The Vine: March 23, 2011
Last year I broke up with my long-term live-in boyfriend. We had been together through a volatile period on both of our lives with financial ups and downs for both of us. When the dust of the relationship settles, he is making a large income and settled in the house we used to live in with his new girlfriend while I am struggling to make ends meet and living with my parents across the country while I prepare for a run at grad school.
We broke up because he semi-suddenly decided he doesn't want to get married (to me anyway) though we had looked at rings and he converting to my religion. We had planned on getting married before we moved in together but one excuse of his or another always prevented us from settling down. It is now abundantly clear he wasn't that awesome to me while we were together (cheating, emotional abuse, general immaturity) and now I feel more relieved than anything else that things didn't work out.
I tell you all of this as back story for my dilemma. Early in our relationship we obtained a credit card in his name with me as an authorized user. I did most of the grocery shopping, errands-running and general life-planning so it made sense for us at the time. I fully admit that I charged things to the card that weren't strictly for the two of us; it did function as my only credit card and I didn't think twice about charging a round of cocktails or tank of gas. The payments came from both of our accounts but I contributed a few hundred dollars every month as expected. He rarely contributed. We stopped using the card three years ago and I started paying down this debt, thinking he was saving for a ring. I paid about half of the balance, and my ex transferred the rest to an account with a lower interest rate in his name only to expedite the process.
Then he got a new job with a big salary and he started to become a different person. We broke up, I moved out. I had continued to send a contribution every month until three months ago when I stopped. I'm barely making ends meet waiting tables while I look for a job and the money just hasn't been there. Also he has behaved like a troll since our breakup and the unfairness of the situation has started to sink in. I incurred this debt believing the future would look entirely different, I believed everything he said hook, line, and sinker. I certainly didn't think that I wouldn't be stuck paying off this debt solo on my current terrible income. I was there for him when he was unemployed, he drove my car and we even signed a domestic-partnership agreement so I could put him on my medical insurance, I figured he would be understanding while I got my life together post-breakup. This was true at first but now he calls me daily demanding I pay. It has really made me see the situation in a new light.
Recently, when he threatened legal action and I told him I didn't think he had a case, he offered to split the remaining balance with me if I sign an agreement stating I understand I owe him the money and will pay him a certain amount monthly for years. This will still be a huge strain on me financially. I don't know what to do.
I suppose my question is this: am I a bad person if I turn my back on this situation? Part of me feels like I paid my half of the debt, it isn't in my name and I feel like a sucker. He could pay off the entire balance painlessly; he spends more on baseball tickets in a season. It will be such a struggle for me and he did me wrong in so many ways that I am very tempted to tell him he won't see another dime from me. Paying him this money is not only crushing financially, it reminds me of a girl who thought she didn't deserve to be treated better. It makes me feel like a fool. His collection calls make me queasy. I know he could come after me but though I'm not a lawyer, I don't think he has much of a case and I don't have any money anyway.
Then my heart kicks in. Part of me though feels like he always thought I would pay this money and it isn't fair to sneak-attack him with even half the balance because things didn't work out. My heart wants to take the high road and be broke for the next four years. Even though I know I made him out to be jerk (and he was), we were happy for a long time and I feel like this is terrible relationship karma. I feel like paying the money to him is the probably the right thing to do, but I think I am okay with burning this bridge and would love to be free of this burden. Please Sars, what do I do?
At Least I Don't Have to Follow the NL Central Anymore
PS If I have to pay this debt, it is a small price to pay for being out of that situation. I wish I could have told the girl who was afraid to leave how much better it is on the other side!
Dear Cubs Fan,
I would stop looking at the problem along the good-person/bad-person axis, and start trying to see it from a less emotional and more businesslike standpoint. Forget what either of you feels s/he is owed emotionally, or in theory; focus on what is actually owed legally and/or financially — if anything. I think the desired result here is not "good person," or "better person than Ex." It's dealing with the situation in a permanent way so that Ex departs your life completely, but doesn't take your credit rating with him.
I'm not a lawyer either, and I don't work for a credit-card company, so whatever you choose to do, you should consult with relevant authorities on the subject — but this is what I would do.
First: marshal all the paperwork, from your files or by calling the credit-card company and asking for the statements, and figure out exactly what got spent on what, and which of you is responsible for what. Create a spreadsheet and track every single expenditure; go back over your checking records and track how much you paid.
Second: place a call to the card company, or to a credit bureau, or to anyone who can tell you what the legal implication is of his having transferred that balance to an account in his name. My sense is that, if he wanted to prove in court that you still owed money on that balance, he should have left it in an account with your name; it does seem to me as though, once he assumed the debt, he…you know, assumed the debt. But Lord knows what loopholes exist there, so: find out.
Third: once you have all that information — whether you do actually owe him money from the original card; whether he can convince a small-claims judge that you owe him money now — you can respond to his next call. If it turns out that you don't owe anything on the balance, or that, over the course of the credit card's lifespan, he actually owed you money, you can pleasantly tell him that you don't plan to be extorted, and end the call. If you do owe him a small amount, make him an offer, while 1) reminding him that he's not entitled to more, and 2) insisting that he agree in writing that the small amount means the end of your dealings, and any further contact on that subject will be considered harassment. (Getting a lawyer friend to pinch-hit on the wording is a good idea here.) And if he won't accept those terms, he's welcome to engage an attorney, and you wish him luck.
Again: you need to figure out, from people with the pertinent experience to tell you, whether he actually has a case here, and proceed from there. I honestly don't know why he'd bother, if your assessment of his financial situation is correct — he got the house and a new lady friend, and the best thing for everyone involved is for him to just let the shit go. But if he wants to make it about punishing you, you have to let that be his choice, and not make the same mistake.
Figure out whether he's got grounds for a legal claim; if he doesn't, either tell him to fuck off or make arrangements to pay what you do owe and nothing more. But whatever you do, make it about ending the interaction, not proving anything to him. That time is over.
Tags: boys (and girls) etiquette