Money is power. Power corrupts.
March 4, 2012 11:49 AM   Subscribe

I've realized there's a hole in my new-relationship toolkit, and it has to do with money - specifically, substantial income imbalances.

It came rather abruptly to my attention this week when I went on a first date. The new date is in her early 20s (frankly younger than I usually date - I'm 30ish) and in the sort of typical early-20s financial situation - super low income, no cushion, but very few obligations and generally scraping by, with good prospects for future income. (I remember those days vividly.) It occurred to me that I could fund her entire current lifestyle - not exactly without noticing, but certainly without suffering.

I'd really like to give this relationship a chance to develop without being seriously affected by money. I have no desire to be her sugar momma. The idea of someone sleeping with me for my money creeps me out quite a bit. But I also am totally happy buying drinks/dinner and generally funding our dates, since I can do it without really noticing the hit, whereas it'd be a definite issue for her. I don't want her to think she has to either avoid going out because money is tight, or spend money she can't afford to keep up appearances.

It seems like discussing this directly is the way to go, and it's definitely my preferred style. But I don't know when or how to bring this up. I've always been in relationships that were more or less equal, financially, so I've never had to have this sort of conversation. Have you been on one side or the other of this situation? What worked, and what didn't? Was it easier to address it up front, or manage the situation more subtly? I deperately want to avoid being an unintentional douchebag about this.

(This is less about this one person than this dynamic in general, since it may well start cropping up for me more often, so I'd love to hear about a variety of age/power/gender pairs.)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (26 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
But I don't know when or how to bring this up.

If it's about her finances, then it's up to her to bring it up. Has she said anything to you about her financial situation? Because it seems like you are making a lot of assumptions about her and what she may want from you without letting her tell you what she wants from you. That seems a little bit condescending, but I may be reading the post wrong.

If you are interested in this person, ask her out on dates or make suggestions for things to do together based on your own situation and interests. If money is an issue for her, then she can raise it as something to be discussed, make alternative suggestions for dates, etc.
posted by headnsouth at 12:05 PM on March 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Does she cook? Can you take turns where you go out to a nice restaurant and pay and next time she cooks you a nice dinner (and you bring the wine?). I think this only has to be a big deal if you make it into a big deal.
posted by modernnomad at 12:05 PM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

So much depends on your own relationship with money, at least this is what I've found whenever I have been in these kind of imbalanced situations, not to mention the other parties.

The latter you will discover over time, and remain aware of it - I personally would hesitate to discuss it upfront especially since it might make things weird or awkward (or, god forbid, she turns out to be looking for a sugar momma)

However, the former, that is your own feelings, fiscal management and spending style, is something you may already be aware of, and if not, its something to think about. Often this is what might cause us more stress than anything done or even noticed by the other party.

An unrelated situational yet relevant example that immediately comes to mind for me as an expat in a lower income country is recent realization that I really really get stressed out by not getting change back. I'd rather get the piddly amounts back and pay the driver at the end of the whole trip/month whatever the agreed upon amount was than to keeping feeling bugged by his pocketing small change from every task and transaction. Once I realized this, I had a talk with him about it and we're clear now - he's assured he'll get his full agreed upon amount and even a bonus if work is done well and I'm assured that I can keep track of my spending/change/cash flow as I have become accustomed to (by never having anyone else make purchases on my behalf etc)

Bringing this back to your question, one young man in my grad school days was in a similar situation to what you describe about your young lady and he once made a beer run taking a twenty from me and simply pocketed the change.

That bothered me a lot, more about him/who he was than the actual cash itself.

I hope this sideways take on your question helps.
posted by infini at 12:05 PM on March 4, 2012

"But I also am totally happy buying drinks/dinner and generally funding our dates, since I can do it without really noticing the hit, whereas it'd be a definite issue for her."

This is totally OK and a healthy normal thing, even for the very beginnings of a healthy relationship.

"It occurred to me that I could fund her entire current lifestyle - not exactly without noticing, but certainly without suffering."

You are absolutely right that this is not, at least not for the beginning.

There is something that super-wealthy* people have learned as a way to cope with imbalances as healthily as possible, they don't talk about money. Make sure that whenever it does need to come up it is in healthy contexts that are TOTALLY removed from things like sex and love and the little things that bug you both.

