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Your Turn: “He Can’t Afford to Take Me Out”

Much money 07

I’m 21 and in a relationship with my loving 22-year-old boyfriend. He’s a very good guy and he completely understands me, so in general we are very happy together. He’s so good, in fact, that I’m worried that I’ll never find another guy like him so I’m scared of losing him. However, he’s financially stressed and just recently he cried in front of me, saying he doesn’t feel like he has any financial freedom because of his mortgage (yes, he started young, indeed).

I’m still a college student and, with my grades, my future is set as I already have a job waiting for me upon graduation. I’m also working at a decent agency in my field, so I have no money issue and I’m living comfortably. But despite having my own income, I’d like to be treated every now and then by my boyfriend. Because of his saying that he’s incapable of taking me out, I feel a little unhappy and disappointed.

Am I being selfish? Is it wrong for me to be upset over this? I know I shouldn’t stress him further by expecting him to bring me to nice places, but that’s what I ultimately wish for in a relationship. What’s more important? Is it wise to give up on love for money? — Likes Being Treated


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avatar jlb80 August 21, 2014, 8:26 am

I have a few questions that it might be helpful to think through: Will his financial situation change over time? Do you think he will ever be able to earn enough for you to live together at the socioeconomic level that will make you happy? If what is at the bottom of your question is a concern about future economic contribution, that can be a valid concern.
On a slightly different tack, does he take advantage of other ways to show you his love? If you feel like the only thing he does to show you he thinks you’re special is to take you out to dinner, and he can no longer do so, I can see why you might feel like this financial blow to him is also a blow to your relationship.
If he’s acting responsible with the little money he has (which it sounds like he is), I don’t think you should discourage that. If you like to be treated, maybe challenge him to come up with cool things to do together that aren’t as costly. For instance, many art museums have music and drinks after hours to get more people in the door – things like that feel posh without actually being very expensive.

avatar MissyC August 21, 2014, 8:27 am

You are young, just 22 years old. Don’t be so scared that you’ll never find a man as good as he is and really listen to what your wants and needs are in a relationship. Yes, this relationship in particular, but also relationships in general.

Do you want to be taken out to nice restaurants and treated to fancy gifts? Or would you rather rent a Red Box movie, make a dinner together, and set up a picnic on your living room floor? Which is more important for you: quality times or quality items? If your answer is the former, then try to cut your boyfriend some slack. He is financially strapped and feels at times overwhelmed. You don’t mention if he is in school or has a job, or is trying to land his dream job or at the bottom rung in his company, but he is still quite young and can afford to take some time to get financially secure. If your answer is the latter, than perhaps this is not the man or the relationship for you.

Is it selfish to want nice things? No. But if you expect these things from a man who you know cannot give them to you, then that *might be* a bit selfish. Let him find a woman who will appreciate the non-monetary things that he can give, and give yourself the time and space to find a man who can support you in all of the ways — including financially — that you prefer.

avatar karenwalker August 21, 2014, 8:55 am

Congratulations on already having a job lined up for after graduation! Have contracts been signed yet? Just make sure it is a firm offer before celebrating or making any plans based on your anticipated salary.

It sounds like your boyfriend has bit off more than he can chew. A mortgage is a big responsibility, and not one many 22 year olds have. You say you want your boyfriend to treat you every now and then. A date doesn’t have to cost a lot of money and as a college student you should have access to free or discounted events and places that he can treat you to. Your city probably offers a variety of free or low cost options for everyone, not just students. Or you can stay in and he could cook you a nice meal. There are plenty of inexpensive options your boyfriend can pursue to treat you to a good time and make you feel special.

I am wondering if you equate a “nice place” with an expensive place. If that’s the case, how frequently do you want to be treated to an expensive place? Typically, most couples reserve the more expensive options for special occasions and are not the norm for most dates. Also, if you’re financially comfortable, why not treat yo’ self?!

