I recently bought tickets for my newish boyfriend and me to see a band he loves. Instead of being excited about the gift, he got annoyed that I bought expensive VIP tickets instead of whatever was cheapest. I’m really angry! I know he’s careful with money, but he didn’t seem to understand that this was something I wanted to do. Who is “right?” Are the more expensive tickets the best option or should we exchange them for nosebleeds?
— VIPeeved Off
Dear VIPeeved Off,
I understand your frustration! It sounds like there are a few things at play, and they may not all have to do with money.
Is the gift for him … or for you?
Yes, you both love the band. But you love the band enough to go ahead and buy pricy tickets without consulting him first. Even if you don’t expect a reciprocal gift, gift-giving is a reciprocal practice. Financially or emotionally, he may just feel he’s not in the place to reciprocate this type of gift right now. If you tell him “I’m doing this for me, and I’d love for you to come,” he may have a different viewpoint. Suggesting you have another friend to invite as a backup may make him realize it’s not a flashy expression of your feelings. If it is a way to show him how important he is to you, then it may be time to have a conversation about where the relationship is heading, so you can make sure you’re on the same page.
The “pain of paying” applies even if it’s not your $$$
Emotional investment aside, there may be another factor in play. Research has found that people actually feel pain when they have to pay for things, and everyone’s pain threshold for paying is different. This applies even if the money isn’t directly theirs. He’s feeling sticker shock. You have different pain points when it comes to paying — and this discrepancy also may be playing a part in the drama.
So, which perspective is “right?”
So, are the most expensive tickets the best option? You won’t be surprised that the answer is: it depends. If you’re both feeling annoyed at each other, it’s probably not the right decision for you as a couple. Still, if you want to keep the tickets, there are some fixes you can employ. First, are your tickets the most expensive? If they aren’t, and there was an even pricier package, point that out. This justification has been shown in research to lower the pain payment threshold and may help your boyfriend get over his feelings and get excited about the show.
Second, I hear that you want to go to the concert because he loves the band. But I wonder if that language may also be something he takes issue with. A lot of times, the things we think we’re buying for others are things we actually wish we had ourselves. I’m not saying you didn’t have good intentions. But research shows it’s hard for us to choose the most optimal gifts for other people. It may be the ideal gift for you, but not for him, and that’s okay!
Learn from the experience, and move on
So where do you go from here? You could reframe the experience by sharing just how much the tickets mean to you, and how much you want to attend with him. If he’s still lukewarm, then it’s time for you to assess the best next step. Maybe it’s better to bring a friend who’s equally passionate about being up close and personal with this band. Maybe you have a conversation about how you feel, which might lead to a larger, heavier discussion about money and goals. Or maybe you can chalk this up to a misunderstanding.
One thing to note: You may find that this financial conflict is repeated throughout your relationship. It’s normal, and it’s definitely something that successful couples work through all the time. But knowing early on that you have different pain points around money can help both of you come up with workarounds that can save your feelings — and your relationship.
Elizabeth Dunn, Ph.D. is a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia who researches how time, money, and technology shape human happiness. She is also the scientific advisor for Happy Money, a financial company that combines psychology and money to help people live happier lives. Have a question for Liz? Write to her at email@example.com and check back every Tuesday for her next column.