DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: For some reason, I can’t help but compare my relationship with others around me. Today, my girlfriend pointed out that one of her friends was celebrated his 6 month anniversary with his new girlfriend and for the occasion, he bought her a diamond necklace. Nice, right? As soon as she told me this, my brain started piling on the normal sort of guilt I get.
My girlfriend of 9 months, for the most part, is pretty easygoing and for some reason doesn’t expect much from me. She’s told me several times that she’s perfectly happy just being together and doesn’t need all the fancy things all the other guys do for and get their girlfriends. However, when I see what all the other guys do, I can’t help but feel inadequate.
I’m a man of very little means. My job pays barely anything. It’s just enough to pay the bills but it doesn’t leave me much money for anything else. Most days, I can barely afford to go out for a sandwich with my girl. I constantly wish I could do more; bring her flowers, buy her nice things but I just can’t afford to do all those romantic gestures. Occasionally, my girlfriend will make the comment along the lines of “it would be nice if you could do those things” but then immediately back-pedal and say that what I’m doing is enough. But I don’t feel like I’m doing enough.
How do I get out of this mindset, Doc? I want to be able to just enjoy my relationship without getting depressed every time I see a couple doing more.
Broke As A Joke
DEAR BROKE AS A JOKE: Someone forgot to tell me that life has officially started imitating The Simpsons.
Remember the episode where the other husbands in Springfield started getting jealous and feeling inadequate because Apu kept giving his wife all of these increasingly over-the-top gifts?
That’s more or less where your head’s at right now, BOAJ. You’re letting other people’s relationships dictate terms to you, rather than treating your relationship with your partner as its own thing. You are not those other guys, your girlfriend isn’t those other women and trying to follow their playbook is a great way to make yourself miserable because, hey, you’re not them. You don’t have their lives, you don’t have their experiences and your relationship isn’t going to be the same as theirs.
There’s a reason for the old phrase “comparison is the thief of joy,” after all.
You know you don’t have much money. You’re dating someone who knows you don’t have much money and has told you over and over again that she understands and accepts what you can and can’t afford and is, in fact, quite happy with you. So why the hell are you insisting on making yourself miserable by refusing to take “yes” for an answer?
So far, it seems the only person who’s having a problem with your income level is… well, you. Unless your girlfriend is particularly passive-aggressive, she’s not trying to hint that she wants you to drown her in diamonds and provide her with the lifestyle to which she intends to become accustomed. The fact that one of her friends bought his girlfriend a diamond necklace for their six month anniversary is notable because maybe it’s a little over the top, no? This isn’t her dropping bombs on your ego. She’s just sharing something wacky that her friend did, and isn’t that kinda nuts when you’ve only been dating for half a year? Takes all kinds, I guess.
So she mentioned that it’d be nice if you could buy her flowers or take her out to dinner. And y’know what? It would be nice! I mean, personally, it’d be very nice if someone were to gift me a restored, cherry red, ’65 Mustang convertible. But the fact that I’d love to have one doesn’t mean that I’m expecting someone to give me one, or that I’m going to be upset when they don’t.
The same principle applies to your girlfriend. I imagine she’d be thrilled if you bought her a pair of earrings or a bouquet of flowers or hired a sky writer to emblazon her name across the sky… because who wouldn’t be? But – as she is quick to tell you – she’s not asking for that and she’s happy with you. If she’s not dropping little hints like this every couple of days, then maybe you should just assume that yeah, she’d like it if things were different, but they’re not and she’s still with you anyway.
Be honest with yourself: do you really think that she went into this relationship under the assumption that you were going to suddenly come into riches beyond dreams of avarice? Or do you think she came in with her eyes wide open, understanding that the economy sucks, unemployment is through the roof, everybody’s struggling under mountains of debt and you’re doing the best you can with what you have right now? It’s not like you don’t have ambition, or that you’re blowing your money on weed, lottery tickets and video games, right?
Here’s a hint: she’s been with you for nine months. That’s a pretty good clue that she knows and accepts you for who you are and what you have to offer. If she wanted diamonds and showers of rose petals and hot and cold running Veuve Clicquot she would’ve moved on by now.
You need to do two things.
First of all: disconnect the idea that the impact of romance or special gestures is connected to a price tag. A woman who cares about you – and, critically, understands that you’re broke – isn’t going to require expensive gestures from you. You can still show her how much you care and how romantic you are on the cheap. You obviously have the Internet so use it to your advantage! You can plan awesome, romantic dates around free events in your area; use Yelp, Reddit, Atlas Obscura, even Facebook to find free concerts, performances, events. Make a picnic lunch – even if it’s just bread and cheese – go to the park and lay back in the soft grass and watch the clouds float by while holding her hand. Buy a single flower, even if it’s just a daisy, and give it to her just because. Do some searching for coupons and sales and you can even do something heartfelt and memorable; It doesn’t have to be expensive; you could use one of the many services on line to print a photobook of her favorite photos of the two of you together, for example.
If you want to splurge a bit on something fancy, start saving up now. Cut your expenses where you can and put the money aside and just keep contributing to the “do something awesome for my girlfriend” fund out of every paycheck.
Second: quit looking at other people as the yardstick for your relationship. You don’t want to define your success by somebody else’s efforts. Your relationship is unique, a singular experience that can only exist between you and your partner. Trying to measure your relationship’s success by what somebody ELSE does is just a way of making yourself miserable, because there will ALWAYS be someone else making a bigger spectacle out there.
But spectacle and giant gestures don’t equate to feelings behind them or the long-term success of the relationship. Sometimes the most romantic and enduring thing you can do for someone comes down to the simplest words or gestures and the meaning behind them, not how much you’ve spent on gewgaws and trinkets.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, email@example.com