I was aware I had stopped listening, that I was looking – possibly staring – enviously at the woman on the next table. She was super stylish, she seemed confident and comfortable in her own skin, as she sipped her glass of champagne. But what I was most taken with was her Harvey Nichols bag. I don’t think I was actually dribbling, but I may as well have been.
We were in a swanky restaurant in Leeds celebrating my husband’s birthday. A place I would have loved a few years ago; a place some would call pretentious; a place that has a champagne menu; a place full with enough designer handbags to set up your own Harvey Nichols handbag department; a place full of busy, successful people. But now this is a place I felt self-conscious in, like people would somehow know that my jacket was from TK Maxx and my jeans were from H&M, that it was obvious I was not part of the gang anymore.
When I had the big job – and the big income to match – me and my Prada trousers would have been very at home there. And whilst I know money doesn’t bring happiness (and I do know this, because I am much happier now and have a lot less money), it does bring with it a certain level of confidence and freedom.
I carried on staring at her bag; I knew I was being ridiculous. It is seven years since I could afford to step in the door of shops like that, I have had plenty of time to adjust. And most of the time I don’t think about it. I know how lucky I am to have a husband who has financially supported me through this time, I know how lucky we are that he has a good job, and I am grateful for the wonderful life I lead.
And I don’t think I would go back to my old ways even if I did have the money. When I used to buy Gucci and Prada, and be on first name terms with the assistants in Karen Millen, I was in a very different place: I was single and living a frivolous lifestyle; a lifestyle I don’t really aspire to have anymore. We now choose to spend most of our money on travelling and I think I would now see a £500 handbag as A LOT of air miles. At the risk of sounding like a grown-up, I would rather see a new part of the world than have a designer wardrobe.
But now and then, I miss having the choice. And this was one of those moments. And of course, I don’t know anything about this lady’s life, just because she had done some fancy shopping does not mean she was happy, it just means she had done some fancy shopping.
I had a word with myself and brought my attention back to my husband, the least I could do on his birthday (also he had told me to stop staring!).
I didn’t think anymore about it and got back to appreciating my life and not envying someone elses. Then last week we had the kitchen tiled. The young man who did the work was here for a couple of days so I got to know a little about his life: single, 29, lives with his dad, has a nine-year old daughter. We got talking about having children and I was sharing my well practised story of not having any maternal genes. He replied, that if he was in our situation (married, lovely apartment, financially stable) that he would want to have another child.
I smiled to myself, the Tile Man is looking at my life, like it is that Harvey Nichols bag. He thinks I have something that he doesn’t have, something he would like for himself.
And I know we do it all the time, we see someone in the street, or meet someone new through friends, or at work and we make assumptions. We talk to someone (or in my case not even talk to them) and we create an image of their lives in our heads, an image that could be way off the truth.
Those Harvey Nichols bags aren’t going to mean a thing if her husband beats her, she hates her job, or has a sick relative, and so on.
And I know when people don’t know me they see something that is not the truth: they see a glamorous, well-off woman (I don’t know why, but even though I shop in cheap shops now I still look like I have money…) who doesn’t have to work. They don’t have any of the back story. They don’t know that not working has been one of the biggest challenges of my life; they don’t know why I am not at work; they don’t know what has brought me to this situation. And that’s okay, why should they?
So Lady with the Harvey Nichols bag, I am sorry for staring. I truly appreciate everything I do have (I could write a whole post just on how blessed I am) and when I’m doing my gratitude journal at night, who cares that it doesn’t involve a new Louis Vuitton bag. And hey, you can get some really good stuff in TK Maxx.
When does your green-eyed monster show up? (It can’t just be me…)