Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: My girlfriend and I just went on our first vacation together. I thought it went well, but after we were home she told me she felt I had been cheap because I wanted to split all costs 50-50.
I think cheap would be trying to get away with paying less than half.
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I’m concerned that she and I have fundamentally different attitudes toward money, and also that we have fundamentally different attitudes toward communication, as I think she should have spoken up when I first proposed splitting 50-50, not waited until after the vacation was over.
Do you think this is a major problem? We have talked about marriage, and now I’m starting to think we’re not as compatible as I thought we were.
Dear Vacationer: I’m definitely with you on the communication problem. Yes, it would have helped for her to say something beforehand — if in fact she had doubts then. But even if she wasn’t sure till she actually saw what you meant by “50-50,” then speaking up on the spot would have been the more productive thing to do: “Hey, when you said 50-50, I thought you meant we’d share expenses — but I wasn’t expecting that we’d split every meal down to the loose change.”
You can have widely varying attitudes on money or faith or nutrition or whatever else, but it’s hard to get by contentedly unless you’re able to talk to each other when you’re bothered by something.
She did eventually speak up, though, so you have that. Use it by responding honestly with your concerns. Say you wish she had said something as soon as this bothered her — and ask if there’s a reason she didn’t.
And, ask how she would have preferred to handle the money. Maybe she was fine with splitting but wished it had been less rigid — say, she buys dinner tonight, and you pick up the tab tomorrow, and so on. There’s trust-centered splitting and nitpicky splitting and a vast range in between.
Maybe talking about it will confirm your new suspicions of a significant difference in attitude, which is a good thing to do early, if painful. However, a frank discussion might also reveal that she has some ideas good enough to change your mind. People bring all kinds of differences to a relationship, and while it’s important to keep your essential self intact, it’s also a chance to learn other ways to do things and even incorporate a few upgrades into your worldview and routine.
Dear Carolyn: What is your opinion of someone who goes to lunch with a friend and says nothing as the friend grabs the check and pays the bill? No offer to pay, no, “Thank you,” no words spoken at all.
Paid for Lunch
Dear Paid: My opinion of any non-extreme weirdness, once, is that it’s always possible the person felt awkward and froze.
If it happens multiple times, then my opinion becomes that the recipient of your generosity is either an ingrate or highly socially awkward. And then you face a decision: Is this person’s company worth the price you have to pay for it, literally and figuratively?
Actually that’s always the question, but it can be helpful to walk ourselves up to it.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.