Is there a good way to offer to help out my boyfriend financially?
April 17, 2006 6:43 AM   Subscribe

I make more money than my boyfriend. Normally this isn't a big deal, and has pretty much never come into play in our relationship (we've been together over a year). But lately he's been broke (his work's dependent on the weather, which has been crappy lately and so he hasn't been able to work much, thru no fault of his own). I'm in a position to help, but the situation seems rather delicate. Thoughts about how to proceed?

For example, his bed is falling apart and he needs car repairs. I am in a position to buy him a new bed (which would benefit me too, frankly, since I spend half the week there*) and/or fix his car - we're not talking an insane ton of money, really (500 bucks, maybe), and while I'm far from rich, it's an amount I could easily spare. Until a few years ago, money was always really tight for me, so I know exactly how much anxiety he's going thru, and I would love to be able to alleviate it now that I'm finally in a more financially stable place in my life. I would see it as a gift, though of course if he felt he'd want to pay me back, I would accept that too.

Every time I've tried to bring it up (as delicately as I can), he's been very gracious but he doesn't want to consider it. I understand this too - it's painful to be broke, and awkward to be in a position where someone offers to help. I would also guess it's harder b/c of the gender dynamic - being a guy helped out by his girlfriend.

So I get all that. But I also get that he's really worried, and I want - and am able - to help. Again, I am perfectly prepared (and can absolutely afford) to see it as a gift - I don't care about being paid back unless it's important to him. I just care about helping lessen some of the stress he's under. I also care about respecting him, and not pushing this on him if he really can't handle it. Thoughts? Suggestions? Stupid money.

*we usually don't spend nights at my house because he needs to be able to walk his dogs late at night and first thing in the morning, so spending nights at my place till he can buy a new bed on his own really isn't an option.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Is there some kind of job he can do for you (no jokes, please) to earn the money? Or something a relative of yours needs done?
posted by JanetLand at 6:54 AM on April 17, 2006

Offer it as a loan, but don't mean it is a loan. If he pays you back, great, if not, don't worry about it. If he seems uncomfortable in the future, just tell him he can pay you back in increments, or whenever.

Make sure, however, that you don't expect the money back. There is no better way to ruin a relationship. In fact, just offering it as a pretend loan is risky, but it seems to be something that you really want to do.

But if he really doesn't want the money, there's nothing you can do to force it on him.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:56 AM on April 17, 2006

Well, what's kind of frustrating about this is that what he NEEDS is the car repair; the bed probably isn't a need so much as a want. But getting him to let you fix his car.... let's just say that's highly unlikely.

I don't know how your relationship dynamic goes, but "putting your foot down" could work on the bed... as in, "Look, I sleep here half the week and I HATE THIS BED. I'm GOING to buy a new one. Will you help me make room for it, please?" He'll get the idea pretty quickly. :)

But the car... maybe you could approach it this way, depending on the repairs needed. "I know you don't have money to fix it now, but it could get worse. That could end up costing a lot more money. If you want to call it a loan, that's fine, but I'd like to see that car fixed now, and I'm willing to help with it. It worries me, both from a financial and safety standpoint, when you're out there driving it unfixed. Plus, if it breaks down badly, you're going to have trouble getting to your job."

That's very reasonable, but I'm not at all sure it would work. The way I was raised, you could get away with the bed thing. The car.... not likely.

Why? Stupid masculine pride. He dug himself into that hole, and by GOD he'll dig himself back out again. :)
posted by Malor at 7:03 AM on April 17, 2006

If he really needed the money, he would ask you for it. So his car needs some repairs, and his bed is rickety. Those are not life stopping problems. Just let him know if he needs anything, he shouldn't hesitate to ask. I'm sure his independent streak probably had something to do with your attraction to him. I think you should just let things ride for a litte while.
posted by Roger Dodger at 7:26 AM on April 17, 2006

Argh. He has a generous girlfriend who is willing to help him out of a tight bind... what a horrible place to be in. ;) Just be blunt about it rather than dance around the subject. Sometimes diffusing it right away could be the best tactic.

"Look, you need a new bed and your car fixed. I have the money to spare. Damn any masculine pride etc. etc. I want to do this for you."
posted by purephase at 7:27 AM on April 17, 2006

I'm with Astro Zombie, offer it as a loan, but know to yourself that you don't care if he pays you back. MAKE SURE that you don't care if you don't see that money again. Relationships shred because of money issues. It's very nice that he isn't willing to take it from you. Shows character.
posted by annieb at 7:34 AM on April 17, 2006

Could you buy yourself a new bed and give him your existing one? It's more moving, but it might protect his 'not relying on friends for money' thing.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:38 AM on April 17, 2006

It's very nice that he isn't willing to take it from you. Shows character.

?! that's exactly the root of the problem - he thinks he'll be 'wimpy' or 'unmanly' or 'lacking character' if he accepts help, especially help from a woman. it doesn't show character; it shows pride. the problem is always finding the right balance between depending too much on others and not accepting that sometimes you could do with some help.

