Sometimes, the difference between a platonic hangout with a friend and a first date can be difficult to ascertain. Brown students may find themselves asking a certain question to determine whether it was friendly or romantic: Did they split the bill, or did one person treat the other?
At times, it can feel like money is part of what distinguishes romantic connections from platonic ones. And it’s no secret that dating can be a somewhat expensive endeavor. Sticking to the Brown bubble of on-campus housing and dining, for example, can feel limiting, leading many to splurge on fancy dates and dinners to keep a relationship fun and exciting.
So it made sense that this week I got a question in my virtual anonymous question form about how we should best handle financial differences in relationships. Considering how unwilling Brown students are to talk about money, addressing this topic is important. While most couples do eventually discuss finances, those conversations often occur in the later stages of a relationship.
It’s unsurprising that on college campuses the topic of money is taboo. Some students are financially independent, others have unlimited access to their parent’s credit cards and many find themselves somewhere in between — the variety of experiences can make financial conversations tricky. To be fair, it can be awkward and uncomfortable to talk about it, especially when our peers lack so much context about our families and hometowns.
But while finances are deeply personal, they play a major role in shaping the dynamics of our relationships. Brown students have different financial means, habits and priorities and, because they are rarely explicitly discussed, we can end up with misaligned perspectives on money — a problem that can be particularly damaging when it comes to relationships and dating. Finding a partner who shares your financial habits or values might seem impossible, especially if not everyone is considering finances when searching for a significant other. But if we push ourselves to have open conversations about our own spending habits and comfort levels with money, we can get closer to finding a partner who will understand us in our entirety
That is even more important in a place like Brown. When it comes to socioeconomic diversity, Brown doesn’t impress; it ranked 230th out of 286 selective colleges in a recent New York Times analysis. Such rampant wealth inequality can distort our personal and romantic lives just as it does society and politics at large. The truth is that social scenes and friend groups at Brown often end up being dictated by socioeconomic status, with the wealthiest students flocking together. When these backgrounds do mix, it’s easy for students to feel left out if they can’t financially keep up with plans. Sure, you were invited, but can you actually afford to participate? A similar dynamic can play out in romantic relationships — invitations to dinner dates can feel to some like a low-stakes night out and to others a serious financial commitment.
The question I received raised another important idea: different cultural backgrounds. Our approach to handling money is intrinsically linked to our families and culture, whether we are trying to emulate our parent’s financial strategies or depart from their habits. Some cultures are more open about money and some families have the resources to teach financial literacy better than others. For me, arguing with relatives over who gets to pay the bill at dinner is a sign of love and respect. And as an only child, I think I had more financial freedom than some of my friends because my parents didn’t have to budget for multiple kids. We may not understand why our partner holds certain beliefs about money, but it can help to remember that they have been influenced by factors that are difficult to articulate and likely predate your relationship.
Unlinking the way we see ourselves from our financial situations can help ease discomfort about discussing them. Being upfront with your partners about your non-judgmental willingness to broach the topic can foster mutual understanding and strengthen your connection. It’s okay to acknowledge money being a factor in your relationship, especially if there is a large difference. Consider talking in advance about how or if to split bills, budgets for gifts and excursions you might want to partake in. While these conversations may seem silly now, having them now can save you from awkward, embarrassing or uncomfortable situations in the future.
While finances are deeply intimate, so is a romantic relationship. Introducing practical matters like money into that dynamic might feel like a buzzkill, but it is ultimately safeguarding the future health of the relationship. We can address this problem by first understanding our own financial situations and being cognizant of how they affect how we move through the world. Relationships are about letting someone into various parts of your life. While that doesn’t have to include every bank account statement, it’s time that we start practicing financial vulnerability and communication.
If you have questions about sex or relationships that could be discussed in a future column, please submit questions to an anonymous form at https://tinyurl.com/BDHsexcolumn. Anusha Gupta ’25 can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please send responses to this opinion to email@example.com and other op-eds to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This column is part of a series of opinion pieces about the impact of wealth and inequality on politics that receives financial support from the Stone Initiative on Inequality. The Herald maintains editorial independence over the published work.