Why Can’t a Modern Woman Pay (at Least) Half?

Posted March 9, 2018 6:57 p.m. EST

Q: My wonderful boyfriend (of one year) won’t let me pay for anything! We’re in our mid-20s. He refuses to split checks and never lets me treat him. He makes more money than I do, but I can afford to pay half. It feels old-fashioned and weirdly paternalistic that he’s so insistent about paying. But what bothers me most is that I feel indebted. When I bring it up, he laughs and tells me “not to take it that way.” I don’t push these conversations very hard, but I’m getting annoyed. What do I do? — Girlfriend

A: Push harder! And I write this knowing — in fact, battle scarred by my knowledge — that few subjects elicit angrier responses from some readers than suggesting that women can also pay for dates. (“I would never go out with him again,” they write. “Cheapskate!”) But readers, Girlfriend wants to pay. And Boyfriend’s generosity, which denies reciprocation, sounds like control to me.

The solution here is not finding a gesture that Boyfriend can tolerate. It is getting him to acknowledge that Girlfriend deserves an equal say in setting the terms of their partnership. Tell him: “I get that paying means a lot to you. It means a lot to me, too: independence and equal footing. So, please don’t laugh it off. I want to pay my share — except on my birthday or when we dine out with your parents, in which case, knock yourself out. But I expect to pay full freight on your birthday, too. Agreed?”

When he hears the structural importance of your plea, it will be telling to hear how he responds. Frankly, if you were writing about a member of the greatest generation or a baby boomer, I would be more forgiving about how your request may conflict with the message of his upbringing. But a millennial should be able to recognize the importance of his partner’s autonomy. (Finally, to all the couples who have found other arrangements that work for them: Good for you!)

Seated in the iPad Section

Q: My roommate and I headed to our favorite neighborhood bistro. The only table available was next to a couple with two preschool children. No problem! But the younger boy was playing with an iPad at full volume. (No headphones in sight.) I asked the maître d’ to make sure they had headphones before we took the table. He said he didn’t feel comfortable asking them, but I was welcome to. I didn’t feel it was my responsibility, so we left. Did I overreact? — Jill

A: I’m seeing a new show for NBC: “Law & Order: Restaurant Victims Unit.” The maître d’ was derelict here. As between an employee of the restaurant and a stranger fresh off the street, the employee was much better situated to speak with the parents about a blaring iPad. And bonus: It’s his job! The parents may have produced headphones, and you could have sat down — although why the child wasn’t wearing them to begin with is a mystery for another day.

Sadly, the reticence of restaurateurs to encourage reasonable behavior in patrons (notably, no screaming into cellphones for 10 straight minutes) is growing common. This dumps problems into our laps. Personally, I have had only mixed results with my (apparently not as winning as I thought) smile and “Could you speak more softly, please?” Which leaves your question: What to do? I’d say, tell the owner about your experience and find a new bistro that at least tries to solve sticky problems for you.

Noisy Four-Legged Neighbor

Q: I live next door to a nice guy who is a great dog owner. He plays with the dog in his free time. He takes the dog on long walks in the morning and evening, and he rushes home once during the workday to walk him. Trouble is, the dog barks nonstop when he is not around. It’s annoying, for sure. But I also think as a responsible dog owner, he would want to know. May I tell him? — Alana

A: Permission granted. Start with: “You take such great care of your dog.” Then build to: “But he barks nonstop when you’re not at home. My friend” — we’re friends, right, Alana? — “told me that this may be a sign of discomfort or anxiety. Maybe a trainer can help?” If your neighbor loves his pooch, he’ll be glad to hear from you. If he already knows, your cocktail of carrot and stick may push him to action.

That’s a Hard No

Q: How would you feel about my speaking with the receptionist at my dentist’s office? She would be so pretty if she lost 15 pounds. (I’ve lost 25 pounds at Weight Watchers — only 10 to go!) — Anonymous

A: You probably mean well, but who do you think you are? And what, exactly, do you know about the woman at your dentist’s office or her life? We are not the arbiters of what’s “pretty” for anyone other than ourselves. It also sounds as if you may know the sting of judgment at being overweight. Why inflict that on someone else?