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Urban Etiquette

Ellen Vanstone answers your questions about the annoying behaviours, poor manners and impatient encounters that dot the days of a city dweller.

Should a man feel bad if the woman pays for things more than half the time?

Old rules of etiquette dictated that a man paid for things, but those old rules were based in entrenched sexism.

Ani Castillo

Dear Ellen,

I’m a normal guy with a girlfriend who I’m serious about and we get along great except for one area. She makes a lot more money than I do, and she insists on paying for things more than half the time, which makes me feel bad. I really like this girl, but I don’t know how to handle this imbalance in our relationship. I don’t know if this is an etiquette question, but I feel like there’s probably rules about this. Are there?


Dear DK,

There are always rules. The trick is to pick which to follow (the one about driving on the right side of the road) and which to ignore (the one about not wearing white after Labour Day). More important than rules are principles — which I admit can be tough to figure out after so many centuries of patriarchal warpitude about how men and women “should” act.

Old rules of etiquette dictated that a man paid for things, which used to make economic sense when men typically had more money. But those old rules, and that economic situation, were based in entrenched sexism. Men had more money because women weren’t allowed access to it for all kinds of reasons: inheritance laws, lack of education, glass ceilings in misogynist workplaces.

The world is changing. In Canada, even though women are still paid less than men overall, our laws at least recognize a woman’s right to equal pay. And some women and men will inevitably earn more than other women and men.

The problem you’re having is due to the entrenched sexism that lingers in all our brains. You “feel bad” about something that is actually really, really good: you have a generous girlfriend who wants to share her success with you. As for the “imbalance” in your relationship, there’s always been an imbalance between men’s and women’s access to money and power. The only reason you’re noticing it now is because you’re on the other side of the fulcrum.

As long as your girlfriend doesn’t abuse her power as the higher earner by thinking she gets to make all the decisions she’s (mostly) paying for — whether it’s choosing a restaurant or a luxury destination for your next holiday — you could have a very good life together.

Forget the old rules. Be nice and open and honest with each other, and go for a relationship of equals.

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