Woe Is Me! “Is My Boyfriend Taking Advantage of Me Financially?”
Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.
“I’m a college student but my boyfriend has recently started earning. Whenever we go out we have always split the bill 50/50. Recently, I casually asked him to treat me, as I wanted to be pampered, but he seemed very reluctant about it. I see my friend’s boyfriends gifting them nice stuff and mostly paying for their outings, but I have never expected the same from my boyfriend. I am confused about whether this is okay or not, whether he cares for me at all. Or am I being taken for granted? I feel like he is very calculative, and sometimes, he has even told our bill amount wrongly and made a profit off me. He says his family isn’t financially well off and that he wants to save whatever he earns for future use. I feel like this is still weirdly unfair. What do I do?“
— Hole In My Pocket
DR: Oops, this is some soup you’re in — and from what it sounds like, you’re footing a major share of this bowl’s bill. For starters (no pun intended), I don’t think people taking care of one financially indicates either genuine care or affection on their part — leave alone love. Like you, I’ve also seen significant others of friends ‘treating them’ to dinners, drinks, holidays, spas, even hair, and make-up. But, I’ve also seen some of these same significant others treat my friends horribly, from physically abusing them to cheating on them. So, whether an individual is paying your bills has less to do with how much they care about you and more with a host of other factors like disposable income, and in some cases, guilt.
However, that gyaan aside, I couldn’t help but spot a rather huge red flag in your woe — him quoting bill amounts wrongly to profit off you. While he doesn’t have to bear your expenses, he also shouldn’t be lying to you to make money off you. If he’s facing financial difficulties, and needs more money, or wants to contribute less to the dates you go on — he has the option of being upfront about it. And the fact that he chose to lie instead would be a huge red flag to me. Sure, I could’ve believed that he probably felt insecure revealing that to you because he’s a man, and as a victim of patriarchy himself, was ashamed to ask a woman for money — but he seems to be at ease talking about his financial constraints otherwise. He seems completely dishonest, and my advice would be to put on your running shoes and sprint away from him: as fast as possible, as far away as possible. If you confront him, he’ll probably lie — if he had no qualms defrauding you, I don’t think he’d mind falsely denying it either. So trust the instincts that made you send us your woe, in the first place. Good riddance and good luck!
KB: First things first: let’s start by clearing one misconception. Buying gifts and paying for dinner is not love or pampering. Yes, of course, some people may show affection by buying a thoughtful gift for someone, and there is nothing wrong with that. But I’m concerned about the fact that you appear to equate someone buying you meals or gifts with them caring for you — those two things are very different, and one frequently exists without the other. Don’t confuse them. Your boyfriend can love you deeply, care for you, and support you emotionally, without ever buying you a single pricy gift.
Now, that said, I am deeply disturbed by the lie your boyfriend told you to try to eke out a few extra rupees. That is deceitful, manipulative, and ethically unacceptable. That alone would make me question his character. And there is something about your question — about whether he’s taking advantage of you — that makes me think your intuition is probably trying to tell you something. Trust your gut with this one, something feels off.
LG: You need to decide what you want out of this relationship, rather than compare it to your friends’ relationships. Do you want a 50-50 financial partnership, or do you want a sugar daddy? Either is fine, but it’s unfair to expect both or to suddenly switch your expectations;you can’t have your cake and eat it, too, boo. If you’ve never expected your boyfriend to foot the bill before and have always willingly been in a 50-50 financial situation with him, he may be as confused as you at the sudden request to pay the whole bill — and scrambling to do so, because he may not have budgeted to afford it. You may overestimate his disposable income at the moment; often when one starts earning, there is a host of accompanying expenses that makes splurging or saving untenable for a while: rent, bills, and commute to pay, groceries and office clothes to buy, not to mention the family he is trying to help support. Someone’s desire to feel ‘pampered’ might feel a bit frivolous next to these serious financial responsibilities, and begs the question — when and how does he get to feel pampered?
If you’re concerned about the fairness of your financial arrangement or feel he’s taking advantage of you financially, have an honest discussion with him. Try asking questions instead of making accusations — e.g., ‘Hey, it feels like there have been some issues when it comes to splitting the bill fairly, lately. Is money tight for you right now?’ ‘Hey, are you worried about your expenses? Maybe we can make budgets together!’ Maybe his billing errors were honest math mistakes, or maybe he felt more comfortable ‘making a mistake’ than admitting he didn’t have enough money to cover his side of the bill — or maybe he’s legit taking advantage of you. You’ll never know until you ask him — and stop comparing him to others’ boyfriends.
Finally, if you want to feel pampered — start earning, budget, and take yourself out to the spa. The feeling of being financially independent enough to pamper yourself is far headier than the feeling you’ll get from having a dude foot the bill, sweet pea.
RD: Firstly, I think it’s an unfair expectation you’re putting on your partner that he should pamper you and pay for your outings. I get that we all want to feel cared for, but him showering money on you is simply a reflection of some gender roles we’ve all been conditioned with, and they seem to be rearing their heads in your relationship. In my opinion, splitting everything 50/50 — especially if both parties can afford it — is the healthiest thing to do in a relationship, so I don’t think you’re missing out on anything. There are 100 other, more real ways in which two people can show each other they care, without bringing money into the equation.
As for your second issue, if he’s actually misrepresenting bills and lying to you, I think you should confront him. Hiding anything in a relationship isn’t healthy. I get that money can be a touchy subject to talk about, but if you’re feeling cheated, you have to bring it up with him. (Although, him wanting to save for the future is a completely valid desire, but ideally it’s one he’d share and communicate with you about, rather than leave you feeling confused and suspicious.)