This is as opposed top super-rich ala Chris Rock's definition
posted by Blasdelb at 12:08 PM on March 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

When I was unemployed for half of last year, I had some friends who were direct about helping me out (paying when we went out), some who were indirect about it, and some who didn't seem to think about the fact that I wasn't making any money, but still asked me to go out and do things with them. I by far preferred the direct approach. Those who were more subtle usually just waited until the bill came and then picked it up and paid, which was great, but it meant that before going out and all through dinner, I would be thinking, "Okay, can I swing this? If I get the cheapest thing on the menu and just have one drink, it'll be fine, and then I won't go out again this week." Those who addressed it directly made our outings much less money-focused for me.

So, you won't be surprised that I think direct discussion is the way to go. I feel like our disinclination to talk about money with our friends and loves is part of the problem of the current system, since it serves to make income imbalances more opaque, and somehow shameful to talk about. I didn't feel like I, as the poorer one, could ask for someone to pay for me, but you as the one with relatively plentiful funds are in a good position to establish direct communication around this, in a friendly way.

I'd say just bring it up the next time you're together and basically say what you said here: "I like you, and I like spending time with you. I don't want to be your sugar momma, but I also don't want our dates to be a hardship for you, so I hope you'll let me treat when we go out for now."

I might also add something about wanting money to be something you can talk directly about now and in the future, as a way of establishing good habits in your interactions about money.
posted by rosa at 12:11 PM on March 4, 2012 [16 favorites]

How awesome of you to consider this. I had the same situation when I first met my husband, who is 8 years older me, in a lucrative field, with a mortgage and a 401K to my artistic-type low-paying job and college debt. At the time, I was working full time as a newspaper reporter, AND bartending 3-4 nights a week just to make ends meet. After about 6 months he asked me to move in with him, mainly because that would allow me to quit working so hard to pay my own rent. A while later, we got married and moved overseas for his job, meaning I had to quit mine. It was VERY hard for me to accept the fact that I was financially dependent on him. It was just a major mental block for me. I didn't want to be dependent on anyone, and it gave me all kinds of icky, conflicted feelings, because I had to admit it was also pretty nice to not have to worry about anything financially anymore.

Since this was a first date, you are a LONG way from that point, and I also gather this is a female/female relationship, meaning you won't have the "male breadwinner female homemaker" 1950s bullshit dynamic that so freaked me out.

For my husband and I, he just paid the bills at dinner, bought the drinks, etc. I paid my own rent and bills until it was clear the relationship had reached a point where we were serious about being together. After that the "lets move in, quit your job" convos kind of happened naturally. Before that, it was more of, "Let me buy you dinner. I'd like to treat you." (As opposed to "Let me buy you dinner because I know you're poor.")
posted by Brittanie at 12:14 PM on March 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

, meaning you won't have the "male breadwinner female homemaker" 1950s bullshit dynamic that so freaked me out.

Ah, I never realized that that is what freaks me out so much so that on a recent lunch date the gentleman in question literally had to beg me "Please let me pay for this with my own money" ;p I just noticed that I simply never permit myself to be financially beholden to anyone. Is there a way to discover your friend's feelings around this touch topic?
posted by infini at 12:18 PM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

My steady date makes about twice what I do when I'm working full time (I quit to go to school a few months after we met). He offered to pay for stuff we did together pretty early on.

I was really uncomfortable with this, and at first we kind of each paid for the outings we suggested. I would cook at home or we'd go somewhere less expensive, he'd take us out somewhere spendier.

Now, we've been dating about a year, he pays for most things, I pick up 20-25% of our meals. He bought me a plane ticket for us to go on a trip, suggesting that I could pay for some of the activities we'd discussed while we were travelling. It's still pretty uncomfortable for me to accept things I can't reciprocate - I actually had to consider this offer a bit before agreeing. And he never implies that his buying me things is tied into sex/relationship stuff at all, it's more about my pride.

tl;dr, don't be surprised if your date doesn't want the "you pay for all dates" model. I do think it's fine if she does, and agree that talking about this directly is a good idea.
posted by momus_window at 12:23 PM on March 4, 2012 [5 favorites]

I like the approach where you pay for the expensive dates, and she pays for the cheaper dates. I would personally take a pretty direct approach to talking about it. I'd ask her out on a date, and say something like, may I take you out to XXXX, my treat? Then she'll know you're paying and won't have to worry about the cost.

