Staying-over etiquette in new relationship?
July 26, 2016 8:33 AM   Subscribe

Specifically, where there's an imbalance between living situations - where one lives alone and has all the mod-cons, the other's in a studenty hovel crawling with housemates.

Well, that last part's an exaggeration. I'm no longer a student, but have only recently graduated (mid-20s) and still essentially live on a student's budget. And I have a couple of mature housemates in similar situations / age-brackets, who, while they'll conscientiously give space when a guest's over, can basically hear EVERYTHING and can get just a little bit snoopy. That, and our house is rather dark and dreary, and isn't heated (it's FREEZING... we live under blankets and nudity is done at one's own risk).

I've been having weekly sleepovers with a guy I've begun to see somewhat seriously. He's got a good ten years on me. He's much more financially comfortable (and knowledgeable), and owns a completely rad flat in the heart of the city. By default, I've been spending each sleepover at his. When I do, he'll generously share his whiskey, coffee and toast with me and once I'm gone he'll clean up the mess we inevitably make. I do try to tidy after myself a bit, but there's only so much one can do in the moment.

I know it's his choice to have me over, but I'm worried that if these sleepovers keep up (and I hope they do) my forever being *there* and drinking *his* (expensive) whiskey may cause some subtle resentment and guilt to grow on both sides. I was once in a long-term relationship where this was exactly the case... it was never discussed because it seemed like a no-brainer (of course we'd both rather be in the comfier, more private space)... but it had a pernicious influence on feelings of equality and balance. And I sure don't want that to happen again.

I'd like to even the balance by inviting him to mine more often. But there are many drawbacks to my place and many drawcards to his.

I've never learnt the etiquette around money... having grown up with just my mother and me, where there wasn't much of it around. I do see that it can be a loaded subject for many people. I worry that I may be dumb and naive to some of the more basic assumptions.

If anyone has any tips for this newer-relationship scenario, where a joint income isn't an issue but the rules are just being defined... or just general warnings for a financial dunce in such a scenario... I'd really appreciate it. For instance, might there be some alternative(s) I could offer to redress the imbalance... that doesn't involve camping out in my freezing house? And what are some good ways to get across my gratitude / appreciation?
posted by youhavedeadedme to Human Relations (30 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
This is quite considerate of you. However the best way to address it is to simply bring it up with him. In my relationships, it has always ended up that the person who was in endless-visitor mode (vs. always-host mode) who ended up feeling frustrated by not having access to their stuff; you may find that your perspective shifts and you soon deeply want your guy to crash at your place on the regular.
posted by samthemander at 8:38 AM on July 26, 2016 [13 favorites]

Take the occasional fancy bottle of whisky over to drink at his place. And yes, talk to him about it.
posted by hazyjane at 8:42 AM on July 26, 2016 [55 favorites]

I've been in the position the last few years where I'm generally the one with the better place for sleepovers (I also have a dog, which means I go home at night no matter what) and to be perfectly completely honest, I am way ok with it being like that.

I've been lucky to get to a spot where I'm financially comfortable enough to have my apartment how I want it--I want to spend ALL OF MY TIME at my awesome place! All of my favorite stuff is there, everything is exactly the way I like it and no one cares if I walk around pantsless. I'm comfortable voicing my need for space if I want my space/time to myself, but for the most part having my apartment be the default apartment is great. Trust the dude you're seeing to tell you if he feels like it's too much.

Things you can do that will make you awesome:
-bring food over
-cook meals (if you're a capable cook)
-offer to run errands on your way over
-take the trash down on your way out
-plan dates

But seriously, just go ahead and voice your concern "please tell me if you feel like me coming over here so often is a burden on you/your space, I can plan alternatives for us if it is," and trust the guy to be honest.
posted by phunniemee at 8:42 AM on July 26, 2016 [26 favorites]

Well, you can bring a bottle of whiskey or pick up bagels when you go over, to alleviate the imbalance of whose groceries you're consuming.

