When I was dating my first serious boyfriend, I wore rose-colored glasses for the better part of six freaking years. I thought he loved me, so when he showered me with expensive gifts, I gladly accepted them. It wasn’t until much later that I realized that he was using things as a substitute for substance.
I thought he was expressing his love.
I’d never dated a guy with a full-time job before. I was just out of high school and I’d only had two semi-serious relationships at that point. I really believed it was love when he’d surprise me with roses for no reason at all. There were always flowers, chocolates, new DVDs… Each gift was an expression of his love for me, in my mind—and they made my sisters jealous so I relished them all the more.
No one had ever spoiled me before.
The guys I’d dated in the past were just high school kids. They couldn’t afford regular gifts, so it was exciting to be with a guy who could. I felt myself becoming more and more spoiled. When we went out to eat, I stopped offering to pay. If we went to catch a movie, I’d stand back so he could buy our tickets and snacks at the concession stand. When my birthday came around, I expected a big ticket item and he didn’t let me down. I loved the attention my gifts got me and the admiration and jealousy I got from my friends and sisters. My life was going great—or so I believed.
I started not to recognize myself.
A voice deep inside kept telling me something was wrong, but I was too excited to listen. The more spoiled I got, the less like “me” I became. After almost a year together, I knew we had to talk. We sat down to a dinner I insisted on paying for and I opened up. I knew he was buying new gaming systems for me because I couldn’t afford them on my own. While I was happy to have them, I was disappointed in myself. I’d become dependent on him for expensive things and that wasn’t OK. Wouldn’t he let me do the spoiling sometimes? By the end of dessert, we agreed to keep our gifts to a limit. I’d take my turn to pay for things and so could he.
Nothing lasts forever.
Everything worked out great for a while. I was paying for meals and outings here and there and he only bought me nicer gifts on special occasions. I was happy just to spend time with him, but he wanted more. He explained he wanted to go to theme parks and have day trips to the beach. Since I couldn’t afford these things every weekend, he wanted permission to pay for them. I’m ashamed to say I agreed. The lure of a few weekend trips was too strong. After less than a month, we were back to him buying regular gifts for me and I was happily accepting them.
Everything started to unravel.
After we’d been dating for about two years, I became seriously sick. I had kept lupus at bay since I was 16, but now it was affecting my kidneys. I lost function and spent nine hours a week at dialysis centers. When I was home, I often felt sickly and we spent less time together. To compensate, he bought several gifts to help me pass the time. I couldn’t see him very often, but I could play the games he bought me and listen to music on my new Zune for hours. We thought it was a great compromise, but we were wrong.
The more stuff I had, the less time we spent together.
Thankfully, it only took two years to get a kidney transplant. In the interim, my boyfriend continued to spoil me and I continued to accept his elaborate gifts. During the years I was on dialysis, he only saw me if I was well enough to go over to his place. If things got busy at work, he’d just buy me a new game to help me pass the time. As my stockpile of presents grew, our time together shrank. I missed him and tried to see him whenever I could, but he never made time to visit me.
I wondered if he even wanted to stay together.
After the transplant, we’d been together for four years. I still got butterflies in my tummy when we met up, but did he feel the same? We spoke about it and he explained he did love me and wanted to stay by my side. That was enough for me, so I didn’t push the issue. He wanted me and that’s all that mattered. It took months for me to fully stabilize, but once I did, we went back to our old habits. We took weekend trips, went gambling, and hit up all the restaurants I wasn’t allowed to eat at while my kidneys were freaking out. He paid for it all, and since I hadn’t worked for quite a while, I was happy to let him.
The more of his time I wanted, the more stuff he bought me.
Things were going well enough until I started inviting him out with my friends. He always had an excuse to say no but then gave me a wad of cash to “have a good time” with. I suddenly realized he was just paying me to be his girlfriend in title only.
It was time to grow the hell up.
Six years of my life were wasted, but that didn’t matter anymore. I couldn’t stay with him just because he bought me a bunch of junk. I thanked him for everything, then said goodbye. He did what he’d always done best and bought me a few more gifts, but I returned them all. He couldn’t buy me anymore. The breakup was ugly but I don’t regret it. I’ve dated a lot of guys since him, but not a single one could buy my time. I paid my portion of every bill and if he insisted, I’d make certain I’d get him the next time. It’s OK for your partner to buy you expensive gifts, but not when that’s all there is.
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