Last Saturday while having lunch at an upscale mall my boyfriend and I were chatting and I had to explain that often such places make me very uncomfortable if not desperate to leave. “Nice stuff or places make you uncomfortable?” he asked, and I simply replied, “Yeah.” He grew up poor as well, but in another country, one with universal health care and other such services, but he didn’t understand why I was this way. I know why I am this way, although I don’t know why it is so inconsistent with me.
It’s part the poor kid in me, terrified to want anything in fear of some punishment or further shaming. I say further shaming because just being poor back then (early-mid 80’s) was shameful. It was a weight and a guilt-riddled thing I carried around with me until I got my first full time job and moved the hell out on my own. I began to see money entirely differently after that. I finally had a say in what I could or couldn’t have or should want. Yet even with my own money in my pocket I never ventured back to those fancy shops I knew better than to enter before.
While my income and financial status has waxed and waned over the years, my attitude about “nice” places and things doesn’t seem to correlate, at least not in a way I can see. I have had times where I insisted upon 4 star hotels without batting an eyelash because a.) I knew I could get a killer deal online and b.) because I could afford whatever that deal may be at the time. Other times it made no sense to be so careful when I’d saved up specifically for something (my honeymoon). I can’t say that I understand why this is or why I continue to struggle with it, but I do.
I know value and I know a bargain and those two things are not mutually exclusive. I know this and yet I always feel super gross if I buy something at full price or a name brand item, doesn’t matter what it is. I can never simply make a purchase online for something I want or need. I must first scour the internet for a deal, a coupon code or other such thing before I can even consider placing an order. I am the eBay Queen! The bargain Huntress! I have had an eBay/Paypal account for fifteen years!
One day whilst browsing through a random Nordstrom I happened upon the perfect bag. I fell silent, picked up the bag and carefully inspected it’s construction, compartments and straps and then finally, the dreaded price tag. When I saw the price tag I gasped, aloud. Then I saw the name brand and rolled my eyes and plunked that sucker down before the name Kate Spade could even leave my lips. Psshht! Uh uh, no way! $278?!?! “Is it going to balance my accounts and do my laundry?!” I said, jokingly as I walked away. But that bag haunted me. It was perfect! It was the perfect size and shape and style and color and well made, too.
I “visited” this bag a few times. At first this was a fun and joking sort of thing to do. “Oh! Let me go visit my bag!” I would tell my fella and we’d both giggle through the aisle until I saw it again. Then I would go home and scour the internet and hope to win a true eBay miracle, but it wasn’t meant to be. I finally decided that if I got a tax return I could maybe splurge and treat myself to that bag. Maybe. When purse after purse fell apart and left me wanting and sad I would daydream about that Kate Spade bag and sigh because I couldn’t even imagine ever spending that much on a silly bag. Who the hell did I think I was?!
When we went to that upscale mall last Saturday I was fine. We went into Nordstrom because my guy has been treated so well there and got a great deal on some Ray Ban sunglasses (they matched the Amazon price, yo!) when his Oakley’s were on their last legs. So we looked around and I love looking at the big statement necklaces and things. I’ve never actually looked at clothes there, come to think of it. Ha-ha! In any case, when we got to the area where the perfect bag resides I was suddenly very sad and irritated. “What am I doing looking at this stuff anyway?! I am sick of all of this bag business! I’ll just use a paper sack from now on!” I huffed and began to stomp off. “I think burlap could be quite nice!” my boyfriend said, attempting to lighten the mood (I think he thought I was still joking at this point but I know now that I’d reached my limit and was truly upset).
Material things do not make people happy. Health care and a solid and stable roof over one’s head, now that is happy making stuff! Possessions are fleeting and can cause great suffering. I know this and yet I find myself wanting things and then I get mad at myself for wanting anything. I’m constantly stuck between two if not four worlds. It’s frustrating to say the least. I was pretty much miserable that day, though the bag thing was only part of it. I’d spent money on something to help my sister and then while relaying that story to my guy he said, “Why did you do that? You’re too nice! You should have spent that money on treating yourself to that bag.” I knew it was true, but I felt awful either way. I really just wanted to help my little sister and didn’t even think for a second about that bag when I spent the money on her thing (CutCo).
The next morning he said he had some errands to run and would meet me at my place. Nothing out of the ordinary there. When he showed up an hour later (he’d said 30 minutes in his text) he said he’d bought me a present. This is nothing new, we often buy each other little gifts here and there. He handed me a box and began to explain how he hated to see me anguish over such things and that he wanted me to have it, “You deserve it Sarah. You deserve a treat! I wanted you to have your perfect bag.” I cried and cried and hugged and kissed him and yeah, it was one of those rare moments where he’s rendered me speechless (he’s been getting good at that, dammit!).
I still can’t believe that he got me that bag! I can’t believe I have that bag! It’s so beautiful! I’m afraid to even look at it for fear of getting it dirty! Ha-ha! And while I love it so much, I can’t help but feel guilty and unworthy. I know my guy would say I’m being ridiculous and that I deserve everything in the world (he’s the greatest), but my feelings are what they are and I’m just going to have to work through them. I’m certainly not returning such a special and thoughtful gift. I mean, even if I wanted to he’d be crushed if I did. I do love the bag. I feel like a fancy lady person with it on my arm. *Blush*
How do you deal with these issues? Has expensive gifts made you uncomfortable before? A friend once bought me a plane ticket to Seattle and I just couldn’t accept it. It was my dream to go back then, but it was just too much, I thought. He seemed to understand, but we are no longer friends so who knows. I would love to know how others handle such situations. Do you ever feel like running screaming from a building simply because it’s all fancy and shit and makes you feel like garbage through and through? Is that just me?
I totally understand! But in all my years of people watching, I have come to the realization that the place itself is not intimidating. I learned that I allowed myself to feel less than the people there, which created the flight response. “Those fancy people are intimidating/scary,” my brain would scream at me. “We have to leave before they get mad we are there.”
When you sift through it logically, the building is just stone and the people inside are just like you or I. So what if they had money? So what if they walk with their head a little higher? They are not robots or cyborgs, no. They are regular people. I am a regular person. You are a regular person. My brain thought it was protecting me from something, but in reality there was no real threat or harm so it didn’t make sense. You have to allow yourself to feel worthy. Easier said than done, I know. But I also know, it can be done. You just have to want to fight for it.
We are all people just on different paths. Trick is, don’t let other’s paths make you wonder off of your own.