But just have the conversation. Say you appreciate his always hosting because his living space offers more privacy and comfort and ask if he would prefer sometimes going to your place or going out instead. Or bring up that you feel awkward always visiting and want to make sure he's not put out.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:43 AM on July 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

Yes, talk about it. And do kind things to express your conscientiousness besides just talking, like bring some good whiskey over, or do the dishes once a meal's done, make the bed if you're the last one out of it, don't leave him to do all the planning for an evening just because you're in his territory, etc. When I first met my partner, who has five years on me but was in a less stable situation then, he was super thoughtful about tidying, about making us tea at night, making sure everything was in order the way I'd have done it myself. Even early on, it made me feel safe to let him stick around after I'd left for the day because not only did I trust him, I knew he could be counted on to be conscientious in just the way I'd hope he would be.
posted by tapir-whorf at 8:48 AM on July 26, 2016 [10 favorites]

He may vastly prefer to have you over than to go to your shared apartment. My partner and I had a similar situation, though not with the big discrepancies in accommodations, but with the apartments' relative comfort levels, and the fact I lived alone and he had roommates. I definitely didn't want to stay at his place, so it was no issue to have him over, and I never thought of it as an expense.

If you feel you must make up for it, the occasional bringing over of food and whiskey that you can make for him would probably be really welcome, but ask. Some people really do like to "treat" their dates, and that may be the case with him.
posted by xingcat at 8:57 AM on July 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Talk about it, for sure, and if you can afford to bring over food/drink then do so. But if I were in this situation, I would be glad to be spending time with my date in my own house, where I'm comfortable and have amenities, rather than in a student hovel.

But yes, if you can make a conscious effort to tidy up or (once you're comfortable enough there) occasionally make the tea or pour the whiskey, that would be good. I used to stay at a guy's house (he was also older than me) and he'd always do everything, because he was ultra-persnickety about his own space, and that wore ME out.

In general, though, when I have someone over I enjoy sharing my things with them.
posted by stoneandstar at 8:58 AM on July 26, 2016

I would be wary of *doing* too much in the way of housework or cooking or "nice things" like that to "make up" for being younger and poorer. You don't have to apologize for that. He already knows you're not flush, and of course you're staying at his, his place is nicer and more comfortable.

But host him every so often. Just a few times, if it's uncomfortable, but do it. Ask your roommates if they'd mind if you used the dining room/kitchen some night (and put music on later). Or take him to a charming (and affordable) pub near you. Or arrange a picnic. Go to his place afterwards, if you want, but take the lead for the evening now and then.

(I think an imbalance can emerge without anyone wanting it to, sometimes; it's good to even things out a bit at the beginning.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:02 AM on July 26, 2016 [14 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the quick and excellent responses... it sounds like communication is key. I guess I'm wary of bringing it up after my past relationship, where the other person got very touchy at any mention of money... he'd tend to say "Don't mention it, it's fine" and quickly drop the subject, but later get a bit resentful and want me to do the 'expected thing' (whatever that was). On reflection, that probably just had more to do with bad communication.
posted by youhavedeadedme at 9:07 AM on July 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

If your place is likely to be truly unpleasant for him, I'd suggest "hosting" at a third location--a dinner out, or even a weekend destination away. He may not want to navigate a cold, crowded house just for the sake of parity. But do ask him to be sure.
posted by witchen at 9:10 AM on July 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

If this guy is in his mid-thirties, he should have learned how to have these conversations without being weird about it by now. If you bring this up and he's weird about it, that's not a great sign.

Probably it'll be fine, though! I agree with other folks that he would almost definitely prefer to keep things as they are, rather than crash at your place and have to deal with your housemates.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 9:15 AM on July 26, 2016 [5 favorites]

Well, if he's shitty about it, you know to break up with him now instead of later. That's the great thing about explicit frequent communication, it's win-win.

