Dear Wendy: “My Boyfriend Is Too Broke To Take Me Out For My Birthday”

I’m 25 and have been dating a 28-year-old guy for seven months. He’s really fun, sweet, and a generous lover (he won’t be done until he’s gotten me off at least twice!). We recently said the L word — which was HUGE for him because he’s never said it before in a relationship. The issue is he’s a freelance music engineer, and basically earns only enough to make rent and go to a bar here and there — nothing extra. Last week was my birthday and he was going to take me out to a restaurant, but he didn’t make enough at the pawn shop to afford it. Later in the week he manages to make $20, so he goes out to buy pot with it. I’m all, “What about dinner?” And he says, “Well, it wasn’t enough to get food anyway,” and leaves it at that. Then, last night, I ask him about the jobs he said he was applying for and he point-blank says, “I’m not looking.” I ask why and he says he likes his freedom and “makes enough” freelancing, which is true, he does — for himself. So basically, I’m dating a grown man who lives with younger guys in a frat house-type setting and can’t afford to take his girlfriend out to dinner for her 25th birthday. I don’t want to tell him to get a job or I’m leaving him because he’s treating me well, but I’m worried about what kind of future I can have with him. What’s your outside perspective? — Blinded by Love

My outside perspective is that your boyfriend is pretty pathetic. And not because he doesn’t make much money. Or doesn’t seem to have much ambition, though that could be problematic if you want a future with him. The real issue is his lack of thoughtfulness and respect for you — two things you really need in order to have a happy relationship. It’s not enough that your boyfriend is sexually generous (which, let’s face it, is probably more about his ego than anything). Where’s his generosity and thoughtfulness in the rest of your relationship? It was your birthday and he didn’t do or plan anything special for you? Nothing? You don’t need money to do something special. You just need a little creativity and, you know, the desire to make your significant other happy. He’s in the music business? He could have recorded a song for you. Hell, he could have picked some flowers on the side of the highway and presented them to you with a heartfelt card or original poem. None of that takes money.

But, let’s talk about money for a minute. He promised to take you out for a nice dinner and at 28 years old — hell, even at 11 years old — he knew approximately how much that would cost. If he really wanted to — if he really cared about doing something he not only knew would make you happy, but that HE SAID HE WOULD DO — he could have put a little money aside over the three or four weeks leading up to your birthday to pay for that dinner. He could have skipped his bar runs, or slowed down on the pot, or even just taken up some side work to make an extra 100 bucks or whatever. But he didn’t. Even when he managed to make $20, it didn’t occur to him to buy some ingredients for dinner and make you a home-cooked meal over at your place to make up for letting you down on your birthday. Nope, he spent the money on drugs instead. This guy’s a selfish loser. You should dump him and find a real man. That’s my outside perspective.

A very close friend of mine is going through a rough time in her marriage. Her husband has become increasingly abusive, both emotionally and verbally, and has “left” her on several occasions citing reasons such as her not losing weight or finishing school (while she was working to put him through school) only to come crawling back apologetically the next day. The husband used to be a pretty good friend of mine, and they actually met through me. I know that me telling her to get the heck out of dodge isn’t going to make her leave, so I have chosen to just be a supportive friend no matter what she chooses to do. She insists he is seeking psychological help because he suffers from high anxiety, depression, and alcoholism. The thing is, I can’t stand to be around him anymore. We’ve been friends for years, but now that I see the way he treats her, it disgusts me. My fear is that excluding him from gatherings at my home would alienate her when she needs her friends the most, but I really don’t want to be around him. Do you have any suggestions for how I should handle the situation? Is it wrong for me to ask that he not tag along with her or should I just suck it up and deal with him for her sake? — Worried Friend

You’re right in fearing that you’ll be alienating your friend if you exclude her husband in invites to social gatherings at your home. You put her in a position of choosing between you and her husband, and if she hasn’t left her husband for being verbally and mentally abusive, she’s probably not the kind of person who’s going to choose to hang out with a friend over keeping her husband happy. Worse, if her husband is emotionally and verbally abusive, and she did decide to leave him at home to come hang out with you, you’re giving him more ammunition to use against her. And what if he doesn’t stop at verbal slings? What if he gets physical? All the more reason you need to keep this friend under close watch without alienating her. Instead, invite him along, and be civil to him. Don’t give him reason to tell his wife she can’t spend time with you anymore. Then, when you’re able to get her alone — perhaps on a lunch date with just the two of you — express concern for her general well-being and happiness. Let her know she can talk to you about anything, without judgment, and if she needs anything at all, you’re there for her. You can’t tell her how to live her life — or her relationship — but you can be a friend for her when, as you say, she needs one the most. And by staying close to her and proving your trustworthiness, you stand a much better chance of seeing her through this ordeal.

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