A situation came up with my girlfriend where I drove her to an event that she needed to go to that was a two hour drive away (so a four hour round trip). After we got back, I charged her for half of the gas that it took to make the trip and she immediately challenged my request. She reasoned that we both made the trip together so it wasn't entirely for her and that none of her previous boyfriends had ever charged her for things like gas money. After a bit of arguing she ended the talk by telling me that I need to be better at "conflict resolution". We have only been dating for a few months now and I don't want to cause an unnecessary fight, but I feel strongly that it is fair that I ask her for gas money. I recognize that I will most likely be the one driving us on all of our future trips so I would like to clear this up before the next event takes place.

My goal is to avoid conflict, but I also would like for her to understand and realize what it means to be fair in a healthy relationship. How can I talk to my girlfriend about paying for future trips when she was upset after I asked the first time?

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    @TheRealLester we do not have a joint account and probably will not open one for the foreseeable future. It is a bit too early for that. – The_Bird Jun 13 at 17:10
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    @sphennings I am asking how I should go about still trying to get gas money from this latest trip and set the tone for future trips as well since I believe splitting costs like gas money is fair in an equal relationship. – The_Bird Jun 13 at 17:11
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    Would you be willing to settle for something else than the money for that latest trip, e.g. her driving next time and taking the costs for the gas money then? Do you perhaps have any clues about her ideas of 'equal relationship', and how they might differ from yours? – Tinkeringbell Jun 13 at 17:13
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    @Tinkeringbell I would totally be okay with suggesting that she drive next time. The only concern that I have in that case is how quick she was to challenge me when I asked her to split gas money as well as how she brought up the fact that none of her ex's ever asked for gas money. I haven't had an exclusive conversation with her about what traits an 'equal relationship' have. – The_Bird Jun 13 at 17:16
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    Is she possibly struggling financially. That would change things a bit. – user1751825 Jun 14 at 1:34

10 Answers 10

up vote 158 down vote accepted

You talk about having a "fair...healthy relationship." I'm speaking from experience when I tell you that if you focus on every little thing that you've done and she hasn't, the relationship isn't going to last.

It sounds like you went out of your way and did something really nice for you girlfriend. It took a lot of your time and some of your money. If I were in a relationship and my SO did this, it would be very endearing and make me want to repay the favor in other ways. But if they then asked me to pay for this favor, it would immediately sour the situation.

When you do favors like this without asking anything in return, you're investing in the relationship. These kind of things encourage more favors and kindness, which encourage more and the cycle continues, hopefully resulting in a loving happy relationship where favors flow freely.

However, trying to quantify everything you do and keep track of the "fairness" of the relationship is a recipe for disaster. Everything nice you do will be seen as having an ulterior motive or need to be payed back later since it will be implied that you're keeping track.

Think of this drive as buying her dinner or a nice present. You wouldn't ask her to pay for half of those things after you gave them to her, would you? This is an investment into the relationship and it was a chance for you to spend some time alone together in the car on top of it all! Drop the talk of "fairness" and enjoy the time you have together.


It sounds like this may be a regular thing and so you want to set a precedent. If so, I'd say still treat this first one like a gift. If you're expecting someone to pay for something (no matter the situation), both parties need to be clear that what is occurring is a transaction and not a favor.

You could say something like:

I had fun driving you and I'm glad I got to do that for you, but if we do this often, the gas prices might start adding up. I'd be happy to keep driving you, but could we split the gas for future trips?

Here you're making it clear the first trip was on you, as that wasn't discussed, but you're also giving her a way out and letting her choose to pay you (as opposed to charging her after the fact).

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    Comments deleted. Please don't use comments to say that you agree or disagree with the answer; we have a strict comments policy. If you feel differently than an answerer, please write your own answer. Thanks. – HDE 226868 Jun 15 at 22:24
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    +1, also, I think it's worth adding a bit more emphasis on the point touched on at the very end: Part of the problem here was that OP went into a situation with different expectations (who pays for gas), and neither party communicated those expectations until after the situation was done. People tend to react negatively when they are told that they're now in debt because of terms that they didn't know about and didn't agree to but which are now being imposed on them. – mtraceur Jun 18 at 17:31
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    Yes, the last point needs a little more attention. I wouldn't be surprised if most of her resistance to contributing to gas money was due to there being no up-front expectation of it on her part. Everyone she's been with in the past didn't do it, so she had no reason to assume OP would do it. I think eating the cost on this trip and apologizing, followed by a discussion for future trips would save a lot of heartache. – Doktor J Jun 18 at 18:22

Let's focus on the future. You aren't a taxi, so asking for detailed amounts of gas money seems to be penny-pinching. You gave her a long ride and hit her with a bill afterward. That's over and done.

