A business deal with a friend went bad, and he never paid me back

What will be the cost of renewing this friendship?

By Cary Tennis
Published January 19, 2007 12:10PM (EST)

Hi Cary,

About five years ago, an old college friend of mine who lives in Japan and I went into a small business deal. He has a strong online auction business and I procured for him the product in the United States and shipped it to him at my cost. The venture didn't go as planned, so he didn't pay me back. The amount was about $1,000, but the records are now long gone. I don't know the full details of what happened. It was never explained satisfactorily and depended on his honest dealing.

He is independently wealthy, so this wasn't about him not having the money. I think he was just annoyed and embarrassed that the deal went sour. So why is he blaming me? Basically the guy is pretty immature in many ways. He is quite eccentric, always has been since college, and is pretty much a recluse, though in social situations he can become quite gregarious. For a year and a half I asked him for the money, and he even said he would give it to me, but he never did.

Cut to the present: He just contacted me out of the blue. After my bringing it up he offered to pay me $700. I told him to send me the check and then we could talk.

My question is, I don't know if I really want to talk to him even after I get the money. Once I get the money owed to me, what do I do?

I don't know what has happened in his life that has made him try to contact me again. I was annoyed that when he did contact me, I had to be the one to bring up the old business. He wouldn't have if I hadn't. I guess what I am saying is I don't think the $700 clears everything up. I want an apology. He violated his word, our friendship, took advantage of my trust, and avoided the issue for five years. Even now I can tell he is not going to offer me any explanation. So I know this still sticks in my craw. What should I do? Is this friendship worth renewing?


What Is the Cost of Renewing a Friendship?

Dear What Is the Cost,

Well, my friend -- and I use that term loosely, as do you also, apparently -- wait until the check clears.

Then review your life.

That's right, review your life. What has friendship meant to you? Have you been involved in other troublesome or failed ventures with "friends" that left you wondering what their intent was? Are you "friends" with other people who don't really seem to treat you well or be on your side? What could that be about, in a general way? Are you happy with your friends in general, or do you find yourself getting the short end, doing more than your share, getting caught up in schemes that don't pan out and wanting to square things, wondering why others don't pony up their share?

I suggest you do a general friendship inventory. And I suggest that you try to get something out of this matter that will help you in the future. For instance, about this business venture: Are you a businessman, or were you just dabbling? Was it really well thought out, or was it more of a lark? If it was simply a business loss, then a businessman would do what a businessman does -- claim it on his taxes and let it go, right? I am not a businessman myself, but I think that is what businessmen do -- deal with it and let it go.

But you do not. So there is more. It is the more that interests me, what you do and why.

Did you feel manipulated? I am guessing that you did feel manipulated and that that is the source of some hurt. What was your motivation for getting into the business deal? Did you think you would make some easy money? Was it around the time of the Internet boom when many people were doing crazy things? Did you take shortcuts? Did you feel swept up in things?

OK, so this may be a bit much, reviewing your whole life. All I am saying is: Use this event to do some introspection. And the reason I am saying it is not because I think I know anything about you. But I know some things about me. I have been in situations like this, baffling situations, the short end of the stick.

Maybe you acted as if it was just a business deal but you wanted more than a business deal. Maybe you wanted respect, or acceptance, or a closer, more understanding relationship. Maybe this guy, because he is independently wealthy, wields more power in the relationship than you do and yet you do not like to admit this. We do not like to admit that money carries so much power. We do not like to admit these things.

I am not saying that this is true for you. I do not know you. I am just asking questions, proposing a study guide. But it has been true for me. I can say that. I have been taken in the past because of unacknowledged wishes and beliefs. I have done much sorrowful inspection of the aftermath. I have concluded that I am weak, easily fooled and taken advantage of, hungry for acceptance.

So I say to other men who may be like me, it's no crime, whatever strange, hungry streets we walked out of that shaped us this way, it's no crime to be always a little hungrier than others at the table, eyeing the salt and eyeing the sugar, eyeing the vinegar that is getting low, and wanting other eyes to be on us, as if we would be magnified in their gaze.

Yes, I have gone a little beyond where you planned to go with this. But that is my program -- in literature and in life: to go beyond where we thought we were going in case there is more to be found past the fringe, beyond the pale as it were, if there is a bit of poetry in the hunger and the pain.

That is my prescription, dear citizen and customer: Wait for the money to arrive. Then ask yourself: What were you looking for that you did not get? What attracts you to this person if he is mostly not helpful? What is the pattern in your life of which this is but one instance?

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