”, but they (and the others) don’t seem to be taking the actual situation onto account. There’s no point throwing good money after bad to engage in pointless legal proceedings.

  51. In addition to how much she owes you, if this is causing financial distress it might help to get really specific and repetitive about that. Like “I’m struggling to make rent this month/can’t get a broke appliance fixed/had to put off a vacation/can’t afford to use the AC this miserable summer because I’m out $$$$ you promise you’d pay me back”. Especially to relatives this might make your pain more clear and make the whole thing look less petty.

  52. My (horribly abusive) mom used to say that if you ever want to not be friends with someone, lend them money. You’ll never see that person or that money.
    Mind you, the general population is probably more respectful of other people’s money and more trusting of humankind… but still, this has always stuck with me as being a warped yet common situation.

  53. LW, I’m so sorry your sister ended up being such a jerk. What a way to find out she doesn’t really care about your wellbeing 😦 It was totally reasonable of you to believe that it was safe to lend your own freaking sister money and that she would pay you back. I would’ve done the same thing if my sister came to visit.

    The only thing I would add to the Captain’s advice is to get comfortable being a “jerk.” That is, if family and friends keep crapping on you and acting like you’re the meanest person ever to mean for wanting your money back, I would recommend saying “Yep, I’m the worst. I still want my money back. Sister owes me [exact dollar amount].”

  54. It sucks what you’re going through, and I feel like the money will never find its way back to you. I hope I’m wrong. By the way, have you thought about adding damages from the kitchen fire? Hopefully everything’s intact, but the decent thing to do would be to pay for a new can of paint or a maid service to get the smell out.

  55. Everything Captain Awkward said. Inviting herself for ten weeks (!!!!!!!!) and trying to create maximum upset and division between you and your husband was an attempt to put you back into your proper place. Sick families don’t like it when people leave, unless they want to kick out a black sheep and then crow over it. And sick families don’t like it when those bad. bad family-leavers have something nice that they won’t give up on demand. Like, say, money. Or time. Or love.

    Write off the lost money as the cost of a lesson learned, and do not allow that person or anybody who supports her version of what went down to enter your home or get involved in your affairs, ever again. I speak from experience.

  56. Hey LW,

    Unfortunately, the chances of you seeing that money is as close to 0 as possible. Your sister showed her true self, and it is about as nasty as the rest of the family (who she has no qualms with sending THEM to attack you). I know you really need the money, but you will not find it with her. You’re gonna have to make that cash up yourself.

    And honestly, it is for the best. The less you have to deal with your family, the better.

    If you DO have to communicate with your sister, make sure to remind her that she does owe you money (and that she set your kitchen on fire, becAUSE WHAT THE DUCK?!?!?!?!?). Until she actually makes the effort to mend that fence, you gotta tell her that what she did was beyond wrong and that this incident is not going to be forgotten. She wants you to forget and to continue being her chew toy, so remind her that neither of which are going to happen.

  57. My class background is firmly in We Do Not Talk About Money territory, which makes it incredibly difficult for me to ask people for money I am legitimately entitled to get when I know they will immediately give it to me without protest (with the difficulty increasing the further the situation gets from that). But money is important. It’s not petty, or trivial, and asking to be repaid isn’t something loving siblings (or true friends or serious professionals) don’t do.

    Which is not to say you’re going to be repaid ever, but I wanted to reiterate that you are absolutely not in the wrong for asking.

  58. What’s amazing here is the way the same weird-ass things happen to different people who’ve never met. A friend did this to me once, crashing on my couch uninvited for time immemorial and setting my kitchen on fire. Bonkers.

  59. “Now that she’s left she won’t pay us back, is dramatically bad mouthing me to all our family – who in turn are sending me harassing emails, says I’m bullying her ect. . . . No one in my family is helpful and basically have all sided with her in a very “I don’t want to get involved but…” way. So no allies there. Some of our mutual friends have stopped speaking with me as well and it’s hard to enough maintain contact with the distance even without this drama.”

    Ooof. I empathize here hard. In my family whenever my Toxic Sister or Toxic Mother is upset the whole family rallies behind her. When the rest of us are upset – we are being “unfair, dramatic, selfish, mean, petty, vindictive” etc. So . . . we never get upset. Over anything. Ever. [*see below]

    My mother also loves to self-martyr with “I feel stuck in the middle” crap. I recently sent her a letter about our family dynamic and how my sister is abusive to me and how I need that stop and I tried to cut that off at the helm by saying “I do not want you to pick sides, because there are no sides to pick. I am asking that you make your home a zero tolerance zone for abuse of any kind from anyone and remove anyone who refuses to end abusive behavior.”

