“I’m giving Peach a trip to Berlin for Christmas,” I started explaining my friend Bobby. “But I used miles for the flights and we’ll be super frugal there so I’m not going to have to pay that much for us to go.”
“Why are you downplaying this?” Bobby asked.
I thought about that for a moment. Why was a downplaying the fact that I bought my boyfriend a trip to Berlin as a Christmas present? I could afford it. I wanted to go and I wanted him to come with me. Why did I feel the awkward need to back pedal about this gift?
“I think it’s because I’m the woman and he’s the man,” I said frankly. “When we posted it on social media a few people automatically assumed it was him gifting it to me, even though the status made it pretty clear it was the other way around. No one bats an eye at a man making big romantic gestures, but it’s emasculating if it’s the woman who earns more and lavishly treats her partner.”
Welcome to the inner workings of my brain and relationship to both romance and money.
I’ve been out earning my long-time, live-in boyfriend (Peach) since the inception of our relationship back in 2010. Granted, I had a head start since I graduated school a year ahead of him and went right into the workforce while he wrapped up undergrad and then went to get his master’s in education. He’s a high school teacher and last year I earned nearly $40,000 more than him. I also have no debt and he’s dealing with some student loans from undergrad – he worked full-time while getting his masters and graduated with no new debt.
I give you all this context because sometimes it feels really awkward that I out earn my boyfriend. It’s not awkward because he feels uncomfortable but more because of outside forces as well as our status as committed and living together, but not married. People make judgements and comments about what happens when a woman earns more and how it emasculates a man based on traditional, heteronormative gender roles. A woman is often encouraged to downplay her success and allow her male partner to pay the bill for the sake of his pride. I’ve written about our income differences before and received comments from anonymous readers that he’ll cheat on me or we’ll get divorced or that I’m a ball buster. All this without ever knowing us or speaking with Peach.
We, as a couple, don’t really subscribe to these ideologies of how we “should” behave as a couple based on our genders. We focus on what works best for us in our relationship and a lot of it has to do with practicality.
Who picks up the bill?
Should I be picking up the tab more often when we go out on dates? Probably. I earn more, it would make sense. I have more discretionary income after all. But is that what we do? No. We’ve evolved to the point of switching on and off or just occasionally splitting the bill evenly. This method works for us and it doesn’t constantly reinforce to either party that we have unequal incomes.
How do we budget?
After moving in together we had to start budgeting as a team. We don’t co-mingle our money, but we do have regular money meetings and serve as accountability partners for each other as well as checking in on the household expenses. I’m in charge of paying the bills, but this is merely because he moved into the apartment where I already lived and had the bills set up in my name. We split everything evenly because that’s what works for us for now. However, I’m not opposed to picking up more of the rent burden to free up money for him to put extra payments towards his student loans.
Debt when you’re together but separate.
I hate debt. I’ve made a lot of my life choices thus far solely based on trying to avoid debt. I went to college where I had scholarship money so I could graduate debt free. Peach did not have the same experience. He graduated with his bachelors carrying a significant chunk of student loan debt. I know that I could throw some of my savings at that debt right now and pay off some of his loans without doing much damage to my financial goals. However, I’m not willing to help aggressively pay down his debt until after we are married and legally tied together. I do believe in joint banking and sharing both our wealth and burdens after marriage – but not before those documents are signed.
Splurging when only one can afford it.
We bank separately. We have different discretionary incomes. We have different abilities to splurge. We live in New York City, which does have a high cost of living. Peach, as a teacher, does make significantly more here than he would in other areas of the country to adjust for this cost of living – but between savings goals, paying off student loans and living expenses – he doesn’t have much excess cash to splurge right now. This means if I want to do something a little more lavish and I want to experience that with him, which I often do, I may need to pick up the tab or subsidize his portion. Most of the time I don’t mind, but I’d be lying if I didn’t think on occasion that it would be nice if he could spoil me the same way. I know he thinks it too.
Hopes for money after marriage.
Many of our pain points as a couple will shift after marriage. I’m likely to still be out earning him, but we both agree that thinking of money as shared is what we want in marriage. Our plan is to have my salary cover the day-to-day expenses and some savings while his goes towards savings and then largely towards his student loans. We can get the student loan burden off our back quickly once we work as a team and then focus on being able to spend both of our incomes where we want instead of where we have to.
Our status quo works for us.
And that’s really all that matters. It’s irrelevant if people think it’s strange I out earn him or believe I need to protect his masculinity by keeping silent about paying for an international vacation. All that matters is that the two of us are secure both in our relationship and the status quo we’ve developed. And that we respect and listen to each other’s thoughts, wishes and goals for our financial future. We don’t let the expected way of doing things dictate how we function as a couple. Otherwise, we would’ve missed out on delicious Berlin doughnuts, pretzels and beer.