Advice columnist

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

My boyfriend helped me out financially last year. He said at the time not to worry about it, but I feel like I should pay him back now that I can. He barely makes enough to get by.

However, part of me thinks I should put the money aside to help him in the future, or put it toward a mutual expense. I am not sure what to do.


Start paying him back. If he refuses, then you can put it aside for his future or a mutual expense.

That is, assuming his actual words were, “Don’t worry about it,” which is vague enough to warrant your taking the initiative to pay him back anyway.

If instead he said explicitly, “I see this as a gift and I don’t want you to pay it back,” then it’s actually not your decision to make. In that case, though, I still would suggest saying: “You said this was a gift, for which I remain grateful. I do have the money to pay you back, now, and would like to if you’ll let me.”

Re: Repayment:

“You told me not to worry about it, and so I didn’t, which was an extra gift. But now I’m able to pay you back, and I’d like to start. Thank you for both, from the bottom of my heart.”


Nice. If he doesn’t accept, then using it to cover a shared expense is the right Plan B. That’s as good as handing him cash, but leaves the deal intact.

Dear Carolyn:

My recently unemployed significant other (with whom I don’t live) wants to hang out in the evenings more than I do. Work’s been hard lately, and I need some me time to recoup.

On the other hand, S.O. is bored and lonely, and I feel cruel declining to spend time together. How can I wrap my head around this so as to not succumb to witchy lash-outs due to mild caretaker’s fatigue?

Me Time

Figure out what time off you need, and then take it, nicely and firmly. “I need a night to myself, so I’m going to sit in my sweats and watch bad TV/read,” or see other friends, or run errands, or whatever.

If you get any resistance, say, “Hey, it’s not personal, this is who I am — I need me time.” Then stick to it.

In other words, don’t wrap your mind around anything: Recognize that you can’t give your best to others when you leave yourself zero recovery time. Your S.O.’s neediness likely intensifies your me-time cravings, and that’s a point in favor of scheduling restorative breaks, not against.

Re: Me Time:

If you take time for yourself, make sure you have plans in place with your S.O. My husband needs a lot more me-time than I do. When we were dating, what made it a non-issue was my knowing when we had plans, so his taking some time for himself didn’t bother me a bit.


Thanks. Understanding different needs (vs. taking them personally) is the linchpin, but an assurance or two can’t hurt.

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