How to go Dutch in a Relationship
February 6, 2005 8:35 PM   Subscribe

After reading this thread, a similar question came to mind. I have always been raised with the notion that you pay a girl's way as a gentleman, but as a student (and a poor one at that) this is often not entirely possible. My current girlfriend makes far more money than I do acting and modeling, and so she pays for the vast majority of our 'go out' experiences. This was fine for the first few months, but it's been over a year now and I feel like it somehow emasculates me to be taken out to dinner on a regular basis by my girlfriend. I know this seems sexist, but in all honesty I would love to just be able to pay my way (half) and not feel guilty/less-of-a-man. At times this feeling has gotten to the point that we've fought about what she can buy me, because of the way it makes me feel indebted (although she never holds it above me in any way). I do feel, though, that she uses her ability to buy me things as a way to make herself indispensable, to ensure I would never find 'anything better'. Should I tell her to stop taking me out and buying me extravagant gifts I can never repay (she took me to Amsterdam for my 21st birthday, for example), or just realize I'm the luckiest man in the world and stop bitching? Somehow I suspect the latter...
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (31 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I can see the problem here, but I'd personally be over the moon that she's clearly a very modern and contemporary woman. There are many women who wouldn't even entertain the notion of paying for anything, so you've definitely landed a good one. It sounds like you've actually discussed this, if briefly, so if she ever does hold it over you, you have nothing to feel guilty about.
posted by wackybrit at 8:56 PM on February 6, 2005

I don't like the term "emasculation" as used in your post. It's disempowering, for either a man or a woman, to have the short end of the financial stick in any relationship. That's why all the smart financial planners and counselors talk about percentages. Whatever you both are earning, if you each pay more or less consistently the same percentages out of your budgets for social expenses, there's no shame. There's also no shame if the more solvent partner splurges for things the poorer partner can't afford.

Here's where shame comes in: if the more wealthy partner expects "payment" of another kind in return, keeping a little mental list of all their expenditures and expecting you to make up for them. You say that's not happening here. Here's another: if the poorer partner stays in a relationship for the luxury rather than love. You haven't said anything about that. But if you are using this woman for her wallet you know it, and that's where your shame should come from.

In sum: if your feelings are true, and no one's being exploited, enjoy every moment of what she gives you with grace. Thank her, and look for ways to give back because that's what people in love do: they give and take. Look for other ways of defining your manhood rather than your money. That comes and goes. The way you treat her, and the way you conduct yourself, that's what defines you as a man.
posted by melissa may at 8:57 PM on February 6, 2005

My first response was "dude's got a model g/f who pays for everything? shut the fuck up!", but I could see wher you'd feel emasculated. Perhaps you should discuss this with her - "honey, I know you like being able to always take *me* out, but I always feel bad. Could we maybe stick to stuff that we can at least go dutch on?" If she insists on special days - anniversary, V-day, let her have her way.

Or, demand that once a month you take her out, completely on your dime (if you can do this).
posted by notsnot at 8:59 PM on February 6, 2005

or just realize I'm the luckiest man in the world and stop bitching

This one.

And more thoroughly: any relationship that lasts long enough goes through cycles where one person may seem more "in control" of things than the other. If you stay with this girl, in thirty years she might not be modeling any more, and you could be the one with the kick-ass job. If it really, truly bothers you, and you can't find any way to shake the feeling, then you should explain it to her as honestly as possible.

[dons psychologists' hat] I think the real problem stems from the feeling that since she's the one who's got everything going for her (looks, money, etc.), you feel like you're not as indespensible to her as she is to you. If she were to leave, you'd really lose a lot, whereas she would still go happily along her merry way.

The thing is, you already do offer her something indespensible that she can't get anywhere else: you.

[removes hat] Of course, I could be totally off-base. I went out with a smart, beautiful model for a while, I can tell you that feelings of inadequacy are very common. I should also mention that your insistance on "pulling your weight" is going to get tiresome eventually. You've got a rich, beautiful girlfriend. You're just going to have to suck it up.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:05 PM on February 6, 2005

I'm close to seconding the "he's got a model girlfriend who pays for everything? TOUGH!" but I could also recommend something else: there are a number of non-financial things you can do to feel better about your half of the relationship. Do things for her out of the blue that don't cost much (or anything.) You know, romance. Write her notes. Don't bring her flowers, but bring her seeds for flowers you can plant together. Sing to her. Are you good at something? I'm into computers, so I always make sure my girlfriend's Mac and PC are checked for viruses, have updated system software, and spam and pop-up ads are blocked. Okay, that might not qualify as romantic, but it helps me feel good about devoting a little non-monetary payment into the relationship whenever I can.

