During a long and heated discussion about dating and finances here, a guy made the following statement:
“No one should shell out money until you believe you’re going to get a return on your investment.”
When I read that, I kind of cringed. There's something off, in my opinion, about viewing relationships like a business. But I imagine many of us have had, or continue to view all or parts of our relationships - romantic, platonic, even familial - in a transactional/exchange sense. It's another example of how thoroughly the capitalist, consumer-based mentality has penetrated our lives.
Here was my initial response to the comment above:
Perhaps it’s just a nice turn of phrase, man, but if not, you might want to rethink your relationship views. Seeing relationships in a business-model framework, including how you choose to spend or not spend your money, is a road to misery from my experience.
It’s one thing to keep the spending reigned in early on because you’re maintaining a budget, and don’t know the person you’re dating. It’s another to think of your date as not currently worthy of an investment. The money spent might be exactly the same, but the thinking impacts how you treat someone. Any woman I go on a date with I consider a person first and foremost, and because of that, someone who I will my time and attention to on that date, even if we aren’t a match.
I'm fairly convinced that healthy, fulfilling relationships are not based on transactional thinking. When I think of my best friends, for example, there isn't any thought about what they will give me, or not give me. There isn't this sense that they own me something, or that they need to fork up some money, or a gift, or some time even in order to prove they are "a good investment." The connections are so much deeper than that. And in a lot of ways, it doesn't really matter much anymore what we do together, or whether I or friend X has paid for more of this or that.
I consider my immediate family in a similar way, although there is really no way I can ever repay my parents for all they have done for me. Other than to be generous with my time, skills, and life with as many people as possible. But even there, thinking solely in terms of a debt you "can't repay" isn't really helpful. A healthy relationship with a parent is much more, and many of us instinctively understand that, even if we struggle sometimes to articulate it.
But somehow, when it comes to dating, a lot of us seem to think in business terms. In what we can get from another. In what someone has to offer us. In how "worthy" someone is of "our investment" in them.
And I'm convinced that this attitude, and all the behaviors associated with it, often bleed straight into our long term relationships, slowly (or sometimes quickly) poisoning what otherwise might be a great thing. I have certainly been guilty of this in the past. I remember internally tallying expenses I paid on certain trips, or nights out with a former girlfriend who regularly made more money than I did. We rarely argued about money, but I do think that the resentment I had about what I was spending, and her struggles to maintain a decent budget, negatively impacted our relationship. The reality was that any imbalance in spending was probably minimal and so it really was silly to feel resentment, and also let it influence how I viewed her, but I did it anyway. Why? Because some part of me saw the relationship as a series of transactions, and when hers slipped below a certain point, I felt cheated.
I believe she also had some of this attitude. However, instead of money, for her it was about attention and affection. If she felt something was wrong between us, she would withhold not only sex, but most physical attention and contact. Or sometimes, she would heavily increase all of that out of a desperate attempt to please me, or sooth whatever issue was between us. After awhile, I began copying her, almost unconsciously, to the point where during the last several months of our relationship, whenever there was a problem, we did this dance around physical intimacy all driven by a failure to clearly communicate with each other.
Now, I definitely believe there are times during a relationship when one or both partners are totally right to step back from physical intimacy. I have been on both ends of that equation, and don't believe anyone should feel obligated to be physically intimate and sexual with their partners.
But the particular dynamic I wrote about above seemed much more about a transactional approach to relationships than healthy boundaries. Any little disagreement could lead to withholding touch. Or to a ramped up expression of touch that was based both on a fear of loss, and on a sense that in imputing X amount of physical attention will right whatever is wrong.
Have any of you treated your relationships in this way? If you have worked to shift that, how so?
As always, any thoughts or sharing is welcome.