I'm a yuppie and it's freaking me out

I’ve had an increasing sense of unease as I’ve found myself more and more aligned with the “eat natural food” and “buy organic things” and “worry about the crap in my tap water” people of the world.

If you’re one, don’t worry: it’s not that I don’t like you, respect you or even care (frankly) how you choose to live your life.  Really.  It’s just… I’m uneasy at identifying myself as a one of those people.

Growing up, we didn’t have a lot of money, but we weren’t poor (or so I told myself).  All of my friends’ parents were doctors and lawyers and contractors (back in the days when they made plenty of money); although my dad made a good salary, my parents were divorced so it, plus my mom’s salary as a teacher, had to support two households and three kids.  Not much to go around. My parents made sure we were able to pay for band trips and cheerleading uniforms and soccer sign-ups and I did my part by deciding I didn’t want any of the things my friends had anyway, things like ski trips and BMW’s and new (trendy) clothes.  Those things were silly.

Twenty years later, we make six figures and I still stress out at spending $50 at the grocery store when I only went there for milk and coffee.  I feel weird when I reach for the organic milk and read the package of lettuce to find out if it’s loaded with pesticides.  I blush when I admit I take my dog to Doggie Day Camp.  I’m mostly embarrassed but (okay, I admit it) ever so slightly proud that we blew almost $5k on a “cheap” and unsatisfying vacation.

At the same time, I feel a responsibility to make the least impactful decisions for my family — and the earth — because we can afford it.  I’m feeling a growing sense of unease when we make haphazard and frivolous choices.  Circumstances prevent people from affording organic grass-fed beef, I get that.  We can, though.

~~~

Martha Beck did a great article in the latest O Magazine about duality: the idea that some things aren’t either one OR the other, but rather both.  You’re not either a good person or a liar; you can be a good person who is also a liar.  I’m not a yuppie OR down-to-earth.  I can be both.

Nor does being a yuppie mean I’m pretentious, which I can’t staaaand.  Yes, of course it goes back to not being friends with people in high school if the brand of their jeans was important to them.  If it was, I was out anyway, so I decided I didn’t like those people.

I might be one of those people now.

So I waffle and I defend.  The brand of t-shirt I just got for $10 (a steal!) shouldn’t matter, but it does because it’s likely to last longer than the $6 H&M shirts I wear to pieces.  Also? I can generally assume size-consistency… no more trying things on!

But I’m still f0cused on a brand, right?

And I’m not taking Beau to doggy daycamp every day!  Once every couple of weeks he gets to go, when he’s constantly bugging heart-hampered Indy to play chase and Indy just can’t.  The sight of poor Indy huddled by the front door with his head low (while his heart prioritizes the parts of his body that need blood most) while Beau play-bows over and over is enough for me to text Christine to see if she has any openings.

Spending extra on organic and natural things is certainly defensible. It’s the label that goes with it I find uncomfortable.  And hey, yuppie probably isn’t even the right label, nor is “hippie” or “granola.”  I work for a major corporation, forget to recycle and use paper towels.  Hippie I am not.

~~~

Time for frankness: I feel disloyal to my family’s history when I take advantage of choices I have now that they didn’t have then. I grew up fine (thankyouverymuch).  Not being able to “fit in” made certain I’d never be swayed by the “in” crowd, something I’m thankful for every day.  Slight outsider status makes for a less dangerous youth.

But making choices now that my parents couldn’t make then feels like a judgment on the boundaries of their finances.  After twenty years of insisting we didn’t need more money, spending $100 on something as optional as doggy daycare doesn’t sit well.  And it challenges my adolescent’s worldview that people that spent money that way were frivolous.

I’ve outgrown the judgment (mostly, I swear) but can’t seem to leave the feelings behind.  Making a choice feels very much like weighing in on people who make different ones despite my insistence that I respect the choices you make for your own life.  My current self continues the battle with my adolescent self.

~~~

More frankness since we’re talking about duality: I’m locked in a cycle of comparison between my ex-husband and my last (more accurately, between sadness for the life I left and contentedness in the one I have).  My heart knows it’s stupid; my brain continues to waffle between them.  My insistence on being responsible and owning my choices exacerbates the situation.

I was married to a great guy long before I was capable of meeting the responsibility of being a wife.  I wasn’t even capable of being a grown-up all by myself yet.  And I left him, without granting either of us the grace of being honest and trying to make it work.  I own the choice I made.  But I’ve let responsibility for that stupidity keep me stuck in limbo because happiness feels like disloyalty to the man who really only screwed up by marrying a little girl.

Life’s not always either-or.  My ex-husband isn’t more or less suited to me.  The glorious wonder of life doesn’t limit you to one great guy in a lifetime, thank goodness.  But I’m stuck.