After the bill comes and you pay it is a natural time to talk about money. I'd say something like, "So this is awkward, but I'm assuming that money is kind of tight for you - it was tight for me when I was in my 20s, but I'm actually in a pretty good place right now. If you're comfortable with it, I'm cool with paying for most of our dinners out, and paying when we go see shows and stuff, and maybe you could plan and pay for some of the less expensive dates or something? But I'm open to whatever is comfortable for you, what sounds good to you?" And then go from there. Listen to her, and encourage her to talk about how she feels. If she indicates that she wants to pay for 50% of everything, that's her right.
posted by insectosaurus at 12:30 PM on March 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

You sound like a thoughtful, generous person, but let me offer a counterpoint to the advice already given above:

Just because you could fund her entire current lifestyle -- not exactly without noticing, but certainly without suffering -- doesn't necessarily mean that you should. Learning how to manage one's finances is an integral part of becoming a mature adult and you would (unintentionally) be depriving her of this important developmental process. She may appreciate it at first, but she may also, in time, grow to resent it (especially if you two break up).

Your relationship is still new and exciting! Rather than bluntly (or subtly) letting her know that you can pay for everything, I challenge you instead to incorporate more activities into your dates that don't cost a lot of money or are even free. Get to know her a bit better. What is she into? What does she like to do? Hang out at a local bookstore or library and talk about your favorite things to read. Take a stroll in a park and play on the swings. Go to a different neighborhood and take pictures of things that catch your eye and make a memory book from them. Go rollerskating. Grab an ice cream cone after work instead of drinks. Cook her an awesome dinner instead of going out to eat.

I don't think she has to "either avoid going out because money is tight, or spend money she can't afford to keep up appearances." I think you should probably recalibrate your expectations as to what constitutes a "date" so that -- in this early stage at least -- you are both working from a state of financial parity that allows you both to be comfortable. Best wishes.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 1:12 PM on March 4, 2012 [7 favorites]

Your relationship sounds in some ways like my relationship! Our general practice -- which has worked pretty well -- is that I pick up the tab on our joint outings (dinner, theatre, etc.). The underlying idea here is that I'm not paying for her, I'm paying for us, and that it's well worth it for things we do together. There is a certain amount of imbalance inherent in this approach, in that the paying party necessarily has a much stronger influence on choice of activities, so it's not free of danger but to my eyes is the lesser of two evils (I was once on the other side of this economic balance and having to turn down activities all the time sucked).

On the other hand, subsidising her life on a regular basis is an unhealthy precedent, I think, because it fosters dependence and serious relationship imbalance. I've given my girlfriend direct financial assistance on very infrequent occasions, when there were bona fide expenses beyond her means.

Basically, find some rules and stick to them. Give yourself some latitude -- occasional gifts are OK, emergency aid is OK -- but try to work out a system that leaves her responsible for her own day-to-day financial management.
posted by jackbishop at 1:33 PM on March 4, 2012

I'm the younger partner in a relationship with a similar income and age disparity to what you describe--probably somewhat less on the financial side, since my girlfriend is an academic. We have always split everything down the middle, which is what we both prefer. Maybe when we were first going out, which was at a time when things were particularly tight for me, she bought more of the drinks, but that would be the extent of it. I don't think we've ever had a long sit-down talk about it, but I probably made it clear early on that I expected to pay for my own half of everything.

This has worked really well for us because we're both fairly thrifty people, so we tend to eat out at cheap to middling places, stay in dodgy hotels, etcetera. I think whether you have a problem or not will depend a lot on what both of your tastes and financial styles are like.

But the main reason I'm commenting is to suggest that you may not want to discuss this right away. For me, in her position, I'd prefer to assume everything is equal for at least the first couple of months. You could keep your dates cheaper for the first little while to make sure that doesn't strain her finances. A good way maybe to lay the groundwork for a later discussion about money would be to just talk about the costs of things on a date-by-date basis for now, as in "I want to go and see this art gallery exhibit, but tickets are $20. Is that ok with you, or would you rather do Free Activity X instead?" You can start talking honestly about money without getting into a big Financial Discussion too early.

It's going to depend on her, of course, but I think starting equal is the way to go. I feel like it helps with any age gap issues and it avoids, at least temporarily, the feeling of financial power imbalance.
posted by snorkmaiden at 1:41 PM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I know you said you want to avoid being an unintentional douchebag. Please give very careful consideration to one thing:

It seems like discussing this directly is the way to go, and it's definitely my preferred style

One of the reasons people get nervous for early 20s girls who are dating people in their 30s is that they are often not able to hold their own in direct discussions about relationship issues with people in their 30s, particularly sensitive issues. And particularly with people in their 30s whose natural style is to be very direct.