If you want someone who can splurge on you all the time, you can definitely find that, but it doesn’t sound like your boyfriend is currently in a position to do that.

avatar Jenny August 21, 2014, 9:10 am

Very wise advice, but I’m giving you a thumbs up just for “treat yo’ self”. LW…treat yo’ self, indeed!

FireStar FireStar August 21, 2014, 9:46 am

Treat the boyfriend. You want to have fancy dinners out – then have them… and pick up the tab. Boyfriend can treat on the low key dates. That is if you are more interested in dating the person and not their bank account. If you want to date a bank account – well then have at it.

avatar jlyfsh August 21, 2014, 9:41 am

Yes to the making sure the job is actually going to happen! You just never know what might happen. Assuming she’s in college and graduating this year? There are anywhere from 4 to 9 months between graduation and starting the job.
I also agree on what ‘nice’ place means and how often you want that to happen. Financial compatibility is very important to a relationship. But, financial compatibility is about more than both partners making the same amount or being able to afford something. It’s about wanting to spend the same amount too. You could find someone who makes enough to take you ‘nice’ places, but they find it to be an expense that isn’t worth it. Or like you said something that is reserved for a few times a year. Something else the LW might want to consider.
Doesn’t mean this guy is or isn’t right for LW but maybe think about your over all financial compatibility. What you both prefer to spend your money on, what your visions are as far as saving, spending, etc.

avatar Portia August 21, 2014, 10:44 am

I agree so much on financial compatibility. It does not mean being able to take you to X number of dates that cost $Y, it’s about being on the same page in terms of how you want to spend your money. Save or spend? Physical things or experiences? Many inexpensive things for variety or fewer more expensive things for quality? Not everyone’s answer is going to be the same, but it’s more important to be on the same page in terms of these things than the amount of money they spend on you.

avatar mainer August 21, 2014, 9:09 am

In 7-10 years, this is going to be the type of situation you look back on and ask yourself “what was I thinking?!” I know at 21, about to graduate college and have a steady job waiting for you, you think you have everything you want figured out. But there are things you’ll come to realize as you mature in the post-college “adult” world.
1. Paraphrasing your first paragraph, “having a loving boyfriend who is a good guy who understands you, where you two are very happy together and he’s so good you’re scared of losing him” will quickly rise to the top of your list in desirable traits in a partner, more so than fancy meals and nice trips by some guy who treats you okay, you know, most of the time, and who means well, but is just emotionally distant sometimes.
2. Everybody is poor when they’re in their young 20s. What you should be looking at is the bigger picture. He has a mortgage. That means he is making an investment in a property that, the more he pays into, the more he stands to get back whenever he chooses to sell (baring another housing crash). He may even be in the fortunate position to have his house/condo increase in value, so when he sells he will make a profit that can be used toward the downpayment of an even nicer house.
3. And finally, when you’re in a relationship with someone with whom you see a future, and possibly even marriage (which, you’re only 21, no need to jump the gun if you’re not ready), then there are no breadwinners and there is no tit-for-tat of “well I paid last time” or “my present was nicer than the one you gave me.” Ultimately, each person’s success is in the best interest of you both. You each will have high points and low points, but the idea is to ride those out together and support each other. Because there may come a time in your life where you are down and out and he is doing very well. And would you want him to walk away just because you can’t afford to take him out on nice meals?

Eljay Eljay August 21, 2014, 9:22 am

Perfection. Thank you for saying so eloquently that which I could not. Please listen to this, LW. You have a good man. A responsible man. A caring and thoughtful man. One who so badly WANTS to do nice things for you – so much so that he broke down in front of you because he can’t at the moment. I’d kill for one of those. Chill out on the material things and just enjoy this wonderful man you have so luckily found.

avatar Vathena August 21, 2014, 12:02 pm

Agree x 1000.

avatar Jenny August 21, 2014, 9:14 am

I think it is kind of selfish to want someone you care about to risk their financial security in order to take you out to dinner. So, you have 2 options…1) Accept that, for the time being (and possibly forever?) this guy isn’t going to be able to do that for you or 2) Break up with him and find someone who can. It’s not shallow to worry about money, money is important! And if you want a guy who can afford to take you out, that’s perfectly fine, too. Just don’t pressure your boyfriend who can’t afford it to do so, because paying your mortgage is way more important than an overpriced meal at a restaurant.

