No Holds Barred: The Big “Return”

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Carl Wilhelm Hübner THE ANTICIPATION, 1857

Lately I will try anything to boost my mood and not get caught in the downward spiral of anxiety.  So, here’s one idea; anticipation. Having something to look forward to apparently heightens your mood and lowers stress. “Imagining good things ahead of us makes us feel better in the current moment,” says Simon A. Rego, Chief Psychologist at Montefiore Medical Center at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “It can increase motivation, optimism, patience, and decrease irritability.”

These days, nothing can decrease my irritability. It is the base of my DNA. But I am game to believe there are better days ahead — even if I have my doubts.

Instead of booking deluxe trips as the big lift-off, start small (say the psychologists).  Ordering a new book or planning to get doughnuts or just looking forward to that arrival day of the sneakers you just ordered.  Apparently, you’ve got more control over the everyday stuff than a huge vacay to Greece in six months.

Then again, didn’t a lot of us already over order on Amazon during our lockdowns? It was an escape hatch.  Now we are left with cardboard box avalanches, dwindling bank accounts, and hoarder stuffed closets. Not a great look or feel.

My cardboard box outdoor area.

Admittedly I have enjoyed having my entire life delivered to my doorstep for the last three years.  It is definitely a trend that is here to stay.  Whether it “excites” me to order in, I can’t say.  It is certainly convenient, maybe not so much mood enhancing.

But for me, the activity or sport of actual shopping was always a joyful anticipatory escape.  And one that got me up and out after any upset in my pre-pandemic life.  It was my SURE SHOT adrenaline rush.

I realized I had not been in a store (forget malls or department stores) in three years. So last week I decided to break the shopless spell and attempt to get back to the “in-store” site, and the rhythm of bantering with sales help and customers, and trying on things IN AN ACTUAL DRESSING ROOM.

The was sort of the idea I had in my head.

Up until my outing — the only stores I frequented were Safeway, Target, and Walgreens. My personal interactions were with nurses (at all the doctor visits I did) or my coffee barista and pharmacists at the drive thru windows.  I did learn how to self-check-out at the grocery store which I felt was a major pandemic accomplishment.

My idea of shopping.

For my shopping re-entry I chose a neighborhood upscale street of shops that had many eateries as well.  I got dressed for this occasion.  I was in a high state of anticipation and PTSD. I arrived at 11 AM and got a decent parking space (I forgot about the perils of parking) and “started small.”

I warmed up by going in and out of a few minor establishments like Blue Mercury, Pottery Barn, and Anthropologie. I could cruise in and out and not commit to a real ‘look/see.” But I soon got exhausted.  Mainly because I saw nothing I was interested in, wanted, or even needed.  NOTHING!

This had never happened to me before.  Forget that I had no real reason to shop — no weddings, funerals or even an outfit for a cup of coffee.  My life had changed and my curiosity had disappeared.

I ended up at one store I always went to, and the salesgirls all recognized me and greeted me with “Are you okay?” (a terrible question to ask anyone of late).

I grabbed three thermal t-shirts and a magenta velvet puffer jacket and headed to the deadly dressing room.  It was an immediate buzz kill.  I used to be able to get past the dressing room experience, but now without my mojo I got caught by the mirrored image of a giant deflated bouncy house.  However, I kept going and I ignored the grey lighting and the mirror.  The sales gal was bustling in and out and encouraging me with a moderate hustle.  Maybe she sensed I was flat lining.  The store was not crowded, but there was a small line of women at the checkout desk all returning items.

I missed that certain conversation and bonding I used to do with fellow customers and the help.  That was gone.  Eye contact was nil and there was a certain nervousness (anticipation?) in the air.  I was clearly out of practice, but so was everybody else. Shopping is back. But it’s different and no one is spending “over the top” or splurging for the fun of it.  It was clear to me that I was out of my league and I have “aged out” of shopping. The thrill is gone.

Instant return. I never even took the bags outta the car!

BUT… I decided to finish up strong.  I bought the three tops and jacket just to see if actually carrying a labeled shopping bag or two would give me the rush I needed.  The salesgirl was thrilled for me.  I had broken the barrier. “You’re back!!  How do you feel??” she squealed.  I felt nothing. At the threshold, she gave me a final wink while stating, “Feel free to return anything if it doesn’t work out.”

I arrived home and left the tissue wrapped bags in my car.  I didn’t even bring any of it in the house for an anticipatory try-on. I returned all of it three days later.  I was more excited by the return than the purchase.

What happened?  Obviously, my life has shifted, and it was sad, but time to realize I couldn’t rely on old “tricks” that worked in a former life.  As I left that store, I noticed a lot of middle-aged women — overdressed and glossily made up — guzzling glasses of pink champagne while window shopping (they got the booze at a store promotion).  They were loud and having fun while zig zagging down the street arms loaded with shopping bags.  I felt like I was on a cruise ship to and from Hell.  “Where’s our next drink?” one of them yelled as they tumbled into a luxe cosmetic store for a makeup makeover.

Everyone looked like a Bravo Housewife which I then realized is THE LOOK that has continued to sell and oversell.

I had heard that the Beverly Hills Housewife reunion had just aired to boffo ratings.  Though I have never seen it I could feel the influence all around me.  As Daily Mail reviewer Jaci Stephens described it; “Lips as big as sofas; wigs fit for a Yeti; dresses that resembled overripe giant bananas; lowcut bodices making each breast not only look like a different species but had arrived from a different planet.” Bravo Housewives have topped Drag Queens.  Shopping is still their fuel along with fighting with each other.

The serious side to all this is retail sales are finally weakening.  People bought so much stuff during Covid that they are maxed out.  We are now swallowing hard over the higher prices and devoting more of our spending to necessities (food, gas, medical, some quick travel).  People now want to hang on to their dwindling savings — whatever that looks like.

So, let’s “anticipate” Holiday shopping? What is that going to look like?  As the Wall Street Journal says, “Even in bad times, people still buy their kids presents and even in great times people aren’t rushing out to get their kids a pony.”

Nobody really knows what this year-end will look like. I was surprised to see so many high-end track pants for sale.  I knew “Covid Chic” would eventually make its way into stores.  It’s call “Bleisure” — business leisure or black-tie leisure.  Now you can wear your Zoom tracksuit and sweat attire to the office or out for a night on the town and feel “powerful, fierce, and bad ass.”  And here I thought Mr. T or Burt Reynolds were the only human beings to get away with wearing velour jogging outfits to an Awards Ceremony.  I’m waiting for the Bravo Housewives to wear a satin jogger pant and call it a new trouser!

So back to anticipation being a life enhancing tool.  As I realized shopping became such a disappointment, I sensed that anticipation could have a flipside — causing anxiety! Oh No! Dr. Christian Waugh, a psychology professor at Wake Forest University, maintains that “anxiety and anticipation are sister emotions.  Think about when you’re getting married or having a kid — it’s a jumble of both.” His directions are “when you reappraise anxious things as exciting, it makes you feel better.” Easy for him to say.

Frankly, at this point being able to get up and out of my bed in the morning is enough of a celebration of life for me!

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