Truth is, if there's going to be sleepovers and you have the choice between inconveniencing only yourselves, or also inconveniencing others, you have to pick the former. Aside from the fact that he likely does not want to sleep in your freezing student digs with your roommates, they also have feelings and are getting no benefit from the arrangement.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:15 AM on July 26, 2016 [11 favorites]

I know gearing up to have the conversation is no fun, but yes, have the conversation. If he's going to be another one who is going to get passive-aggressive about the conversation, best to find out now. What you're describing isn't inherently a problem and may in fact but what he prefers - or not, he's the only one who can tell you.

FWIW, were I he, what you're describing would be fine and preferable. I would SO much rather be in my own space and without someone else's roommates around, even if that means I do a little extra tidying afterwards. At the very most, it would be awesome if you replenished the whiskey every once in awhile (or bring over a six-pack to share if that's more in your budget, or pay for take-out to be eaten cozily in front of his TV, or whatever). But I wouldn't be expecting even that much.
posted by Stacey at 9:18 AM on July 26, 2016

Yeah, have the money discussion. You're already "intimate" with each other, and discussing money is another form of intimacy. Try it out. In my mind, expecting your partner to figure out what the "expected thing" is without telling them what you expect is unfair.
posted by craven_morhead at 9:19 AM on July 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Back in my dating days, my apartment always seemed to be the sleep over/general dating hangout location. Maybe it was because I lived alone, maybe it was because I had a more comfy couch, maybe it was because I was lazy and didn't want to be the one travelling to and fro, but regardless of the reason it was always my house, my bed, my food, etc.

For two boyfriends (dated at separate times) in particular this became a problem. They took for granted that I would always host, that there would be food/snacks, etc. They never brought over food or snacks or drinks for us to share. They never offered to pitch in for the groceries they ate (which was a lot). They never questioned whether they would be sharing whatever liquor I had in the house. They never helped clean up. In summary, they sucked.

When I brought it up eventually with both of them (kindly and tactfully, I swear) , they BOTH got very hurt and insulted and they BOTH went the passive aggressive route. One guy bought a box of instant oatmeal packets, wrote his name in sharpie all over it, and ate that when he came over, and usually made some pouty comment about it. They other guy bought a huge box of no-name popsicles and ate that when he came over. (He very dramatically took the popsicles with him when I broke up with him, which is another story altogether but a hilarious one.)

Anyway, yes, the imbalance can definitely be an issue, and I commend you for being aware of it and wanting to address it.

My advice:
1. Definitely talk to him. Tell him that you're worried about the imbalance and that you don't want to accidentally take advantage of him.
2. Tell him you'd like to be able to even things out, or compensate for his always having to be the meet up location. See what he says.
3. Regardless of what he suggests in #2, show up with food sometimes. Food for BOTH of you, not just you. Even if it just a big 'ol pizza. The gesture alone is important and in some ways means more than the actual food. If you can afford it, offer to make supper and bring the groceries/ingredients with you (or go grocery shopping together for that meal and you pick up the bill).
4. Replenish the alcohol you drink. Alternatively, I think it is cool to ask him if he would mind if you left a bottle of liquor at his place so that you could occasionally imbibe without it being on his tab so to speak. Offer to share your liquor with him and mean it. (People are often way more weird about alcohol than they are about food. Eat 20$ worth of their food? Whatevs. Drink 20$ worth of their liquor? Big bag of NOPE!)
5. help clean up, try to make sure that when you leave the house is in no worse shape than when you arrived. This may mean you make sure the dishes are done before you "get down to business".
6. keep being awesome and thoughtful. The fact that you are even asking this question is a very good thing.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 9:24 AM on July 26, 2016 [15 favorites]

Definitely talk about it, but I'd be shocked if he wanted to come to your place. I don't think this conversation is one of those big awkward ones. To me this sounds pretty light. Just bring over a nice bottle next time you go over and mention that he's been a great host and you want to contribute too even though your place isn't the best for sleepovers and see what he says. And definitely clean up after yourself (dishes.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:25 AM on July 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

I was the 100% sleepover host in my relationship (he moved in eventually).

