Do you know what a leech is? It’s a type of worm that feeds on human blood. You’ve probably seen them in movies, where they are put on someone’s back and stomach because… well, people are weird.
Leeches stick to your skin and then start sucking you like a merciless vampire until they fill up with your previous fluid. (I just realized how dirty this last sentence sounds. Moving on.)
There are people in your life who act in a surprisingly similar way. They stick to you like glue, take precious things away from you, and never feel any remorse. It’s as if this behavior is in their genes. Those people, similar to the parasite, are called leechers — also known as freeloaders or moochers.
I’m sure you know at least one person like this, probably more. They display a complete lack of responsibility for providing for themselves. They take a lot but provide little or nothing in return. Yet most people never call them out on this behavior and suffer in silence.
No more. I’m putting on my cape and arming you with everything you need to recognize these people in your social circles, understand why their behavior is dangerous, and how to deal with them in the future.
Freeloaders Are Toxic People
When you think about toxic people, you probably imagine a crazy spouse yelling and throwing dishes at your head; or maybe a manipulative narcissist playing mind games; or maybe friends who don’t support you or act like dicks.
Those are definitely examples of toxic people. However, freeloaders belong in that same category. Because they’re great manipulators themselves, it can be hard to spot them and identify their toxicity.
This is dangerous because, unlike most other toxic personalities, they are fully aware of what they’re doing. Your crazy girlfriend probably doesn’t believe she’s crazy. Your friends might genuinely believe they’re “just teasing you”. But freeloaders are manipulators and they know exactly which buttons they need to push to get you to react a certain way.
They are, for the most part, con-artists, often charismatic, charming, and friendly. Like all master manipulators, they do this to gain your trust in order to take advantage of you. By the time you realize what has happened, they’ve already bled you dry, both financially and emotionally.
Let’s start with the most obvious traits.
- They’re the type of people to constantly ask you to do something for them, like favors or errands, but they never appreciate it.
- They always expect you to say yes. If you don’t, they will try to make you feel guilty for saying “no”.
- They often ask to borrow money or other items, yet they rarely feel obligated to return any of these things.
It starts with the small stuff. Then, once you get used to giving them change or doing small favor, they gradually increase. They ask for more money and bigger favors. Some even blatantly ask you to do their errands.
Eventually, they have to pay their debts. But this is never simple.
- You will always have to hound them to give you back your stuff or pay what they owe. At first, they will try to postpone paying you back.
- When you see they don’t have good intentions, you will ask more firmly. They will pay you back a small part of the deb and act like they’re doing you a favor if they give you anything at all.
- Over time, they will turn hostile and attack you for asking for your stuff back.
Once they reach that last phase, the gloves come off. They will do anything in their power to make you feel like you’re in the wrong. They will say things like “what kind of friend are you”. They will make you feel guilty because “remember that one time I helped you out” and “you carry more about money than friendship.”
Like most manipulators, they know exactly which buttons to push to make you feel guilty and second-guess your decisions. And that is exactly what they’re counting on.
3 types of freeloaders and how to handle each of them
Toxic like this are always one-sided. You are expected to always be there for them and provide for them with whatever they need, but they are not expected to do so for you.
Freeloaders are poison and need to be completely eradicated from your life. People who leech off of you provide nothing beneficial to your life. They take and take until there’s nothing left, then they move on to the next victim. They make you feel guilty for no reason and put their own responsibilities on you.
While all freeloaders are toxic people, nobody wakes up one day and says. “I’m going to start manipulating people into giving me their shit.” It’s a process that happens over time, but it’s up to you to recognize the red flags in someone’s behavior.
Level 1: Harmless
All of us have probably been this type at one point or another. “Harmless” freeloaders are people who occasionally ask for small things, like borrowing change for the vending machine or asking someone to do you a small favor.
This behavior in itself isn’t considered “freeloading”. However, when those requests start happening over and over again, especially by people that aren’t your close friends, that’s when you should become wary.
How to handle them: If they keep asking you for small money or favors, at one point you must say “no”. Then watch their reaction. If they react like “Oh okay, thanks anyway”, then they will likely never escalate to the next level. Still, it’s a good idea not to constantly bail them out so they can learn to take responsibility for taking care of themselves.
However, if they react surprised, as if they think you owe them whatever they’re asking you for — that’s a clear-cut sign of a toxic person. Limit your contact with them or remove them from your life if possible. (If in doubt, take the Toxic Relationship Test).
Level 2: Alarming
People who escalate to this level are already skilled in manipulation. What’s even worse is that they will usually be people you are close with — friends, family, romantic partners.
They’ve realized they can get away with a lot of stuff and now they’re testing the limit. They will usually ask for:
- Large sums of money (promising to “pay you back when X comes through”)
- Bigger errands (they will also ask for them more often)
- Paying for them (drinks, meals, movie tickets, etc.)
