Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Let Your Friends Borrow Outdoor Gear? Here’s How to Get It Back.

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Welcome to Tough Love. We’re answering your questions about dating, breakups, and everything in between. Our advice giver is Blair Braverman, dogsled racer and author of Small Game and Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube. Have a question of your own? Write to us at toughlove@outsideinc.com.

I consider myself pretty easygoing when it comes to lending gear to my friends. I have a lot of niche gear, and I’m happy for other people to be using it when I’m not. It’s not doing any good when it’s sitting in my garage. However, I am encountering a bit of a problem with a close friend who borrowed my nice skis this winter, when I had an injury and couldn’t use them. 

He used them all season, which I was glad for, but after the snow melted, I started trying to get them back. The first time I asked him, he said, “It doesn’t matter right now, because you’re not using them either, right?” When I brought it up again, he said, “Just let me know when you want to use them, and I’ll give them back to you then.” I brought it up a third time, and he said the same thing. 

At this point I feel like I’m nagging him, which I hate doing. I have two questions for you. One: how do I get my darn skis back? And two: how do I keep from being in this situation in the future? I’m not a very assertive person and it makes me nervous to even think about confronting him.

As a fellow lender—and borrower—of gear, I applaud your generosity and feel your pain. I’m guessing your friend isn’t actually trying to steal your skis. It’s possible that he damaged them in some way and is afraid to tell you, so he’s punting the problem or saving money to replace them. But the most likely truth is the obvious one: he’s a procrastinator who genuinely thinks you don’t need the skis right now, and he doesn’t realize that by sidestepping your request, he’s effectively pushing you around.

You could solve the problem in about five minutes by being assertive, but I know that advice may not help; if confrontation isn’t in your character, then I might as well advise you to make new skis out of thin air. So let’s take a step back and consider your options, in order from most to least bold.

  1. Say, “Can I have my skis back?” He’ll try to put off returning them. You’ll say, “No, I want them right now. Please go get them.”
  2. Say, “Can I have my skis back?” When he tries to put it off, come up with an excuse for why you need them now. Possibilities include: another friend might want to look at them; you’re organizing your garage; you might travel somewhere with snow.
  3. Actually plan a summer ski trip so that you’re telling the truth about needing your skis back now.
  4. Take your friend at his word that he’ll return the skis when you need them. Look on the bright side—skis are bulky, and he’s storing them for you.
  5. Abandon the skis. They’re his now.

Technically, any of these will work, although I think that number four is the most practical. You’ve brought up the skis enough times that he should have gotten the hint; clearly he hasn’t, but he hasn’t gone against his word, either.

It would be reasonable, in this situation, to be a little slower to lend him gear in the future, or (assuming the skis eventually make their way back to you, as promised) make sure that any future lending comes with a firm, agreed-upon return date. A good friend is more important than a piece of gear, but you’re not betraying your friendship by setting boundaries. You’re protecting it. You’re making sure that you don’t end up with years’ worth of unspoken stress and discomfort that comes to mind whenever you see him.

That said, the best thing you can do for your friendship—and more importantly, for yourself—is to work on standing up for yourself. Why is it that you feel so timid about confronting him more directly? Is it because you’re worried about feeling uncomfortable in the moment, or because you’re afraid he’ll like you less in the long term? Do you think his feelings should take precedence over yours? I want to remind you that very few people choose their friends based on who they can push around—and if they do, that’s not someone you want to be friends with anyway. You have a million things to contribute that don’t involve making yourself and your preferences smaller. You also have plenty to contribute that doesn’t involve lending out your gear. Yes, that’s great—but even if you had nothing to lend, your friends would like you anyway.

Building that kind of confidence is a long journey, and not something that can be fixed over a pair of borrowed skis, but maybe this situation can be a chance for you to practice the kind of forthrightness that challenges you. In fact, I suspect it already has been. You brought up the skis with your friend three times, which probably wasn’t easy for you. I know it’s frustrating that your request didn’t work, at least not immediately. But you successfully asserted yourself, and your friend offered a plan for when he’s returning the skis. Is it perfect? Not yet. But it’s a glide in the right direction.

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