There are two salacious relationship topics that I can’t get enough of: x and money. (If you want to solve for x, here’s the following math problem: x + money = prostitution.) Let’s talk about money, which oddly enough is the more taboo of the two topics. We're all protective of our intimate relationships, and how we split (or don't) our money is frankly nobody's business. So, remembering that everyone makes different choices in this regard, let's jump right in.
One of my first moments of 'wow, might want this to be a relationship that never ends' with Sebastien happened when we were flying back from winter break in Florida. My flight, on the day before spring semester started, was routed to go through Atlanta to Pittsburgh. The flight to Atlanta was on as scheduled, but everything from Atlanta was cancelled and expected to be for the next few days due to a storm. Basically, I was going to be stranded in Atlanta (where I knew nobody) for several days, while missing the FIRST DAYS OF CLASS. It was terrible and stressful and the airline wasn't being helpful and wanted me to just fly to Atlanta and deal. I was basically standing in lots of lines and crying.
Sebastien talked to a few airlines to see if anyone had direct flights to Pittsburgh, or flights from Atlanta that weren't scheduled. He eventually found out the cost of buying a ticket for his flight to NJ, from where he would be driving to school and could take me with him, so I would only miss one day of class and avoid being stranded. He offered to pay for my ticket, which I declined, so he took my card, bought the ticket for me, and made sure I made it to NJ and then to school safely.
Basically, it's amazing to have someone that takes care of you when/if you're not doing a good job of taking care of yourself. One of my favorite things about being in a relationship is that there's someone else who's completely on your team. And it's awesome to have someone else whose happiness and success in life is your priority and your happiness too. But, for me, being taken care of financially is not part of the whole relationship deal. Unequal relationships make me uncomfortable. But this concept of 'equality' is also quite complicated for me, as I suspect it is for others.
Was it right of Sebastien to offer to pay for my ticket? For sure (I think). Would I take him up on it? Never. But, did I pay for most of our fancy dinners out when Sebastien lived with me while waiting for his job security clearance? Yes. Did Sebastien pay for lots of things when I lived with him between employment and grad school? Oh yeah. Do we occasionally treat the other? Yes, and we don't keep tabs on who pays for what, as long as it seems reasonably divided.
If I may reference game theory (& this urge to use game theory as a tool for describing my life has been happening way too frequently as of late), my happy relationship involves both people being willing to do almost anything monetarily or emotionally for the other person, with the equilibrium involving both individuals taking care of themselves and not needing to take the other up on any extravagant offers. And maybe we wouldn't be able to take of ourselves as well without the love and support of our partner -- we know they'd go to great lengths for us and make sure they don't have to.
I've rarely had money conflicts in my relationship, though our discussion of what retirement will look like did get pretty heated at one point. (Yeah, I made us have that conversation … multiple times. I used to watch a lot of House Hunters - 'nuff said.) What can get uncomfortable is when your value differences or interests clash -- he/she's willing or dying to pay lots of money for activity x or trip y, and you're all "frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn". My philosophy is that I want to do everything that makes my fiance happy, but I don't change who I am. I'd rather enjoy our mutual independence than suffer through an activity I find pointless. (Like, ahem, video games.) Do your thing, but if you want me there it'll require some effort or compromise. Time apart? I know we'll both enjoy it. Time together - makes me happy too. That arrangement works for us - I might pick up the tab to go to the symphony, he'll pay for the gas to visit family. And when I want to shell out for a bottomless brunch, I go with my girlfriends. And if Sebastien decides to travel to Asia? Probably not with me.
What kind of financial arrangements work for you and your partner? How did you get to your happy financial place? Or if not, what's been hard to navigate? Any tips or advice for others?