On the other hand, if you do all the driving without a contribution toward something, that's not fair to you, either.

I'd sit down with her and ask her to help you figure this out. Her ex-boyfriends are precisely that - EX-boyfriends. They're not relevant. What matters right now is the two of you. I'd suggest this: suggest alternating driving to events. "You drove to [x]; I'll drive to [y]" (I don't read that you're the only one with a car.) "I drove last time; I'd like to have you drive this time." That worked out in the past with my friends and my (now) wife. Then it's not about money, it's about taking turns.

If she doesn't have a car, then I'd suggest taking turns filling up the gas tank. And for Heaven's sake, discuss that before you agree to take her anywhere. Focus on getting gas, not asking for money. Then your discussion is about doing something, not money.

If there isn't an obvious financial disparity between you, and you are both earning your own money, there is no reason you shouldn't be splitting expenses, gas money included.

If she has an expectation that you should pay for things just because "you're the guy", then I suggest you politely point out that this is very unfair. If she won't budge on the topic, I would suggest you consider very carefully if this is a person you wish to be in a relationship with.

Her comments about her ex-boyfriends, is pretty concerning. That's very disrespectful, and was clearly intended to offend, and belittle you.

To a comment like that I may be inclined to suggest that perhaps she call up these guys and ask them for the money.

It sounds as though you have different ideas on what a fair and equal relationship looks like. Your expectation is that both parties pull their own weight and pay roughly an equal share of expenses -- i.e. each person holds equal responsibility in the relationship, which includes financial responsibility. Her expectation appears to be a more traditional Western financial arrangement where the man pays for any shared expense during the "courting" phase of the relationship. Neither of these is an unreasonable expectation, as we're in a period of cultural transition and shifting, often confusing expectations.

This makes it important that you communicate your expectations clearly and regularly. This might feel awkward at first, but communication is crucial to the success of any relationship, romantic or otherwise. If you cannot find a common ground to communicate, and find compromise when necessary, you will continue to have this struggle. Money matters are a common reason for divorce, so if you can't discuss financial goals and expectations, it will be a constant threat to the stability of your relationship.

In this specific case, I would probably start the conversation something like this:

I apologize for the misunderstanding after our last trip. I realize we didn't discuss our expectations beforehand, and I didn't mean to spring it on you unexpectedly. I hope you can forgive me for my failure in communication, and we can put that disagreement behind us.

I would like to discuss our expectations for future long trips. I feel like you prefer it if I do most of the driving on our trips, and I don't mind driving you to these events. It gives me an opportunity to spend more time with you, and I really like being around you. Since the catalyst for these trips is your need to be there, I think it would be fair to expect you to cover the cost of gas, especially since we're putting wear and tear on my car. [Optionally: However, since we made this into a "date", and we both got enjoyment out of it, I'm happy to share part of the travel expenses.]

If that's not something we can agree on, I'm afraid I won't be able to take as many of these trips with you as I'd like to. I just can't meet all of my financial goals if I pay every time. That's OK, we can find other things to do together that are less expensive, and make sure we spend plenty of time together before and after your trip. Spending time together is what matters most to me, anyway, not where we go.

Does that seem like a fair arrangement to you? I'd like to hear how you feel about it, and what expectations you have.

Make sure you give her time and space to give her point of view, and be willing to find a fair compromise, even if it's not exactly the arrangement you had in mind. But don't just capitulate to her demands if it doesn't feel fair to you, or you'll likely resent her for it later. Once she realizes that she'd be paying for the gas anyway, while also driving herself and not spending time with you, she's likely to see that your expectations aren't unreasonable, just different from what hers were. She might apologize in return, but I wouldn't expect or push for one. You might find out that she was stressed out or was short on rent and that made her react badly to your request. That's a good opportunity to reassure her that she can tell you things like that without judgment, and that you'd like to be able to discuss anything openly with each other.

Be prepared for the possibility that you won't agree or be able to find a compromise. If you can't find a mutually agreeable arrangement for these trips, it could be a sign that you're not going to see eye to eye on financial matters. If she reacts negatively, or if you just find that you have different, incompatible expectations, you may have to end the relationship. However, you're more likely to build a healthy relationship, or at least remain friends, if you discuss these matters.

It seems like there are factors involved with this that might not be inherently obvious. Nobody can deny that you've invested time and money to take your girlfriend to an event that you likely didn't need to attend at all. If she had the capability to take her own car or ride with someone else, she would have likely feel more financially obligated to the trip. The same if you had taken a friend, coworker, or classmate; you'd expect to have them cover most of the personal expenses for helping take them to their event. Although, in that situation, the discussion should happen prior to the trip.

