From swiping to secret DM-ing, from orbiting to defriending, there’s no denying that apps have reshaped the dating landscape. But before you blame Tinder or Facebook Messenger for making it more challenging to get into and maintain a relationship, hear me out. In my opinion, Venmo is the app that’s ruining romance.
I get that from a logistical standpoint it makes life easier. I Venmo my roommate rent. I Venmoed my sister when she purchases both of our plane tickets to Atlanta. I send and receive an average of two Venmo love notes—basically $5 for coffee—from my female friends throughout the week. I even use Venmo to charge for editorial services for my work as a writer.
But in romantic relationships, I believe Venmo encourages stinginess. Here’s how.
First, it gave rise to the new trend of “rebating.” Two people go out on a date. Afterward, one person (presumably the woman), lets the other know they aren’t interested in another date. Then, the rejected person who paid for the drink or meal (presumably the male), submits a Venmo request to the woman for half of the cost of the outing.
Yep, this is a thing, and it goes without saying that rebating is toxic to courtship.
But that’s not my only issue with Venmo. Yes, Venmo makes splitting the bill—in a time when fewer people carry around cash—easier. But because it’s so easy to split everything 50-50, people are starting to feel obliged to split everything 50-50. We’ve stopped treating each other, and that’s made romantic relationships feel more transactional.
I know I’m not alone in thinking this. My friends have mentioned that they feel like they have to Venmo their dates their half of the check, even if the date chose a restaurant that was much more expensive than they can afford.
Venmo has had a negative effect on my current relationship too. I noticed recently that we go halves on everything. One of us grabs the other a $3 coffee on the way to the gym? Venmo. The other person bought a $5 tube of toothpaste for us both to use? Venmo. Someone swiped the other into the subway? Venmo. Suddenly our every interaction is book-ended with a Venmo request for whatever food or activity we had just eaten or done.
True, one benefit of using Venmo in a romantic situation is that it draws attention to the long-held belief that the male partner must bear the financial burden of the date. I have no problem with the app making things more financially equal between partners.
The problem? We’ve stopped treating each other—there’s less generosity and giving, and that’s an enormous part of what makes a relationship magical. Treating someone to dinner, drinks, a weekend out of town, or some other thing or experience is a warmhearted act of no-strings-attached selflessness. It’s a powerful way to show care and love.
I asked Shadeen Francis, a sex, marriage, and family therapist in Philadelphia, to explore this idea with me. Here’s what she says: “A lack of generosity has never helped anyone in sex or love. Period. While paying for things does not earn you sex or love, demonstrating selfishness or pettiness in the relationship is a major turnoff, and doesn’t bode well for you.”
“In romance, openness is a key component to making someone feel cared for,” she continues. “It is hard to do that and be stingy at the same time.” Preach.
While I don’t have fantasies of going back to an era when my date picks up every check, I do want to return to a dynamic where we don’t automatically Venmo each other for every little charge.
Jess O’Reilly, PhD, host of the @SexWithDrJess Podcast, says that makes sense. “It might make you feel special if your partner treats you from time to time. And you can derive great pleasure from being generous if your partner is appreciative of your generosity. Just as you can communicate love and interest via generosity of time and spirit, so too can you communicate love through financial generosity.”
Ultimately, O’Reilly and Francis agree that if you’re constantly paying one another back via Venmo because you don’t want to feel like you’re indebted to the other person, that’s okay. But that both parties need to be in agreement about it.
“Communication around intent and desire to split, be treated, or treat is of paramount importance,” says O’Reilly. “If it would make you feel special, important, or cared for to have a partner pick up the tab once in awhile (and you like to do the same), you need to speak up and/or lead by example,” she tells me.
Personally, I’m still using Venmo; it’s too convenient not to. But I hope we all start to treat our dates and partners more just for the sake of doing something sweet and romantic—and resist the pressure to send a Venmo request back.
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