Girls in their early 20s are very often still self-sacrificing people pleasers who are very very concerned with and nervous about doing the "right" thing and giving the "right" answer. They don't have a whole lot of confidence that their own instincts, wants and needs are legit. They may not be comfortable enough to assert what they think when it clashes with what the other person thinks. Especially with someone direct, assertive, or who they perceive as being forceful. They also often don't feel as if, once a discussion has been had, it's okay to come back to it and "re-negotiate." They think, I've agreed to this and I'd be a shitty person to go back on it.

So, please just keep this in mind wrt this issue. I would say maybe the best thing is not to have one big super direct discussion where you feel like everything has been hashed out and decided. Make it a conversation that happens over time, where you don't necessarily decide anything right away, and it's always clear that the next time you talk about it it's okay for anyone to have changed their mind.
posted by cairdeas at 1:47 PM on March 4, 2012 [20 favorites]

As someone who has made significantly less than a significant other and stressed like crazy about "keeping up my end of things" I can tell you I would have been so relieved to hear something like "Hey, I know I make a lot more money and I'm totally cool paying when we go out. Treat me sometimes if you want, but don't worry about it." And I would probably continue to pay a good portion of the time, but the anxiety would be gone.

Direct is always better, in my book.
posted by missjenny at 1:50 PM on March 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

I was on the opposite side of this same equation 10 years ago when I met my partner - she was already a successful professional and I was a poor undergrad. In retrospect, I think I valued egalitarianism too much back then and I wish I had allowed her to treat me more. At that point in time, without a mortgage and other large bills, she had more disposable income on her own than we do now combined. We could have gone out to eat more, traveled more, etc., if I had been more comfortable with her generosity. I like what jackbishop said about paying for us, not paying for her. This type of framing was effective when my partner used it, but only several months into our relationship.
posted by tr0ubley at 1:51 PM on March 4, 2012

I am a thrifty person who has a significantly bigger income than my employed-but-paying-child-support boyfriend. And I just wanted to mention one thing that maybe hasn't been brought up yet. I used to have a good friend who had a lot of money and was generous with paying for food/drinks at various places that he liked to be. This was fine because we weren't dating and because otherwise I would never go to those places. However part of the problem was that he never liked to go to the divey bars that were not only the places that I could afford but also the places that I enjoyed.

It's an easy logical leap to make that if someone had as much money as you they'd necessarily consider the same things valuable, worth paying money for, etc. The reverse then, that once you have money you stop eating fast food, you stop going to dive bars, you stop eating at diners, you stop shopping at thrift stores, you stop being thrifty, is sometimes not true. And people can make subtle or not so subtle assumptions that amount of money someone has equals other choices in their lifestyle and it's worth examining them.

So with my current relationship it's sort of perfect because even though I'm much more well off, my boyfriend shares the thriftiness value. So we enjoy going places cheaply, saving money when we can, taking cheapie road trip vacations instead of going to fancier places [and when we do usually I pay for the hotels and we split expenses like gas and food] and just not going to fancy places generally not because we can't afford it but because we don't like those sorts of places. So my only caution in addition to the other good advice people have given you, is to make sure that the money inequalities, which are totally surmountable in many ways, are not also substituting for some cultural/values differences which may be more problematic.

Especially noticing what people have said above. It may be that this goes super and she's like "Oh sure yeah that makes total sense, thanks" It may be that she doesn't want you to treat her but also wants to go to places she can afford. Is that okay with you? Would you be okay in a relationship where the things you did were more directed by her income and not yours, if that were her choice? Just make sure you're really listening [as it sounds like you would be] to how she'd like things to go instead of just assuming that you paying for things is the optimal solution if you can just get her to agree to it. Good luck!
posted by jessamyn at 1:56 PM on March 4, 2012 [7 favorites]

I've kind of screwed myself over by paying half of everything when my partner earned 5-10x as much as me (really hit home when we broke up, I moved out on my own, and was immediately able to *save* money. I was fine with beans & rice!).

Still, I feel deeply uncomfortable being subsidised.
Usually what I prefer, is that we alternate picking up the bill for things. If the person with more money wants to go out to dinner at a nice restaurant, they pay for it. Next time we get cheap chinese, or have a movie night, the broke partner covers it. The partner who picked the activity generally pays for the activity.
So, I'd explore what 'cheap' activities you'd like to do with her, and then make sure it's framed such that, those nights are her side of the deal. If you're both watching movies anyway, but then you're the one paying for all the restaurants, it feels odd & unbalanced & obligatory. If the movie nights is at her place, and you pick up the restaurant bill with a grin that the pizza & popcorn on movie night will be on her, it feels fair. Make sure there's reciprocity, it just doesn't have to be financial.

