I’m freaking out. There, I said it. We’re replacing my car, and I’m freaking out. And I’m turning 50. (Not that that could have anything to do with my mental anguish.) We’re replacing my car, because my daughter’s car died, so she borrowed mine and is never giving it back. We’re replacing my car, because we can, and she can’t. We’re replacing my car, which was my husband’s old car, with a newer used car that’s more car than I want, or need, or deserve. There, I said that too.
My daughter pointed out that it’s a bit unusual for someone to freak out about getting a car, especially near a major birthday. But my husband is a lucky man—I’m not the wife that wants expensive presents. Even expensive used presents. Let me buy books, sneakers, sterling silver earrings on sale at Kohl’s…I’m fine spending money on little things. I can justify that. This is the longest stretch that I’ve been without a job, without my own income, without making a measurable contribution to the family finances. It’s not worth buying me a car. I’m not worth a car.
There are lots of reasons why I’m not employed, but I’m resisting the urge to explain them. The feeling is strong, though, that I need to justify my existence, my choices, our choices. If I don’t, or can’t, I’d damn well better make sure everyone knows I’m getting a used car, not a new one, because there’s no way I can make any of it sound okay. Why is that? Because I don’t believe I’m worth the expense.
My husband is adamant that getting me a car is the right thing to do. He travels for work and does not want me stuck here without transportation. We found a used car that fits our budget. It’s not extravagant. (There I go again…still trying to drive that point home. Justify, explain, justify, explain.) I’m getting a car, whether I want it or not.
What else is going on here? Why have I spent a week silently yelling, “I don’t want a car!” Is it just the money? Or is it the fact that not having a car is a great excuse to avoid following through on commitments and appointments I’ve been able to avoid? Sorry, can’t go to the dentist for that crown, can’t have that repeat mammogram, can’t leave the house. On some level I like being stuck. I’m a tree—deep roots, firmly anchored, going nowhere. Sing it with me: I shall not be moved.
Stuck doesn’t bother me, engaging with life does. This tells me that the depression I was actively monitoring in March hasn’t magically lifted now that it’s April. I don’t feel good enough about myself and my life to be happy that I’ll have some freedom and mobility again. There’s more out there than doctors and dentists; there are libraries and parks and garden centers. I don’t deserve freedom; I don’t deserve a car. Nothing about me, or my life as I’m living it, equals the expense, approaches the value.
On some level, I recognize that I’ve absorbed this thinking from my husband. I wasn’t always this concerned with my value. As the youngest of seven, I was happy to take everything I could get away with. (Baby wins again!) My husband, the oldest in his family, never had that luxury. In the thirty years we’ve been together, I’ve heard him talk about his value many, many times, usually in connection to work and salary. His constant awareness and conservative assessment of what value he adds to a company has led me, at times, to insist he’s undervaluing himself and holding himself back. I never win those arguments. I hadn’t realized, though, in having them that I was absorbing some of his thinking and directing it at myself. If you asked me outright does my husband devalue me, I’d say no. If you ask me whether my husband should buy me a car, I’ll also say no.
I have to dig to find the fear there. How can someone who places so much emphasis on value not judge me by the same standards? He must. And doing so, he must see that I don’t add enough value to justify this latest expense. The inequality is hard to accept. So I’m freaking out and throwing little temper tantrums in my head. I need to step back and remind myself to breathe. Getting a car isn’t as dire as it seems.
My husband and I turn 100 this month. We decided it’s more fun to combine our ages than face the individual realities of aging. 100 is something to celebrate. You can divide it anyway you like: fifty-fifty, sixty-forty, twenty-eighty. Whatever appeals. It’s like our relationship as a whole. We’ve survived thirty years together because we let those ratios play out as needed. Sometimes, when things have been really bad, one of us ends up putting in the full 100 while the other hangs on. That works for us, because on some level we understand that things will balance out in the end. Roles are reversed, situations change. We each have our strengths that for the most part complement each other. In some areas, I’m better suited to give eighty to his twenty. I have to accept when that’s reversed. Like when I need a car, but can’t buy it for myself. Or when I’m depressed, but don’t want to admit it. Or when I secretly want to be a writer, but am afraid I’ll never be anything but a failure.
I’m as guilty as my husband when it comes to judging myself harshly. I can’t accurately assess my own value. I don’t see it, and I have a hard time believing it when someone else tries to point it out. The truth is, I’ve always been this way, even when taking whatever I could get as a child. I was better at receiving than the people around me, but that didn’t mean I felt worthy of the gift. I just didn’t let that stop me from accepting what was offered. Until now. For some reason, now I feel the weight of the imbalance, and I’m not okay with it. I’m freaking out. I’m turning 50. I haven’t written all week, but I secretly wish I were a writer. I’m getting a car. It’s April.