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Is My Boyfriend Cheap, or is He Controlling Me With Money?

Q: My boyfriend of two years and I have been talking of marriage, kids, life, etc. He’s amazing, and we always have fun together. There’s just one little thing that is making me question our future, and it seems really stupid. He’s oddly cheap.

He makes a lot (A LOT) of money—over four times what I make. He takes me out to nice dinners and dates. He drives a very nice car and never hesitates to spend Money on his motor toys. Neither one of us is super into “stuff” and big gifts, but I secretly want him to get me jewelry one day.

The thing is that he will comment and complain about money he spends on me or us. At dinner he sometimes points out the cheapest meal and the cheapest wine even if it’s something I don’t like, and snorts if I might want a second glass or dessert or an appetizer. He’s all about happy hour or getting a great deal. Who isn’t, but it’s all the time. He rarely ever lets me pay for anything, but he reminds me of the nice dinner he took me to or how much he spent on our date night. I paid the bill last weekend, because I didn’t want any comments about my second glass of wine; he forgot I had paid, and the next day asked me if I liked the dinner he took me to. We went to the market together to get stuff to make dinner. I wanted to add nuts to the salad (I’m vegetarian so it’s my protein), but he told me it was getting too expensive as is, so I put them back. I made and cleaned up the entire meal, and he still had the nerve to remind me what a nice dinner he’d gotten for us to make. If we go out for lunch during the week, he always wants to split something, even salad, but then he will get a side for himself, and I’m still slightly hungry.

He’s never really gotten me a “nice” or romantic gift. I know it’s petty, and I don’t need a lot of stuff, but I feel like when it comes to getting me a gift, he just looks for the best deal and doesn’t think about what I might really want. But he will spend a fortune on his own things. It’s just weird, and I don’t even know if I should try and talk to him about it? I feel like I’ll probably end up saying something extremely snarky and sarcastic, and I want to avoid that. Is this a major Red Flag that I’m ignoring?

—Anonymous

A: 

Dear Anonymous,

Yep, it’s a red flag. But let’s be clear about what’s so astounding here.

It’s not the frugality, no. That’s a good thing, no matter how much he has.

It’s not the difference of opinion regarding how the money should be spent. That’s all too normal. Loads of couple work through that one just fine, and it might be easily solved by saying, “Yo, I want a second glass of wine, live with it.”

It’s not even the fact that he spends more on himself than he does on you. That’s thoughtlessness, sure, but your average sort of oblivious selfishness that you can work through in couples counseling.

What really startles me here is how he uses money as a weapon. He’s not only withholding, but then also lords his “generosity” (which is in no way real) over you. In any relationship you have to assess the unspoken power dynamic involved in finances. In this relationship, the power dynamic isn’t unspoken. It’s purposely, intentionally being exploited to create unequal footing.

If this was just about being cheap, about finding common ground in how money should be spent, about the handling of money at all, I’d suggest talking it through. But don’t be distracted by the money angle, here. This is about much more than that, and whoa, it’s a red flag.

—Liz Moorhead

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO ASK APW A QUESTION, PLEASE DON’T BE SHY!

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