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Ask the Coach: Going dutch when money is tight
I’ve been dating this guy for a short while – about 6 months. We’re both in our late thirties, never married. Every time we go out, he wants to split the bill 50-50 – whether it’s for a weekend at a hotel, a Yankees game, or dinner – whatever. I thought this was okay when we first started dating, but now that we’re dating exclusively, it seems like too much. He likes to go out a lot, and it’s stretching me beyond my financial limits. I mean, I’m employed but I have other financial obligations right now. Whenever I bring up the money topic, I get this impression that he gets angry. Naturally, that keeps me from saying more.
Except for the money, I love dating this guy. We have a great time and we get along really well. What should I do? What’s the money protocol when it comes to dating nowadays? ~ Anna
Anna, I totally understand your interest in honoring your financial boundaries. It’s smart of you to recognize this now and not try to “keep up appearances”.
For the record, I’m not too much into “protocol.” My view is that cultural norms do more to harm rather than help relationships. I also don’t believe in dispensing advice so here we’ll focus on helping you work something out that feels good and fair to both of you, while keeping an eye on the process as well as the solution.
Before we address money, we need to address the fact that you think he gets angry. This is a huge red flag and if we ignore it, we’re just burying our heads in the sand.
Let’s first determine if he truly gets angry … or if you jump to the conclusion that he gets angry. Do you have any proof that he feels angry when you bring up money? What did he actually say or do to make you come to this conclusion?
It’s important to get to the truth of the situation because many times, people misinterpret as a result of their own filters that are clouded with past experiences. For example – I recently had to call my vet to ask a few questions about spring shots that were administered for my horse. The receptionist immediately went on the defensive, interpreted my questions as an attack and told the vet that I was upset. Until that moment, I was not in fact upset. The point of that story is that because she weathered angry owners in the past (or perhaps she is hair-trigger sensitive), she immediately associated a questioning owner as a hostile owner. When we leap to conclusions like this, we shut the door to fruitful conversations and create polarity. (See my blog post on the hostile kiss cam incident to understand this concept a bit more.)
One the otherhand, if you have verifiable proof that he gets angry, what’s underneath his agitation? To understand his emotional reaction, you may need to ask clarifying questions and avoid accusing him of anything. I’ll write a blog post on conflict resolution soon to help you. If you find you can’t have a rational conversation with him – if he becomes too emotional on the topic – you may have to re-evaluate the relationship. If you can’t talk things through with him now, while the relationship is still young, things will not get better on their own. And remember: Every moment you spend on a poor relationship choice prevents you from finding a relationship that works!
Then on the flipside: If he doesn’t actually get angry, then maybe what you’re experiencing is your own discomfort in asking for what you need. Think about what buttons are being pushed within you and what’s really causing you to feel unsafe. There may be something for you to develop in yourself so that you can be confident around discussing things that don’t work for you, without holding back due to fear of rejection or retribution. A good life coach (like me!) can work with you to identify and break through the limiting beliefs that are making you wary and timid of honest and open communication.
OK – so now for the money part of your question.
You seem to be fine with paying 50/50 as opposed to thinking that the man should always pay. It speaks a lot about how you want to be an equal partner in any relationship, where you’re taking responsibility and contributing in kind.
If this is not the case, and you truly resent your partner’s insistence on going dutch, you may have to examine your values and your needs (i.e. you need to be taken care of) and then have a conversation with your partner to determine his needs (i.e., having an equal partnership).
It’ll be important for you to know how to handle this kind of conversation without making him feel like he’s wrong. You might discuss your (and his) past experiences; he may have felt like a prior girlfriend took advantage of him, and once you understand that, you may find common ground.
This is a conversation worth having no matter what, since it’ll be important for you both to be on the same page if you want this relationship to last. The bottom line is to understand what’s important to both of you around money and spending.
So now, let’s say that you are truly OK with paying 50/50 and your finances truly are strained.
It is really important to be open and honest with your guy, and let him simply know you can’t afford all of the expensive dates. Before you open the door to this conversation, tell him that you love dating him and why. Tell him you are uncomfortable about discussing this topic but you see the need to resolve it and to grow more confident in your partnership with him. Ask for his support and understanding.
You now have some options.
You can offer to continue paying 50/50, except let him know the frequency needs to be cut back. Then he can decide whether he wants to put a little more money out on the dates you can’t afford and pay for you.
Another option is for each of you to split the date cost proportionate to your income. For instance if you make 2/3 of his salary, you contribute slightly less than half toward the date costs. If he doesn’t want to pay any extra, consider whether or not you will be okay with this for the rest of your life if you get serious with him. This means you will always have a very calculated financial future with him.
Another option is to start exploring inexpensive date ideas. I just blogged about this topic HERE.
You can also open up the discussion to finding win-win solutions that are outside the box (and thereby you can possibly increase the closeness you feel in your relationship).
The bottom line is that the future success of your relationship relies on your ability to communicate with him. To have a fulfilling, long-term relationship, you have to be honest with your expectations and feelings and your partner should be open to listen and understand. And vice versa. A true partnership and healthy relationship requires a willingness to meet in the middle. Compromising your goals now, much less your financial well being, will lead you further into an unhappy relationship and dismal future.
Above all, don’t sell yourself short. Money is a big issue, and if you don’t work out something now, then there is no point in continuing with this relationship.
Hope this helps. Please let me know if you need more support in unraveling your limiting beliefs around asking for what you need.