“Financial Infidelity” Isn’t Cheating

Not long ago, The New York Times reported a list of “money disorders” linked to our economy. Overspending. Underspending (hoarding); serial borrowing (we all know what that is); financial enabling (too much money forked over to adult kids); and so forth. Stars like Wynona Judd (overspending), admitted to once buying too many cars and Harleys, but doesn’t anymore.  

But “financial infidelity” caught my eye: “Cheating on a spouse by spending and lying about it.”

Oh dear: Is that a disorder?  If I told my spouse what, say, a new ski helmet costs (which I won’t buy, but still, mine is a little shaky on my head), he’d wonder about my sanity, not to mention the new goggles required to fit over that ski helmet. I repeat: I’m not doing it, so don’t call Richard and tell him I’m cheating on him).

Who reports back to a spouse what she spends? Unless you’re married to a guy who knows–really knows– retail, what woman in her right mind tells her spouse, over a pizza, “Darling, guess what? The bag our daughter wants has been reduced to a $125 from $450.”? Most men I know don’t see $125 as a bargain for anything but a new bicycle, but most girls have peer pressure going on that, whether we like it or not, means something to them. (My stepdaughter and I joke that while we happily wear faux Uggs bought from Costco, what we we get her daughter Emily are the real ones. Why? Because she wouldn’t be caught dead in ours.) Does a man who hasn’t bought a shirt for himself since the Vietnam war know what a nice dress shirt costs?  (I tear off tags when I buy my husband clothes, even on final sale, financially unfaithul wretch that I am. Otherwise he wouldn’t wear them. And we wouldn’t be able to return them. And he’d wear nothing other than the Michigan sweatshirt our grandson Adam gave him when he went off to college, the one that’s now permanently stained with coffee, red wine, and chicken grease.

 I mean look, I’m all for codifying emotional problems—like Grief, for instance—the newest prospective disorder on the DSM’s to-do list. Yes, let’s give more support and counseling to those who feel they’re supposed to be up-and-at- ‘em after that one-year mark we traditionally allow for mourning! But private spending is not a disorder, unless of course you’re Bernie Madoff..  If it’s not hurting anybody, back off and pay for it and stop naming names. And just for fun, ask any cosmetics, jewelry, clothing or bedding store salesperson the number of ways women divide their purchases among credit cards, cash, debit cards and gift certificates. I’ve done that before, and it’s a field of its own, this Byzantine divvying process: As one saleswoman at Bed Bath and Beyond told me, “Hey, it’s the only way to get decent towels and sheets.” Who wants to report back on one’s genius cost-cutting savvy every time she purchases soaps and books? Being discreet, in retail as in love, isn’t deceit. It’s called privacy.  If we decide to call it infidelity, then most every woman I know is a harlot. 

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