Q. Dear Jordan,
In less than a week I’m going on a big family vacation with my boyfriend. He and I are from totally different worlds: his family on both sides are pretty well off and I grew up eating discount Cheerios. I contribute as much as I can to help even the score, but I still feel like the lovable tramp dragged in from the street a lot of the time.
His parents invited me to come along on their vacation to a resort/spa/golf course and while I’ve accepted, I’m kind of at a loss in terms of what I should actually do once I get there. My boyfriend will be golfing every day and the women are supposed to go to the spa together. Despite the fact that we’ve been together for a year and a half, I feel uncomfortable not only with the idea of invading their spa/vacation time, but also the idea of letting them pay for extravagant services. My guy says they can super afford it and they “like to be generous.” I really don’t want to insult them by either turning down their invitations or being too cavalier, but I’m a struggling grad student, and I’m kind of at a loss.
So far, my best ideas are being the girl who cried work and sitting in our room on my laptop, making them think I’m a workaholic, or hiding away in the fitness center all day and making them think I’m an exercise addict. If there was any way for me to pay my way, I would! That would make me feel much more at ease.
What’s appropriate here?
A. A few years ago, I found myself in a situation that wasn’t too dissimilar from the one you’re about to be in. It was during the period when Kendrick was on tour, so luxuries like fancy dinners out were most definitely not in the budget. Around that time, a good friend of mine moved into a beautiful townhouse in London with her wealthy fiancé, and suggested that I come visit her. Just the idea of going stressed me out a ton: I couldn’t imagine how I was going to afford the plane ticket, let alone a week of restaurant meals and activities. But I hadn’t seen my friend in ages, and I imagined once I got there it wouldn’t cost much at all: the point was to spend time together, and I figured we’d mostly just hang out at home, talking and cooking. Besides, my friend and I had met while we were both on-a-budget students living in London, and we had had some of the most fun of our lives doing nothing more extravagant than dancing at a cheap club before grabbing Burger King for the bus ride home.
My first night in London, my friend insisted on taking me out to (and paying for) an incredible, multi-course meal at a local restaurant – we’re talking the kind of meal that, had she let me split the bill with her, would have meant I wouldn’t have been paying rent that month. She assured me that her fiancé made an excellent living and that she wanted to show me amazing places – and I really do believe that she didn’t begrudge the cost of a tagalong friend – but still: while I appreciated her generosity, it seemed to underscore the extent to which our lives had diverged along two very different paths.
That week, we went out to expensive dinners almost every night, and I grew increasingly uncomfortable, and – yes – jealous. Every time we went out with her ritzy new friends and I skipped an entree for the cheapest appetizer on the menu I felt even more out-of-place, and by the end of the week I’d heard so many stories about trips to Switzerland that I suppose I just stopped feeling like I had any tales of my own to contribute. Which wasn’t true, of course…but that’s how it felt. We held on to our friendship for a little bit longer, but eventually stopped speaking altogether. It was horrible. And it also didn’t have to be that way, I don’t think.
In retrospect, the mistake I made on my trip to London had nothing to do with where we went and who paid for what, but rather that I let the issue of money become such an issue in my own head. I felt embarrassed and inadequate, and the fact that I couldn’t stop dwelling on my embarrassment and inadequacy made me seem ungrateful, when all my friend and her boyfriend wanted was for me to have a good time. Should they have been more sensitive? Maybe a little. But what they were trying to do was be generous, and I should have accepted it with more grace.
Also, your situation and the one I was in in London involve one key difference: you’re going on a trip with parents, and as a student you’re still sort of viewed as a kid (relatively speaking). No one expects you to be able to afford trips to spas. Seriously. And if your boyfriend’s family invited you along to a place where expensive activities aren’t really optional, they probably expect to pay for you should they extend the invitation for you to join in. If your boyfriend says that’s just the way they are…I think you can trust him, because he knows them best.
Here’s what I would do: if you’re staying in a shared residence, bring along a gift similar to what you’d bring for a hostess. It doesn’t have to be (and shouldn’t be) expensive, but it should be personal and thoughtful (if you’re staying in your own hotel room, this isn’t necessary). I think it’s polite to initially decline the offer to head to the spa so that it doesn’t appear that you “expect” them to treat you; if they don’t press the issue just enjoy yourself by the pool and join them later, after they’ve returned. I suspect, however, that they’ll immediately realize that you’re a little uncomfortable with the cost and the perceived intrusion, and insist that you come along. If that happens, be a sport and go.
Some more ideas:
- Some spas offer free access to services like a steam room and sauna with the purchase of a day pass or a single treatment, so you may be able to keep the expense to a minimum. As a bonus, these activities allow you to interact with your hosts more than, say, a solo mud wrap.
- If your hosts insist that you join them, feel free to bow out after what feels like a reasonable amount of time – there’s no need to spend the entire day in the spa getting multiple treatments. The goal is to participate and get to know your hosts, so feel free to head back to the hotel “for a nap” after awhile, and then join them later for dinner.
- Contribute in ways that you can (make a coffee run in the morning, whip up a dessert, bring along a game for everyone to play in the evening).
- Say “thank you”, of course, but don’t belabor the point – one sincere thank you at the end of the day is better than a constant stream that will make everyone uncomfortable.
- Send a small (again, personal rather than expensive) thank-you gift with a note upon your return.
Whatever you do, don’t spend the entire time off by yourself because you’re worried about joining in: your actions may be misinterpreted as disinterest in getting to know them, and that’s presumably the point of the trip. Your boyfriend’s family invited you because they want to get to know you and want you to enjoy yourself, and as long as you’re gracious and thoughtful in return, you’ll be fine.
Also: you get to go to a spa! Fun. Have fun!
*Anytime you can put in a Hootie reference, am I right?