The Moneyist: My girlfriend makes twice what I earn. I reluctantly paid the $200 dinner check for her first promotion. She just got another one. Should I pay again?

United States

Dear Quentin,

A couple of years ago, my girlfriend received a promotion to a management position. We both agreed that we should go out and celebrate her achievement. She has worked hard, and sacrificed a lot to get the title change and pay increase.  

She is very pro-women in the workplace, and supports equal pay. I am for equality as well. A little back story: Her total income was about two times the amount I make. I have no problem that she makes more than me. We have different jobs. 

She lives at my house, and we split everything about 55/45. The majority of the living expenses are my responsibility. So we celebrate, and have a great time. We have drinks, food and dessert. A few hours go by and a $ 200 check arrives. 

‘I am a nurse, and my rewards are when my patients go home.’

Usually, we split the cost of dining 50/50. Although, this time she felt I should pay because we were celebrating her achievement. I ended up paying. A couple of years later, she has received another promotion to director with a pay increase. 

With her promotions, we spend less time together, and I end up taking on more responsibility at home. She feels the same way about this second promotion — I should be the one paying for the celebration. I don’t feel like I should pay.

I have never cared enough to go out to celebrate any of my work life. It is not important to me. I am a nurse, and my rewards are when my patients go home. Should I be the one paying for the night out to celebrate or should she? 

Reluctant Celebrant

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Dear Reluctant,

We — all of us — live in a toxic culture where we must acknowledge and dismantle unconscious bias, but I’m going to level with you. Of course, she would be pro-women in the workplace, and support equality of both pay and conditions. There is a long way to go to ensure there is parity for both pay and career advancement.

Your reluctance to celebrate her achievements because you don’t celebrate your own work achievements makes me wonder if you are less comfortable with her professional and material success than you say or even realize. When you saw that $ 200 check, did you even for a moment reflect on your different salaries?

Your girlfriend wants to celebrate something that is important to her. It doesn’t matter whether a promotion is something that is important to you. She has worked very hard for this advancement at work, as you have noted yourself, and yes she made sacrifices in her personal life to make this happen.

The fact that her increasing seniority means she sometimes spends more time at the office should not tip the scale as to whether you believe you should celebrate her achievement and/or pay for dinner if you do decide to celebrate it. In fact, there should not be a scale or abacus to measure such moments.

There should not be a scale to measure such moments.

You don’t want to celebrate her success. And you don’t want to pay for it. This is a form of protest. Taking such a stance poisons the well of your relationship, and dipping into your wallet reluctantly robs the gesture of all goodwill. It gives your girlfriend the message that her achievements are not important to you.

The nursing profession was once occupied exclusively by women, and like teachers and many other service-industry jobs it is still a vastly underpaid occupation. Your career requires a significant amount of medical expertise, physical labor, stamina, compassion, patience and emotional intelligence, among other attributes. 

Harness those same qualities, gifts and skills at home. We all need to feel valued, and appreciated and feel like we are seen from time to time. For some people, it’s breakfast in bed or a meal. For others, it’s a weekend away, a birthday or, in your case, a promotion at work. It doesn’t happen every day. Pay for the meal.

You should be her No. 1 fan. And she should be yours. If money is tight, you could anticipate her next job or promotion — assuming she gets one — by cooking her a meal at home, with a bottle of champagne, and a bunting to say, “I’m so proud of you and love you!” The price tag actually has very little to do with it.

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