There's a huge benefit to being the host! You get to sleep at your own place. You don't need to worry about whether you have clean underwear in the morning or any of that. So your guy is reaping all those benefits. You, in your turn, are reaping the benefit of not annoying your roommates.

When people have a more equal living situation, I think it makes sense to alternate, but I feel like in that case it's mostly to spread around the inconvenience of sleeping away from home; if you both had housemates it would also be nice to spread around the inconveniencing of housemates.

If you both like the way it works, keep doing it, and yes, buy a bottle of booze now and again.

This is a win-win situation. Don't overthink it.
posted by mskyle at 9:34 AM on July 26, 2016 [5 favorites]

One final bit of advice: If things continue and you keep spending a lot/most of your "relationship" time at his apartment, it is very easy for his apartment to increasingly feel like home to you. This is normal and natural, but it can be a bit touchy as well. Be careful to respect his space and respect the fact that you are still a visitor (albeit a frequent and familiar one).

Ask before you start leaving things at his place (like a toothbrush, etc). Or better yet, wait for him to make the suggestion that you leave a toothbrush there.

Don't treat the house as YOURS until you actually move in with him.

And finally, none of this needs to be a big dramatic come to jesus talk, because none of this is a super huge drama filled thing. Just show up with a big delicious pizza and a bottle of whiskey. Tell him you appreciate that he houses the sleep overs, then eat the pizza, drink a bit of the whiskey, then go have sex. Congrats, you're now the coolest date ever.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 9:34 AM on July 26, 2016 [6 favorites]

Hmm. I'm not sure i'd be fussed about the whiskey drinking etc, but ymmv. I guess I could get a little paranoid were I on the other side of that situation that I never got to stay over at yours, but it would be more fear I was being excluded from something than anything else. Why not find excuses to have him over to yours every once in a while, maybe hit a bar nearby or something. As long as it happened every now and then, I don't think I'd be counting who stayed where most often...
posted by prentiz at 9:45 AM on July 26, 2016

I am the host in my situation too as my girlfriend's room mates (married couple) aren't too excited about anyone staying over.

We cook together in my house and she helps with the clean up and organization. She's about the same age as me but the income disparity is similar to your situation.

She does however get upset sometimes that she's "not contributing" and buys her own dinner or eats outside before coming home. As mentioned upthread, communication is very imimport and make sure to talk about it when she feels upset about me buying all the food and I assure her it's not a problem.
We started cooking together and eating in as a compromise and now it's not just cost effective but also a fun time.
posted by viramamunivar at 9:58 AM on July 26, 2016

I'm the host in this situation because my long-distance long term partner has a home situation that's not conducive to sleepovers. He comes over here a lot and it works for both of us. I always appreciate it when he brings something with him even though I have most stuff here. Similarly I don't at all mind if he does his laundry here but I like it when he asks. The one thing I try to do to balance this is spend time in his general neighborhood and with his friends sometimes so that even if we're not at his place, I am spending time interacting with his life. His friends know me and I hang out there as well as my friends when he hangs out here. To me the downside of your situation is that you wind up living in his world when you are together but there's not a time when he lives in yours. So, besides the usual consideration stuff, finding ways to bring him into your world which may have nothing to do with your apartment but everything to do with how you spend your leisure time.
posted by jessamyn at 10:07 AM on July 26, 2016 [4 favorites]

Instead of thinking of it as a money issue, say something like "I noticed we're staying at your place a lot because it's more private and comfortable - let me know if it gets to be too much." As far as the consumed items go, occasionally bring by something to drink and/or some breakfast items. I think it will be awkward if it comes across as "am I costing too much by eating your toast?"
posted by beyond_pink at 10:25 AM on July 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

