Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Renter and other tales of woe, enabling and laziness

So a few years ago, back when we lived in our last home, we had another house in addition to the one we lived in. The other house was the one I had purchased by myself before Big Ag and I met and married, back when I was working as a public school teacher. 

It was a beautiful, small cottage with a huge garden, where I had spent some of the happiest years of my life as a working, single mom to a beautiful son. But it was too small for the blended family Big Ag and I created when we married. And so we moved into a new house and put mine up for rent.

And so I felt it was somehow appropriate that we rented to a young professional woman, just getting back on her feet after leaving her husband -- a single, working mom just like I had been once.  She was intelligent, well-spoken and we both liked her immediately.  We checked references, checked her current job status and when everything came back in the clear, allowed her to move in.

I could easily fill the next several pages with the stories of what happened after that, but in a nutshell, she quit her job two weeks after moving into our house, and actually paid the rent for the next few years from living off her divorce settlement, her life savings, and finally loans from friends and parents (never repaid). She rarely left the house, and even seemed to resent when we'd come over to fix things (at her request) or do the twice-yearly adjustment to the sprinkler system.  She was a hermit with children.

We no longer own the house and she no longer lives there, but I still hear her name once in awhile, and apparently she's living off a boyfriend, still getting handouts from her parents and friends, and still refusing to work or leave the house much, a decade later.

My point in all this is that there are some people who cannot, for whatever reason, deal with the normal world you and I live in.  I've known several women who seem to have picked up different versions of this mental health virus, one even being honest enough to tell me once, "I just cannot seem to deal with the external world."

I got that, totally. After all, which of us has NOT felt like that at one time or another.  But it's what you do about it that matters.

Most adults can't collapse their lives into homes or onto their property long term, (unless they have a partner wealthy enough to support them).  Temporarily, I think sometimes it's necessary, but as a long-term lifestyle it's not a sign of good mental health when that happens. 

You can't expect friends and family to fund your life.  But me saying "you can't" does not mean there aren't people doing exactly that, right at this moment.

And what I've learned from my experience with our renter and a couple of other friends is that there is nothing you or I can do to change it. You can watch their lives unravel one thread at a time, as they continually attempt to find new "donors" to support them.  But trying to talk to them about how to fix their lives is a wasted effort, because they don't want to change.  

Yes their children will suffer, their families will suffer, and even the plants and animals that live with them will suffer, but the fact remains: You cannot change it, and you cannot stop those who would enable them to keep doing it -- those who believe that if they just throw some more money at whatever current disaster is happening that the larger issues that caused it will go away.

All you can do is step away, and not enable them youreself. And I will say this:  Those people who claim they cannot deal with the external world are masters at manipulating said world so that they can be supported while doing little or nothing to provide for themselves.  Don't ask me why, or how, because I don't really understand how it can happen. But I've seen it time and again.  

My renter lived for years on the donations of friends and family.  Two other friends lived off divorce settlements from husbands they'd snagged and then became tired of, never intending become employed while there was still a retirement account to gut and and an alimony check in the mail every two weeks.

My advice is to save your breath. Because while I don't know what name this disease has, it is clearly a mental health issue:  Symptoms: laziness, unwillingness to work, a feeling that the world owes you a living, and the belief that you are different than all other working adults.  Treatment:  None known.  Outcome: Terminal unhappiness.


  1. You have lived so many lives! I've considered buying a rental property, but tales like this terrify me. They're horribly common.
    I don't know how one could manage to be a hermit with children! Kids necessitate about 75 errands a day, or so it seems to me :). You're right-on with one thinking he/she is different, and operating on some higher level of enlightenment. One thing is for sure: the IRS doesn't accept workshop passes as payment. I'm not one to kill myself working (only a few times a year). At the end of the day, it feels good to have worked. It's more satisfying to spend $100 earned than $1000 stolen.

    1. I think anyone should be able to work as much, or little, as they can afford to. If someone had what the British aristocracy used to call "independent means" and therefore did not have to work at all, it wouldn't matter, because their bills would be paid and accounts clear. But to constantly be beating down the shadow of collection agencies, angry customers, etc. just seems like no way to live. My renter was able to be a hermit with kids because her mother (her chief enabler) would go out and buy groceries and would often take the kids to and from school. She even cleaned the woman's house for her! It was all very strange and I think your decision to not be a landlord is a good one! I'd NEVER do it again.

    2. That is outrageous! Yes I'm glad I didn't dive into the rental market. It was a good opportunity to buy a cute old house for well under $100k. It needed some work, but not a lot. But as I thought of all the issues I've heard about with rentals--I just didn't think I was cut out for it.