Amanda Amanda August 21, 2014, 9:21 am

It’s only selfish it you demand it from somebody who can’t give it. That being send, I think you do need to understand that just because he can’t treat you with nice dinners doesn’t mean he doesn’t care about you. Money does not equal love.
To answer your last questions: neither is more important. It just comes down to which is more important for you. And if his lifestyle isn’t one you can see yourself being happy with, then it is perfectly fine to move on.

FireStar FireStar August 21, 2014, 9:35 am

Is it wise to give up love for money? It depends on your priorities. If you prioritize money and fancy dinners and material things over commitment and having a loving partner – then yes for you it is wise to give up love for money. Think about the partner you want – you want someone to wine and dine you and shower you with gifts…and then what if he is a jackass that ignores your feelings and is emotionally distant? Is that a better situation? If you are saying you want it all – dreamy guy swimming in disposable income then some growing up is needed on your part. It sounds to me that you have a boyfriend who has decided home ownership is a solid investment in his future even if he has to take a hit now. Sounds like a responsible type of guy. If you have funds then why don’t you treat the two of you to the expensive dinners and then he can fund the picnic dates or the buy the ice cream after a walk or cook you dinner in his house. There are no guarantees in life…even with your job lined up after school – you have no idea how your future will unfold. Would you be okay with someone cutting you loose because you couldn’t afford the type of lifestyle they want? If you would be and if you can’t enjoy doing cheap and cheerful things together then cut him free to find a girl that will be happy with what he already brings to the table.

Kate B. Kate B. August 21, 2014, 2:02 pm

“If you prioritize money and fancy dinners and material things over commitment and having a loving partner – then yes for you it is wise to give up love for money. ” I wish I could love this a thousand times.

avatar CellarDoor August 21, 2014, 9:35 am

It sounds like you just want to be young and have fun, and you don’t really want the type of serious relationship that might come from dating a guy with a mortgage who is clearly thinking long-term rather than for just now. So cut him loose. Let him save his cash and prepare for his future and then meet a girl who will be impressed by his hard work and maturity. Meanwhile, go have a bunch of fun dates or even an intensely passionate but clearly misguided relationship or two with guys that will shower you with gifts and fancy dinners. You’re only 21! Nows the time for all that. And when you’re in your 30s and finally ready for a nice guy that has a good head on his shoulders, then look to meet a guy like your current boyfriend. But let him go now, because you aren’t mature enough for him yet, and that’s totally ok. But please, don’t stay with him and give him grief about his financial choices. Oh, and don’t go and charge a bunch of expensive stuff on future assumed income…nothing, not even a job supposedly waiting for you after graduation, is certain.

avatar Christy August 21, 2014, 11:37 am

Yes, exactly this! You don’t sound like you want to be dating someone who has a mortgage, so don’t date him! That’s totally ok.

And honestly, anytime anyone ever says “I’m afraid I won’t find someone as good as my current partner” when they are considering the possibility of breaking up with said current partner, they should always just break up. Because you shouldn’t be considering the idea of your partner and whether or not you could replace him. You should be considering the actuality of him. And it sounds like you’re not crazy about the actuality of him.

avatar Portia August 21, 2014, 9:41 am

One’s income levels can change drastically over time. Whether someone treats you well or has other desirable traits, that is far less likely to change over time. As long as he’s not cash-strapped because he’s lazy or had an expensive habit (shopping, gambling, horses, drugs), this money issue is really only temporary. And really, having a mortgage shows financial responsibility. If you’re OK being “treated” in less expensive or free ways, give him ideas! It sounds like he’d be happy to treat you if he had the means. But to me it does sound like you’re throwing away something good over very superficial reasons.

