Sometimes I think that people really don’t comprehend how difficult it is being a twenty-something at this particular point in history. Alongside the usual twenty-something anxieties that have probably affected every generation preceding us, about making decisions on careers, marriage, babies, mortgages, health and what we’re going to do when our parents die, there’s now the added dimension of the fact that none of these things are remotely secure for most of us.
Want to buy a house? Spend 5 years saving for a deposit while you throw rent at a neglectful landlord in a home you can’t even put pictures on the walls of but are expected to be responsible for every other tiny aspect of maintenance.
Want a career? Spend £40,000 on a degree that employers don’t care about, and then spend a year working behind a bar because you can’t get a job, because you don’t have any relevant experience, because the three years you spent at university counts for absolutely nothing in the real world.
And what about babies? Feel like bringing a screaming, shitting infant into the world? Well that’s going to cost you time, sleep and money. You will be expected to parent it properly, for fear of being ousted from the mothering community for a simple offence such as feeding it from a bottle because your nipples feel like they’re going to fall off. All while maintaining perfect skin, perfect hair, perfect makeup and a perfect post-partum body. Oh, and no matter what you want to do career-wise, you’re fucked.
Want to marry someone? Try and reconcile your feelings about marriage being an outdated and patriarchal practice with your feelings of wanting a day dedicated to celebrating your relationship and looking like the living embodiment of a fire emoji. Drop £15,000 or more on a single day for something you’re not sure you even believe in just to keep your parents happy and spend the rest of your life with buyer’s remorse because you should really have put that money towards your mortgage. Or your overdraft. Or your student debt.
Then remember that 42% of marriages in the UK end in divorce. With all we have to be stressed about is it any surprise?
And these are just the most basic anxieties of people my age. Really, the list is quite endless, especially when you throw in the more nuanced problems of mental health, maintaining healthy relationships, staying intellectually stimulated, attempting to not be dismayed at the state of the world that’s been left to us and how we are to manage our individual identity crises in an age where every person is expected to have a ‘niche’.
I won’t even get into the issues that the digital age is bringing us, with Instagram envy and social media induced depression becoming more and more the norm as everyone presents the very best version of their lives to be scrutinised by the troll-populated internet.
But we shouldn’t just be chucking more money at our problems, wasting precious moments trying to get the perfect selfie and buying things solely for the purpose of having a better Instagram. With the popularity of advocating self-care around at the moment, it’s easy to mistake actual self-care for unnecessary spending.
I get it. You feel terrible, so you buy something you like – clothes, food, flowers, makeup, or whatever works for you – to ease that feeling. I’ve made many a comfort purchase, with the rationale that I deserve it because I was going through a hard time. But while that rationalisation is sometimes spot on, I’ve had to come to terms with some of the ways I splurge on things I don’t need, just because I wanted to treat myself.
I’m sure there’s a decent amount of psychology behind comfort-spending, and the aforementioned social media envy must play a part, convincing you that you simply cannot be happy until you’ve purchased products that will make your teeth whiter, your brows fleeky AF, your skin smooth and your bowels well and truly cleaned out. But this isn’t restricted to the toxic culture of the beauty industry. People are paying extra for extreme comfort and extreme convenience, too.
There’s nothing wrong with any of this, when you do it in moderation. But when you become stuck in a cycle of constantly placating yourself with material items and throwing money into an ever-expanding pit of emotions, you run the risk of draining more than just your bank account.
If you get into the habit of responding to emotional pain by treating yourself, you can begin a dangerous loop of positive reinforcement and end up rewarding those feelings rather than making them go away for good.
The way around this is to make sure that the ways you decide to treat yourself are moderated, and that for every thing you do for yourself that actually might be a little bit unjustifiable ordinarily, you’re doing something proactive to make yourself feel better. Get an early night, have a shower, go outside for a walk, drink some water. Not all self care is Instagrammable and the self care that really matters is usually free to practice.