The etiquette at issue isn't really about money, I don't think. If you have a regular night of eating and drinking and hanging out with anyone, friend or boyfriend, you should bring bottles of something at a frequency/amount proportionate to your drinking capacity. not really the formal way you might ask a dinner host if there's anything you can bring, just show up with it. and pay for delivery half the time if you order food. It absolutely doesn't have to be equally expensive if he can afford fine scotch and you can't - it's not about replacing what you consumed - it just has to be something. I would not say that good manners obligate worrying about his groceries or buying him new cartons of eggs because he's made you too many omelettes or anything that petty.

but I really think this is a standard good-guest rule and not boyfriend dependent. the only boyfriend-dependent part is the sleepovers, and I think being the host is the more desirable position when you live separately - he doesn't have to drag himself home the next morning, he can lounge around at his leisure. that's worth a little extra hospitality & cleanup to a lot of people, he might think he's getting the better half of the deal.
posted by queenofbithynia at 10:30 AM on July 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

You cook for him, bring (inexpensive) wine.
posted by lizbunny at 11:08 AM on July 26, 2016

I am usually the lower-income sleeper-over, and I make an effort to entertain at a level I can afford - suggesting free cultural events, food carts, picnics, paying for dinner sometimes but not 50-50. And I try to shrug off my date also entertaining at a level they're comfortable with, even if it's fancier than I could swing. And we talk about it. Agree with not doing extra household labor because you make less money - this is a partnership, they should like you as you are and you don't have to apologize for your income level. Help out (and give BJs) because you want to, not out of a sense of obligation.

I personally tend to be worried people will think I'm a gold-digger, especially if I'm with someone older AND higher-income, but that is 100% my insecurity and not something friends / people I've dated have felt, AFAIK.
posted by momus_window at 11:23 AM on July 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Hi, I'm basically your boyfriend. Early 30ish bachelor with the cool loft apartment and "adult" furniture and art on the walls and a fully stocked liquor cabinet. My place always becomes the sleep-over spot with the women I date, actually now that I think about it, without any exceptions that I can recall, regardless of their age. I think the biggest reason being the roommate situation: even for well off people around here, not having roommates is uncommon, and I am fortunate enough to live alone.

I think a less mature 20-something version of me maybe might have thought bringing this up was awkward (probably not), but 30-something me would not bat an eyelash at all. All you need to say here is "Hey thanks for always hosting, I appreciate it, let me know if you ever want to switch it up and stay at mine or if you need some space."

Personally I feel like it's more of an inconvenience to my partners - I would much rather stay at my own place even if they don't have roommates. I sometimes worry that it's selfish to always have them over to my place, to be honest.

As far as money, I am also pretty conscious of the fact that I make a lot more than most of the people I date, especially if they are younger the disparity is often quite large. I do not care at all, because in my mid-20s I was doing the same thing as them when I was starting out my own adult life. Also, it's not like those of us in the millenial-ish age range are unconscious of the larger economic factors at work on our contemporaries. I don't keep a running tally of who owes who drinks this time with friends or lovers - I feel lucky that I can always pick up a round without thinking about it (which was not always the case, and I remember what that was like when I was 20-something). No actual adult, much less one that owns their own apartment, is going to be resentful that you drank their coffee or booze on the regular. If they are that kind of person - run, do not walk - away from them.

Bringing your own bottle of alcohol over every once in a while (who cares how much it costs? not the person you're sleeping with, that's for sure) or making dinner are good ideas and things girlfriends have done for me. Leaving a toothbrush or shampoo at my place is one thing, but if you were cleaning and offering to do my laundry I would feel the need to have a little sit down with you to discuss where the relationship is going (do you want to move in??).

