Last week at a dinner party, I was chatting with a young (20-ish?) woman I had never met before. She was telling us about a vacation she’d taken, some years back, in
Her intention, I think, was to emphasize how improbable a return trip was. That the trip was out of her reach, because she couldn’t afford it.
Before thinking, I said, “If I found $3000, I’d buy a more reliable car.” Actually, I could think of a lot of things to spend $3000 on, before I’d spend it on a vacation. After the car, if I somehow came into another $3000, I’d probably pay off a (small) portion of my debt. Then I'd buy an even more reliable car (because $3000 doesn't go very far when you're talking about cars). After that I'd consider upgrading my computer. Then I’d buy enough body work to keep me pain-free for a couple of years, without having to argue with the insurance company. Then I’d put some money into savings for the next time I move. I hate moving when I’m broke. I’d go to the dentist, and get my cat his shots for the year, and buy snow tires, and then pay off some more of my debt.
I could go on. On my list of things I could do with $3000, a vacation is several pages down. (A vacation to
It occurred to me then that anyone who would spend an unexpected windfall on a vacation, without even considering other options, probably doesn’t have many unmet needs in their life. And yet the woman's tone made me think she felt deprived, or at least disappointed, that she couldn't afford the trip. I discovered that this is one of my class triggers – when somebody says or implies that they are poor because they can’t afford everything they want.
(A trigger is when something happens and you have an immediate emotional reaction to it – whether anger, fear, shame, feeling “shut down,” or something else – and that reaction is not only about the thing that just happened, but also about the similar things that have happened in the past, to you or to people you identify with, such as your family or social group. In this case I felt angry and unseen, not only because of what this individual said in the moment, but also because I have been in other situations that were similar, where a person assumed everyone in the room had as much access to resources as they did, and were wrong. Some times when that happened I did not know how to respond, or felt I was “less than” the person who had so much. Even though I know better now, this situation reminded me of those, and the same emotions came up – a trigger.)
The vacation itself is not as much of a trigger for me, because I understand that people prioritize differently. Spending limitted resources on travel is a decision I can respect, even though I probably wouldn't do it myself. What really bugged me about this interaction was the woman's assumption that we could empathize about what a hardship it is to forgo international travel. As I sometimes say to my partnered friends who complain when they haven't had sex in a few days, "Honey if I had problems like you have problems, all my problems would be solved."
I can afford what I need, barely. And, because I understand that many people can’t afford even what they need, I don’t get too stressed out about things I merely want. I’m happy to have a car, a computer, and a body that are working well enough. I know that’s a privilege. And I'm learning to feel satisfied with paying off my debt quickly enough, even though I know it will still be with me for a while.
My response to the young woman at the dinner party was not thought-out, but it was honest and, I imagine, unexpected. I hope that by breaking the ordinary pattern of polite conversation, I challenged or at least shook up some of her assumptions about what she was saying. I’m glad for the opportunity to reflect so that next time, I can say something even more useful.
Meanwhile, I’m curious for some feedback. Please use the comments function to tell us 1) what would you do with $3000? and 2) what are some of your class triggers?