Why didn't I pay attention to Ebeneezer Scrooge? I have the stinginess down pat, but then I go and spoil it all by doing something stupid like helping someone out, rather than looking out for my own interests and letting them take care of theirs. I don't think Dickens intended for his festive fable to be interpreted in reverse, but that's what my bad decisions have taught me.
I used to think it was incredibly selfish of people to refuse to lend money to people in need when they clearly had some in the bank, gathering dust and trifling interest, and always offered to help people out with the odd hundred, even when the odds of getting it back were usually around 50%. It was worth the frustration and feeling of being let down by one person when I could have my trust justified in another, as money arrived back in my bank account two years later with a note apologising for the delay. Maybe it was a form of gambling, but one where the maximum possible jackpot is getting to keep the money you started with plus the feeling of having done some good. That's nice, but it won't buy a house.
Then I started travelling and earning more money than previously, and I failed to upgrade my policy to distinguish between large and small 'loans,' worthwhile or trivial causes and trustworthy or unsavoury characters. It's my own fault for getting into this mess - so I'll save you the effort of going straight to the comments to share that harsh reality with me, thanks - but I trusted these people to live up to their end of the unambiguous agreement too. When the agreed repayment dates arrived though, I received nothing but excuses. Usually not even that, as getting a response to my pestering emails was a long and arduous task due to a lack of internet access on their end that conveniently ended on the day I finally reached my limit and threatened legal action.
It was no idle threat, as I have a Korean lawyer on standby ready to embark on a £2,500 lawsuit, but then my threat elicited a request to stall for time before the debt would definitely be repaid this time for certain, and I relented because that unlikely story being true would be the most positive outcome. I guess I hadn't reached my limit after all. Nor had I on the other occasions every few months since then when the new deadline has expired, legal action has been threatened again and she's asked for a few more months before our absolute, final, real, last deal this time.
Now it's the end of April, and our most recently agreed 'last deal' from the last extension in January, and I'm ready to fire off the traditional email reminding of my international bank details and enquiring when I can expect to receive my first £1,000 repayment as agreed. I wonder what will happen this time? Will she finally repay my foolish kindness or will I finally have to put even more money where my mouth is?
The story begins
We didn't have any proper photos together.
A Korean who doesn't like photos? There's nothing fishy there
Not everything I get up to ends up in this blog, even if it feels like it must do sometimes. While I did mention my short-lived relationship with a Korean girl in the second half of 2011 - largely because I was pleased that it played into an established story arc, we all have our reasons for choosing partners - my increasing frustration at being her self-appointed sponsor was mainly consigned to stress-releasing private emails.
It was two months into the relationship that she first asked for money to pay for English studies to help her land a foreign job (she somehow made this trivial tertiary education sound more life-and-death at the time), and even by that point I'd realised her cold devotion to a career at the expense of personal happiness meant we weren't a great match. Motivated by the otherwise non-noteworthy occasion of my birthday to make a life decision, we had a long conversation in a McDonalds where I explained I hadn't intended this to be a brief fling, but that we just weren't right for each other. She was pretty annoyed, but didn't really have a choice but to accept it.
As we prepared to leave, I mentioned that I'd transferred that money she'd asked for the day before, and that it should arrive in her account in the next few days. Our break-up hadn't changed anything; I was still happy to lend (lend) the money to help her out when she needed it (well, not needed), and she would pay me back within the year like she'd agreed, once she'd landed that ace Australian job that this education would pave the way for.
Her temperament suddenly changed from irritated to apologetic. She told me to please forget any of the angry things she'd said to me in the past hour, and reminded me how great a guy I am. This abrupt turnaround was my first inkling that things were a bit weird.
Things get frustrating
Over the next few months she requested more payments to fund this oddly expensive part-time course that was definitely really happening. By January I had a big tax bill looming and was living from paycheck to paycheck for the first time since I left my home country, which isn't a therapeutic position to be in. I had to postpone further travels and tread water in a cheap Korean hostel eating instant noodles for a few more weeks (boo hoo - the point is, I was actually being affected by it for the first time), and I made sure she knew this in the emails accompanying my increasingly reluctant payments.
My heart bleeds
I told her this was the last time. I was not her father or even her boyfriend any more, and I could not be expected to add more to a growing heap that was already looking unrealistic to get paid back before the agreed September 2012 deadline. I told her that I needed to start saving for my own future, and that I could only help her out if an extreme situation arose - like, I don't know, she had an accident and needed help with medical bills or something.
I didn't get a reply for a long time. I eventually received an email from someone claiming to be her roommate, saying my ex had been injured by a motorcycle and needed money for medical bills. This looked laughably suspicious. But what could I do? Apart from, you know, let her deal with it like an adult. Instead, I sent my final payment and wished her well, reminding her that this was being added to the pile.
I can't verify the existence of this 'friend' on the internet. I'm open to the possibility of someone with imperfect English impersonating someone with differently imperfect English
Two years later...
To cut a long story short, I haven't received a penny of this money back up to now, and the only emails I have received - generally six months apart - are full of sob stories and excuses for the most recent delay, and a guarantee that something will be sent shortly when the situation somehow improves.
