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.