How to break without being broken

For a month, after a breakup at the beginning of June, I oscillated between the almost maniacal resolution to take myself in hand and the idea of ​​abandoning myself to anguish like in the novel. The Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte. If I had had access to the Scottish moors, I would have wandered there every night like the tormented hero of the book, wild hair, haggard eye and rumpled tie. But I was in Austin, Texas, where there’s no heath and it’s too hot to wander.

So, as I had done after other breakups…I went shopping.

I paid $100 for a wooden gorilla. Later, I bought a philodendron which has since spread throughout my house, which looks like a jungle. (If you’re hoping to forget a lover, then choose a less invasive plant.)

From lover to flamer

I had used shopping therapy before (if you can call it that), but after my last breakup, I became downright addicted to spending. Alas, the only thing I found too expensive was talking to a psychologist. I bought a ticket to Mexico and joined my sister in an overpriced hotel. I applied for a credit card with a travel loyalty program ($550 annual fee, awesome perks), thinking it would get me more trips to Mexico.

I spent $165 on a deep massage, $130 on a MasterClass membership, $173 on a sale bra at La Perla.

After applying the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous to DoorDash for months I started getting meals delivered again. My ex and I cooked together: cooking alone depressed me too much.

All that to say that while reviewing – wide-eyed – my credit card statement at the end of the month, I regretted not having made a budget.

Financial advisors recommend setting aside a reserve for unexpected expenses (car damage, home repairs, etc.). But the idea of ​​making a budget when you separate is less widespread. Yet the tendency to spend to ease a broken heart is well documented.

Therapeutic shopping

Scott Rick, a behavioral psychologist from the University of Michigan, published a study in 2014 showing that shopping can reduce residual sadness by restoring a sense of mastery. “Therapeutic shopping” provides some relief even with simulated purchases.

“Shopping is choosing. It is deciding “I want A, not B”. It’s exercising control over simple issues like what you decide to take home. »

A pleasant purchase (like the pretty floral throw I bought after my breakup) is probably more of a relief than an unpleasant expense like getting a leaky roof fixed.

“It helps break the negative cycle of regret and sadness. You become master of your destiny again,” says Professor Scott Rick.

According to Amanda Clayman, a financial therapist in Los Angeles, the reflex to process our emotions by consuming has deep roots. Thus, when we were schoolchildren, the nervousness at the approach of the return to class subsided with school shopping.

“We were conditioned like that. It’s more natural to process and express our emotions by going to use than by saying, “I’m sad. I’m going to lay my butt on a pillow and meditate on it for two weeks,'” Clayman.

Instead of trying to totally control yourself (and feeling guilty if you succumb to the store), it’s better to allow yourself – within reason – to follow your impulses.

The limit of reasonableness is vague. Hence the idea of ​​the breakthrough budget.

This work of budgeting – I really stress this – is allocating money as you can to take care of yourself. And if it’s not money, it’s time.

Amanda Clayman, Financial Therapist

At some point in my post-breakup spendthrift orgy, I figured my shopping had stopped being therapeutic and was now just another habit born out of sadness, like lying in bed for an hour after my wake up and listen exclusively to Billie Eilish. I said to myself, then, that a budget could have restrained not only my shopping therapy, but also my general sloppiness.

I talked to Mr. Rick about it, who studies money in relationships. To my surprise, he was not very keen on the idea of ​​establishing a “breaking budget” – at least as I conceived it, that is to say, a reserve to be financed from the start and throughout throughout a relationship.

“If you’re already working on plan B, you’re working less hard on plan A,” he said.

He specifies that he is not opposed to breakups or divorce; some relationships have to end, he says. But according to him, a breakup reservation makes sense “if it’s something that you and your friends decide in advance, when you’re 18 and not in a long-term relationship, saying to yourself, ‘Oh, see you. In the future, we should do this in case of a breakup. » »

“But in my opinion, it’s not good to do that three months after the start of a relationship. »

This article was published in the New York Times.

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