What Money Can’t Buy
first published Nov 20, 2014
What a waste of a life!
It took me until my 40s before I started to feel as if something were missing from my life. I made a few of attempts to find ways to fill the void but I was useless at anything practical. I failed at each attempt — spectacularly and embarrassingly. So I gave up and went back to my former louche, superficial and self-indulgent ways, but now with much less pleasure.
When I was young, I never questioned that I could have anything I wanted. I could buy whatever I wished. I could pick up at a moment’s notice and travel halfway around the world on a whim. There were always lots of people willing to laugh at my jokes, to revel in my company, to sleep in my bed. It never occurred to me to feel bad or ashamed that everything I had had been bought…including, in their fashion, the laughter, the reveling and the sex. There was nothing beyond that which I wanted. I had all that I desired and desired all I had.
Eventually, however, as I got older, the people I met in my circle tended to be wealthy because they had accomplished something. Even those born rich, seemed to have achieved success in their chosen pursuits. And while there was a fair share of marriages of convenience, there were many who genuinely loved their spouses.
This started to nag at a corner of my psyche.
The thought started small but I soon began to feel that people only saw me as an extension of my money.
Of course that should have been ridiculously obvious. But for decades it was completely opaque to me. I’d been content in my shallow world and had seen no reason to think too deeply about matters which might sow seeds of dissatisfaction.
But as this realization grew, I got the notion that I wanted to possess something money could not buy: The pride of accomplishment. Self-respect. Someone who loved me for myself.
This was the first good impulse I had in my life.
Unfortunately, it came too late. I had no idea how to be loved for myself or what that even meant. I did not possess the emotional skills needed to truly love or be loved. My values were too warped. I had no instincts. I tried to express love but other than buying material gifts, I had no idea how to give of myself. I sought love but was too naive to know when I was being taken advantage of. I paid a heavy price for that, both emotionally and financially.
I tried my hand at business and even local politics. Once again, my instincts (or rather lack of them) failed me. I had no understanding of how the world functioned outside my rarefied milieu.
After several years of failures, I was, for the first time in my life, dissatisfied. I still played my social role. Still traveled in the right circles. Ate and drank in the right places. I was now aware, however, of the subtle mocking disdain of others. Or perhaps that was self-disdain. I honestly don’t know.
There came a time when I withdrew from that circle and surrounded myself with those who admired me…for the same superficial reasons I’d once admired myself. It was a vain and shallow and unexamined life. Pickled in gin.
I ran away from those who I felt judged me negatively. Ironically, if I hadn’t cared about their respect, they’d have respected me more. Or, again, perhaps I only would have believed they did. I imagine, either way, the same number of people would have liked me perfectly well (or disliked me) exactly as I was (and had always been).
The issue, I understand how, was not how they perceived me, but how I perceived their perception of me.
So, I surrounded myself with those even more needy and self-loathing than I. This allowed me to feel better about myself. My positive delusions about myself were reinforced by my coterie of hangers-on.
I told myself I didn’t need my old circle. I talked myself into believing that I was lucky not to have been caught in that prison of strict mores and expectations. I convinced myself I was better off and freer where I was.
On those rare occasions when I was took a good, hard, honest look at myself, I granted that I had run away from them. This notion made me feel bad enough not to want to examine it any more deeply.
What I never understood was that I was not running away from them. I was running from the image of myself which I projected on upon them.