By: Jenny Foughner  

Ah, love. It’s grand, it’s never having to say you’re sorry, it’s kisses in a beanbag chair… and hot damn, is it expensive. Whether you pay love’s dividends in cash money, real estate or free will, you can’t really gain a girlfriend without losing something in the process. Of course, you do it because what you get in return is so much greater than the sum of whatever you’ve given, and because relationships are all about “give and take”. Right? But what happens when you suddenly realize you’re doing all the giving, and your lady has made herself the sole proprietor of a business dedicated only to taking? Well, first, fight the urge to write up an invoice. (Better to deal with these things outside of the watchful eyes of the blogosphere.) Instead, take a step back and take stock of your situation. Getting a girl to go halvsies at brunch is a far different task than getting her to back off from your weekly date with must-see TV, so you shouldn’t expect a one-size-fits-all solution that will remedy all of your feeling-encroached-upon woes. Once you’ve discerned the nature of the mooching, then you can peruse this primer on how to proceed.

When you’re always stuck footing the bill:

You’re a good boyfriend, so I’m sure you feel honored to treat your lady to a lovely dinner now and again. But unless you are (a) dripping with cheddar and/or (b) horrified by the thought of a woman buying you a sandwich instead of making you one, then you’ll eventually want your relationship to transition into a more equal partnership, if only because you need to have something left over to contribute to your 401k at the end of the month. If you’ve been dating for a while and have started to feel burdened by your significant’s love of filet mignon and excessive bar tabs, then it’s time to make the switch to equal-opportunity funding.

How exactly is this accomplished, you ask? With open communication (… boring.) Instead of angrily thrusting the bill towards her and getting up to use the bathroom for 30 minutes, have a conversation before your next dinner date wherein you invoke two staples of winning arguments with women: love and the future. Literally, you can say something as simple as “I love you, and I want to plan for our future, so I’d like to start being a little more financially conservative, especially because things are tight for everyone right now.” Dinners out are a luxury, so she’ll either agree to eat in or realize that she too has the power to throw down her Visa once in a while. If she throws a hissy, then she’s either immature or in this relationship for the wrong reasons.

If you’re not at the “love” and “future” stage, and instead just resent the fact that we live in a world in which most women expect men to pay for them most of the time, then open communication is still your best bet (… and still boring. Sorry). Once you’ve gotten comfortable in a relationship, you should be able to enter into a conversation about your financial values, even if it’s only to say that you love spending time with her but don’t feel comfortable being the only one to pay when you go out five nights a week. If you can’t be honest about money, then you can’t be honest about other important issues, so address this problem before it becomes too large to overcome.

When you’ve been forced to give up precious space in your convertible one-bedroom:

The time-honored tradition of men and women fighting for space on this overcrowded planet will no doubt continue with your relationship, even if it hasn’t been an issue thus far. As soon as those semi-regular sleepovers become nightly occurrences, someone – usually a girl someone – will begin to leave things around your apartment, and someone else – usually the you someone – will begin to feel like your personal bubble has been compromised. Your girlfriend’s toothbrush, underwear and hair accessories tend to move in before she does, so if she’s begun to leave things in drawers for “convenience,” then you might want to think about where you see all of this going in the long run, because it’s a good bet she sees it ending in “I Do.”

First, know that moving in together is usually a decision best left to logic, and not circumstance. Yes, it’s easier to engage in midnight booty calls when you share an address, but it’s also harder to maintain your selfhood and grow as individuals when you spend every non-working moment on the couch together. If you’re ready to take the cohabitation plunge, then by all means, sally forth; if your girlfriend has taken over your real estate because she’s lazy or broke, though, then it’s time for an intervention of sorts.

Again, this type of thing calls for a little more conversation and a little less action. Bring a bottle of wine if you must, but if you think that living together is too big of a step to take right now, then level with your lady and talk it out like big boys and girls. You can give her a drawer in your dresser if you need to ease her mind and make her feel welcome, but if she’s achieved squatter status – and not the good kind – without running it by you first, then ignoring the situation will only cause you to get frustrated and blow up at her about it down the line.

When you’ve lost touch with Sunday Night Football… and all of your friends:

People alllllllways say they won’t become “one of those couples,” the couple who only spends time with each other and uses the ‘we’ as if they’re 1800’s British royalty. It’s all too easy, though, to lose yourself in a relationship; sex is awesome, girls smell good, and the prospect of watching your boys strike out at the club can sound like torture when compared to a night in with your good-smelling booty buddy. It’s not rocket science. But if you’re going on weeks without seeing daylight and the boys’ night invitations are waning, then you might be in danger of falling into a horrifyingly deep relationship abyss.

If you’ve entered into this situation unknowingly, then your girl probably did the same, meaning you can both get back to your besties without making too big of a deal out of it. If she’s reluctant to give up her 24/7 subscription to the You channel, though, then you’ve unwittingly bedded down with a life moocher, for which there is only one solution: ground rules. You need your space. You owe her an explanation (you can’t just become MIA to prove a point), but you don’t owe her your mental health, so if she insists upon taking up all of your time, then get her straight or get out. These things don’t work themselves out over time; they only get worse, to the point of waking up a year from now and realizing that the only non-girlfriend relationships you have exist solely on Twitter.