~~~

People own the choices they make; people are often limited by their circumstances.  How do you reconcile that?  I have the same response as Nodakacademic when people remark on how lucky I am to have the career I have: sure, luck is part of it, but the job didn’t fall out of the sky.  I made choices along the way — limiting choices in search of stability — that got me here.  I’ve put in the twenty-hour days and sweated the details, hopped on a plane with a day’s notice and been berated by frustrated customers, stuck it out in an uncomfortable role with a perfectionist boss and emerged with skills I use every single day.  I may be lucky but it’s not all luck.  {Some luck, though, fo sho.  Even plenty of luck.  Tons of luck! But not all luck.}

All I can do is retreat to facts: I left my ex-husband and might have been able to make it work. I’m married to a really fantastic man who makes me yearn to have his children. The yearning is partly attributable to my new-found maturity.  My husband is bad-ass (and sometimes completely annoying and frustrating).  My ex-husband? I’m not even sure I really knew him.  I don’t miss him.  I miss the idea of him and the idea of him gives me an opportunity to berate myself for being immature.  Young people are often immature.

More facts: we can afford to spend more on food and in better ways than we do, and doing so makes a small difference to the world and a big difference to our health.  We can afford to send the bored and unexercised dog to daycamp every couple of weeks and he’s a much happier dog when we do.

