All these phone messages were left after the first time she asked me for money. The last four messages were left after I was no longer interested in having lunch with her. In the year before that, we’d had lunch together approximately 75 times, at a cost to me of more than 150 hours and $4,000. It’s incredible that BCBSA could listen to these messages and still stand by their decision to fire me.

When you work with someone and they’ve left the building at lunchtime without you, you can safely assume that they had other plans. And yet still she called simply because she didn’t have any plans, certainly none involving a free lunch.

It’s interesting to note the change in her tone and in her familiarity of address throughout the progression of the messages. The thing of it is, while she went from wanting to have lunch together about once a week to wanting to have lunch together every day—a lunch I always paid for due to her financial difficulties—she never once called just to talk.
Not one time. The only time she ever called was when she wanted something from me. I’ve always figured there was enough to me that no one would spend all that time with me just for free stuff and simple attention. No one else ever has.

And that’s what changed things for me. It’s not unnatural to just want to have lunch with a coworker if you only do it now and then. Over the years, I’ve had a number of friendships like that, and they’ve always been good. But it is unnatural if you want to have lunch with that person every day and if you never offer to pay. Then it’s not about any kind of real friendship, it’s about just that one thing, which in this case was a mix of some attention, an opportunity to talk about herself, a free meal, and a midday break when she was stuck at work with limited options—there’s only so long you can be gone, only so far you can go, and only so many people you can be with. And eventually even all that wasn’t enough for her; she wanted a pile of cash outright. To her, it was all just
stuff, and nowhere in any of that was I to be found.

What kind of person asks you for a pile of cash when the sole basis of her friendship with you is that she asks you to take her to lunch every day?
The kind of person who has no intention of repaying you.

Over the course of my time with her, several people told me that she was taking advantage of me, that to her I was just a free lunch. I always said no, she’s a friend, it’s just that she has a more limited discretionary income. And until the end, I really did believe that. I
felt she was a friend, but in retrospect what I was really feeling was my friendship for her. And I simply couldn’t imagine that someone would spend all that time with someone for whom they felt no real friendship; there’s so much else to do—run some errands, do some shopping, spend some time alone, spend some time with someone you like, spend some time trying to meet someone you might come to like. But just for free lunches? Just with someone whom you only enjoy being with when they’re spending money on you?

This is kind of funny. If someone were treating you to lunch once a week, and then you started wanting to have lunch with that person every day, wouldn’t you offer to pay for some of those lunches? You would unless the real reason you wanted all those lunches was simply that they were free. She never offered to pay; instead, when the check came, she’d go to the restroom. She used to wait until lunch was over to do that...

I noticed her behavior at the time, but I thought it was simply because she was embarrassed that I was having to pay for her lunch so often. Later I thought it was because she may have been uncomfortable sitting there talking and waiting for me to pick up the check or, worse still, waiting for me to ask her to pay for once. She meant it as a signal that lunch was over and that I may as well occupy myself with paying the check while she was away.

June 2008 balloonx1

She called at 2:30 P.M. Why would you call someone for lunch at such a late hour? You’d have to figure they’d had other plans and had already had lunch. Well, I suppose you’d do it if you yourself hadn’t had lunch yet and you were trying to get another one for free.

July 2008 balloonx2

This one sounds sweet; I was almost sorry not to have had lunch with her that day.

July 2008 balloonx3

This one sounds harsh; I wasn’t sorry not to have had lunch with her that day. At the time, I wondered if she was trying a different approach since the last one hadn’t worked out.

July 2008 balloonx4

For her, it was all about attention and a free lunch.

August 2008 balloonx5

Angie is her daughter and was at work with her all that day. I’d stopped taking Ms. Lopez to lunch by then, but I would’ve made an exception this time in order to spend some time with her daughter. I didn’t get her message in time to have lunch with them, but I did see them later that afternoon.

And these are just the messages from the few times she was unable to reach me in person or via phone or e-mail

I could have gone to BCBSA’s Human Resources department, played these and a few other messages on my cell’s speakerphone and said, “Look, one of your employees keeps pestering me to buy her lunch, and now she’s even asking me for a big pile of cash on top of all that.” But that would not have been the right thing to do because there had been many times when I’d asked her to have lunch with me. Context is everything. For me to have done that would have been about as small and petty and selfish and self-absorbed as it gets in life, but none of that stopped her from doing that to me. And besides, they probably would’ve just fired me. But even if I’d been the employee and she’d been the contractor, I would never have done to her what she did to me. What kind of person does that to someone with whom they’ve spent so much time, and in her case, to someone who has done so much for them and from whom they’ve asked for so much?