Wait. Did My Friend Just Trick Me into Stealing a Tent?
My buddy switched the price tags on a tent to pay a lower amount on a more expensive setup. I was unaware, and now I feel terrible.
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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 Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube. Have a question of your own? Write to us at email@example.com.
My friend since elementary school is shopping for a trip, so I went with her to visit a store to help her find supplies. While we were there, she was looking at tents, and I looked around more generally. At one point she came over to me, and showed me a tent that was packed in a bag. She said “This is the green two-person tent, right?” It seemed like she was confused about the label. I wasn’t paying much attention, but it was green and it seemed like the right size so I said yes.
She bought the tent and we got in her car. As soon as we started driving she started laughing. It took me a few minutes to realize that she had switched the price stickers on two tents in order to get a more expensive tent for a cheaper price.
I laughed at first, even though I felt uncomfortable. But the more time that passed, the more I became uneasy. I asked her outright if she switched the tags, and she said “yes,” proudly. She said that we did it together, because she had asked me if the tag looked right and I had told her that yes, it was right. But at the time she asked, I didn’t know what she was doing, and I would not have said yes if I knew. She told me that I definitely knew, and accused me of changing the story. She also bragged later to another friend about the “deal” that we got together. She has enough money so I don’t think it was about whether she could afford it. I feel terrible now even though I didn’t mean to do anything wrong.
You didn’t do anything wrong. You joined a friend on an errand, and you tried to be helpful. Your friend didn’t come up and ask you, “Hey, do you think these tent descriptions seem similar enough that I could switch the price tags on them?” She asked if a green two-person tent looked like a green two-person tent. Of course you said yes! What else could you have said—“Stop, don’t steal that tent”? Of course not. Because you didn’t know.
Your obliviousness wasn’t an accident; it was by design. Your friend knew you weren’t paying close attention; she knew that by asking about the tent in a certain way, she’d get you to say yes; and she knew that once you said yes, she could pretend you were complicit. The whole thing was intentionally manipulative from start to finish. The word “gaslighting” gets thrown around a lot, but at its core, it means lying in such a way as to make a person doubt their experience of reality. In other words, exactly what your friend did when she informed you that you did, in fact, know what was going on—despite the fact that you didn’t. And then she had the nerve to accuse you of changing the story! That’s a wildly surreal response. Of course you feel terrible. Not only were you tricked into participating in something that goes against your values (not to mention the law), but you were used and gaslit by someone you trusted.
I often try to approach situations with the most generous possible read first, but in this case, I really can’t find one. Even if your friend somehow thought that you wanted to participate in switching the tags, she wouldn’t have contradicted you in the car, and she certainly wouldn’t have bragged about the situation once she knew how you really felt. I suspect what’s actually going on is that she gets a thrill from manipulating people. She got a thrill from stealing from the store, obviously. But she also got a thrill, perhaps even a bigger one, from tricking you into participating. If she thinks it’s hilarious to trick you into something like this, what else might she do? What comes next? There’s no reason to think she’d stop here.
Separations are always tough, especially when you’ve been friends for a long time. But this person isn’t an actual friend (she certainly isn’t behaving like one) and she’s not someone you should continue hanging out with. In fact, if there’s any upside to this situation, it’s that you can distance yourself now before she tries anything else. And in the future, know that anyone who makes you feel like this—whose actions give you this kind of terrible knot in your stomach—isn’t someone you should have anything to do with.