The thing with relationships is that every action is a form of investment. Whether you're taking the time to talk with her; carving out some of your day to do an activity; or you're paying for a trip, it's all benefiting the end goal of building your relationship closer. If this were to end with you sticking it out long term, marriage makes it so neither of you really have your "own" money anymore, so it'd be moot to ever ask in that situation. This doesn't mean that you should overly burden yourself or feel like you're giving so much more than she does. It seems justified that you feel like the financial loss of the trip is worthwhile to approach her and try to recouperate at least half of the cost.

Approach is Key

The way that you structure your sentences and the words you use will play a drastic role in how willing the other person is going to with you. You use the word "charged," which is a pretty strong word that makes it seem more like a demand or forced debt that she has, even though she had no reason (from her perspective) to see it coming. Another factor is her life experiences growing up. If she's under the impression that gender/relationship roles (e.g. men are responsible for A, B, C; women are responsible for X, Y, Z) are a thing that she expects, then your ability to fix this situation will hinge on if you can bridge that. To her, she may expect that you will cover more of the expenses in the relationship, which may also have appeared if you've went out to the movies or dinner together.

To me, it feels like there are two ways you could have approached her to try and receive some money for gas: logically or emotionally.

Logically:

The most obvious retort I'd have given was that you would agree that both of you took the trip together and that it was a great experience... however, only one of you paid for the trip. You could argue that you're willingness to still pay for half is your acceptance that you both gained something from the trip (bonding experience, mainly). Other answers provided good points that you could pose that she pays for the next 4 hours of traveling costs.

Emotionally:

Using lighter words that draw sympathy or have her feel in control of the decision may result in a more promising response. Somewhere along the lines of

"I was looking back at how much we spent on the trip yesterday and I was surprised to see that we went through $60 in gas. That's quite a bit of money to just get to and from the event. Is there any way you'd be able to contribute towards that cost in some way? Part of my wallet hopes that we could meet somewhere along the middle. Really anything would help, but I just want to make sure we both feel at ease over the expenses we paid."

It's more indirect and has "we" scattered throughout, which is very important to ensure that subtle reminder that you were both involved in the trip. This does leave the option open that she says she doesn't feel the need to pay, but you're asking for a sort of mercy that you don't get stuck with the full expenses.

Personal Usage:

I've incorporated both the logical and emotional scenarios in my day-to-day life. My career is in computers, so I tend to lean more towards using logic since that's more what I'm familiar with. However, I think the situation guides what is best, not preferrence. If I'm arguing over something that has a bunch of opinions or little to no facts to back them up, I'll go the logic route. If I'm awkwardly having to talk with someone or ask for something, I'll go the indirect/sympathetic approach. It feels a bit more like you're social engineering, but there's nothing wrong with gaining skills in that as long as you're moral in your goals.

First question, do you want her to pay for because of budgetary reasons or because you feel she needs to give more -- like she's kind of taking advantage of you? Or maybe you feel she is not appreciative and just expects it from you.

Based on my experience -- two things... As a woman, I love when a guy pays for everything (just the simple truth). But I also realize that many guys are not in the situation where they can do so. If they can, then I hope they do -- and then I try to do special things for them to show my appreciation so they don't feel like they're doing all the giving. And if they can't, I will offer to offset some portion of "our costs" depending on his financial situation. Each couple has their own dynamic.

Most importantly, you should do what is right for YOU.... whether you don't want to pay for it all because you sense she is mostly a taker ... or if you have a tight budget... you DESERVE to feel good about it. Don't let society make you feel that you SHOULD pay for it.... If you don't feel good about doing it, the relationship is not going to be pleasant anyway. Even though I like when a guy pays, I feel badly if he doesn't have the money and pays -- I want him to feel good to.... And YOU deserve to feel great and only pay when you wish to.

My suggestion is to be honest with her and let the chips fall where they may... Tell the truth to her about "I really don't have that in my budget, and I'd rather spend what I do have on other fun things -- not just paying for gas." OR something like.... "I know that you say other guys paid for the gas all the time. I get it. All I can tell you is that it's something that I don't feel good about... I'm happy to take you to dinner sometimes and do what I can, but this feels more like RENT or something.... or like an AIRPLANE ticket.... I just don't feel good about it and on this thing, I would like us to split it."

Just be calm and cool and express yourself. If she gets rude, then again, just look deeper for yourself -- Is it because you can't really afford it /don't want to use your entertainment $$ on gas? (if yes, tell her that). .... And if you feel like she's not as giving, then tell her: "I feel like you EXPECT me to do a lot of things... and I would like to work as a team... Sometimes I feel like you don't appreciate what I DO give..." -- Be HONEST. Stand your ground. Be CALM and cool and authentic. Good luck, my friend.