After being driven slightly insane by her lack of replies to my emails through most of 2012 and 2013, which she blamed on lack of Wi-Fi access in the Australian countryside where she was working on a farm (good to see the English studies being put to use, if they even happened), I was grateful for any reply and chose to be optimistic to lower my stress and feelings of betrayal, gullibility and general negativity with the world, agreeing to the slight extension as long as I received something soon.
Of course, time passed and nothing arrived in my PayPal or bank account.
Things (threaten to) get legal
When I didn't have the effort to be positive any more, I looked up Korean law and got in touch with a couple of lawyers offering free advice who explained the options available. When I emailed my financee telling her of my intention to take her to court, she broke the months-long radio silence on the very same day, pleading with me not to go ahead with it and to give her a few more months.
She'd only just got back to civilisation that day and checked her emails and voicemail, which was quite a coincidence. The dwindling optimist in me accepted the coincidence, because it was better than facing up to the alternative.
£10K of English studies right there
She missed the agreed deadline again again, and I was finally prepared to sue her ass. I have the bank transfers and email excuses behind me, and don't even need to travel to Korea to do it, I just pay my friendly-sounding lawyer to take care of it all for me in pursuit of her 8% settlement in addition to the initial contract fee. Because when has blindly sending money to a Korean woman ever got me in trouble before? I can't think of any examples off the top of my head.
But then - lo and behold and other sarcastic scene setting - that email reached her on the day she got back to a Wi-Fi zone just like the previous times. I must have some kind of intuition, and other sarcastic observations. And she asked for another extension until she started her new UK job and got paid at the end of April. She must think I'm such a pushover. Was I really going to agree to... yes I did, but at least I CCd the lawyer that time. The lawyer wasn't optimistic, but is probably looking forward to my legal fees the next time around when I definitely won't back down, oh no. Definitely for real one more time than you can ever say.
I don't know if it'll succeed, or if it will just add to the money I've lost over this person (who you may notice I'm not verbally abusing, just like I never did in my most frustrated emails, because I don't want to let the side down if this shows up in court!) But I have to do something for my sanity. And because there are going to be many times in the future when I'm preparing to buy a cheap house, raise a child, go on a lavish cruise or have a life-threatening illness and it would be really handy to have an extra eleven grand in the bank.
What do I want?
Security and closure. £11,487.50 would be nice too.
It's true that I was happy to lend the money in the first place (happy to lend on the agreed terms), because it was sitting in my bank and I probably wasn't going to need it as much in the next twelve months as she would (yeah, need). I genuinely believed this is how things could work, and was disappointed in the pessimism of a world where people didn't help each other out like this more often. Do you care that much about losing a few percent interest when someone else is missing out on opportunities? Of course, now I know better. People are unreliable.
If I do receive the first payment of £1000 that we'd most recently agreed, followed up by regular monthly payments over the next year, I would be satisfied and put the stress behind me as a learning experience that I came out of relatively unscathed. Even £100 and the prospect of a lifetime of trickling reparations would be better than nothing, which is what I've received in the past 31 months (and counting).
If I let my lawyer deal with it, and the court rules in my favour, I should get everything back in six to twelve months. The prospect of being able to write this person out of my life forever in 2015 is very appealing, and even if they don't make her pay my legal fees too, the loss would be worth it if I got all the rest back.
Any advice would be appreciated, bearing in mind that you can expect I've learned from this experience not to be so trusting and naive, so try to reign back your yelling at my slightly younger self, he can't hear you. It's true that I went on to 'lend' money to another girl in a much poorer country the following year, but I was realistic about the time it would take to get all of that back (and the likelihood of not getting anything). Besides, it was a lot less. Well, a bit less.
This whole enterprise has made me less generous, but at least I don't have to worry about more relationships being ruined when spoiled brats delight in their newfound prosperity and lose my respect as their demands become more unreasonable. I will keep trying my best to help my non-greedy current girlfriend (she's a keeper) overcome the burden of her background to earn reasonable pay for her hard work in an online or foreign job, but thanks to my experiences I've been less generous than I could with that.
If I do get all this money back from rubbisher people earlier in my life, maybe it will make me more generous and I'll recklessly lend it all out again, just not to the same people, they blew their chance. I have to trust people so they can prove to me that I can. It isn't the most cost-effective or time-efficient way of gauging that, admittedly. Let me know if you have another method.
I'm doing fine. I have a good income and I know how to save money. This limbo money is not causing a significant handicap in my life. But I will never stop obsessively pursuing what's rightfully mine in the name of decency and fucking fairness.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be. Actually, what the hell, borrow if you like - just find a gullible young fool, charm him with your lies and placate him with an email every six months or so for the next few years. Just be prepared for things to get serious and less fun after that, when he finally grows some legal balls.
You know, every time I read those emails back, I do feel bad for her series of unfortunate events - the motorbike accident, the shady Aussie farmers, the expensive funerals of grandparents she had to pay for and other things that are potentially true. But then I remember those months of silence, 'coincidental' returns from the wilderness whenever I mention court and the fact that she hasn't even paid me £0.01 yet despite having the money to fly all over the world, and my heart regains its frosty firmness. Compassion? Bloody humbug.