They often ask you to do something for them but never appreciate it. If they forget their wallet, they say “Well, I guess I won’t buy that expensive thing I wanted to get.” They will ask you to buy it for them and, when you say yes, they will order more expensive things (the ones they wouldn’t get if they were paying for themselves). They constantly invite you to “be a pal” and “don’t be so petty” and “treat” them, since you’re “such good friends”.
Furthermore, they will get offended if you say “no” to them. This is where they bring out their manipulative skills. They will bring your relationship in question and make you feel like a horrible person. They count on you being a nice person who will eventually break under pressure.
All of this is a ploy to make you eventually say “yes” to them. Don’t fall it.
How to handle them: If you recognize someone from your life in these descriptions, you need to instantly and mercilessly cut them out of your life. Remember, these people are poison. No matter how much good you think they bring to your life, they eventually take more than they give. Always!
So don’t be afraid. Removing these people from your life may seem like a hard thing to do but it is one of rare situations in life where you can be 100% sure that you made the right choice.
If you’re struggling with making the decision, take the Toxic Relationship Test. You can also read how I broke up with my core group of friends.
Level 3: Run!
The worst type of leechers that takes it one step further. Not only do they constantly ask for big favors, provide nothing in return, and expect it’s your duty to help them any day of the week, they behave arrogantly and quickly turn hostile.
Back in college, I had a car and would often give my coworkers a lift home if they were going in the same direction. One time, a girl I wasn’t as close with asked me if I can drop her off. “Sure”, I said. I was dropping off a few other people that day as well.
When we got to my car, she started straight up talking shit about it. “What kind of piece of shit car is this?” Truth be told, my car was a piece of shit. But that’s no way to treat somebody doing a favor for you.
I let it slide. We start driving and I tell her where I’m going to drop her off, so she can take the bus the rest of the way. She gets insulted and tells me that I must take her home. To do that, I would have to take a 30-minute detour in the other direction. Obviously, I tell her no.
At this point, she loses her goddamn mind. She starts yelling and screaming, throwing a tantrum in the middle of my car, as I was doing her a favor. Other people in the car looked petrified and didn’t want to get involved. I remained calm.
I slam the breaks and stop the car by the road. I calmly say, without turning around, “You can get out here now.” She doesn’t say a word. I continue: “I’m doing you a favor. If you don’t like where I’m going to drop you off, feel free to find your own way.” She still doesn’t say a word. I continue driving, dropping everybody off, and she leaves without ever saying another word to me. Needless to say, I never talked to her again.
How to handle them: Run. Seriously, run. People who react with aggression to your act of kindness have much bigger problems in their life. And you don’t want them in yours.
Are freeloaders always bad?
Asking for help isn’t a bad thing. Borrowing some money if you forgot your wallet is normal. Likewise, there’s nothing wrong with assisting someone in need and, if all of us did it more often, the world would be a better place.
What separates freeloaders from the rest of the crowd is that they continually engage in similar activities, usually on purpose. They feel no shame and no remorse. They’re a predator and you are their prey. They take advantage of you and take you for granted.
So why do we keep hanging out with them? Because in order for them to be successful, they need to be charismatic. They need to be friendly and social to draw you in.
I once knew a guy who was the worst freeloader you could think of. He would constantly borrow money, games, bikes, anything he could get his hands on. When we’d go out, he would always “forget his wallet” or “forgot to bring enough money”. He would even go so far as to hustle people once we’d go out partying. He’d get people to buy him drinks and give him money “for the cab ride home”.
The reason my friends and me hung out with him was… he was fun. It’s fun to watch him hustle people and tell ridiculous stories that people would believe. A night with him always led to some crazy story.
But everything has its limits. And after a while, the tricks got old. My best friend and I realized that, no matter how fun he was, he was always taking advantage of us and putting us in a toxic mindset. After paying for his drinks 4-5 times in a row, we told him:
“If you want to go out with us next time, you have to pay for yourself. If you don’t bring any money, we won’t buy you drinks, food, or the cover charge for the club. You’ll be on your own.”
“Yeah, of course guys, don’t worry about it.”
When the day came, three of us meet up, and the Freeloader looks sad and depressed. When we ask him what happened, he doesn’t disappoint. “I know you guy said I can’t come if I don’t bring any money, but I didn’t manage to get it, so now you guys are going to go out without me.” Classic.
I look at my best friend, smirk, and say: “Well, we warned you. I guess that’s what it is.”
The Freeloader was silent for a minute, then reached in his pocket: “Some friends you are… here’s your money.” He then gave us enough money to cover his costs for the night. He did have money after all. He just wanted to play at our emotions so we’d pay for him.
Be wary of your friends if they behave in a similar way. You may turn a blind eye at the beginning, but sooner or later, it’s going to cost you more than it’s worth. As the old story goes, someone will eventually have to pay the piper.
Since they won’t have any money, you can bet it’s going to be you.