Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Giving and taking need not be defined by a monetary figure
Anonymous: My boyfriend has far, far more disposable income than I do, and I generally don't like accepting gifts that are way more than I would be able to reciprocate, because it really doesn't feel fair to me. I come up with alternatives that will have the same effect, but cost a whole lot less. If he wants to have a nice dinner with me, instead of going to a nice restaurant, I can come up with some exciting recipes to try, and then we'll have a cooking adventure and have a good time.
I'm now studying abroad, and he's coming to visit me. He would really like to have a special weekend in Awesome City, but this would be a pretty expensive trip, and I can't afford it. He offers to pay for the whole thing. I'm not really comfortable accepting such a huge outlay of money on my behalf, and propose other things that would be more affordable to me (nice cycling weekend, whatever).
But, no, he really has his heart set on the weekend in Awesome City, and doing it with me. How do we work this out? I think a weekend in Awesome City with him would be really great, I just can't afford to pay half, and would feel bad about him paying for a hugely disproportionate amount.
Carolyn: I think you're overthinking it. You're seeing it only as "a huge outlay of money on my behalf," but really it's on his behalf as much, if not more, than yours. He wants to go, he wants to go with you, and he wants to go more than he wants to go cycling. If Awesome City isn't your idea of a vacation, then say that, but if you really think it would be really great (really!), then just go.
It's actually bean-counting not to go at this point. While it's important to have an eye to fairness — and no doubt your reluctance to spend his money strengthens your trust in each other — taking a one-for-one approach will eventually undermine your intimacy. You want to give to each other, in general, equal value, and if he has enough money not to put as high a value on it as you do, then accept that, and look for what he does value. Time, undivided attention, taking interest in what interests him, etc.
Please pay as close attention to those as you do to cash — or, even better, when you're ready, stop paying attention to all of them and trust that you're both giving to each other freely and fairly.
Anonymous2: That you "come up with alternatives that will have the same effect, but cost a whole lot less" is great, but the whole key is that he finds those alternatives Awesome. If he does, then you're on a great track regardless of whether he spends a lot more on you. If it's only you that's finding them Awesome, well …
Carolyn: Agreed, thanks.
And if anyone else would like justification for accepting gifts of fabulous travel, precious gems or other extravagances, I'm here for you.