Chapter 16 – That Boyfriend


It’s Day #39 of the year of not frivolously shopping, and I’m in a reflective mood.

A month ago I was moaning about not being able to spend money. It hurt. It was horrible.


It was like breaking up with a boyfriend you were obsessed with because you never got enough time together, but who was ultimately unsatisfying.

Sure, you were happy when you were in his company, but it was like being under a magic spell — once you were apart you wondered what you’d ever seen in him.

Sweet that he picked a handful of daisies from a field near his house, but he never bought you real flowers.

Nice that he gave you a book of poems saying they reminded him of you, but the previous owner’s name inside the front cover made you wonder if that was true.


Lovely that he took you on a picnic to a special spot along the lakefront where he told you about his dreams and hopes for the future, but funny that you two rarely went out for dinner, and when you did, you paid.

Shopping is that boyfriend. Great at the time of the transaction, but then you’re stuck with the bill and the memory of something that looked better in the moment than it does right here, right now, in the context of your life.


There is something intoxicating about shopping and buying things, about being in the grip of the hunt, the score, the spend. There have been times I’ve been afraid that the rock-bottom price tag might be an error — that the number was too low and some savvy sales associate at the register would say, “Oh, no! This is a mistake! Can I get a manager over here?”

In digging through my closets and drawers, I’ve seen those numbers on those price tags, and I was happy to get those items, but have I used them? Not yet. I’m working on that. I wrote about it previously, and there’ll be more in a future post.


Recently I had a birthday. As I planned out that day, I tried to muster up the excitement I once felt anticipating a day of shopping. For the past few decades I liberally spent money, saying  “I’m going to buy myself something special. It’s my birthday after all.”

But damn if the fun hasn’t gone out of it all now that I’m not shopping. Something has shifted. And I’m both happy and scared that the shift may be permanent.

Is there a part of the brain that goes to sleep when one shops? Its like that with certain obsessive-compulsive disorders; you twirl a lock of hair in your fingers, feel down to the root of a single hair, pull… and twenty minutes later you find you’ve plucked out enough hair to create a small bald spot. This is how it is with trichotillomania, compulsive hair pulling, and those who live with it find it soothes them even though they know they don’t want to do it.

Those who cut also feel a release.


I’m not saying compulsive shopping is a disorder exactly — though some claim it is — but I know that there is something calming about it that I needed for a very long time. And now that I’ve stopped, I’ve been less diligent and careful in other areas. I can tell. I’ve gained a few pounds since January 1st because I’m still seeking ways to comfort myself.

No, I don’t miss shopping. My life is richer — literally and figuratively — for it.


But for a single person, having a boyfriend feels preferable to living alone. The world wants us to pair up. The world also wants us to own things and have delight in the ownership. How many bloggers out there write about the nesting impulse and the beautiful homes they create to manifest their happiest selves? Well, to them I say, “I want to see what’s under your kitchen sink, in the dark recesses of your basement or garage, what’s under your bed.”

We are none of us perfect, and somewhere we’re going to slip up.


I’m eating a little too much to make up for shopping less — actually going cold turkey on shopping — and it’s been nasty outside and I haven’t been eager to leave my home unless I had to, and I had a car accident and that’s stressful. So I accept the circumstances.

I know somewhere I’m going to fail. If the fail is a slight weight gain, so be it.

But what has changed is the impulse.

When I thought about shopping on my birthday, I told myself, “Well, I’ll allow myself $20 to spend on ANYTHING. That’s reasonable and after all, it’s my birthday.” Yes, it’s reasonable, but it’s a drink for a recovering alcoholic. I may say I’ve lost the urge to shop, but I can’t be smug about it. I understand I didn’t overcome it overnight. For now I’ve either suppressed it or made enough gains in the way of micro-progress to be addicted to not-shopping. But given the right (or very wrong) circumstances, I could slip. I must be honest about that.


Someone on Facebook posted, “What happened to your no frivolous spending blog? I miss it.” That reminded me so many of us are on this path. I haven’t been writing because not much has been happening, and because of the self-doubt I described above. We are all bundles packed with messes, neuroses and addictions. Keeping busy by shopping is a way to avoid other things. And I’m feeling that my own neuroses spread out for all to view won’t be as interesting as the physical lengths I go to not to shop. So I’ve slackened off.

Yet now, in this second month, I have to go there. I have to move into the inner head game phase and ask myself: what was going on that I needed to shop for so long? Do those issues still exist, or have I simply pushed them under or aside in the short term?

If that boyfriend came back and said, “Don’t worry — nobody’s going to know what’s happening between us. We can be together without being discovered,” would I say yes? Would I cheat — on myself?

Photo by Daniel Weiss on Unsplash

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