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I am currently dating my girlfriend who is originally from Eastern Europe. She has many personality qualities that I admire such as reliable, honest , and emphaphetic / caring. I really enjoy spending time with her. My end goal is engagement and eventual marriage.

We have become somewhat serious in our relationship. However one area that has caused some tension in our relationship is that she can be somewhat nagging and expect to take care of her / do certain favors whereas I expected some bit more independence. I am fully committed but also have a social circle outside our relationship which to me is healthy. However, my girlfriend would often call me / text me when I am away from her and it is sometimes annoying when I am with friends. To me, having friends outside of a committed relationship represents a healthy boundary , but she says I seem disloyal or don't care for her enough. All my friends with significant others also find time outside the relationship for activities such as hobbies and they are happy.

More often than not when I am out with her, she expects me to fully pay for expenses with no sharing and also frequently do favors that I feel is excessive (holding doors, taking coats etc). I explained that my discomfort stems not from rudeness or disdain, but due to desire for equality and respect. Assuming your partner to be fully able to take of themselves, and assuming independence is respectul and expected rather than rude where I grew up in the United States. What I see as healthy independence, equality, and respect is interpreted by her as being rude. However, coddling to me is more disrespectful as she would be seen as somehow lesser , rather than an mature adult equal to myself.

With the goal of maintaining our relationship with possibility of marriage, my questions are:

  1. How do I encourage her to be more independent in her social life - pursuing hobbies, continuing to see her friends etc.

  2. How can I help her understand that my behaviors are NOT rude but rather respectful and expected? Furthermore, how do I ask her to cut down on her excessive favors?

  3. How can I help her to become of an equal economic partner - E.g. To be more comfortable contributing to expenses on dates?

  • Hey Anthony! How sure are you that the behavior of your girlfriend is due to cultural differences between the two? Has she explicitly pointed towards her culture as a reason for the demands she's making, or are you assuming that's the case? And would you at this stage be willing to put out an ultimatum (do your share or we break up), or a compromise on any of these points (if she starts seeing her friends and pay, you're willing to hold doors for her)? If you do, could you point out the things you might want to give up in such a compromise? – Tinkeringbell May 3 at 14:23
  • Can you accept her as she is now? Does she reciprocate in other ways? If she is proud of being so girlie, does she make home-cooked meals? Would she get the hint if you switch to consistently inexpensive meals, since he who pays the piper picks the tune, that is, the restaurant? – Yosef Baskin May 3 at 14:31
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    @Tinkeringbell - She has made references to her home country and its customs. I am willing to compromise, such as she cutting down on the excessive requests and general y be more upfront , and me seeing cutting back some time with friends, but not giving up altogether – Anthony May 4 at 2:43
  • Is her complaint that you hanging out with your friends is taking away your attention, or are there also people in that friend group she views as a threat to your relationship? – JenInCode May 4 at 19:27
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You probably can't do these things. She is behaving true to her culture and upbringing. She is hoping to change you into a gentleman like she witnessed in her homeland, while you are trying to change her into a career woman like you see in your homeland. I recognize these two cultures because I have personally lived both of them.

CONTRASTING CULTURES

While I grew up in North America, it was a horse and buggy religious culture that is similar to East European culture in many ways, especially with regards to polite manners. Gentlemen took care of their ladies; they did the driving, earned the money to put food on the table, did the "heavy lifting" around the home. Twenty years ago, I left my religious community and moved to the city, got a university education and mingled with career women. It felt good to be independent and successful but that's just me.

East European

Also living in this city are people from Eastern Europe, some of whom moved here shortly after World War II. Whenever I meet these immigrants from Eastern Europe, there is an automatic feeling of instant kinship. I'll never totally shed my native culture and somehow this is communicated more by nonverbal means than by anything either of us say out loud. In fact, I am hard-pressed to say exactly what it is that draws us because often there is a language barrier; they speak Romanian or Polish and I speak English and a dialect of German different from theirs. Yet one feels it very distinctly.

