Again, and again, and again
You know how some people get buyer’s remorse? I get that remorse before I even buy anything, and this feeling comes up again and again and again.
A while back, I posted an article about how I could finally face my student debt without crying. That’s still true, mostly, but the thing is, money, in general, is a tremendous catalyst for my personal shame. Last night, this shame cycle started up because my husband casually threw away a shirt that had gotten worn, and he promptly bought two new shirts. I felt frustrated because I coudn’t control the money in that moment. I felt frustrated because it was so easy for him. I felt frustrated because I would never spend that kind of money on myself just because a shirt was worn out. I wear my clothes until they are nearly rags. I buy almost all my clothes secondhand. Then a part of me wondered if maybe, when I feel like I’m being noble with money what I’m actually doing is being a bit of a martyr for my own sake because I don’t think I deserve nice things.
This is a conversation that comes up frequently between me and my husband, and it’s been the same conversation for a long time because I don’t know how to get over this issue. I take a lot of pride in being frugal and thrifty. I’m proud of the fact that I still have the same shoes and belt I wore my first year in junior high school. I’m proud that I’ve had the same phone for three years, and even though it’s getting harder and harder to use it practically, I don’t want to get a new one until I literally can’t use this one anymore. My husband keeps telling me that he’s going to get me a new phone for our anniversary in August, and I keep retorting that I don’t want one, but the reality is, just like with my belt and my shoes, I don’t think I deserve a new one.
I find it hard to balance these opposing points, which seem to be frugality and self-respect, because on the one hand, I see my thriftiness and stubborness to consume as an admirable trait, but on the other hand, when I read into it deeper, I know that a bigger part of my frugalness is motivated by this need I have to punish myself for not being good enough. For not making enough money. For being in debt. For being, as I see it, financially dependent on my husband.
Then, when I get into that realm of how money is tied up into our marriage, I really start to unravel becauase wouldn’t you know, all of this can be traced to my mother (yes, Freud, my mother) and her relationship with my dad and money.
When I spend money, unless it’s on true essentials like bills or groceries, I am constantly asking myself — am I spending money like my mother? My mom indulges in retail therapy on a regular basis. She especially loves shoes and home decor. Her spending habits have always been a source of contention in her marriage with my dad. They always argued about money, and there was one particularly bad fight they had when I was a young kid that tends to surface in my memory when I feel like I might be over-indulging, or when I worry that if it weren’t for my husband, I wouldn’t have half the life I have now. Even though I know that my husband loves me and doesn’t feel burdened by me, I can’t help but feel like a burden in the same way that it seemed like my mom was a burden on my dad.
So, actually Freud, this also has a lot to do with my dad, who modeled this high-strung, anxious attitude around money, and who showed us, and continues to show us, that money is control, that our mom needs him and his money to survive, and she better fall in line with how he wants it to be managed.
The shame, I think then, comes from the feeling in the house during that fight. The feeling that money is the most important resource, even more important than love.
I rebel against that notion by conserving my money unnecessarily. I guess I’m trying to show myself that money isn’t that important by not spending it? Which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense because I obviously think it’s important if my husband spending money on some new clothes could make me feel so anxious. And really, I’m showing myself that I’m not important enough, just like my dad showed my mom that she wasn’t as important as their bank account balance. At least, that’s how it seemed to me as a kid. I know, as an adult, that the fight was more nuanced than that, but I don’t even think I was school-age when they had that fight. All I knew was that Dad was mad at Mom about money. All I knew was how it made me feel, and that feeling of fear and shame around money has stuck with me all these years.
Recently, I was a candidate for a couple of full-time jobs, and I started to get really excited by the idea of having a more steady, realiable income and benefits. Even though I really love my current part-time job, I wanted something full-time because I was excited to give back the financial support my husband has given me for years, but also, I think I truly believed that income would make me feel less like a loser. I didn’t get those jobs, and all these feelings have been surfacing since I got the rejection emails. As usual, I tried to shut down the uncomfortable emotions, and now they’re all boiling to the surface. I’m realizing, though, that providing a steady income for me and my husband wouldn’t have fixed this problem. I might be able to face my student debt without crying, but I’m still pretty freaking fragile when it comes to the topic of money in general because I’ve wound up so much of my worth in it, because I haven’t unwound those feelings of fear and shame.