Of all the differences my boyfriend and I have, the fact that we relate to money differently is probably the most likely factor to break our relationship. Just the other day, after a very nice afternoon, after watching an intense emotional movie, we went to dinner. I had wanted to go there for my momentous birthday, but couldn’t. I was happy we were in the neighborhood and hungry so that we could go eat there. We were only going to eat there if there wasn’t a usual hour wait. We got seated right away. First my boyfriend says it’s too loud here. So we get seated on second floor. As we’re looking at the menu, my boyfriend makes a face saying that everything on the menu is very expensive. Mind you, we had both been at this restaurant before and both of us liked it very much. So I asked should we leave? We should leave now if we’re not going to stay. My boyfriend says it’s ok we can stay. Then we order, both of us ordering the least expensive items on the menu for dinner. Then he says to me, hey didn’t you want to get that appetizer you mentioned before? I’m shocked that he mentions that because yes I want it but refrained from ordering it because he already seemed stressed about the cost of dinner. I’m fine. I don’t need to order the appetizer. He wanted to split a beer, to which I said, no I want my own. Then after we ordered, he tells me if I want it, don’t let him hold me back, go ahead and order it. I didn’t even know what he was saying. We usually split the bill. So was he saying we’ll pay for our own share and not split the bill? Or was he saying if I really want it, he would split the bill with me even though it would go beyond what he feels comfortable paying?
Thus began the downward spiral of a very nice evening, at least as I was experiencing it. I didn’t want to talk about money, especially over dinner. I could feel tears welling up in my eyes. I didn’t want him to see me that way so I kept looking away into the distance. Far from expecting my boyfriend to pay for dinner for both of us, I just want to be able to eat together at places I want to eat at. Most of the time, he chooses where we go to eat. This was one of the few times I got to go to where I wanted to go because of timing and location. Not to mention, this is where I had wanted to come for my big birthday. I felt sad that I have to worry about how my boyfriend and I are going to have to split up the bill: would it be 50-50 as usual or some other ratio if order freshly made guacamole? I told him I couldn’t talk about this over dinner.
Later in the subway, which isn’t a huge improvement from talking about money, still public, still in non-private setting, we continued our discussion. I expressed my reasons for being upset. It’s not that he doesn’t have money at all. It’s just that he didn’t want to spend the kind of money eating at that restaurant would involve if we ordered an appetizer. As we continued the discussion one day later, it became clear that for him, spending money on food is luxury beyond basics. For me, food is a necessity, even eating good food at a nice restaurant isn’t considered wasting money. I feel the other person does not care about me if they don’t want to spend money that would enable me to do something I would enjoy very much. In this case, not wanting to eat at this restaurant initially, or letting me know he couldn’t afford appetizer that I might have wanted, in my heart, felt like he didn’t care about what I wanted. It’s very strange to have this relationship to money, I know. My parents for the most part use money to express their love. No, that’s not really how I want to be shown love. I really would like my parents to ask how I’m doing and really care about how I’m doing. I really would like my parents to show me that they love me by their action and words. My boyfriend expresses his love for me in action. With words, he’s much more careful about saying that he loves me. Still, he’s one step closer to expressing his love for me in non-monetary ways than my parents are. So then in my head I know it’s OK that my boyfriend can’t afford to eat at places I want to eat at, at least not too often. Maybe I’m sad that I feel like I make more sacrifices than he does on just about everything. So when it comes to where we go to eat, it’s more intensely experienced as something he’s not willing to compromise on. Oh, the complexities of relationships. When you love someone and feel vulnerable and open with the person, of course the reward is hugely positive when good things are experienced; then when something is interpreted as hurtful, well, that gets experienced as something hugely negative.