Dear Prudence

Help! My Neighbor Owes Me Money.

Dear Prudence answers more of your questions—only for Slate Plus members.

A woman at left is not wearing a mask, looking away. A woman at right is wearing a mask and staring ahead.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus.

Every week, Dear Prudence answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.

Q. My neighbor isn’t speaking to me: My neighbor and I have been good friends since I moved into our building two years ago. We got into a quarrel over COVID-19 tensions, as I am following slightly stricter shelter-in-place rules with regard to my older parents. Long story short, she felt like I was shaming her for not being as strict with quarantine as I am. I told her that I was not judging her in any way and honestly felt a little hurt that she would think that. She hasn’t spoken to me since and is steadfastly ignoring any communications on my end. The problem is: She owes me two weeks’ worth of grocery money and some other stuff I would like back. I have already tried asking her for it. I have thought about ringing her doorbell, but I’m not sure if that is the best approach. What is the best way to proceed here?

A: Ringing her doorbell is a perfectly reasonable approach to getting your money back. She may not have it right now, and you two might have to talk about postponing the repayment, but just because her feelings are hurt over a misapprehension you’ve already done your level best to correct doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with acknowledging the fact that she owes you money. Be direct, be friendly (but don’t attempt to turn this into a social call), and don’t let the fact that it can sometimes feel a bit uncomfortable to acknowledge a debt your friend owes you keep you from getting your own stuff. You have behaved kindly and reasonably toward her; here’s hoping she’ll follow your example if you maintain the same friendly, non-anxious, non-compulsive attitude about the loan.

Also—to talk out of the other side of my mouth—be prepared for her to avoid you, lash out and/or get defensive, or provide some other distraction entirely, either because she doesn’t have the money and is ashamed to admit it or because she feels guilty about how she’s acted and doesn’t like being reminded of it. I hope that’s not the case! But regardless of how she behaves, you can remain patient and calm. You weren’t criticizing her by making different choices about sheltering in place, and you’re not insulting her by asking for your money back, either.