If she's going to pay for most things because she can, make sure she's getting her money's worth.
posted by robbie01 at 9:06 PM on February 6, 2005

I do feel, though, that she uses her ability to buy me things as a way to make herself indispensable, to ensure I would never find 'anything better'.

Is she really and truly trying to buy your love? Or is she showing you her love with money? Might be good to think on that.

Until then, quit your bitching, you're making the rest of us feel depressed. (Mr. Britney Spears, is that you?)
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:13 PM on February 6, 2005 [2 favorites]

robbie01 is OTM. You can equalize things by doing non-monetary things that make her really happy, and thus feel better in the process, all without alienating your beautiful model / actress girlfriend who lavishes you with gifts.

She is trying to make you happy by doing these things for you, and you should feel happy; if you feel you're not doing as much there are ways to do that stuff that cost very little.
posted by josh at 9:17 PM on February 6, 2005

That stuff can be difficult. A friend of mine is currently unemployed and because of which his girlfriend is handling the bulk of their expenses. She's able to do it and doesn't mind, but he feels frustrated that by being incapable of sharing in their expenses he loses some footing when it comes to arguments and whatever.

I went through a bought of dodgy employment last year and my girlfriend picked up most of our going out expenses for a while even when it was difficult for her. I tried to do other things to keep her happy and since I'm on more stable ground nowadays I try to take her out to dinner and surprise her with stuff whenever I can.

Given enough time it all balances out, but the going can be rocky.
posted by box elder at 9:38 PM on February 6, 2005


- Contribute something beyond your time
Your enjoyment together doesn't have to be of the nature of fancy restaurants/extravant trips. Learn to cook for her. If she wants to buy the food, she can. Look for things that you can give ouside of money.

See robbies post for more good ideas.

There are some issues (that I percieve) from your post.

a) you feel you're taking advantage of this person. Over and over again, something that is given like this, breeds resentment. Are you a kept man? Is she a weak woman? She just could be a giver - what a wonderful gift of a human being! Make sure she puts her money away to her future when she isn't a model.
b) you don't like her. After all, you point out that you have fought over this and she is "indispensible."

If you love her, b isn't the case. If you don't, please - I'm a single male, I'll marry her today.

c) Models/actresses are often very insecure (no offense to those reading). There's always someone prettier/more talented/younger around the corner. You may be her stone of stability in her life, when she's feeling vunerable.
posted by filmgeek at 9:46 PM on February 6, 2005

I disagree in a way with some of the advice here. I don't mean that you shouldn't do nice things for your girlfriend. If you say, "I'll do this nice thing because I care about her and I want to," that's fine. But if you say, "I'll do this nice thing because I have to to make up for the $100 she spent on restaurants in the past week," that will just make you feel like more of a bought-and-paid-for servant.

I think you have to consider why you're wrapping so much of your self-opinion up in this issue. Is it the situation itself that's causing the problem, or is it your interpretation of it? In essence you're saying, "To be happy and treat myself well, I need to feel like a 'real man' (or whatever). That means I have to pay at least such-and-such percent of whatever money is spent in the relationship. Although that is not feasible right now, I'm going to continue to beat myself up and feel like shit until these conditions are met." Really, that in itself is a form of selfishness. Is it in your (or her, or anyone's) interest to hold on to that belief? What if you just drop it?

Ideally you would just realize that your self-worth is not based on how much money you do or don't spend, or whether she lavishes gifts on you or treats you like shit and walks out the door-- it's just there. Then you'd be able to participate in the relationship freely, and enjoy both giving and receiving, without having to hold yourself at emotional gunpoint or account for every action in some kind of ledger.
posted by mcguirk at 10:31 PM on February 6, 2005

I agree with mcguirk. I'm surprised at how big a deal money is for everyone here. (I guess this is a male thing?)
It's only an issue if you make it an issue. Which you clearly are doing. It's ridiculous to expect the money spent in a relationship be fifty-fifty. I mean, pick up the cheque when you can, or whatever, but it's not at the heart of the relationship.

However, if you feel like she's trying to use the money to make it harder for you to leave her, let her know that she doesn't have to worry about it. It's wonderful and generous that she wants to give you things, but you're in the relationship for her, not how many vacations she can take you on. Right?
posted by SoftRain at 11:44 PM on February 6, 2005

Another vote for "quitcher bitching."

You're not being emasculated, by the way. Your testicles are made of little vesicles and tubules - not money.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:12 AM on February 7, 2005

Maybe "emasculated" isn't the best word, because I understand how you feel, and I'm a woman. I always feel wrong if I'm not holding up at least my half, though I don't mind at all if I'm contributing more than that.

