Dear Dr. NerdLove,
I’ve have been dating my girlfriend for about four months now.
It was some sort of non-official “valentines day” here in my country yesterday and we went to a bar to grab something to eat. of course I paid the bill. I pay the bill 97% of the time.
Anyway, my girlfriend bought me a T-shirt. Seems like she really wanted something in return. I didn’t get her anything because I was extremely busy with work.
We went to bed and then she started crying, blaming me for not “investing” enough in her, and that her female friends got a lot of presents flowers etc from their boyfriends. This makes me mad, because I give her a lot of attention love and always see her for at least one time in the middle of the week and we spend every weekend together and we talk all of the time over the phone and instant-message all day long.
What is it with women that they feel like they “need to be bought”? What? Isn’t my company enough? I never ask nothing but for her time and company.
Why is she reacting so badly?
In my way of thinking, we are two people who don’t want or need anything but each other’s company and time. but apparently it seems not the case for her.
She doesn’t seem like a gold digger to me, or am I just avoiding facing the truth?
What should I do?
Not A Walking ATM
What should you do? You should use your words.
There are two distinct possibilities here. The first is that your girlfriend is very materialistic and expects you to express your feelings for her in concrete, material fashion. Maybe she’s a gold-digger – although unless she’s constantly pressuring you for gifts and clothes and to pay her expenses, I’m kind of doubting it – or maybe she’s kind of an asshole. I dated one woman who resented when I made her hand-made gifts or original paintings and drawings for her for Christmas and Valentine’s day because “I liked doing that” and thus “it wasn’t as much of a sacrifice”; in her mind, gifts didn’t “count” unless I was somehow inconvenienced in the process of getting them for her. To her, the more inconvenience I had to go through to get it for her, the more it showed I really cared. Never mind that effort was involved with the gifts I did give; the fact that I enjoyed the process somehow negated everything else.
The other, and the one that I suspect is more likely, is that there’s some miscommunication and unspoken expectations going on.
Let’s take the unofficial Valentine’s Day thing. While there’re exceptions (in Japan, women buy chocolate for men on Valentine’s Day. Guys are expected to return the favor on White Day… did I mention that both of these are entirely commercial holidays?), most gift-giving holidays are reciprocal. In your case: your girlfriend bought you a shirt, specifically because of this unofficial holiday; she was probably expected you to buy something for her as well in acknowledgement of the holiday and your relationship together. When you didn’t, you may have accidentally sent the message that you don’t care quite as much about her or the relationship. This wasn’t a case of “I bought you something just because I thought you’d like it and I wanted to do something sweet for you,” it was part of the presumed social contract.
Now, it’s entirely possible that you think this holiday is stupid and pointless, especially if it’s just an assumed thing instead of a “real” holiday. God knows I’ve made my views about the official Valentine’s Day rigamarole completely clear. It’s entirely possible you see this unofficial holiday as “lover’s day of obligation” and kind of insulting to everybody involved. But unless you’ve actually, y’know, shared this opinion with your girlfriend, then it looks more like you snubbed her than anything else.
I’m suspecting, though, that this case of “mismatched expectations” is an ongoing thread through your entire relationship. You see your spending as much time with her as possible, calling and texting with her and taking her out to dinner as ways of showing your affection for her. She on the other hand, may see this as “business as usual” – the way that couples are expected to act when they’re dating. And in fairness… she’s not entirely wrong. In general, when you’re in a relationship with someone, not just dating casually, it’s presumed that you’re going to see each other fairly often. Maybe you have an incredibly busy schedule and you have to move Heaven and Earth in order to make time to see her… but if she doesn’t know that, then how’s she supposed to appreciate it?
(And let’s be honest: everything becomes routine after a while when you do it over and over again. Taking time to do something out of the ordinary is one of the ways people show affection for people they care about.)
This also applies to who’s paying for meals – the dominant assumption in most Western countries is that the guy pays for dates. In practice, this can be completely different for every couple – the woman may pay, they may split the bill, they may alternate paying, whomever has more disposable income may pay the lion’s share, etc – but if she’s a “traditional values” kind of woman, than she may well see this as “just how things are” and not realize that you have issues with this.
And here’s the secret: unless you tell her about your feelings on the matter, she’s never going to know. Women aren’t mind-readers. Shocking, I know. You can’t expect her to magically intuit the way you feel about this, especially if she sees your behavior through the lens of “this is how things are supposed to be”.
That’s the glorious thing about relationships: you get to set your own rules and standards. But that doesn’t work unless you talk about them. This is why communication is so goddamn important when it comes to dating – neither of you can know how the other feels or what they expect unless you actually tell them. Neither of you can rely on “all guys do X” and “all women do Y” or expect the other person to just figure things out.
It’s entirely possible that she’s a gold-digger. Or she might be someone measures affection in material goods – especially if she’s complaining that “all her friends get showered in gifts” by their boyfriends. It could well be that she wakes up humming “Material Girl” like a personal anthem, pouring over her Pintrest image board of gifts she expects her boyfriends to give her. But you don’t know that – and you can’t know that – until the two of you sit down and talk about your relationship, how you express your feelings and what you expect from one another. Until you do that, you’re just making assumptions and I really don’t want to finish typing out that fucking cliche about “when you assume”.
So before you go assuming that your girlfriend is expecting you to buy her affections, you need to have a conversation about just how you both see this relationship, how you expect it to work and how you show your feelings for one another. It may be miscommunication. It may be that at your core, you’re not compatible. But you won’t know unless you talk to each other.
Use your words.