Thursday, December 11, 2008

"Cancel My Pedicure?!?!...


A friend e-mailed me this with the message, " I tried very hard to feel bad for Simcha's wife, but..." proving once again that he is a much better person than I. He tried to feel bad...I tried not to laugh my head off.

From the 5 Towns Jewish Times:
"Dear Esther, I know that things are pretty bad out there in today’s economy, but somehow I never really thought it would affect me personally. Silly me.

I’ve been married for 13 years and am in my thirties. My husband, “Simcha,” has always been a self-made man. He’s always been a macher, doing this and that. Some of what he did I understood and, honestly, some of what he did I never really understood. All I knew was that he earned a very good living and we lived a very lavish lifestyle.

I didn’t grow up with very much. My father had a menial job in a store and my mother always babysat to bring in extra cash. My siblings and I worked from an early age in order to buy for ourselves all the things that we wanted, like nice clothing and even some basic things. When I married Simcha, who is six years older than I am, my life changed completely. I didn’t have to work anymore, and I could just go out and buy whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. Simcha is a generous man and never questioned my lavish spending. We moved into this neighborhood, started befriending other young, successful couples, and lived a fairytale life. At least I now know that it was fairytale. At the time, although I was very grateful for everything that we had and did, I think on some level I took it for granted that life would always continue the way it was.

Recently, Simcha has informed me that our spending is now under “lockdown.” He has told me that any purchase over $50 must be very carefully considered and made only if absolutely necessary. He wants me to cancel my personal trainer, my weekly manicure/pedicure appointments, my monthly salon appointments, and my yoga lessons; he wants me to cut down the household help to one day a week; there is to be no more lunching with the girls…and the list goes on. Also, I am to cancel some of our children’s after-school activities, and there is a serious ban on all new toys and perks for them. I know that it wasn’t easy for him to tell me all of this, and that he held off telling me how bad things were until absolutely necessary.

I’m having a really hard time with these new rules. It’s like my whole life has turned upside down, and I don’t know what to do with myself. I realize that without my lunch dates, shopping, and self-maintenance, I have all this free time on my hands, and I’m feeling bored and resentful. Though I know I can’t really be angry at Simcha, since I suppose it’s not really his fault, I am resentful. It seems like many of my friends are still able to shop and travel and continue life as before. One or two have mentioned that things are feeling tighter for them, but I get the feeling that I’m in the worst shape financially of all of them.

I guess I’m wondering why Simcha didn’t see this coming and protect us better. I’m wondering why my friends’ husbands seem to have been smarter in this way. I’m also worried that our friends will drop us like hot potatoes once they realize that we can’t keep up with them anymore. No more Thursday-night dinners in the city; no more vacations together; no more lavish gift-giving. I’m not even sure where we fit in anymore.

So, bottom line: I’m scared. I find myself snapping at my husband. I’m worried about where we’ll be in a few months from now, how I’ll cope, and how our children will cope. Really, I’m worried if I—and our marriage—will be able to survive our new status.

-Feeling Poor

Dear Feeling Poor, whether or not this is helpful for you to hear, you are not alone. You and your family are among many families now finding themselves in new and uncharted territory.

The past decade or so has provided many families with opportunities to soar to levels of wealth previously rarely seen. Savvy businessmen seized the moment and amassed unheard-of wealth. Being unfamiliar with economic slowdowns, recessions, or, G-d forbid, depressions, many young whippersnappers spent their money like there was no tomorrow. Sound familiar? The good times were rolling and it seemed as though they would last forever.

But few things, if any, last forever.

As you mentioned, there will always be those individuals with enough forethought, versatility, or good old mazal who manage to sail through even the roughest of times without a hitch. But many people are hurting, and some are hurting very badly—probably much worse than you.

This is an important time for you to take stock of who you are and what your life is about. We know it’s very easy to become accustomed to a bountiful lifestyle after having climbed the economic ladder. That doesn’t take much talent or character. However, a person’s true constitution really emerges when one is forced to take steps backward and say goodbye to the luxuries in one’s life. The question becomes, what are you really made of?

You are faced with a tremendous challenge—many challenges, in fact. Let’s look at some of them so that you can take stock and become the person that you were probably meant to become.

First, there is the issue of how you are going to relate to your husband. It sounds to me as though when he had what to give, he gave fully and with an open hand. You must never forget that. If he is telling you to rein in the spending, it’s not because he has suddenly become cheap, but rather because he is being responsible and trying to protect his family from financial devastation. You need to respect him for that and not hold him in contempt for the state of the world. Maybe he could have been more conservative during the days of wine and roses, but what about you? Couldn’t you also have been much more conservative and not jumped right into the world of the rich and famous? You luxuriated together, and now it is time for you to tighten your belts together, working as a cohesive team.

In fact, I would imagine Simcha could use your love and support now more than ever, rather than hearing you complain. Think what he must be going through. It doesn’t sound like you know too many details about his occupation, and I’m sure he is shielding you from many of the gory facts. But his stress level must be sky-high, and this is the time when you need to be there for him.

Secondly, I believe you should start thinking about creating a new lifestyle for yourself. You sound bored and unsure about what to do with your day. Have you considered working? Not only for the practical reasons, but also to do something that can be fulfilling for you. You may find a career that satisfies you in a way that shopping never did and then you will wonder why you ever spent so much time shopping in the first place. Ask yourself whether the shopping was filling a void that should have been acknowledged and dealt with in a more meaningful way in the first place.

You mentioned your concern about friends dropping you and your husband because you’re no longer available to “play” with them. This might be a fine time to ask yourself what the nature of these relationships were all about, anyway. If someone no longer has any use for you because you’re not available for fun and games, this may be just the wake-up call you need to help you understand what a real relationship is about. Though there is nothing wrong with going out for a dinner, a true friendship goes much deeper. It’s about heart and soul, not about the clothes on your back or the latest cruise.

Finally, you seem concerned about your children. This turn of events may actually be the greatest blessing of all. Children who are pampered and privileged (the way so many of our local children are) tend to grow up spoiled, selfish, and with a sense of entitlement that can lead to serious problems. They don’t need designer clothes, daily after-school activities, vacations, and luxurious affairs. Most of us didn’t have any of those things growing up, and, as a result, we learned how to make do and eventually to go out and work for what we wanted. We are none the worse for those experiences and, in fact, are better prepared to cope. You had those coping skills growing up, and you now need to conduct an internal search to once again tap into those strengths that I know you still have.

As you mentioned, Simcha is a “macher.” I have no doubt that his ship will come in again someday. In the meantime, use this lean period to prove to yourself, to Simcha, and to your children that life is about overcoming challenges with dignity and grace. It’s about always remembering what really matters and the importance of loyalty and love. Challenges can and should help us grow as individuals and increase our level of compassion toward others. Look around. There are many people who are in much more serious trouble than you. Perhaps you can use some of your time to reach out a hand and help them. That’s a quick fix that is sure to take your mind off your own fears and give you a greater sense of reality.

These are not easy times. Will you look back on them someday and feel as though you got through them with integrity, learned many valuable lessons in the interim, and were an inspiration for others? That is up to you. v