    Perhaps you can use a script with your parents/siblings (and any other people “not getting involved” by siding with your sister and claiming you are a big bad bully for exhibiting self worth) when they screech about “feeling caught in the middle” by responding with something like “I am not asking you to choose sides, I am communicating the facts to you. Sister did X and those actions had Y consequences on my and my husband’s life.” If you have already sent the spreadsheet to you sister with your parent’s cc’d (and included the cost of repairing the kitchen!!) and you subscribe to the broken record method, this might be effective to not validate their “woe is me” role in your sister’s triangulation.

    In any case – don’t beat yourself up about this. You acted in good faith and were betrayed. Any feelings you have about this are OK, including indignant rage. Do what you need to do to get yourself back on track financially. Call up Team You or start building up a Team You in this new place. Find a healthy way to vent your feelings (writing letters that never get sent are great). If this incident pulls up old wounds, try and find a therapist to work through them so you don’t re-live them. This incident may be forcing you to face some harsh realities of your family dynamic that may be hard to feel. And it sounds like strengthening your ability to set boundaries wouldn’t hurt. Therapists are great for all of this. Do your best to take care of yourself and find positive experiences to incorporate into your life during this time when when you are going to be dealing with a lot of negativity. And use this a teachable moment for yourself going forward.

    [*I picked up on this pattern recently, including my knee jerk reaction to ally with and get wildly defensive on behalf of: The Most Difficult Person in the room because (to me) The Most Difficult Person = The Most Deserving. Which means a) I am never “difficult” – as in I have no needs, boundaries, or feelings because I am not deserving of such things and b) I am often siding with bullies, jerks, abusers, and all-around assholes because that’s how I learned to feel safe growing up. Add that to the belief that Difficult People are people suffering from The Greatest Pain Imaginable and we must excuse/enable their behavior lest we re-victimize them with things like boundaries = a home chock full of bees and me cowering in the corner covered in bee stings blaming myself for every one, until I escaped to become a bee myself (am currently working very hard to rid myself of all bee-related dysfunction). Bucking against my family role of scapegoat has been very hard and very, very scary as my reptile brain feels *very* strongly that not validating people who behave terribly will undoubtably lead to DIRE CONSEQUENCES.]

  60. Well cue a few months after the move she informs me she just booked her tickets and is coming for 10 WEEKS and can’t wait to STAY WITH US! We live in a studio apartment, are still getting settled, money is tight, and we are literally newlyweds. I tell her hey this may not be the best idea but she insists she has so much travel she’ll be doing she’ll hardly be there plus it’s booked and she’d have to pay a massive fee to change.

    Not sure if anyone else has picked up on this (and can’t read all comments to check), but this jumped out at me. Sister bought tickets and planned an extensive stay WITHOUT CHECKING WITH HER INTENDED HOSTS! Then expected said hosts to oblige anyway because “it would cost her a lot of money to change things.” This is an indecent and manipulative thing in itself. Decent and considerate people who are planning a visit — especially an extensive visit — CHECK WITH THEIR HOSTS FIRST! The kind of person who sets everything up in secret and expects everyone else to go along with it just so they don’t lose the money they put into it…well, that’s not the kind of person I’m inclined to find nice things to say about.

    1. Oh, it jumped all right. If my sisters did that to me, the force of my HELL NO would flay the skin off their face. From 1000 miles away.

  61. So many good comments above!

    Here’s the thing that struck me as I was reading all this: “She takes up all my additional time and is so HORRIBLE even my new burgeoning friends notice how mean she is to me.” YAY NEW FRIENDS!

    Everyone else has given you advice that is awesome about dealing with family. I am here to say: yay friends! Yay for friends who don’t have the history of your family’s particular flavor of reality-warping, who somehow communicated to you that they were concerned about how you were treated. Rock on, you, for your awesome new life!

  62. Letter Writer here: I’ve left a few comments here and there but I want to say omg I love this site! Thanks for all the words of encouragement! I honestly needed a bit of a reality check.

    I think I can assume I won’t get the money back at this point but I’ll feel better about it by not getting dragged into her BS and having a plan on what to say.

    And just FYI since a lot of people asked – she’s an IT consultant and works contract to contract which is how she got to take so much time off. She actually was doing a bit of here and there remote work while she was here.

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