Love is Not a Competition

At the start of the year, my boyfriend proposed an idea to save some extra fun money. Each time either of receive a $5 bill, we drop it into a glass mason jar. Less than three months in, we’ve collected over $500. Out of one hundred $5 bills, I’ve contributed approximately five.

Each evening, we return home and he proclaims that he has a surprise as he reaches into his back pocket. I exaggerate a frown as he fans out his cash and then drops the bills into the jar with a smile. “Dear, this isn’t a competition,” he reminds me.

While we don’t micromanage our finances, I tend tend to cover the big bills–HOA, property taxes, utilities and Costco runs–while my boyfriend typically covers the everyday expenses–groceries, clothing, plants from the nursery, restaurants and other random purchases. While our contributions month-to-month are comparable, his transactions are far more likely to involve cash.

Every day he adds a bill or two to “our” jar and ever day I feel a tinge of disappointment–the small sting that sometimes arises early in a relationship when you know you’re getting the better end of the deal and can’t understand why your sweetheart has chosen you, of all people. For the longest time, I couldn’t figure out why this supposedly fun saving hack was driving me towards madness. Now, I think I’ve figured it out.

Relationships are inherently a exercise in give-and-take. As a companionship unfolds and evolves, it is slowly reveled who loves cooking versus who prefers buying take out and who needs a little extra encouragement versus who is gifted in providing such emotional support. Two disparate personalities merge together into one entity, each offering it’s strengths and revealing it’s vulnerabilities.

Across the last five years, we’ve discovered that I enjoy cooking and he can tolerate loading the dishwasher. He knows that technology talk goes over my head, but that I’m grateful when he fixes my computer. I know that his love language is acts of service and that his habit of hiding lovey-dovey sticky notes around the house doesn’t come naturally, but is rather an intentional bid towards my preference for words of affirmation. We’ve found our groove, and the $5 jar disrupted it.

Suddenly, it feels like he’s contributing more, approximately $500 more. Though we both contribute equally to the relationship by way of affection, housework, insights and funding, the addition of this new expense reintroduces some of the uncertainty of young love (Should I offer to pay or let him?) and the nuances of first moving in together (Do we split everything down the middle, divide expense by percentage of income or just wing it?).

For years, we’ve kept an envelope labeled “Vacation!” to which we add birthday money and other discretionary cash. I’ve never kept track of who contributes what, nor do I care; we both contribute whatever we can. While the $5 jar system may be slightly skewed in favor cash purchases, I’m beginning to recognize that my boyfriend views the jar the same way I view the envelope: together, we are working towards a shared goal.

Perhaps love is a bit like the Olympics, where partners work to tackle the ultimate obstacle course. One’s strength may be speed, where the other’s is disciple. At any given time, my excess resource may be money while my partner’s is time. We give and we take, and we constantly adjust the sails as circumstances change.

Love is a team sport, not a competition. At the end of the day, we both want a decent set of speakers in the living room and to spend a week in the Pacific Northwest. And by contributing what we have, when we have it, to that share goal, we will cross that finish line together.

What is your big shared goal right now, and how are you working with your partner to achieve it?

19 thoughts on “Love is Not a Competition

  1. As weird as it sounds, it can be really hard not to keep score or not to compete in relationships. At least, I’ve always found it that way. While communicating about it seems to help, it’s still a hard mental hurdle to overcome at times.


    1. I think it’s human nature to take mental notes and keep score, and it makes sense evolutionary. If you’re any kind of relationship, you don’t want to exhaust your own resources to the benefit of someone else (even someone you’re committed to), and likewise being the beneficiary of an unbalanced relationship invites the risk of the other ending the relationship. That being said, I think it’s helpful, at least in romantic relationships, to make efforts to overcome that human tendency.

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  2. This is so right about the money part though. When I first moved in with my boyfriend, I was kind of sensitive with money. I counted things base on the amount of money we contributed but that’s not how it is. I shouldn’t have taken importance of who brings in more money, who spends more etc (and money could be the source of evil, should’ve cared for money less). Now, we’re past that problem and we just help each other with the best of our abilities.

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    1. I think that’s a hurdle everyone has to navigate in a new relationship, but it’s a great feeling to moved past that tendency and shift the focus to working as a team and helping one another. πŸ™‚

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  3. My & The Boss’ primary shared goals are: long-term, to get The Girl & The Boy raised up right and out of the home as semi-self-sufficient good decision makers; short-term, to save up for and prepare for our 25th-anniversary trip to Charleston. We rarely use cash, so your awesome $5 plan wouldn’t work for us. Good luck!

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    1. Your long-term goal is an admirable and, based on what I’ve read on your blog, I get the sense that you’re right on track! Also, wishing you an early congratulations on 25 years! ❀ Another money saving hack I used to use was keep a small notebook of "things I didn't buy" and their cost…at the end of the month, I would transfer the total amount into a secondary savings account for future fun things. πŸ™‚

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  4. It is wonderful how you and you partner work together to make things work. It’s hard to make everything exactly equal…but working together, each making his/her contribution is so important. πŸ™‚

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