My advice is to try as much as possible not to let it affect you to the degree that it will taint your relationship, and part of that may be putting some restraints (in a nice way) on how much she spends on you. For example, if your birthday is coming up, you might want to say "What I really, really want for my birthday is X, and nothing more", where "X" is something that she might do for you, or make for you... No money involved. But also, and this is very important (!), do heed the advice of others above who have pointed out that things change, and the balance shifts. I've been in two very long-term relationships, and in both, exactly that happened — and more than once. If you stay together, I can almost guarantee you that you will have the opportunity to return the generosity.
posted by taz at 1:46 AM on February 7, 2005

Ah... Just one other thing! For many people, the act of giving — and especially extravagant or unusual gifts — is really a joyful thing, and when what they see as a wonder or delight is turned down or discouraged, they feel this as a rejection of their love. Also, I know quite a few actors and actresses, and they are often very emotional, and not always able to see things objectively or dispassionately (and, yes, they usually consider things from the viewpoint of how it relates to them), so in some ways it might almost be instructive to imagine a child giving you something, or trying to give you something, and how you would deal with that if you had to turn it down or discourage it. You would do everything you could to try to make sure the child knew that it was a gorgeous gesture, and that you loved them even more for it, but this other thing would be even more fun/wonderful.

I'm really not trying to suggest that actors are childish, but all their training and pursuits lead them in a certain way, and that certainly isn't a way that encourages unemotional, purely logical assessments. In fact, the best way for anonymous' girlfriend to actually get where he's coming from might be for him to assign her the "role" of playing him, wherein she must try to understand this character's motivation! (only half-kidding here).
posted by taz at 2:25 AM on February 7, 2005

Another vote for 'luckiest man in the world.'
posted by fixedgear at 3:20 AM on February 7, 2005

I wouldn't worry about it too much. She may love this situation -- she has independence and power. But you have to be secure in who you are. If you feel emasculated, it will start to manifest itself in your relationship with her, and then things will fall apart. You have to look in the mirror and repeat after Stuart Smalley.

But let's say you want to go halves in what you give each other (in concrete terms). Don't think of the cash value of the purchase, think of the work required to get that cash.

If she makes 1000 dollars an hour for looking good in front of the camera and you make 10 dollars an hour for flipping burgers, then to give her what she gives you (in hours worked), you need to give her just a hundredth of what she gives you (in cash value) to make things even in terms of how much work it took you each to get the gift.

And, as someone else mentioned, you can work directly for her: do things for her, create good situations for her, give her what she won't get with a pocketful of money.
posted by pracowity at 3:37 AM on February 7, 2005

It's not about masculinity. It's about reciprocity.

She has been very generous to you, and you want to find a way of returning her generosity. Of course you do! Anyone who has read a bit of social anthropology knows that a gift imposes an obligation on the recipient. That is how human relationships work. Don't listen to the people who say "relax, sit back and enjoy it, you're a lucky guy". Listen to the voice in your head that says "I want to reciprocate her generosity". If you try to suppress that impulse (or if you try to persuade yourself that it really doesn't matter because "our relationship isn't just about money") then you will be in trouble.

I have some friends, a husband-and-wife couple, who have been extremely generous to me over many years. I am deeply fond of them. They have taken me under their wing, invited me to their house, listened to my troubles and given me good advice. I have a standing invitation to phone them up and invite myself round for a drink or a meal whenever I am in their area. There is only one problem -- they have never, repeat never, given me an opportunity to return their generosity. I have never been able to persuade them to visit my house. If we go out for a meal, they will insist on paying the bill. If I give them a present, they will immediately respond with a much larger and more expensive present. It is almost pathological -- as if they are frightened of being placed under an obligation, and will do anything to avoid it. And it imposes a strain on our friendship, because every time I accept their hospitality I am conscious of incurring a debt that I can't repay.

That is an extreme example, but I hope the point is clear. Friendship isn't just about giving generously. It's also about receiving graciously. Maybe you need to learn that lesson; but from what you say, it sounds as though your girlfriend needs to learn it too.

