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TO PAY OR NOT TO PAY: THAT IS THE QUESTION

Question: I am a thirty-two year old male and have just started dating a very beautiful girl that I am really nuts about. The problem is that even though we earn about the same amount of money, she never offers to pay when we go out. I feel resentful but I am afraid to bring this up and risk losing her. Can you help?

Answer: This seems to be one of the stubborn holdovers from the years when women did not work outside the home, or if they did their salaries were minimal. Men expected to be the providers and women expected to be provided for. We’ve had three generations of men and women shifting roles to accommodate the increase of women in the work-force that began during world war two. The shift has been gradual but today the general expectation is that men and women will work both in and out of the home: women helping with the finances and men helping with the household chores. There have been pockets of resistance along the way. Women took to the work-force more readily than men took to vacuuming. Today, however, it seems that men have embraced the female role of the forties more completely than women have embraced the male role. It is more common to see a man in the park playing with his children than it is to see a woman under a car changing the oil.

The real concern is not so much about which jobs are done by whom, but about the sense of reciprocity within the relationship. When we see an attractive young woman on the arm of a much older man, we can be pretty sure who is paying for dinner. This can work quite well as long as each feels that the arrangement is balanced. The tensions develop when one person begins to feel that the balance has shifted. I suspect from your resentment that you feel that the scale of reciprocity has tipped in your girlfriend’s favor. There should be bigger concerns here than who is paying the bill.

Who is this person that you are dating and why are you with her? You haven’t mentioned what it is that you are “nuts about.” Is the beauty that you describe more than skin deep? Is she thoughtful and considerate in other aspects of the relationship? There remains a small percentage of women (often the young and the beautiful) who have not quite grasped the concept of equality between the sexes. They are stuck somewhere between the forties and the sixties: holding a sense of entitlement yet expecting to be treated as equals. If this is the case with your girlfriend, you are best to address this sooner rather than later.

Before you head off in that direction, you might consider what you may have contributed to the situation at hand. Is it possible that in the white heat of her beauty and your loins you may have given her the impression that you are well set and happy to pick up the tab? I suspect that there is something of this in the air. In any case, this is going to be awkward. I suggest going at it by defining your own predicament: that you are crazy about her but fear that you may have misrepresented yourself financially. This should open up a conversation. Stay calm and cool and see where she goes with it. You will know fairly quickly where she stands. Keep in mind that resentment festers. You’ll need to do something with it before it becomes nasty.

Margaret Anne Speak, M.A., C.C.C. works with couples, individuals, and families from a Bowen Family Systems perspective at Family Services of the North Shore. Questions? Write This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or call 604-988-5281