When it comes to living together/married situations, I remember seeing some kind of plan that involved splitting the bill for the rent etc somewhat proportionally according to income (or semi-proportionally). Can't remember how it worked exactly, but I remember thinking that was actually far more fair, and I'd be happy to do that for a lesser-earning partner, as it would lead to less hardship or bad feeling. Doesn't sound like you're at that stage though, so it's all good.
posted by Elysum at 3:19 PM on March 4, 2012

I would add that you should value her contributions. I was once (well, more than once, but I'm talking about this one guy) involved with a guy who had a lot more money than I did. And, every time we went out, he insisted that I pay "my fair share", which, in his mind, was 50% of all meals, entertainment and gas money. But he saw no problem with coming over to my place, eating my snacks, dinner, drinks and breakfast and using my washroom and so on. (He lived with his parents, so we rarely went there.) And he never said anything nice when I went to hours of work to make lovely meals. He was quite dismissive of the meals, in fact. I remember making a lovely three-course meal for his birthday one year, even buying chicken breasts (which was expensive for my student budget). And he kind of snubbed me and felt I'd cheaped out. I remember being completely hurt and asking my parents for feedback. My dad laughed and said, "Well, he probably thought you should have taken him out for dinner!" At the time, I thought maybe my dad was right. Years later, I see that boyfriend was actually a jerk and very sexist.

But you don't sound like that kind of person. You sound like a decent human being who cares about the feelings of the person you're involved with. I think that, if you do pay attention to feelings and do take the time to praise non-monetary contributions, you'll do just fine.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 3:43 PM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

A very similar question has been asked at least once before on AskMetafilter, so you might try searching for it.

There's no one right answer, but here's how I approach this.

First of all, I would put aside any notion of funding her entire life. It's generally her responsibility to fund her life. That doesn't mean you can never help out, but it would not be some great act of altruism to fund everything for her. If you want to be as altruistic as possible for the sake of being a good person, find a great charity to donate to. Paying for everything for her would drain her of any incentive to do stuff on her own, which would be bad for her and bad for your whole relationship dynamic.

With that out of the way, we can focus on what I consider to be the more relevant issue with respect to the relationship, which is who pays for dates. I don't see any need to split dates 50/50. Just because a business has decided to charge the same price for the same thing for all customers doesn't mean you need to distribute those costs 50/50 between the two of you. You can talk about one person not being beholden to the other, but why should either of you be beholden to a corporation that has decided to set its prices with no regard for differences in people's wealth? For instance, if you and she decide that your date for tonight — your fun shared experience — will be going to a restaurant, and each of you orders $40 worth of stuff, is it "equal" for each of you to pay $40? No, not if it's actually more costly for her to spend $20 than for you to spend $60 (which is apparently the case). Her going out and spending $X at a restaurant tends to be less fun for her than it is for you, because it's unfun to be intensely aware of how much money you're losing when you feel like you need that money to get by. So in my view, there's more of a danger of inequality resulting from splitting everything 50/50 than there is from you paying for the vast majority of your dates.

If you go with the kind of arrangement I'm suggesting, I would recommend not trying to alter anything else about the relationship to offset it. You would already be paying more in order to offset the fact that she has a harder time paying for stuff. Don't turn it into a transaction where you pay for dinner one night and in return, she cooks dinner the next night. If she ends up cooking dinner because she wants to, that's great, but it shouldn't be expected as part of a quid pro quo. You don't want it to be as if you're paying her to be a maid; the two of you should be doing nice things for each other, but in a way that's as fun and spontaneous as possible given your available resources.

(I have deliberately made no mention of gender, sexual orientation, age, etc., since I fail to see the relevance of any such factors.)
posted by John Cohen at 4:16 PM on March 4, 2012

I'm 30, my boyfriend is 25 and he pays for everything, basically.

This started almost immediately-- we were friends for a few months before we dated, and he never let me or any of my friends pay when we went out together (most of whom are artists who make much less than he does at his job, which is well-paying but demanding).

I don't believe I even let a man pay for my dinner before I was 27, but as I got older, certain experiences softened me on the idea, and when I realized how much happier we would both be if I let this particular boyfriend take care of me as needed financially, things worked out well.

Since he works 75-90 hours a week, it was pretty apparent early on that if we were going to see one another something had to give. My job totally sucked. He offered to support me if I quit. So that's what I did, and now we live together and everything is great.