So, for goodness sake, don't be ashamed of the generous impulse that makes you feel uncomfortable when she gives you an extravagantly expensive present. With a bit of imagination, you may be able to find ways to reciprocate. ("It's so kind of you to pay for the meal .. but won't you at least let me pay for the wine?" "It's so kind of you to pay the bill .. but won't you at least let me find the money for the tip?") But if her generosity is so extravagant that it threatens to throw your relationship out of balance, then you must be honest about telling her so.
posted by verstegan at 4:52 AM on February 7, 2005 [1 favorite]

this is what we do, and it's worked for us both ways - sometimes i've earnt more, sometimes pauli.

we have three accounts. one for each of us, and a joint account. we work out how much money we spend a month, on average, including food, rent, travel, holidays, furniture, "spending money" (clothes, music, books), etc. that much money is put into the shared account every month - we each pay so that what is *left* in the personal accounts is equal.

then we spend what is in the joint account, which we both have access to, and which is considered "our" money.

this only works if you have more money than you spend, and, of course, one person puts more into the joint account than the other (whoever earns more). but psychologically the joint account seems to be sufficient to separate that from how we spend the money.
posted by andrew cooke at 5:32 AM on February 7, 2005

verstegan, is the couple older? Age is another traditional factor that draws "rules" about who pays for what etc.

I do feel, though, that she uses her ability to buy me things as a way to make herself indispensable, to ensure I would never find 'anything better'

is it working? Ie, would she be 'dispensable' if not for the money? If you're really into her minus the money, make that clear to her, both directly, and as others have suggested, by putting time/effort into doing things that don't cost you much but have emotional meaning.

If you realize that the money is actually a serious benefit and if she were exactly the same but broke you wouldn't necessarily stick around, you should definitely be aware of that. Then you are being 'bought' and that it is not a good feeling.
posted by mdn at 5:36 AM on February 7, 2005

Let me agree and disagree.

First, don't worry about the situation too much now. Women tend to tally up kindnesses and expect kindnesses in exchange. It's innocent, and, in any event, unavoidable, and if your girlfriend didn't have a penny the domain would simply shift to other things she could do for you.

Second, do worry about the long term, a bit. Very few women can happily be with a man of lesser status than they. Money is only one dimension of status -- there's no reason why a student at a prestigious institution with plenty of potential shouldn't be satisfactory in that regard. However, should your girlfriend rise in status (to a star, for example) and/or you take a break from academia to work in a cafe, that would probably doom your relationship unless your girlfriend were truly uncommon.

However, there's also the best of all possible worlds potential -- you can pursue a low-dollar but high prestige profession while she will gladly support you in grand style, happy to be squired to important events by a renowed, if impecunious, scholar or public servant or what have you.
posted by MattD at 5:53 AM on February 7, 2005 [1 favorite]

Currently, I make more money than my wife (I have a fulltime job, and she's pursuing an advanced degree), so I pay for more things. But, when she gets that advanced degree, she'll be making more than I do - and I will have absolutely no problem with her paying for more at that time.

If you are in a serious relationship, maybe you should talk about this with her. One thing that might work is to make sure that you are both paying equal percentages of your shared expenses - so you chip in 50% of your total income, and she puts in 50% of hers. I guess this works better when you're married and/or living together and sharing bills, rent, etc (and it doesn't take into account gifts/trips to amsterdam), but it's an idea.
posted by sluggo at 6:04 AM on February 7, 2005

Very few women can happily be with a man of lesser status than they.

is that true? i think a large difference either way can be difficult, but i'm not sure anything stronger/sexually asymetric than that is justified.
posted by andrew cooke at 6:18 AM on February 7, 2005

What verstegan said. It sounds like there's a deeper issue here. You're being made to feel useless, and nobody likes that, male or female.

That said, by making this a matter of gender politics, you're selling yourself short. If you just tell her you're threatened by chicks with money, you can't expect much sympathy. But if she sees that you're feeling worthless, like you've got nothing of value to offer her -- well, she'd have to be pretty insensitive to ignore that.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:19 AM on February 7, 2005

You're a lucky man, but you feel what you feel. I don't blame you.

Currently I work and my girlfriend is a law student. She is going to make plenty of money in the future, but for now I pay for a lot. Not everything, but a lot. I don't begrudge her being a student, and in a lot of ways am personally envious and of course happy for her.

What she does is insist that our lives be relatively simple. She doesn't want any grandiose plans, she wants to basically live on budget, with a couple of exceptions. When we deviate from this plan, it's usually my idea, something I want to do, and I'm grateful she lets me do it - taking her out for a nice dinner for instance.

But in general, I try and live within her means, so we see the interesting things that relatively cheap or free, we eat at home a lot, we go to the park, etc. There are some things only I can buy, and when it comes to that we don't argue - furniture, for instance. It's assumed I am paying, but she makes up for it by doing a lot of the research and making sure we get the best deal.

