Dear Dr. Chani,
Last month I found myself faced with a huge emotional challenge that I still feel bad about. For the first time, my husband and I decided that it was healthy for our family to visit a different town this summer. We selected an “out of town” location that has a significant Jewish community. A friend connected me with Sara, who had a small house she wanted to rent out while she traveled away to visit her family for the summer.
Since we are not used to renting, it took a long time for me to feel comfortable with my decision to rent from Sara. I discussed Sara’s house with her at length over several phone conversations. She also sent me eight videos to show me the different parts of her house and how her appliances worked – such as her air conditioning and washing machine. Sara sounded really nice and understanding. Our family was so grateful to have found the perfect solution to our rental search.
After Sara and her family traveled away, she arranged for us to get the keys from a neighbor and move in. Tired, hungry, and drained, we arrived at our summer home. To say that we were surprised is an understatement! Her house looked nothing like the videos. The paint was peeling off the walls, it was generally unclean, and there was an ant infestation. We also noticed that when the shower was used in one of the bathrooms, dirty water backed up and flooded the floor. The air conditioner did not work well and half of the house was uncomfortably hot. The stove had no knobs and three out of four burners did not light. This was just a few of the many problems we noticed. I immediately called Sara to understand what happened, but she did not return my calls.
I messaged her on WhatsApp about the issues and the next day she replied with several voice messages. She replied that her house is normal for the community and we seem to have very high expectations. She also told me that she could not do much about the issues. We would have to live with them.
We informed her that we could not rent the house and we would have to immediately find another rental. We would also forgo the second month’s payment. (We had already paid the first.) Sara was angry. She told us that we had to rent from her since she was a mother with several children and she relied on this income. She said that at this point she could not find another renter so we owed her a full two months of rent. We explained that she was charging us a premium rent for her house and we expected it to be as she described – in great condition.
We could not believe it when she told us that we were dishonest and that we owed her money. She kept sending me WhatsApp messages to make us feel guilty and told my friend how I mistreated her. I cannot understand how she is so selfish that she can make herself into the victim after she wronged us.
I began to lose faith in people and become disenchanted, in general. Part of me also started believing Sara. Maybe I was being unethical and unfair. I lost confidence in myself and in other people. Help! What can I do to get over this experience?
It is disheartening to feel betrayed by someone that you trusted, especially when they turn the situation upside down and paint themselves as the victim. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for someone who wrongs you to feel that they are justified in how they behaved and that you are mistaken. People tend to see a situation from their own point of view.
It can be helpful for you to draw a distinction between a problem that involved you and a problem that you caused. In this situation, you were involved in Sara’s problem, but you did not cause it. It might be hard for Sara to see that distinction and she can pass that confusion on to you. Sara needed to find a renter for her house because she relied on the income. When you realized the poor condition of her house and were no longer willing to be her solution, she was stuck. Observe that her problem existed before you showed up. She had a house in less than ideal condition and you were a temporary solution. When you walked out, Sara reverted to the problem she had before. She could not rent out her house in the condition that it was in. You did not create her problem, you were simply involved in it. That does not make you the cause of her problem. It sounds like Sara is misguided in telling you that you are not behaving correctly. You do not have to own her problem or own the responsibility to fix it.
At the same time, it might be helpful for you to empathize with Sara and try to forgive her. Even though you are not the perpetrator, and you view Sara’s actions as unfair, it can be healthy for you to let go of your intense emotions. You can lower your own negative feelings towards Sara by trying to understand why she behaved as she did and trying to empathize with her. Perhaps you can focus on her being a mother who is financially strapped and desperate for the rental income. In addition, you might consider the possibility that she did not realize the extent of her home’s issues since she usually lives there and it is familiar to her. You do not need to feel that Sara is right or justified. Finding ways to understand Sara’s behavior can help you let go of your feeling upset, angry or frustrated. It would be wonderful if Sara could empathize with you as well. Yet you cannot control her reaction. You can only control your own thoughts, feelings, and actions.
Keep in mind that you want to react to this experience by being your best self. Although Sara’s actions were painful to you, you will feel better and have the best outcome in all relationships involved if you respond by doing what is right. Here are some ideas to keep in mind during potential future interactions with Sara. There can be a marked difference between being assertive and aggressive. You can express your opinion clearly and calmly, without attacking Sara or her position. When you discuss it with her, explain the facts the way you see them, plainly and clearly. Avoid personal attacks. You can also express to Sara that you would like her to understand the way you see the situation. Even if she has an alternate perspective, you might convey to her that you would prefer to agree to see things differently rather than bear difficult feelings. Sara might not be able to see things from your point of view and decide to hold a grudge. Even if she does, that is her choice. Like the problem she created, her possible grudge involves you, but is not caused by you.
When you see things from Sara’s perspective in addition to your own, it can help you with your disillusionment with people, in general. Sara made mistakes and sees things erroneously. She is making several errors, but might not be a belligerent person who intentionally wronged you. If you allow yourself to see people as making mistakes instead of intentionally wronging you, it can help you feel better about your personal interactions and about humanity.
I hope that your new summer rental is pleasant and that you and your family enjoy the rest of your summer.
Wishing you all the best,