Ps and Qs: Renting a friend’s cottage

Illustration by Kate Feiffer

Dear Nicole,

I have a friend with a cottage she rents out for the summer. Months ago, I asked her if my family could rent it from her this summer. We can’t afford to pay what she usually gets for it, so we offered to do yard and painting work for her to subsidize our rent. She said she isn’t comfortable with that arrangement, and that since we’re in a bind she’d simply rent it to us for less than she usually gets. But now she’s going around telling everyone about the great favor she’s doing us, and I keep hearing from people about how lucky we are that my friend is giving us such a great deal on a summer rental. I don’t want to be lucky. I want to work for our place and make it an even trade. Nicole, what do you advise?

Confidentially yours,



Dear Renter,

I advise you to talk to her directly. Yeah, I know, we’re Islanders, we don’t do direct confrontations. With that in mind, here’s my advice: Talk to her directly.

My first thought when I read this was that it’s not your friend who is the problem here; it is the people she’s speaking to, who are adding an overlay of their own perceptions and beliefs. Maybe they’re also in need of housing, and jealous of you. Maybe they own rental properties and are jealous of your friend, for being financially secure enough to help out a friend. You just can’t know through what filter their words are coming. Nor can you control through what filter they hear your friend’s words. So shrug that off.

My second thought was that you might have your own (thoroughly Yankee) hang-up about being “lucky,” to the degree “luck” implies “unearned good fortune.” I’ll come back to that in a moment.

First, though: Assuming she really is talking that way behind your back, how typical is this dynamic between you? Does she generally need to characterize your friendship, even to you, such that she is the giver and you are the taker? What kind of friend is that?

A sense of shame can be crippling; doing someone a favor feels terrific. In this case, she gets to feel terrific at the expense of your feeling shamed, and that’s incredibly unfortunate. No real friend would knowingly impose that experience on you. A friend, once they were clued in, would want to adjust things — if not the rental agreement itself, at least the way she talked about it — so that her generosity wasn’t expressing itself in a way that humiliated you. Authentic generosity never wants to shame those it benefits. No exceptions.

On the other hand: Is it possible you are being overly sensitive, and/or that pride is warping what you’re hearing? Maybe she’s telling people, “I’m helping them out just like they’d help me out if the positions were reversed, because it’s the Vineyard way for us to all look out for each other however we can.”

Regarding this, let’s go back to the word “lucky.” Some cultures interpret luck as evidence that a person has been singled out by the universe for special treatment. Others see what-seems-like-luck as a result of total randomness. Yankees — and by extension, many Vineyarders — want to feel that whatever luck is, we don’t need it, because we work for what we get, dammit! If we “get” lucky, that implies we are shirking our duties and don’t really deserve the outcome. Nobody is unlucky, they’re just not working hard or smart enough. For the record, that is pure BS … but it’s BS that is imprinted on a lot of Vineyard DNA, possibly including yours.

So when people say you’re lucky, you hear, “You only have a roof over your head because someone else is being kind to you despite your being a slacker/loser/idiot.” That would be a horrid, cruel thing to hear under any circumstances, and even more so when you have made a point of trying to earn that “luck” by asking to work for it.

So whatever comes out of your conversation with your friend (you can’t get out of talking to her, sorry), you might also have to adjust your relationship to the notion of luck. Add a little appreciation for randomness, or for the universe’s keeping an eye on you, or both. Do whatever it takes to destigmatize luck.

If you can’t, then try to turn the concept on its head. The next time a third party tells you how lucky you are, say, “Thanks, but I’m not nearly as lucky as my friend is. She has an extra house, and enough financial stability to be able to rent it out below market rate, and most of all, in me she has a friend who is giving her a chance to show off how generous she is. I feel good about my contribution to her luckiness.” That’s kind of silly, but so is an aversion to “luck.”

And, oh yes, whatever else you do, talk to your friend about what’s going on.


Bemused readers ask bestselling novelist and Shakespeare for the Masses co-creator Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on the Vineyard. Nicole’s combined knowledge of both this Island and the world’s greatest melodramas compels her to help prevent unnecessary tragedy wherever possible. Come hear Nicole speak about writing a column on Monday, August 6, at Islanders Write. Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to



  1. Yes, this is what the community of Island freeloaders and their enablers do. It’s not about being a slacker/loser/idiot. It’s about being a moocher, and feeling entitled to be so. Here’s how it goes. Moochers start asking their property-owning friends for a “trade deal” for an upcoming summer rental… in February. You know the deal: Why not make your property-owning friends feel some responsibility to give you something for a very reduced, next-to-nothing price and pretend you’ll tend the vegetable garden, paint the hallway, fix the leaking outdoor shower and get the screen fixed, even though you are not equipped to do any of it, if you attempt to do any of it at all. Why do you think the landlord knew not to agree to a trade? This may come as a shock to Renter- and to Nicole- but the cottage-owning friend did do the scrounger a big, lucky favor, by giving them a discounted rent. Say thank-you and quit complaining. Here’s a suggestion that is totally out there. If you can’t afford to pay the going rate, and object to people knowing you are a lucky moocher, find a cheaper place to stay and stop putting your friends on the spot. And Nicole, promoting jealousy of people who worked to hard to own property is not a good look. I hope Renter did “confront” the generous friend and then I hope the generous friend told Renter they really were in luck because they could find alternative housing they could actually afford. I’ve often thought some of these Ps and Qs columns were made-up nonsense, but I fear this one was real!

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