I dreamed last night that I was going back to America by boat, and all the women working at the cruise line’s desks were girls with whom I’d attended high school. Checking in for my voyage as my mom and husband waited behind me, I felt ashamed to be returning to the US – as if I was an ordinary failure with unfulfilled expectations, just like everyone else. I hated that anyone from my past would know my movements as well, as if their not knowing what happened to me left them free to imagine that something better had transpired.
And yet, in real life, I don’t find myself thinking that anyone from my past is doing amazing things. I assume that most of them still live in the same small town, or perhaps the slightly larger one across the river. I assume that most are doing computer-based jobs, raising children and socialising on the weekends. I don’t think less of them for living this way, and yet I never doubted that I would do grander things myself. I expected that I would have more than my parents did – more land, more square footage, more handbags, more children. I envisaged a lifestyle that I had never experienced or even seen. Even as I was paying for new eyeglasses on credit and choosing store-brand groceries because I could save a dime, I expected that this would change and suddenly I’d suffer from the kind of eccentricity which makes one put up a chandelier in the bathroom. And I’d also have the funds to warrant it. Two-story houses with pillars and hardwood floors: I saw and I coveted. I expected that I’d live in one of these houses without any sign that this would be the case.
Of course, my definition of luxury changed from living in the UK. High-ceilinged flats became more attractive to me than sprawling country homes. If anything, their square footage, rivalling that of American suburban homes, felt decadent. And, after latching onto my dream of living in a Glaswegian tenement, so, too, does my new home. I have more space than ever before and as many bathrooms as people. It feels excessive, and yet it surprises me to realise how easily I’ve grown into it. I have space for yoga without hitting a coffee table, and I don’t need to walk sideways through any of our rooms. We weren’t overcrowded before, but our life is spacious now. And as I write this, a robot hoover is circling the house. If that’s not decadent, I don’t know what is.
Which makes me wonder where my feeling of failure in my dream came from. Why is having a life different to my adolescent expectations (or even my expectations from the last few years) leaving me cold? It occurs to me that my shopping habit may be contributing to this. I wonder if, with every purchase, I believed that I was buying myself a better life. Not necessarily better things than I already owned, but stepping stones on the way to a more glamorous and fulfilling life. Or maybe I thought I’d be glad of such accoutrements once I got there. The Chanel handbag, the McQueen dress, the silk blouses: they were the trappings of someone living her ideal life. I think I believed that the flat and the air miles would simply follow.
I understand that it’s usual for children to do slightly ‘better’ than their parents – indeed, it’s something that most parents work for. However, I’m not sure where my extreme fantasy self came from. I was never one for reality television or even high-fashion magazines. And yet, somehow, my desires for my future self grew to unreasonable proportions through my shopping addiction. I believed that I would suddenly have a life where silk blouses and Chanel handbags were requirements for my everyday life. Or maybe that, in purchasing them, my life would grow to a proportion which made them practical and useful.