Independent Career Women

I also feel the same kind of kinship with career women even though I have never actually achieved a career in the city. It's like we speak the same language, hold the same values, have the same life goals. We don't want men holding doors, saying "Ladies first," and "taking care" of us. We are independent, capable of taking care of ourselves, and quite willing to do so. Possibly this is because I had independently built up a market garden business and a publishing business in my old community.

Cosmopolitan Woman

I suppose that makes me a cosmopolitan woman. I share all this so you know I know where you're coming from. I remember what it's like knowing only one culture, like you do, and feeling that it is the only correct way of being. At the same time, like your girlfriend, I still long deep down for the old ways. I know this because after twenty years I still dream at night of being back with my people who still "live the way people should live."

And you want to redesign her to "live the way people should live."

CULTURE: MORAL VALUES & ETHICS

See what I'm saying? Both of you are trying to remake the other to be "the way people should be." Something's got to give. This is really deep stuff. It was instilled into each of you separately with mother's milk.

Culturally Defined Values

Her being "reliable, responsible, empathetic, and caring" are just her being a polite woman. It's part of her culture, her upbringing. Yet you have clearly stated that you don't really like her culture, not the parts that require something of you as a gentleman. In fact, I don't think you want to be a gentleman--you are and wish to remain an American equal opportunities man.

Nothing at all wrong with that so long as your woman wants the same thing. But those values do not mesh at all with the values of this particular woman. What the two of you can do, if both of you agree on this, is sit down and discuss it from the perspective of culture. Just so long as both of you realize how deep this is and that it won't go away any time soon, maybe never; it will impact your homelife and how your children are raised.

Together, you may be able to make the conscious decision on some compromises that both of you are comfortable with. But this needs to come from both sides with deep understanding of where the other side is coming from. Neither is better or worse than the other.

If this violates your personal values or sense of right and wrong, it will be better to find a woman with whom you share values. Be honest with yourself and with her.

Your Three Questions

I will go over your three questions to be sure I didn't miss anything:

1. How do I encourage her to be more independent in her social life - pursuing hobbies, continuing to see her friends etc.

My parents, whose parents and grandparents were raised in the same community I was, would have considered it wrong for one to do anything socially or go anywhere socially without the other. That's part of the cultural moral code.

2. How can I help her understand that my behaviors are NOT rude but rather respectful and expected? Furthermore, how do I ask her to cut down on her excessive favors?

I think I covered this one. Both of you are trying to impose your own cultural values of ethics on the other. Neither is right and neither is wrong. It is a matter of deciding what works for the two of you as a couple, in your home and in your life.

3. How can I help her to become of an equal economic partner - E.g. To be more comfortable contributing to expenses on dates?

I don't know. It looks as though both of you want expensive dinners but no one wants to pay for them. Where I come from, people cooked at home and considered it too high a lifestyle to eat out. In addition, women had barely any money whereas men had far more earning power. You indicate the same with regards to your girlfriend.

I was taught to "live within my means." I know a lot of people, even Americans, who would consider this question to be very selfish of you. In other words, it looks for all the world like you are trying to get out of buying a meal for the woman you claim to love. This definitely needs to be discussed.

I am not saying it is wrong to want to split expenses equally. I am only saying that, since this is causing a problem in the relationship, it needs to be discussed. I am also saying that this concept of splitting expenses is very Western and very modern; it is not acceptable to some older Americans and possibly not acceptable to an East European mentality. It needs to be discussed in order for this relationship to be successful. Discuss it in the context of both cultures having equal value.

I understand that more couples in committed long term relationships break up over money than anything else. Get this on the table now. As with the other items, if your values differ too much, it's better to split up and to find a partner who shares your own values.

The point of discussion needs to be "What do you/I value? Can we compromise comfortably? If so, how?"