Crochet.Ninja Crochet.Ninja August 21, 2014, 9:43 am

yea, I think you’re being selfish.

Like others have said, does it look like his financial outlook will change? Is he capable of earning a decent living to live on his own? look at the overall picture. It’s possible you decide that you’re not financially compatible.

but complaining – when you CAN afford it – that he’s not treating you, is selfish and childish.

avatar Lily in NYC August 21, 2014, 9:50 am

If your idea of love is getting gifts and being taken to nice places, then you are in for a lifetime of disappointment. Go for the guy who treats you well. Being a gold-digger is overrated unless you really like sex with older dudes who treat you like an object.

fast eddie fast eddie August 21, 2014, 10:37 am

What part of “I’m broke” don’t you get? Get the fuck out of his life, he deserves better.

avatar lets_be_honest August 21, 2014, 10:42 am

Clap! I’m surprised how nice these comments are.

TaraMonster TaraMonster August 21, 2014, 11:03 am

Seriously. The whole time I was thinking, “So you’re disappointed that your caring, financially responsible boyfriend, who is temporarily strapped due to long-term planning, can’t take you out to nice dinners? GTFO.”

Diablo Diablo August 21, 2014, 10:49 am

Right on, eddie. Set the poor guy free, and let him find someone who’ll value him for the great guy he likely is. I was 36 the first time I had a mortgage, so I definitely wouldn’t meet the LW’s standards. And BTW, not only is no aspect of your future set at 21, but if it was, it might be the saddest thing about this letter.

muchachaenlaventana muchachaenlaventana August 21, 2014, 10:54 am

Yeah I haven’t responded because I can’t actually write something constructive I don’t think so am just going through and thumbing up others comments. I’ll just add that I am so broke right now and my boyfriend is essentially carrying the load for our relationship financially and I make it up to him in little ways but if this was his mindset, I mean honestly—that all of our awesomeness together, how great I am and how much we love each other could be negated by something like me not being able to treat him–I would hope he would break up with me because honestly that sort of sucks.

avatar MissyC August 21, 2014, 11:00 am

I will say that I *really* wanted to write something snarky. But since it is one where Wendy didn’t give her advice first, I wanted to at least try and say something productive. But it took some time to figure out what to say…

Diablo Diablo August 21, 2014, 11:12 am

Mucha, i was broker than broke before I met M (at age 22, BTW), a grad student living on $485 (Canadian!) a month. I would pay my rent, do one big shop for food and then have basically maybe fifty bucks for the entire rest of the month. Couldn’t afford transit so i rode my bike year-round for five years in the Canadian winter. yet i found ways of showing her she was special, by cooking for her, sharing a bottle of cheap wine, taking her for walks by the river, seeing free concerts, etc. My ability to “treat” her luckily had nothing to do with it, or she would have lost me. We grew together and earned our money together, so nobody treated anybody, we just made our choices with our resources. Oh, we “treated” each other all right. Let’s see, what’s super fun, costs way less than cable TV and everybody is born with the necessary gear? F**k supper, let’s….

avatar something random August 21, 2014, 11:21 am

That’s beautiful,Diablo. You guys are lucky to have each other. What a great example of how imagination trumps cash in courting each other.

muchachaenlaventana muchachaenlaventana August 21, 2014, 11:33 am

haha yes! I am basically the same way–I do try to give back though by giving him little surprises, cooking him dinner, and just in general being a really great girlfriend. I know he appreciates it even more when I do pay for something, because it isn’t always something I can easily do. I sometimes feel so guilty I don’t have the funds and he has to pay for 98% of everything, but he never makes me feel bad for it. It just upsets me that this could be seen as something that I could get dumped for but it has been worrying my a lot lately like–what if he doesn’t always want to deal with me not being able to afford things he wants to do. It is stressful but your story is lovely.

