I used to think it was that I was getting older. I thought that, with the ‘gift’ of age and experience, came a certain hardening of the skin, a lessening of tolerance for seemingly juvenile actions, and so on.
Today, however, I learned something.
I was sitting in a car that would not start. Inside the house next to the car were two people who I had given a place to stay, free food, furniture, and much more. Both of these people had quite literally moved out under cover of night — from different houses, in different cities — to avoid paying me rent. One of them had snuck out leaving a phone bill of close to two thousand dollars in collect long-distance calls from prison, in addition to spraypainted walls, and many more gifts in kind.
In this car which would not start, outside a house of people who collectively owe me thousands upon thousands of dollars, to return to a home where I do not have heat or hot water; this is where I learned something.
I will never be able to surround myself with people who will do for me what I would do for them.
I used to believe differently, that the people I had chosen to spend my time with had the same views on friendship and community that I do. That they, too, believed in social responsibility, trust, respect.
Or rather, if they do believe in these things, these beliefs are not nearly important enough for them to be able to act in line with them. The two possibilities are functionally identical, and I’m not going to bother drawing a distinction between them.
After our heat was shut off here a few weeks ago, I had a very good conversation with my very good friend Charles. The conversation can be summed up very simply:
“How can I make significantly more money and accrue significantly less expenses than I am making and accruing now?”
During the course of this conversation, we realized that we had been having conversations on this topic, off and on, for about seven years; it seems plain to me that if you’re continuing to have financial issues of this caliber after seven years and several significant increases in workload and pay, chances are that the problem has to do with you.
With this in mind, I have taken a lot of time lately to think about my financial situation over the years, and why I keep ending up where I am. In this time, I’ve been increasingly distant to my friends and family — for this, I apologize, but it needed to be done — but after spending a lot of time examining things, I discovered something very alarming.
Without exception, every single time that I have had significant income and reduced financially to the point where I literally cannot afford a cup of coffee, I have been fucked over by someone. From the first time in 1998 to the last two years of nearly constant abuse and non-payment from the people we’ve been renting the upstairs to (The greater part of $10K).
I can count the number of people I have lived with on one hand who have always paid their share in full on time, or made alternative arrangements before money was due.
I wish this were an entry regarding rent and roommates. Then, the solution would be simple: get out of the landlord business. And I have. But the landlord business isn’t what this post is about, and it isn’t what the problems I’m having are about.
The landlord business is a not a problem, it is a symptom. The treatment I have received by the people I have been living with is symptomatic of the treatment I have received by the people in my life.
With very nearly no exceptions, every single person that I have spent a lot of my life with has betrayed my trust, or crossed a mutually-understood boundary of responsibility and/or respect. The only names I have been able to come up with are Leslie, Venk, Suzanne, Charles, and Tony Christofaro. Five people, two of which I have not spent significant time with in a while. If we’ve spent a lot of time together, and your name isn’t on the list, it’s not by omission.
These aren’t small things I’m overreacting to, either. These are things like hanging out with someone who has beaten the shit out of my girlfriend, or neglecting to mention to me that the person I live with is going to skip out on rent and leave me holding a lease.
I’m going somewhere with all of this.
Given that there is a strong pool of evidence to suggest that many of my financial woes would be cured by not trusting anyone with or allowing anyone access to my living space, and given that even my closest friends and family have done and continue to do things that I have a great deal of difficulty reconciling with a working relationship, the logical conclusion is that I should live (mostly) alone, and not involve myself in friendly relations. (There is a second option — lowering my standards — but I have tried this, ending only in resentment and misery.)
I am very seriously considering doing just this. Living (mostly) alone, and not spending time with anyone at all. Just writing, designing, working, playing games, spending time with the woman I’m going to marry. It sounds like a very nice life. Especially the having-hot-water-to-take-a-shower-with part.
I recognize that we’re all human, and we all have faults. I, having more than most, understand this. I know that a lot of people try their best to be a good friend/roommate/whatever, and that any failings they may have are being addressed in some personal discipline of self-improvement or whatever. I, too, try to be a better person each day than I was the last – but I do not have the emotional (or financial) fortitude to spend any more of my time being fucked by people who’re trying and failing to get their shit together.
I will not live for friends, family, or community that does not return – at the very least – their mutually agreed obligations. This is no hyperbole; when I take home $3500 in a month and spend $3200 on other people’s rent and bills, I am literally living for other people, and with that said, I don’t consider social and personal obligations any less important or binding than financial ones. The inverse is true, if anything.
So if we don’t talk again anytime soon, or I turn down that coffee date, you know why. It’s nothing personal, but it’s time for me to stop pretending that the people around me are something that they’re not.