Does he see these issues (the car & the bed) as being important? If he had the money, would he be spending it on those things, or does he think they're really minor and you're getting excited over nothing? (eg, are the car repairs dangerous? or just inconvenient? or even aesthetic? and is the bed something he noticed or something you pointed out? for some people, you need a new x as soon as it has any imperfections, while others think you use it until it absolutely gasps its last breath. If he doesn't think they need replacing, then he could see your offer not just as financial help but also as an effort to control or intervene...

but if that's definitely not an issue, then I would just make it absolutely clear that the money is totally available with no strings/expectations, and that you just want him to be able to relax about these things, etc, and then let it go. If you get totally caught up on trying to help him and he's already said absolutely no, then it just becomes a kind of a feedback loop where every time he says no, it just makes it more impossible for him to ever change his mind. you love him even with a creaky bed, right? so just make sure he knows you'll help him out, but try not to let it become a Big Issue.
posted by mdn at 7:52 AM on April 17, 2006

What you've written is something very rational and sensible, but he's not being rational and sensible. Better to use an emotional tack, I think.

I also wonder if it would work for you to ask him for help. You know, help to break in the new bed you'd like to play in with him.
posted by plinth at 7:56 AM on April 17, 2006


If you do give it as a gift, then the weather will start getting bad more often and more things will need replaced and soon you'll be a bank instead of a girlfriend.
posted by pieoverdone at 8:16 AM on April 17, 2006

Does the state of the car affect his ability to work? If so, you could say, quite reasonably, that you'd lend him the money to fix it so he could get mobile again and back into the groove workwise. Some women would go so far as to imply that if their man couldn't squire them about in a respectable set of wheels, then all bets are off, but you sound too decent for that.

Likewise, the bed – as others have suggested, you could point out that you spend time in it, that you're not comfortable because it's broken, it's hurting your back to sleep in it, etc., and go from there.
posted by zadcat at 8:19 AM on April 17, 2006

To me, your boyfriend is being perfectly sensible, as well. You're being extremely generous and kind, but it's not just pride at work in his mind.

Men have a great deal of pride and self-worth tied up in the concepts of being a good provider and being self-sufficient. It's something not only cultural, but I daresay might even be somewhat biologically inbred.

You may find that this issue actually has power to change the emotional dynamic between you both. With respect, I would tread very lightly. And, considering you've already tred very lightly, I'm cautioning you it may be best to just accept his answer as given.

If you must, and I do mean must, bring it up, bring it up as an expression of your love and concern for him, especially with the physical dangers that a malfunctioning car may present.

But I really do think he's given you your answer, and as kindhearted as your motives are, these are issues that appear, from your description, to be somewhat laden with peril. I'd accept his answer.
posted by WCityMike at 8:25 AM on April 17, 2006

Having been in a similar financial situation with an ex, albeit with an ultimately rife-with-issues ex, I would lean toward doing nothing financially to help him.

He's in a semi-tenuous financial situation all the time, this is not just a one-time weird-situation blip. He's dating someone who's more financially secure, and now she's coming in acting like her standards should be his standards, even if he can't afford it. I know you're just trying to help, but I think it'll breed resentment, whether the money's a gift or a loan.

You can, and presumably do, "lessen some of the stress he's under" by being there for him. Take him out to dinner, or take him to his favorite movies, or just generally be supportive and encouraging, but I think that giving him money only one year into the relationship will be a bad thing.

He's a big boy. He's presumably had to deal with this before, he'll find his way out of it. Show him that you love him even when he's broke.
posted by occhiblu at 8:26 AM on April 17, 2006

The bed thing: you should bring it up again, a little more firmly. It's something that affects you directly, and by gum, there's no reason you need to put up with a crappy sleeping arrangement just to accomodate his dog. Bring it up again, perhaps not so delicately, and tell him you really want to sleep on something decent and you're going to fix it.

As for the car and anything else, I dunno. He doesn't want the help. If he doesn't want it, he doesn't want it. Yet you're still just kinda vaguely still wishing and wanting to help. You haven't accepted the way he feels about this, and are probably projecting some of your own past experiences onto it, too.

Do something about the bed, but after that, back off a touch.
posted by scarabic at 8:27 AM on April 17, 2006

Don't listen to pieoverdone. You're and your boyfriend are the best judges of whether or not a cash gift will strain your relatiohsip or lead to unhealthy dependence. Not every guy is a closet good-for-nothing, waiting for some girl with more money to come along so that they can spend the rest of their life unemployed.

In terms of the gift: part of what is making it hard for your boyfriend, i would guess, is that he feels like the gift will leave him with a sense of obligation or constraint. You've offered to help him out with either a) a new bed, or b) car repairs, or both. He may be unwilling to accept money for these things because if he does, he fears you will judge his later purchases: "you went out and bought X after I gave you the money for a bed?" If you're confident that won't happen, and can make that clear to him, I would guess it will go a long way towards making him accept your generous offer.

