Life’s awkward moments… and how to handle them

Remember the time you loaned a neighbour your ladder but had to bug him to return it? Or the time you were out at a restaurant with friends who ordered two bottles of wine and then just divided the bill in half even though you and your spouse shared one glass between you? How about the time that your daughter had condensed all of her science binder into two pages of organized study notes and was asked by a friend if she could borrow the pages so that she could make photocopies? Often the awkwardness of these moments leaves us speechless.

I’d like to offer some thoughts on what to say:

In the first scenario, the lender might have believed that he was doing the neighbourly thing by saying “of course” when he was asked to loan his ladder to the guy next door. I’m sure that most neighbours would do the right thing and return it in a timely manner. But what if he doesn’t? What if a week or a month go by? He may even wave as you both go out to your cars in the morning and hoping that seeing you will jog his memory, you say nothing. But the next time you see him outside, you might say, “hey neighbour, you finished with my ladder?” He might slap his forehead, apologize and admit that he’d forgotten about it. He may promise to return it that evening. When he doesn’t, you may wonder how to handle the situation. At this point, you are likely wishing that you hadn’t loaned it to him in the first place. A few days later, you may leave a sheepish message on his voice mail reminding him about the ladder again. When you hear nothing still, you may be tempted to open his garage to steal your ladder back but then remind yourself that two wrongs don’t make a right so scrap that idea. What I’d suggest you do is this: knock at his door and say “Hi,” I’ve come to get my ladder.” Be prepared for him to rudely say: “Wow. That ladder must mean a lot to you.” He may even storm outside with you, retrieve the ladder and without even a thank you, shove it into your hands. You will likely make a note to self: be careful who I loan stuff to. Even though it is your ladder and he’s in the wrong, the borrower has turned things around to make it seem as if you – the lender – has the problem. Surely you know that this isn’t true. If someone doesn’t have the decency to return things in a timely manner and appreciate your generosity, then he should be embarrassed about his behaviour, not you. Don’t give up on being generous to people who appreciate it, and absolutely assert your rights.

Splitting bills at restaurants can bring about some awkward moments. Some people feel uncomfortable asking for separate bills. Perhaps because they don’t want to be perceived as being stingy or cheap. However, my take on this is that everyone is entitled to order off a menu according to his or her means. Why should you have to worry about what your friend is ordering? This may make you think twice about even joining friends at a restaurant, especially if you are living on a tight budget. It’s especially difficult when the restaurant’s policy is not to split bills. You may feel doubly uncomfortable about using a calculator to divide the bill according to what you ordered. Ordering alcohol can really jack up a bill, so this can be an especially contentious issue. My theory is that if you are dining out with good friends, then they should respect your restrictions. If not, then perhaps they’re not the friends you thought they were. Honesty is the best policy. Before you even place an order, you may say something like “I hope you don’t mind if we ask for separate bills this evening. We have a budget we’d like to stick to.”

If your daughter, for example, relays uneasiness about a friend asking for something that she has put a lot of effort into, you can first validate and acknowledge her feeling of being taken advantage of, especially if this is not the first request of its kind. You can also acknowledge that this is a difficult situation because although your daughter likely wants to be perceived as being generous and kind, she also doesn’t want to be seen as a pushover. You may want to discuss the difference between having a reciprocal sharing arrangement with a friend so that each feels that the other is putting in equal effort, or being asked for a one time favour compared to this type of request being made on a regular basis. If it’s regular, you may want to help your daughter find a way to express her feelings when asked, such as: “I’d love to be able to help you, but I’d feel resentful that I’ve put in all the work. So, I’m sorry but I can’t.”

Awkward moments are a part of life but after you’ve tackled a few in a way that yields positive results, you will build increased confidence that you can manage them.