avatar something random August 21, 2014, 11:29 am

Most people people have to live frugally during large patches of life. Some people have to live that way their entire life. It can be a trade off for doing work that is fulfilling and joyful. Very few get to live high on the hog all the time unless they are trust fund babies (not judging, just saying)

fast eddie fast eddie August 22, 2014, 11:29 am

It takes money to have the necessities, (food, shelter, etc.) but an abundance of money will not assure happiness. That being said it’s always been a priority for me and I forfeited some promising relationships for my lack of it. My wife took me on/in during a very difficult time in my life when I was deed broke, deep in debt and unemployed. She claimed it my cute butt that attracted her. In later years she fessed up that I had been successful before my crash and believed that I would be again. She was right and after several years of struggle and working together we’ve done exponentially better then either of us ever imagined 28 years ago. I’m luckier then I deserve that she stuck by and supported me.

Red_Lady Red_Lady August 21, 2014, 10:37 am

If what you really want from a relationship is to go out to nice places, and you don’t want to have to pay for it yourself, then maybe this relationship isn’t for you right now. You’re young, so you’re probably not thinking much about the long-term right now. Because long-term, this guy sounds great. Financial status changes, especially through your 20s. You both are just starting out. If the only problem is that he can’t take you out right now (but he has the motivation/opportunity to do so in the future), then you really need to think about just how important expensive dates are to you right now.

Kate B. Kate B. August 21, 2014, 10:39 am

A mortgage is a big deal. At 22, it’s unusual and should be applauded. However, it does sounds like he may have bought more home than he can afford. My advice for him is to consult a financial adviser about possibly refinancing. My advice for you is to decide which is more important: the guy or what he can buy? I get that you like to be treated. Who doesn’t? But, if the kind of treating you have in mind requires a lot of money, your boyfriend just can’t give that to you right now. The last thing he needs is a girlfriend who wants him to go into debt spending more money than he can afford. So, if you want to eat out at fancy restaurants or take expensive vacations or whatever treating means to you, you will have to accept that, for now at least, you will have to pay for it. Men have been doing this for decades. Welcome to equality. Your boyfriend is investing in his financial security. He sounds responsible, which is an excellent trait in a partner. You want what you want. If this guy isn’t worth spending some money on, then this relationship is not right for you.

Red_Lady Red_Lady August 21, 2014, 1:20 pm

I like that – the guy or what he can buy.
And the thing is, what he can buy is more likely to change over the years than the guy will.

coconot coconot August 21, 2014, 10:50 am

When I was 21 I had barely any money but still had fun. There’s lots of inexpensive romantic dates like being in nature, candlelit dinners at home, free or cheap concerts and movies, etc. It’s good to learn to live simply, especially in the early years.

That said, I need to disagree with most of the commenters that say she’s being selfish. He’s not broke, he’s choosing to invest in a mortgage. If these two don’t end up married and sharing finances in the long term (very likely they won’t marry given their age), you could actually say he’s being selfish by investing in his own future and letting her pay for all their fun now. Really we have too little info to know either way.

If you really love him, try to find a happy medium where he invests more effort and planning into dates and you invest more money. But if having (more expensive) fun while you’re young is important to you, don’t feel guilty about leaving him.. And whatever you do, don’t let him take advantage of you while he secures his own finances.

avatar jlyfsh August 21, 2014, 11:07 am

Is she paying for ‘all’ their fun now though? Or just some? It’s fine if she can’t have fun while being cheaper, but fun doesn’t have to equal expensive. Nor does it mean expensive to everyone, not even those who can afford it! I don’t think either one is selfish, I think they are just prioritizing different things. It would be selfish of him to expect her to fund his life, and it would selfish of her to expect him to go in to debt for her fun. But, at the moment neither are being selfish.

avatar something random August 21, 2014, 11:00 am

I think it would be selfish for you to stay in this relationship and feel constantly disappointed by your man because you are scared you can’t find someone else is good and loving.