Your relationship is a partnership. If you can, find a way you feel you are contributing - even if not paying. Your trip, for instance, find out things to do, where to go, etc. Look out for her money. Take care of her.

Modeling and acting are a sometimes hit or miss business. Most professional actors I know consider it like playing the lottery. She must be really beautiful and talented to making a lot. Nevertheless, I don't think it's going to last forever. Keep in mind that this is her turn and yours will come later, assuming of course you stick with one another.
posted by xammerboy at 6:34 AM on February 7, 2005

My current girlfriend makes far more money than I do acting and modeling, and so she pays for the vast majority of our 'go out' experiences.

posted by LarryC at 6:58 AM on February 7, 2005

I agree with mcguirk. I'm surprised at how big a deal money is for everyone here. (I guess this is a male thing?)

You're surprised at how big a deal money is? What planet do you live on? Of course money matters -- you may think it shouldn't, but that's a different story. In this society, it's virtually impossible to ignore it, or to not have it infect our ideas of self-worth (especially in an unequal relationship like this one).

It's also not a "male thing." My first wife had no income when we met, and I had to fight to be allowed to take her out -- she was very concerned about not pulling her weight. I told her she would be making money eventually and then things would change, and sure enough, she got a job in computer graphics and started making far more money than me (and paying for our trips abroad). Then she got sick of computer graphics and went back to school, and I was paying for things again. That's how it works, or can work.

As everyone is saying, the problem is not the disparity, it's your attitude towards it. If you can accept that she'll be paying for the expensive treats while you do whatever nice things you can manage, you should be fine. And remember that the wheel can turn -- she may be out of work for a while, at which point you can be the provider. If not, don't sweat it. The important thing is how your relationship works, and although financial disparity can put a strain on that, it needn't determine it.
posted by languagehat at 7:49 AM on February 7, 2005

I do feel, though, that she uses her ability to buy me things as a way to make herself indispensable, to ensure I would never find 'anything better'.

I say you need to get over yourself.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:55 AM on February 7, 2005

>I say you need to get over yourself.

I don't know -- as a woman, I've definitely done the "I'm going to be soooooo perfect that he'll never want to leave!" thing in place of having an actual relationship. "I'll never complain about the relationship, make him great dinners, be wonderful and willing in bed, pay my own way, and never put any expectations on him!" It wasn't anything any guy ever forced me into, just my own insecurities playing themselves out along the lines of, "If I show him who I really am, or make him somehow have to work for me, he'll decide I'm not worth it."

I'm not saying that's what's playing out here, but I wouldn't outright dismiss it as *his* problem. Given that the actors I've known have all been horrendously insecure, this could very well be her motivation and her method of acting it out.

She could, however, simply be a generous wonderful person.

Does she really use the gifts manipulatively? Have a huge fight, then "pay you off" with a nice dinner? Or, does she never ever ever fight, or even offer an opinion, always present herself as the perfect girlfriend? I think if she's doing either of those, you might have cause to worry.

And even if she's simply kindhearted, I agree with the poster above that being truly kind means being able to accept gifts as well as give them.
posted by occhiblu at 9:32 AM on February 7, 2005 [1 favorite]

You must be quite the catch. You have a girlfriend who does modeling, and she doesn't mind that you don't have money. Whatever you're doing, keep doing it.

posted by grouse at 9:52 AM on February 7, 2005

"Money" is a convenient concept in that it makes it possible to compare the value of different objects on a single scale. But it has its limitations. In the case of you and your girlfriend, you're making the mistake of equating the value of money to you and its value to your girlfriend. She being richer, the same amount of money is not worth the "same" to you and to her.

While I appreciate the suggestion of melissa may and sluggo that you keep track of percentages rather than absolutes, my own is that you figure out what your girlfriend values more than money. The obvious commodity is time. Is she pressed for time?

Since my wife and I have joint finances, I don't feel that I can show my love well by buying her expensive things. Rather, I do so by spending my time to save hers, e.g. turning her "we should get a camera sometime" into my "I've read a few dozen web pages, and narrowed the field to these". Or "you seem bored with our usual restaurants, so I've found several new ones that come highly rated and we might check out".

This may just be my rationalization for spending so much time surfing the web, of course.
posted by Aknaton at 10:33 AM on February 7, 2005

Very few women can happily be with a man of lesser status than they.

I think it is men who are uncomfortable with women of higher status, not women. As the study in Dowd's article says, men want to marry their secretary, not someone who is going to wear the pants.

She probably pays b/c she doesn't want to give up her quality of life just b/c you want to go dutch.
posted by scazza at 1:50 PM on February 7, 2005

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