My boyfriend owes me $10,000

He was physically violent but I stuck with him. I lent him money to open a barbershop and he disappeared

Published July 18, 2010 11:01PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I had a great love. No one believed in us but me. Over 13 years, I backed him in spite of physical violence toward me. I kept backing him regardless of the status of our romantic relationship. And slowly, I thought I saw him growing up. He seemed to be making better choices. He wanted to be a dad to his kids. And he kept telling me how I was the only one who believed in him, trusted him.

So he came to me. After my dad died. And said he needed help. That he wanted to open a barber shop. And I had cash. And was kind of lost, looking for direction and purpose. So I helped him. I gave him almost $10,000 to start his own barber shop. And I believed he was finally becoming the man I saw inside him when we first met.

We had agreements, deadlines, payment schedules. But he disappeared. For a year. And I didn't know what to do. All his phones? Off. Then, finally, I sent an e-mail to him on almost the year anniversary of our agreement. A little threatening? Yes. But he broke my heart and stole my money. And that? Got a response. To be patient and he'd "get to me," "take care of me." He even gave me his new cellphone number.

But I call and call, and he won't answer. And my family says I should just chalk it up to poor decision making and move on. But there's a part of me that screams, "Stand up for yourself! Say no!" And it is $10,000. In this economy, that's nothing to sneeze at. So what should I do? Let it go? Small claims court? Hire a leg-breaker?

And the side issue is, I feel like I can't trust anyone anymore. And I don't want that to taint my future.

Help, please, Cary.

The Dumb One

Dear Dumb One,

First of all, you're not dumb. You did certain things for certain reasons, and we are going to think about your reasons and make some suggestions.

The thing that stands out most in your letter comes in the second sentence: "Over 13 years, I backed him in spite of physical violence toward me."

Even your choice of words is unnerving. Instead of saying, "he hit me" or "he beat me," or even, "he perpetrated physical violence on me," you use the phrase "physical violence toward me." "Toward" doesn't connect; it seems like a softening of the blow, as though you were not really hit, but merely aimed at. And it sort of removes you as a subject, displaces you from the center, renders you abstract. Whether you were hit, or threatened with being hit, you were abused by this man.

And then you lent him $10,000 so he could open a barbershop.

Now: Before going into the mysteries of why you felt compelled to do that, first the practical matter: Get yourself some good legal advice from a legitimate, bona fide legal advisor. That is, a lawyer. Pay a visit to a lawyer. Explain what happened. Ask the lawyer what sort of contract you have and how it can be enforced. Then do it. Enforce the contract. Get your money back.

Meanwhile, I'm piecing together a picture of you and the picture disturbs me. It makes me feel that you are in danger. Why? I ask myself. Why do I feel that you are in danger?

Well, chiefly because you do not seem to protect yourself. You scare me because you placed your faith in someone who beat you and stole money from you.

In looking for clues, I wonder about several things -- your father's death, your feelings about money, your relationship with your family, and those kids of his you mention: Are they also yours?

I assume you mean they are your kids, and he is the father. If they are also your kids, then perhaps one motivation for helping him is that your kids can have a dad who is successful. But then, you have also enabled them to have a dad who is a thief. So it's complicated.

Speaking of dads, here is something else I am curious about. Why were you "kind of lost, looking for direction and purpose," after your own father died? Do you mean perhaps that you were grieving? Was your decision to lend this money made in the fog of grief?  Was your father ill and weak for a long time? Has it been the case that you have sought direction and purpose in the rehabilitation of others? Were you also taking care of your father?

Of this man who beat you and stole money from you, you say, "And slowly, I thought I saw him growing up. He seemed to be making better choices." It sounds the way a mother might speak of a son, not as an equal but a subordinate, someone in whom you took a caring, maternal interest. And then he turned on you, but you forgave him. Then he stole money from you, and you forgave him.

Have you fallen into parenting roles in your other relationships? Think back. Do your relationships fall into a pattern?

You say you were the only one who believed in this man. Are you referring to your family's lack of confidence in your decision? Had they not shown you respect, not taken you seriously? Were you trying to show them something, as though he were an investment you had publicly made and wanted desperately to see pay off? Are you also trying to show that hope and faith do pay off, that the world is not as bleak as others say it is?

And I wonder about your relationship with money -- how much of it you have and what you do with it. You admit that $10,000 is a significant sum but your admission is a little casual. $10,000 seems like a lot of money to me. I think anyone would agree that $10,000 is a lot of money.

I go through your letter again, looking for clues. You set this man up in business and he clipped you. What is the significance of the barbershop? It gives him stature, does it not? Perhaps you wanted to be proud of him because of your great investment, your great hope.

The more I think about this, the more concerned I become. You let this man take advantage of you. I am concerned for the innocent part of you that needs protection; it is as though you are abusing yourself, and by abusing yourself abusing this part of you that legitimately deserves protection.

Could you perhaps speak to the innocent in you, the child in you that wants you to live by the rules and not allow men to take advantage of you? You made a pact with this man but that pact was broken. Could you make a pact with yourself that cannot be broken?

Sometimes when we are unhappy in our own pursuits we try to rescue others. Perhaps you redirected your compassion and caring to people whose failings you could accept because it would be too painful to accept your own failures. So let's inquire of your own failures? How happy are you in your own life? What are your own ambitions? What would you do with that $10,000 if you could have it back today? Would you also start a business? What about taking care of yourself? What about, perhaps, using some of that money to hire a really first-rate psychotherapist who could help you sort out the victim from the hero in your own psyche?

I know I recommend therapists a lot. It's because the right therapist can truly provide priceless service. Our relationship with ourselves is the one thing we cannot escape. We have to live with ourselves all the time. So anything that makes living with ourselves better and less painful is money well spent, if you ask me.

So do these things, will you? First of all, consult a lawyer and find out how you can enforce what sounds like a contract between you and your former boyfriend. Second, try to see what I am seeing -- a woman who has displaced onto others the caring that she owes herself, and is therefore in danger. Find a trusted person who will help you through it. Be ready to face some hard truths. You will end up much happier and much stronger.

So that's my recommendation to you, to do yourself a favor, and stand up for yourself, by hiring some good professional help: A good lawyer, and a good therapist. Do this, and write to me in two years to let me know how much happier you are! 

Write Your Truth.

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By Cary Tennis

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