Attitudes about money, spending, saving, and a general standard of living are a HUGE component of a shared life together. They are frequently sited as a primary stressor that breaks marriages up. If you feel unsatisfied with your boyfriend’s standard of living and investments this early, I’d move on.

P.S., As a lot of people have mentioned, there is a time in life to live on less and put away for later on. You might find in 15 years or so, the financial losers to be the real winners.

othy othy August 21, 2014, 11:02 am

When I was in my early 20s, I was amazed at how quickly my financial situation could change, for the good and the not so good. And when I was doing well, I made sure to pinch every last penny for my ‘just in cases’, which happened more often than I would have liked. I, too, had good grades in school and a potential job lined up. Which fell through before I graduated. So I came home, and got a job that I worked for a few months, but it wasn’t a good fit, and I had to look for a new job. My next job was one that had a lot of potential for bonuses, but my income wasn’t consistent. I wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I finally got a job with a reliable (and good) paycheck.

Thankfully, my boyfriend/husband (we got married somewhere in the middle of all of this) didn’t need to go out on fancy dates. Yes, we enjoy going out and spending a lot on a meal, but we decided we enjoyed the financial security of an emergency fund more. So both of us were just as happy to go rent a movie, come home and make frozen pizzas, and cuddle on the couch. And now that I’m almost 30, I am so thankful that we lived well within our means in our younger years. It meant that I was able to pay cash for my grad school tuition and graduate debt free. It meant that we were able to buy our first house when I was 24, and we’ve actually been paying of extra, shortening the term of the mortgage. My 401ks are well beyond where they ought to be for someone my age.

If your boyfriend has already purchased a house a 22, it shows that he really is thinking long term. Cut him some slack, and realize that if you choose to stay with him, this will be very good for your future. If you want to go out on fancy dates, save up and treat. If you really want to be wined and dined, break up with him and let some other lucky girl get him.

avatar something random August 21, 2014, 11:10 am

Congratulations and good for you for your wise financial planning! Its refreshing to hear.

findingtheearth findingtheearth August 21, 2014, 11:41 am

There are so many fun and exciting things to do for cheap when you are in college, or whatever age, really. Your relationship should not be dependent on his bank account. We live in such an instant gratification, shallow society, that people actually think “swag” is all that matters. It’s horrible. I feel kind of bad for this guy, he obviously is trying to be smart and plan for his future, and his girlfriend doesn’t care because she wants stuff over substance.

avatar AliceInDairyland August 21, 2014, 11:43 am

Why doesn’t LW just see if BF would be comfortable with her getting a sugar daddy on the side? She can then go out to fancy dinners and wear cute clothes and monetize her youth. I don’t really see the problem in this scenario..

avatar something random August 21, 2014, 11:59 am


veritek33 veritek33 August 21, 2014, 11:48 am

So here’s my experience. In my last relationship we were matched pretty equally in terms of salary. However, I bought a house at 24 and have students loans and a car payment, etc. My ex only had a house payment, no car -no credit card – no student loans, etc.
I made it very clear from the beginning that I didn’t have money for a lot of “extras”. My way of treating him was to make dinner myself because it costs less or to come up with inexpensive ways to have fun (bowling, movies etc.) In the beginning this didn’t bother him, but apparently he got very resentful that I couldn’t take him out to fancy dinners and pay for all his drinks expensive tastes and blah blah blah. I also was berated because I wouldn’t be able to help pay for the big fancy wedding he wanted because I was working to just make ends meet.

It’s okay if you want to break up with him or look other places, but it does sound like he made it very clear that this was his financial situation from the beginning. And having been on the other side, I wish the ex had broken up with me long before he did if that’s all he wanted was someone to spend a lot of money on him. He’s dating a woman that makes about three times what I do now, so obviously that’s probably what he indeed did want.

I’m not necessarily saying that’s what you want, LW, but if fancy dinners and expensive treats are what you want, he’s made clear he can’t do that. MOA and find someone who wants to and can afford to do that for you.