(By the way, my guess is if you "loan" him the money it will be much harder to avoid making those sorts of judgements of how he uses his money, even if you don't want or mean to.)
posted by louigi at 8:30 AM on April 17, 2006

say 'happy early birthday'

worked for me when i was in the same situation (reverse gender dynamics, but still)
posted by markovitch at 8:36 AM on April 17, 2006

Well, another possibility is that he knows that such exchanges can cause strain on relationships, and does not feel ready to make a step towards sharing finances. I know that I have a hard time not seeing the non-existant strings behind every gift.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:53 AM on April 17, 2006

If he doesn't want it, he doesn't want it.

exactly. it's not that he has a huge lump in his neck and he's too broke to have it examined -- it's a damn bed. he values his financial independence, and would feel bad taking your money. don't insist.
posted by matteo at 9:06 AM on April 17, 2006

As one who has been in a not dissimilar situation, I suggest not "putting your foot down" as some suggest.

There are many, many men out there who would be very glad to take advantage of a girlfriend willing to help out with financial matters. Others, like your boyfriend it seems, are reluctant to accept help. Not because they're filled with misplaced machismo, but because they realize that money lending can spell certain doom for an otherwise healthy relationship (as others here have already suggested).

Mark Twain put it quite well. "The holy passion of friendship is so sweet and steady and loyal and enduring in nature that it will last through a whole lifetime, if not asked to lend money."

Doesn't quite apply to your situation as you haven' been asked, but you get the gist.

That you have offered to help is incredibly cool. He should definitely recognize that. Perhaps he'll come around eventually and take you up on it. But I don't think you should insist.

We're you married or in a much longer term relationship, you could be more forceful, but as you've only been together for a year it strikes me as somewhat inappropriate.
posted by aladfar at 9:08 AM on April 17, 2006 [1 favorite]

I strongly advise you to leave it alone.

What occhiblu said was brilliant. Offer your support by doing nice things for him.

Its great that you want to help him out, but doing so is likely to change your relationship in ways that you can't anticipate and most likely won't enjoy. Lending money can really change things in a relationship, especially when the money goes from a woman to her boyfriend. I don't know why that is so, but it is. You think that it won't make a difference, but it will, and not because he is some user. There is just an area of respect and boundary which if you cross, things won't be the same.

He probably has other resources if he must borrow money and will likely turn to those first - sibilings, parents, friends, other family.

On the bed, if its so rickety, get your boyfriend to borrow a hammer and a drill, buy some four by fours, and some carpenter glue and jerry rig something so it doesn't fall down while you are in it. Alternatively, he could get rid of the rickety bedframe and put the mattress on the floor.
posted by zia at 9:28 AM on April 17, 2006

Ohh, what zia said is nice. A date to build the bed, make it, then break it in.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:56 AM on April 17, 2006

If he's uncomfortable about it, don't push it. Leave the offer on the table, and tell him to let you know if he changes his mind.

I offered to give/lend money to a member of my family. He felt too awkward to accept, and I'm still not sure why that bummed me out as much as it did. When the time came to pay for his son's education, he changed his mind.

The day may come when he'll believe it's okay to borrow or accept a gift of money. Until then, your empathy and emotion support are a huge help.
posted by wryly at 1:16 PM on April 17, 2006

Little gifts are good all round -- the sender and receiver both enjoy the process. Big gifts are often much easier to give than receive, especially if one of the parties is "in need."

Maybe it would be better if he would let you help him, but to press the issue will likely only end up making both of you uncomfortable -- not really what you want. The best thing to do is to make the offer, as you have already done, and let it him know that it is sincere and still available if he changes his mind later. Then leave it. If you must do something for him do other, smaller things that make life nicer for him but don't involve significant expenditure.

The only reason to press the car repairs is if you truly believe the issues are seriously safety related, in which case you can try begging him to let you get the car fixed as a favor to you -- you basically reverse the gift giving dynamic: he gets to be magnanimous and let you have your way. But it will probably only work if you both believe it's about saving him from danger rather than helping him financially.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 1:48 PM on April 17, 2006

I(a male) was in a similiar financial position to your boyfriend several months ago, and happened to be dating a girl who at the time made exponentially more money than I. She offered, as you have, and I refused, as he did.

In the end, I did ask her and several friends for small loans(>=$50) in order to tide me over 1 particularly rough month. She was esctatic to be able to help me, but that didn't make me feel any better about having to ask her or any of my other friends(many of which were male) for money. There was something about the quantifiable existence of actual currency that made debts feel almost unbearable for me. The only reason I asked was because I reached a point where the other option was homelessness.

Something that she was able to do for me, which I didn't find offensive or pride-wounding, was offer me free things her friends were getting rid of, such as(ironically) a bed. It was much easier for me to accept what would have ended up as someone else's trash(even though there was nothing wrong with it) than it was for me to accept something that had value, even if the person giving it didn't need it at the time.
posted by ElfWord at 7:31 PM on April 17, 2006

I wouldn't offer anything like that until he asks.

What you could do is figure out ways for both of you to economize, together. Cooking together, going to the library/for walks, etc...
posted by jon_kill at 6:45 AM on April 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

I just came across this entry about love and money and gender dynamics at Bitch Ph.D., and thought it might be interesting for you. (She's in an open marriage, hence the husband and boyfriend references.)
posted by occhiblu at 9:19 AM on April 18, 2006

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