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This is not an easy story to write, but it is the reality of my life right now and I’m trying to be as honest as I can and call out my own behavior when I need to.
Someone I’ve been close to for over a decade came to me a few weeks back and asked for some extra cash to tide her over for the month. It’s something that’s happened between us before, and I’ve always given her whatever she needed. And unless the amount is astronomical by my standards (which it’s never been so far), I’ve never asked for the money back.
She’s also not some random borrower asking for money. She’s a particularly circumspect person who feels gutted each time she asks.
But this last time she came to me—it felt different. Obviously, I knew she needed money and I was more than happy to give her what she needed but she seemed a lot more nervous, scared, and worried. And I soon realized why when she asked me for an amount that completely shocked me.
It was not money that I just had lying around the house. And while I did have the money in the bank, it was a solid amount that I genuinely couldn’t afford to hand over to her. Especially not now in these ravaging, post-pandemic economic times.
I stared at her as she asked for the money. She told me that the unexpected rains over the past few months had completely gutted the roof of her home and she needed to replace it. And this time she wanted to use cement and concrete so that it would be a one-time, forever thing—so she’d never be worried about the lashing rains again.
I understood completely. It was money she needed. But I also did not have that much money to give.
I sympathized and empathized with her. I made her understand that while I wanted to help, I genuinely could not help. She listened to me—and then got quiet. After a few minutes, she said, “Didi (sister), please try and see if you can come up with the money. Otherwise, I and my son will become homeless.” I asked her if I should post a notice on our condo board and crowdfund it. She categorically said no and made it clear that she did not want to owe money to anyone but me.
I felt hassled. As she left, she turned around and said, “Didi, ask around with the others in your house and see if you can spare the money for me.” I wasn’t sure what she meant by “ask others in your house,” but at that moment I nodded since I didn’t know what else to say.
Over the next week, she came back twice to ask if I had the money. I said no. I repeated that I’d done all my financial calculations and I simply could not spare this kind of money at this point in my life. To that, she kept saying, “Didi, ask around with others in your house. Maybe others can come up with a way for you to give me money.”
I swear, I had no idea what she meant by that. So, again, I nodded and closed the door.
And then it struck me. When she kept reiterating that I should “ask around in my house,” what she meant was to ask the men in my family and then get back to her.
Because, even now, despite the many times that I’d given her money that I earned and that I was responsible for, those amounts were considered small change for her. And when it came to the big-ticket items, she did not trust that I knew my own money because I’m a woman. She would rather I ask the men in my family to take a look at my finances and give her an answer. And she was convinced that there would be money, that there was money—but I just didn’t know it because I’m a woman.
I was at once angry and sad.
I was angry that we still live in a world that’s steeped in gender stereotypes:
Women: good to cook, raise children, and play supporting roles.
Men: decision makers and financial wizards.
Never mind that I’m probably the most financially savvy person in my home.
But sad or angry, the problem wasn’t going away. And I had no idea what to say to her that would make her understand that I just did not have the money she needed.
When she came back to me for the fifth time, I did something that I knew was wrong and that I’d promised myself I would never do: demean myself (and, by association, women in general) just so a problem can go away. But I was at the end of my tether.
This time when she came, I invited her inside, sat her down, and said—with all seriousness—that I’d talked with the men in my house, they had pored over my financial statements, and I truly didn’t have the kind of money she needed from me.
Basically, I stood there and told a bold-faced lie.
But the second I told her that some men had looked at my financial statements, she stood up, held my hands, and said, “Didi, thank them so much for trying. I’m sure they were all busy and I really appreciate that they took the time out to do this for me. I understand. If there’s no money, there’s no money. What can we do, right?” She philosophized, walked away happy and satisfied, and left me behind with my mouth open and mind blown.
This was a stunning moment for me. That I, a completely financially independent, feminist woman resorted to centuries-old gender stereotypes to resolve a problem that just wouldn’t go away, shames me. But the thing is, I still don’t know what else I could’ve done.
In the end, I gave her a satisfactory answer. I gave her what she needed to hear and she walked away at peace. But choosing that option made me question my own decision-making skills, my feminism, and my sense of worth.
Honestly, I still don’t know what else I could’ve done.
I’d love to know what you think. Is there a better way I could’ve handled the situation?