It cannot be "How can I change you to see life my way?" This approach is destructive to any relationship.

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  • Yes, my belief is that a relationship should be based on equality and respect with both partners contributing meaningfully to make the relationship work. Mutual caring and commitment is critical, but also self reliance and independence should be stressed. Excessive coddling hurts development and gender roles should be minimized – Anthony May 4 at 2:48
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    Regarding the 3rd bullet question, its not that I am stingy. I contribute financially but I do expect financial contribution from her and not for expenses to be wholly from me – Anthony May 4 at 2:55
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    Did I fail to address one or more of your points? If so, please let me know which ones. What you say here was clear to me from your question. – Sarah Bowman May 4 at 3:51
  • How is wanting to split expenses "very selfish"? Isn't it equally selfish of her to expect him to pay for everything? The rest of your answer is spot on, but that part puzzles me. – Kat May 4 at 22:51
  • @Kat and @ Anthony, I have now added a paragraph to address the issue of splitting expenses. – Sarah Bowman May 5 at 0:17
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As a person from Eastern Europe raised in both mentalities at the same time: That wil be a bumpy, wild ride.

First - mentality that men should earn money, pay for things, take care for the hard stuff steam from one thing: at the same time women did things of monetary value that where "free". Taking care of kids (just think about baby sitting or preschool or kindegarten costs), taking care of house (cost of cleaning staff), making some food on her own (growing it or "hunting"), making stuff they will later sell (and make some money on the side) etc. So the women work calculated into man not having to incur expenses. Therefore having more money.
Unfortunately this mentality translated kinda well into trophy wife. Especially if parents tried to "flush out" the old and emphasis the new. I have met few of such women that had expectations without the need to give back. Or to be correct, they thought that their presence, company and time spend together is enough.

You have to keep in mind that you will try to bring her "up to date" in somewhat short time (shorter than her previous life) and it might be a struggle.

  1. You need to encourage, and maybe explain, that she is her own person. And she have full right to have friends, meet with them and pursue her hobbies (even if that mean she will meet new people doing so)
  2. connected to first - when she accept that she can do such things she will also ease her mind about yours. A lot of problems with such activities is linked to thinking that your SO should be everything in your life and/or that avoid temptation by not meeting people. A man have his social interactions in work, go back home where he became social link to his wife. And during weekends they meet with others couples (kinda like atom family bbq's). You need to explain that yours life (both of you) is no longer split in two - work/home. That yours going out is not due to yours disaffection with her. And vice-versa, she don't have to wait for you to come home to listen to what you read in newspaper but can meet and talk with others.
  3. This is hard (I personally failed this few times) - you need to explain that in current economy it's almost impossible to be the sole provider. And it's not that you lack something, and you are unable to do so, but if she is not taking some financial burden out of you, you cannot meet her expectations. Especially if they are build on "instagram" bricks of cash, fancy restaurants and pricy cars. Thing I know that helps: Sit down with her and go through your budget. Show her how much you earn, how much you spend on bills, rent and so on. Be blunt. Explain that if she is not tending to a garden to grow your own veggies you need to pay for them. And you cannot pay for veggies and her manicure. Her contribution to relationship cannot be her beauty and her company. Or that it's not what you expect from relationship.

Example: over a dozen years ago I was with a girl that read cosmopolitan. cosmo had an advertorial for some very pricy running shoes. Their advice was: convince your men to cut beer and make him save that money to buy you those shoes. She didn't worked, I didn't drink (so there was nothing I could save on) - I had a lot of explaining to do. But it highlight how capitalist thinking weaved into expected role of a male. You need to explain that she cannot be dependand from you. And that it will not influence you - many males in EE think that if women go to work it means they failes as men and women knows this so they avoid going to work and it create circle of blame and fault and no real solution.

Also very important thing - where are you two living now? If in some rural part of EE discussion will be different than if you live in Western Europe (or North America) city.

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