You don't have to "make up" for not having a nice apartment, no one does in their 20s. You're over thinking this.
posted by bradbane at 12:30 PM on July 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

Definitely a conversation is the way to go on this. One thing to consider here and talk through is how to handle having a relationship where the incomes are really imbalanced but you're no where near just combining your incomes. Some various approaches I've seen among my friends group are:
1. Wealthier person treats all the time (I think this is what you are trying to avoid, resentment often ensues)
2. Wealthier person pays for the majority of going out/expensive things, but student budget person makes it a point to both plan outings and to pay for less expensive things (for example, picnic in the park, walking tour of your city, looking up movie times and treating your partner to tickets, etc.)
3. Couple mutually agrees to only do things together that the less wealthy person can afford -- that is, they stick to the things they'd be doing if they were both in the student budget category. I think this can work out just fine depending on personalities involved.
4. Less wealthy person tries to "keep up" with wealthier person by spending on trips/gifts/meals/etc. at a level they can't really afford (often under the guise of "We're not serious, so of course 50/50 is most fair!"), ultimately leads to much stress and often debt.

Obviously you want either option 2 or 3 here, or some combination of those two. Regardless of what you guys hammer out as being fair between the two of you, I would think about being an active partner in your relationship. I know from experience that it is REALLY easy to sort of float along and go with what your partner plans, especially if they have more money and they're always hosting and they're the type that genuinely likes to plan. And it's fine to have an imbalance there! But you should also be looking for those times when you're taking charge of an evening/meal/trip planning/etc.

Another thing to be careful about if you're always over at your new partner's place is to still find a way to help him get to know your friends group and incorporate him into your life, even if that doesn't mean sleeping over in your sub-zero apartment. :)
posted by rainbowbrite at 12:58 PM on July 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Yup, just tell him. And take the odd bottle with you and offer to pay for dinner every now and then. I would be almost certain that he's completely fine about it and is possibly even feeling a bit guilty that he always gets to stay at his place.

When I met my wife she had recently moved out of the house she shared with her ex, and was living in a room in a psychiatric institution (a set of rooms reserved for hospital staff at the time). It was a bit hilarious really. Within a couple of days of her packing clothes into a small bag and bringing them over we decided that that was a waste of time and she moved in. Although her income was fine her assets were near zero. She offered to pay for meals lots of the time. Obviously I ended up paying the majority of the time but I appreciated the gesture and money was never an issue between us.

Nowadays the same applies, it would simply not be an issue, as long as the odd offer to pay turned up, or thoughtful gestures.
posted by tillsbury at 1:03 PM on July 26, 2016

Tit for tat isn't so literal, like having him over to your apartment. Just be a good gracious guest in his space and acknowledge it. Do dishes, clean up proactively. Acknowledge that you looove how he shares his whiskey but FYI you don't EXPECT it or take it granted, and you are perfectly happy contributing a bottle of [something more modest].

/been on both sides of this dynamic.
posted by desuetude at 11:42 PM on July 26, 2016

When I'm going over more often, I like to keep an eye out for little things I can pick up ("gifts" sounds too fancy for these) or other helpful things I can do for the person. Things like getting their favorite perishable goods from the grocery store, or dropping things by the post office since I'm going past there anyway. Often when this dynamic has come up, the person who is hosting either dislikes driving or has other transit issues, so these things would be more burdensome for them. Also, keep in mind that if you are always going to their place, they do save some time transporting themselves, packing, etc. -- some people prefer not to spend time doing these things. So they might not see it as a bad thing that you are there often.

When I've been hosting more, it's generally involved someone who is great at cooking and likes doing it, which I've always seen as a big plus to having them over. If you don't cook, or are bad at it, you can always buy dinner.

I've been having weekly sleepovers with a guy I've begun to see somewhat seriously... he'll generously share his whiskey, coffee and toast

Um... so you two aren't having any actual meals together? Most serious relationships involve eating meals together once in a while. You might want to examine if he's on the same page about your relationship before you do anything like bring over dinner.
posted by yohko at 11:04 AM on July 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

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