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    Why do you think a guy should pay? I can see that you like it, but surely there cannot be any expectation that all cost wouldn’t be split evenly? – gnasher729 Jun 14 at 8:16
  • @gnasher729 Ok I'll come out here as the ossified backwards thinking person. I am a guy who always expected he would pay for everything (or most things anyway) and is quite happy about it. I feel it is my responsibility to take care of the financial stability of the relationship (marriage at this point). When I had a much less demanding job I would deal with my share of housework but these days I only do the "stereotypically" male jobs. Both me and my wife are very happy and after 16 years have a great marriage. It's not for everyone, but it's for someone is all I'm saying.Oh I'm 37 – DRF Jun 18 at 9:30

Don't ask for money (money changing hands doesn't end well unless it's something you both agree to without question), but ask for her to pay for road snacks/meals. There are some trips I've done where the fuel cost less than the snacks, and visa versa, and the truth is for long trips you need drinks/food etc to be able to keep going.

This means that the trip is now your gift to her; and your food is her gift to you, and you can enjoy your food knowing that you're having it because of her, and she can enjoy the trip knowing that it's because of you.

It seems to me that the main issue in the situation you described was not the money itself, but how you approached the payback. You say you charged her for the gas money, but I can only assume that that really means you asked her to pay you that money. Did she know that you expected her to pay you for some or all of the gas money ahead of time? I suspect not. That change in expectations may have been the real cause of the conflict.

Image this approach instead. Before you commit to the trip you say to her "I'm happy to drive you to the event, but since it's a four hour trip it is going to cost a fair bit of gas money, would you mind splitting that cost with me?" Then she can either say yes and you'll be happier about it, or she can say no and voice why she doesn't think she needs to pay (not sure what her objection would be, but it gives her a chance to express it).

If you didn't realize until afterwards that it was going to be expensive, then honestly that's on you. Next time think ahead and make sure you're both on the same page before the trip. If you absolutely needed to get that gas money from her after the trip you could have approached it much better. Rather than billing her, you could simply ask her to pitch in. Something like "Hey, sorry I didn't think of it sooner, but that trip used up a lot of my gas, would you mind splitting the cost of the gas with me?" This approach shows that you are aware that this is a change in expectations, and that you recognize that you should have talked about it before the trip.

To give an example outside of your context, imagine that you went over to a friend's house for dinner, enjoyed the meal, and had a good time. Then at the end of the evening your friend says, "Please pay me $20 for the food I gave you". You would of course be rightfully offended that their gift and hospitality turned out not to be a gift at all. That's the same situation you put your girlfriend in, which is probably why she objected

I would disregard answers that attempt to talk you out of asking for her to contribute to the gas or challenge your definition of an equal relationship. Your desire to split significant expenses is entirely valid and no one is entitled to have you as a free taxi.

Just tell her in a straightforward manner that for long trips, you insist on splitting the gas. If sharing expenses in an egalitarian manner is a deal breaker for her, it's better to find out sooner rather than later. I am personally the sort who always splits expenses with girlfriends and I don't make it a delicate subject nor do I surprise them with this info after we've made an expense they thought would be my treat. Simply before agreeing to go on a road trip, get a hotel, or have an expensive meal I say something to the effect of "Make sure you bring your wallet so we can split [whatever expense]. I think it'll be about $X".

If she challenges you by bringing up the habits of her exes, I'd simply respond with, "that was their choice; I feel differently". Again, you don't have to justify why you think equal sharing of significant expenses is important, though you could certainly assert to her that it is if she seems to disagree.

As always in a relationship, being direct, honest, and open about your feelings is best. She can either agree or you can decide if you're willing to compromise.

Manage Expectations.

Imagine a friend is doing you a simple favor, one which all your other friends have done for you before for free, and when he's finished he's suddenly giving you a bill. A bill he's never mentioned before. Your reaction would hopefully be better than that of your girlfriend, but you'd still be surprised, and not in a good way.

The problem is asking her to pay up, AFTER rendering the service, thus surprising and likely offending her. She seems to have a rather different background from yours, so she grew up being driven around by boyfriends at their expense - this is her normal. You're charging for a service which she had assumed to be free of charge. You would have offended her less if you would have brought up the topic BEFORE driving her.

You've already been dating for a few months, so it's past time to sit down with her, ask her what she imagines a perfect boyfriend to do, and also let her know what you imagined a perfect girlfriend to do - then figure out how you're going to approach the areas where your expectations mismatch reality. Don't worry, a healthy relationship is rarely one where everything's equal. It's perfectly normal if one person does more cleaning, the other does more cooking, and the minutes spent doing chores don't add up to exactly the same number, metaphorically speaking.

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