My partner and I have vastly different income levels. On average, he makes in 2 days what I make in a week.
He’s also extremely generous, both with presents and with paying for outings. The presents are more clear-cut. They tend to be…how do I say this…gifts we will enjoy simultaneously. If we broke up, I think they would walk with him to be enjoyed with others.
The more complicated part for me is the paying for experiences.
We both love to go out and do fun things—food and travel are both big ones for us. And he usually pays.
He might call me and say “Hey. Ya hungry? Wanna go out?” and I’ll go “Yeaaaah!” Then I’ll have this internal deer-in-the-headlights moment where
a) I catch myself hoping he’s inviting me out to a restaurant, and then
b) I feel a crushing wave of guilt, then
c) That moves into a certainty that he can see my hope that he’s offering to treat me
and is judging me as a gold digging princess.
The Resentment Volcano
Now do this awkward dance of “well yes if you’re offering, but if you’re not, I need to go home and have a can of soup.” I’m always scared he’s going to clutch his pearls and be like “were you just assuming I was offering to treat you?! Emily Nixon, you are a monster!” I get worried he feels pressured and then I imagine a future in which his frustration has been building up like a grade school volcano, which then explodes baking soda resentment everywhere.
Recently, I have been solving this problem by saying “Are you inviting me? Because if yes, I would love to, but if no, I need to eat groceries.” It’s working pretty well. Although I’m not sure if in English we actually use the word ‘invite’ in this way, or if I am just stealing it from the French.
Like most people in relationships, I want ours to feel equal, but I know that I’m not going to be able to reciprocate in the same dollar amounts. Instead, I have been trying to even out the number of times we each suggest and plan dates. I invite him to movies that I pay for with credit card points, or I suggest free/cheap activities. (Is going to a protest a fun date…? What if there’s a craft component beforehand?).
But of course we don’t always treat each other. Often we will go Dutch (do people still say that? I definitely learned that phrase from an Archie comic when I was eight.) Sometimes, like tonight, I just have to opt out of activities because they are just outside my budget.
Here’s what I worry about as the one that earns less…
I think sometimes what feels like quality couple time in his mind feels like a financial stress in mine. I worry that me opting out of the expensive event feels to him like I’m saying no to spending time together, and that “we could play board games instead” just feels like a cop-out.
I worry about saying that I can’t afford to attend an event because that money is earmarked in my budget for something else. I’m afraid he will hear “you are less important to me than x, y, or z.”
A year in, we’re still very much figuring all this stuff out. The only thing I think we can both agree on is that talking about it is important. I will continue to very loudly and clearly ask “Are you offering to pay for this or are you suggesting this as something we split?” and suggesting crossword puzzles in the park as a date idea.
Rags to Reasonable Community Outreach Coordinator
Emily Nixon is an actor/writer/director/filmmaking Swiss Army Knife. She is also a big money nerd and Community Outreach Coordinator for Rags to Reasonable.
She came to this work after becoming completely fed up with living paycheque-to-paycheque and being too afraid to look in her chequing account. She is passionate about empowering other artists and variable income earners to keep doing what they love and feel confident about their finances.
Email Emily at firstname.lastname@example.org