Welcome to Tough Love. Every other week, we’re answering your questions about dating, breakups, and everything in between. Our advice giver is Blair Braverman, dogsled racer and author of Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube. Have a question of your own? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My partner has run a mountain half marathon for a couple of years. Last year, after about a month of dating (things went fast), he asked me to go with him. The trip was about ten days—including the car ride to/from the race and camping for several days to train at elevation so he can acclimate.
I went. For some reason, I thought he would pay, or had already paid for, the basic parts of the trip: rooms for the nights we would be on the road, a camping site, and associated costs like a trolley that would take him up and down the mountain before the race for acclimating at the top. He hadn’t. So I went and paid for my share, which would be fine; I always do on dates. But I felt that basically I was there to pay for half of his trip. Also, our relationship was young. It didn’t feel like a trip for a committed couple—just me tagging along while he did his thing. That would also be fine. I like to spend a lot of time on my own. But I am a freelance editor, so I don’t have the means to do it in such an expensive way.
We are now living together. This year, he is going to run the whole marathon up and down the mountain. I would like to support him, and I am a little worried about him since it is his first time doing so. But it would be very difficult financially. Money is very tight—more than other years. I barely have enough money for my basic expenses this year. An over-$800 vacation is not easy for me.
This is getting long. But I have so many questions:
- Is it fair for him to ask me to pay for everything for this kind of trip?
- Would it be fair for me to accept his offer to pay for some parts of the trip, like the flight (maybe using frequent flier miles) or the trolley rides (they’re expensive!)?
- How can I support him but not put myself in a bad financial situation?
- If I don’t go, what is the best thing I can do to support him and not create tension/disappointment in our relationship?
Money isn’t fair. It’s time to spend less energy worrying about what’s fair, and more time coming up with a solution that feels good for both of you.
It seems like you take pride in always paying your share. And that’s great! But paying for your half of dates, especially early dates, is different from paying for half of everything in a relationship. When you’re first dating someone, splitting costs is a way to express values, determine boundaries, and signal the kind of relationship you’re looking for. But now that you and your boyfriend are living together, you’re moving toward a shared household economy. Some of that economy is financial, regardless of how you choose to combine or separate expenses. But much of the economy consists of labor, both physical and emotional: the things you do to keep your home and relationship running smoothly. Maybe you grow a garden, and you both enjoy having fresh vegetables and flowers. Maybe he struggles with depression, and you’re always there to remind him, with love and patience, that he’s not going to feel like this forever. Maybe he draws a bath for you after a long day, and throws out the gross stuff from the back of the refrigerator. All of these things are part of your shared currency.
You’re a team, and right now he has more money than you do. But there’s a good chance, if you’re together long-term, that there will be times when you’re the one who’s able to do more, whether it’s because of money or time or health. That’s part of the beauty of family: you can absorb each other’s needs.
The big question is, do you want to go on this trip, or would you rather find a way to support your guy from a distance? If you don’t want to go—if the stress outweighs the excitement—then consider this column permission for you to stay home (given, of course, that you’re honest with him about the reasons you’re staying). You can hide notes in your boyfriend’s luggage and send him texts to say you’re thinking of him and have his favorite snacks waiting when he gets home. Money stress can be hell on a relationship, and by making responsible decisions for yourself, you’re also protecting him.
If you want to be there in person, then it is absolutely reasonable for your boyfriend to cover some of your costs, provided that he’s able and happy to do so. He’s going anyway, and his trip will be more fun with company; plus, it’s a chance for him to celebrate a major accomplishment with his partner by his side. You should sit down together, look at the funds you both have available, and calculate a budget for the trip. If it’s too expensive, you can work together to come up with cheaper options: you could split a hotel room with another racer, or stay at a campground. You could skip the trolley in the days before the race so you can catch up on freelance work at a coffee shop.
It might be daunting to have this kind of conversation with someone else, but as a general rule, the scarier an honest conversation seems, the more vital it is, and the more rewarding it can be in the end. Consider this an important step in your relationship. You’re learning how to support him—and he’s learning how to support you, too.