I do so many things for the two of us, and he values my contributions. I am also going to school part-time and have also done freelance work. I volunteer. I'm happy. And he doesn't care if I never bring in another dime because we have a division of labor that makes us happy, outside wages be damned. Soo...

There's nothing wrong with paying for your SO if everyone's intentions are awesome and all are comfortable with it. But the relationship should be established as serious, IMO, because otherwise you could end up feeling used financially as well as heart-broken if the person you're dating turns out to be a disappointing human being.
posted by devymetal at 4:30 PM on March 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

this is really tricky-- you've gotten lots of great answers as to the practical side of things (you pay for nice places/she pays on cheaper dates is a great system), but one other thing to keep in mind is that however you decide to go with this, no system has to be permanent. I've been on both sides of this kind of imblance in various age/gender configurations, and it's tricky to be either partner, but the thing that makes it work best is when you get to the point where you can talk about it without either of you feeling guilty (her for taking your money, or you for having more of it or not necessarily wanting to pay for everything). good luck!
posted by dizziest at 6:12 PM on March 4, 2012

I think the key is to really ensure that neither person feels that they're being used - everyone should feel listened to and respected.

I know that if someone is particularly insistent that they pay then I feel uncomfortable and that they're doing it with the expectation of sex. While I can understand that that may not necessarily be the case, that's what it feels like, so particularly when I start dating someone I like to see how they react to me contributing, if not 50/50, then to at least some of the bill. Big points for anyone who accepts it graciously - it tells me that they're listening to me.

Down the track I may let the other person pay 100% for me every now and then, but it's about establishing that upfront mutual respect so that it's clear I can't be bought and that's not why I'm there.

This is particularly the case where there is an age disparity. When someone who is a bit older wants to pay for me all the time I feel like they're treating me like a child and not like an equal partner in a potential relationship.

As others have mentioned you can mix up the types of dates you go on - LuckySeven~ has some great suggestions. Go for walks along the beach/river, go to the markets, have a picnic. Things like that help to make dates less about money and more about enjoying the company of the other person.
posted by mleigh at 6:34 PM on March 4, 2012

Cairdeas makes a very good point about the secondary imbalance here, that younger people often have a harder time with direct communication.

That aside, I've been in this situation several times with women near my own age, and direct talk has usually worked. That is, I make it clear that if I suggest we do something expensive (in her eyes), then I am usually implicitly suggesting that I will also cover it, and that I'm in no way keeping tabs or trying to intimidate her or make her feel obligation or dependence. I also make it clear that I understand money is a form of power imbalance, and that if the money-aspect of anything I suggest is too imbalanced-feeling, she can say no and I'm fine with cheaper activities (or free ones) that make her more comfortable.

I think this is a good general rule with any power imbalance in a relationship, really: make an explicit agreement that the person who feels less-powerful gets greater control over saying no to things.
posted by ead at 6:53 PM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nothing wrong with paying for her when you go out and do stuff, but if you start out doing that ... expect to keep doing it. Especially if she's still young, it may be a while before she can contribute financially.

One idea is to find ways for her to contribute that don't involve money. Like my girlfriend and I cook together a lot. Also, she's really good at researching things, so I'll be like, "hey, do you wanna plan our weekend vacation?" or "do you wanna help me find the perfect baker's rack for the kitchen?" and she'll help out, and most of the time do a much better job than I would. Not saying that's the best way to go, but there are ways to help out that don't involve money.
posted by Afroblanco at 1:23 AM on March 5, 2012

Mod note: From the OP:
Thank you guys so much - this is exactly the sort of feedback I was
hoping to get. You've given me a lot of new angles to think about. It
may not actually come up in this particular relationship (since it's
still an open question whether it will become a relationship at all,)
but it's really useful to see a variety of solutions and reactions.

The underlying idea here is that I'm not paying for her, I'm paying
for us, and that it's well worth it for things we do together.

This is totally where I am in my head - I do this with my
broke-student friends all the time, and we've been able to
successfully set boundaries around it so that no one feels bad. I
really appreciate cairdeas's observation that I shouldn't assume she's
going to be good at setting boundaries, so I'll definitely take more
care with that.

Thanks again, all. We have a date tomorrow at the dog park - wish me luck!
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:28 PM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Any date involving frolicking dogs is an automatic win :) Good luck!
posted by LuckySeven~ at 10:36 PM on March 7, 2012

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