Dear Helaine: A friend needed a dress for a formal event, and she borrowed one from me. She returned it with stains. She didn't tell me they were there. I found them myself. The dry cleaner couldn't remove them.
When I asked her about it, she apologized and said she wouldn't pay for the dry cleaning or buy me a new formal outfit because she "didn't need another dress." But it's my dress, not her dress, and she's the one who ruined it. I thought the answer was obvious. When you borrow an item from a friend and damage it, you buy them a new one. I told her so, and now she won't speak to me.
Did I get the etiquette wrong and lose a friend for no good reason? Or was she not such a good friend? -- Staining Mad
Dear Staining Mad: Accidents do happen. But if I borrow something from a friend or neighbor, and I damage, break or ruin it, it's on me to make the offer to replace it. There are all sorts of ways to do that.
In the matter of the dress, your friend should have been up-front about what happened. She then should have offered to pay for the dry cleaning and, if that didn't fix the situation, she needed to make good in some way. It's hard to buy someone another dress, but she could have offered to take you out to dinner or purchase a gift certificate to one of your favorite stores. That she didn't do this tells me this is a relationship where you did much of the giving and she the taking. (I mean, she didn't need another dress. Come. On.) If I'm right, the lost dress is a cheap price to pay for learning this about your now-former friend.
I would add one caveat, however. Did your friend borrow the outfit because she couldn't afford to buy one herself? She might have been embarrassed to admit she couldn't afford to pay you back in some way. The next time something like this happens, it might be better if you make it clear you'll be understanding if your friend's finances don't permit her to address the situation quickly.
One other thing: It's good to be generous with possessions. But if it's something you really want returned in the same shape as you lent it out, specify that up front. Or don't lend it out at all.
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