I’m a yuppie.

~~~

Wait, I just googled it: “Young Urban Professional.” Maybe not.  I am a professional but I live in Tennessee.  And I may not be technically ‘young’ anymore.  “Conspicuous consumption.” Definitely not. “Trendy.” Nope.  “Elitism.” NOPE!

I’m elated until I remember the label isn’t the point.  The point is that I’m struggling with old boundaries that no longer exist in my life, artificial boundaries that my adolescent self used as a coping mechanism, and I need to let them go.  You can’t be a grown-up when your judgment is defined by your 15-year old self, can you?   The question now is: how?

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23 thoughts on “I'm a yuppie and it's freaking me out

  1. Would you get out of my head? I swear, every single thing you wrote here, you just scooped out of my head with a spoon. You in Tennessee, me in ND, neither of us considered young, urban, trendy or elite, yet both of us yuppies with a lot of internal conflict about choices we’ve made – even if they WERE the best ones for us at the time. Wonderful post. I read it while nodding my head vigorously.

  2. Oh, I COMPLETELY relate to this post. The part about struggling with your adolescent self and denying your family’s values, anyway. I have the same thought when we spend $200 at the grocery store for one week because I buy organic, etc., and my mother used to stretch that out for a month with two kids. We just bought a new car and I literally want to hide it from my parents because they taught me smart people buy used and run it into the ground … new is for yuppies. But then I think, don’t parents just want their kids to do better than they did? I know if I had a child right now, I’d be hoping to the heights that they have more chances/opportunities/money/happiness than I ever will. And so, even though I don’t feel comfortable showing that ‘extra step’ through material objects, I am trying to think about their desires for me when I am able to make choices they never had the ability to make. And, I feel very grateful that I feel a little guilty, and you should, too – – it shows that you’re still centered, still down-to-earth, and that your parents gave you some great values. I think true yuppies spend! spend! spend! always look forward, and never look back. You always look back, which means you’ll never stop learning nor stop appreciating where you’re from.

    • @Krista, You’re right, I have that exact. same. thought. about how my mom spent that much for a month — and I’ll probably get a couple of meals out of it. *sigh* Or when I realize we never had snacks other than fruit in the house, never drank calories, and yes, ate fast food pretty often… and I’m now drinking empty calories and snacking on salty things, yet I wouldn’t want my kids to do that.

  3. I think I might fit the “yuppie” bill although I live in a suburb but there is a large part of me that just cannot accept that “title”. While I agree with Krista who above says “And, I feel very grateful that I feel a little guilty, and you should, too – – it shows that you’re still centered, still down-to-earth, and that your parents gave you some great values.”, I also wonder when/how I can figure out how to let go of some of that guilt I’ve self-imposed.

    I grew up living in a mobile home (albeit a double-wide that my parents worked very hard to have) in a very rural area. I never had brand name things and even though I never lacked for anything…I was still embarrassed by the lack of “what everyone else had/did”. If that sounds shallow of me, that’s because now in retrospect I think it was. Several years ago, after I had purchased my first home my accountant uncle, was helping me figure out some tax stuff. He mentioned in passing that my parents had to be very proud of my accomplishments…after all I was earning a higher salary than they were jointly. I was caught completely off-guard by this. They had supported my hopes & dreams, they bought the expensive twirling uniforms & gear, and later they even helped the recent college graduate me pay-off my student loans because they felt so badly I had needed them to start with…all while earning less than what I made at that point only a few years into my career. That stopped me dead in my tracks, and the guilt that took over for the embarrassment is what the yuppie in me fights with everyday. While I know they are proud of me, I still have this self-imposed guilt that does more than keep frivolous spending in check. It frustrates my husband when I won’t buy the “name brand” item I love because I think it’s too expensive and then try to find something I like equally but cheaper (which I usually never accomplish). I can’t tell you how hard I worked to make sure our wedding appeared “cheap”. Yes, in the grand scheme of wedding planning it was actually very economical but I still tried to it appear even less expensive than it was because I didn’t want anyone in my family to feel I was trying to “show off”. So, I understand the old, artificial boundaries and that while no longer apply seem are horribly hard to move beyond. I like to think I’m getting there…but sometimes I wonder if I ever will…and if that’s good or bad. Sorry this ended up being such a long response…

    • @Cece, Yes, yes, yes, YES. To all of it. To the self-imposed guilt and “cheap” wedding and not buying name brand things — and feeling weird when I do. Yes, EXACTLY, yes.

      Thanks so much for commenting. You helped clarify a few things I couldn’t put my finger on.

  4. i always seem to connect with what you are saying. this post was no different. i like your thoughts about duality. life never is black or white; it’s always somewhere in between. thanks for sharing!

    • @Cheyenna, Yea, the duality thing really hit a nerve for me. You should read the article! It’s in the magazine that has the summer reading special… on newsstands now!

  5. Great post, as always. You really struck a nerve with me on this one.

    My fiance makes 3 times what I do and we both make more than our parents and yet it feels like there’s something almost shameful about that to me and to have more stuff than I grew up with. We rent a permanent camp spot on weekends and its much like the last post you wrote and I love it, but I feel like its too showy that we can afford to have it.

    Also my parents have never owned a home they’ve always rented because they’re credit sucks and they couldn’t afford to buy a house. We’ve bought one house which is now on the market and we’re looking for another. (jobs changed so we’re moving) but its like telling my parents our price point is almost shameful and its not and they know about what we make and are proud of us for being there but I still.feel.guilty.

    Also grocery shopping, we shopped at Aldi growing up and my Mom spent $100/2 weeks on groceries we cannot go to Walmart without spending $100 and we probably spend double that on food a month and theres 2 of us not 6. And my fiance wouldn’t eat food from Aldi, he doesn’t even like off-brand anything (and thats all I grew up on). Its like I’ve got the little angels on my shoulders fighting over every choice I make. My fiancee get frustrated with me because I worry about getting the absolutely cheapest price at all times, “paying 5 cents more for XYZ, doesn’t matter lol)

    I love my parents and the values they instilled in me but I wish I could accept that we have more money then them and move on. I continually worry about it whenever we make a big purchase.

    • @Sunny, I totally feel you. You know, I’ve felt a bit of lightness in my soul since I shifted from using price as my decision-point to something else (in this case, “most natural”). It’s like my whole world shifted and suddenly I wasn’t stressed out all the time about everything. Grocery shopping is easier. I look at ingredient lists, make a choice based on what I’m willing to do rather than always trying to find the cheapest.

      But hey, I still feel the guilt!

  6. “between sadness for the life I left and contentedness in the one I have”

    This line plucked one of my strings HARD. I was married before and it wasn’t bad. It just died. And because it wasn’t bad I have very little of the animosity that divorced women are supposed to have toward the ex. I’m in a fantastic relationship now and I feel 1) sadness for the life I left; 2) happiness in the life I have now, plus 3) GUILTY for feeling sad for the life I left WHILE enjoying the life I have now and as a “bonus” 4) JERKY for letting points 1 and 3 weigh so heavily on my brain thereby causing me to dig my heels in the ground about getting married again.

    And don’t get me started on the money hangups.

    I found you in the links beneath the BlogHer ads on my blog. You are now in my feedreader.

    • @Kimberly, You know, the toughest part of this post to write was that one, about my ex-husband. I can’t manage to move on despite my best efforts and that’s just… sad. I’m right there with you, especially on #4 (jerky for letting the other things weigh so heavily).

      I am remarried… but it was rough. I blogged about it, actually: http://www.repeatbride.wordpress.com. (Also posted on weddingbee.com – I’m Mrs. Cheese.) Rough, but totally 100% the right thing for me to do.

  7. When I grew up (in Tennessee) I thought some kids were rich because they had more. They weren’t rich, now that I know. But I begged my mom to buy me an Eddie Bauer backpack because everyone had one (that, or LL Bean). Now, we don’t make too much more money than my folks — but we’re not supporting a family, either. Even so, I wonder sometimes if my mom approves of my decisions. I travel a lot more than she ever has, and most of my money goes to travel and food. We still use “dorm” furniture and sit on a Target loveseat. I spend my okay salary on consumables, and although I save, I’m not materially setting up for the future. When my mom was my age, she had been married 10 years, had a three year old and a baby on the way. I hear from my father that he’s so happy at everything I’ve done, but sometimes I think my mom gets a little sad, although she’d never admit it.

    I know this was a tiny point in your story, but when you’re able to afford the products that are better for you and for the environment is a huge deal for me. Organic produce, recycled paper towels, reusable water bottles, community supported agriculture — it’s important for people who can afford these things to continue to use them not only to reduce impact on the earth, but to create a demand so eventually more people can access them. And it’s been fun to shop at a local green store instead of on Amazon. To lighten the mood, one time this makes me uncomfortable is when I see the brand If You Care. (They make eco-friendly household goods and typically disposable products). That’s just a way to make people feel bad. Bad branding.

    • @Jessica, LOL: bad branding! I notice that stuff all the time as well. And thanks for that second paragraph. It’s not a tiny point. It’s a big point. We have a responsibility to do what we can so that people who can’t, someday will. HUGE point.

  8. Thank you SO MUCH for your honesty. I can’t add anything more to what you’ve written except to say that you aren’t alone in feeling this way.

  9. This post was pretty fantastic (and timely for me) – thanks so much for sharing so much of yourself and your life here. It makes me feel not quite alone if that makes any sense.

  10. I totally relate to what you’ve said here-love your honesty! I earn more than either of my parents, and can afford a lifestyle much different from the one I brought up with, and sometimes feel weird about buying pesticide free or organic farmer’s market goodies.

    The way I see it, that feeling of not being able to afford things the “in” crowd could speaks more about the way those kids made me feel as a kid (Kind of what Cece said about “showing off”). I definitely buy more than I should at times, but I find if I am feeling guilty about it, I probably am spending too much money on the wrong things. I have the luxury of being able to afford to consume something environmentally and socially responsible. When I buy things for the right reasons, I don’t feel too bad.

    Last thing, My husband’s parents are the exact opposite of yuppies and are currently retired & both living on a limited income, yet grow and can their own fruits and veggies and hunt for meat (Yuppies call it 100% free-range grass fed venison and pay $40 a pound) as they always have. You can’t get much more organic (and economical) than that.

  11. This post just goes to show that whether you have more money or less money, we all have questions about how our spending reflects our values. It’s hard to see the line between cheap and responsibly economical. Are you guys following a budget? I remember you posting asking for budget suggestions and then your p-p-p-p plan post so I’m thinking you probably are? No matter the household income, I think a budget and savings plan are useful skillbuilding tools for avoiding “reactionary” cheapness, which was a bit of a downfall for me (ie spend without much thought, followed by spending tiny amounts with obsessive thought and cheapness). In my opinion, if you’re make a conscious decision about the value of what you’re considering buying, you’re not taking your income for granted and you’re not being unneccessarily cheap either. You’re a simpledollar reader, aren’t ya? If not, I would highly recommend it.

  12. I can relate to everything you have written. Being able to afford a lifestyle that was not available to me can lead to some guilt regarding the way I spend money buying fancy “natural” and “organic” products. But I am responsible with my money, not entirely frivolous (anymore), and I chose to try to make purchases that are economically and socially responsible. Also, if you are like me those 15 year old feelings come from my childhood when people with means made me feel inadequate for not being able to have the same things as them- irrelevant if you are purchasing things for the right reasons and not making others feel badly.

    Lastly, my husbands parents are retired, on a limited income, and grow and can their own vegetables as well as hunt for meat (yuppies call it 100% organic, free-range, grass fed venison and pay $40 per pound for it) Food for thought.

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