The night I shattered my wife to stay true to my principles

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We rented a house in a small Surrey village. The house was old, the windows rotten and draughty. The door was made of thin wood that had white paint that barely covered the cracks and chips. Bits of wood and paint would fall off every time you closed the door. The bathroom was dated as well, with one of those really old toilets that had the cistern attached to the wall at head height with a chain that you pulled down to flush it. Rust gathered around the cistern edge making it impossible to clean nicely. The whole house was cold in the winter, the heating was permanently on, but with the insulation so bad the heat just poured out of the house.

Downstairs was one living room with a small kitchen off the back of it. The kitchen was so small you couldn’t swing a cat in it. The carpets were threadbare and you could feel the harsh cold of the concrete underneath. We didn’t have a dining room, so dinner was always on our laps whilst we watched TV. The furniture we had was all handed down to us, the twenty year old couch, the ridiculously heavy TV, and the small coffee table that I tried to refurbish by giving it a coat of varnish and new drawer handles.

Despite its flaws, we loved this house. It was in a picturesque English village with a beautiful garden and nothing in the village except charming houses and an old pub. We’d spend many an evening in the pub, enjoying local ales, watching the roaring open wood fire glow, eating steak pie and chips. This was our first real home together as a couple that we stayed in while we saved our money to buy a house of our own. It was cheap but it had everything we needed and enabled us to save more of our money for that first home.

Saturday night

She’s got a sheepish look on her face, what’s she up to? I wonder. We just finished dinner which marked one week after I proposed to her. Dinner was, as always, sitting on the couch in front of the TV. Tonight it was pizza, we splashed out and got one of the fancier supermarket ones to mark the occasion of it being one week after our engagement. There was still an air of excitement in our home about the upcoming wedding. It was early days in the planning but Louise had started plans already, starting to think about when the wedding will be, where we could hold it and all the little details that couples preparing for their wedding get excited about. We’ve spent the past week speaking to all our family and friends on the phone and responding to Facebook messages. It’s been a whirlwind and tonight is the first time where we feel like we can relax. We made a pact to turn off our phones and just enjoy each other’s company.

“I got you something”, she says as she hands me a wrapped gift. It’s about the size of a shoe box but it feels much heavier than shoes. It’s not my birthday, I assume it’s to do with the engagement. I’m a little confused, I wasn’t expecting anything.

“What is it?” I ask.

“It’s a present for our engagement,” she says. I have no idea engagement presents are a thing. Was I supposed to get her something? I realise how little I know about this whole wedding process.

“You didn’t need to do that” I say, feeling quite taken aback. I don’t really like accepting gifts, especially surprise ones where I’ve had no chance to reciprocate.

“Open it” she says with eager excitement.

I start unwrapping the present. It’s wrapped professionally in paper I can barely tear with my hands. I start to feel nervous as I can tell this is no ordinary gift. If this is shoes, they’re certainly fancy ones, I think to myself. I manage to unwrap the paper and fold it delicately on the floor next to me. I look at the creamy white box and see the name of a brand I recognise from golf coverage on the TV embossed delicately in the centre.

Omega

I open the box to find another even more decorative wooden box inside. I pick up the wooden box and slide it delicately out of the cardboard box. Louise is looking at me intently for a reaction, smile damn it, I think to myself, feeling nervous inside. There’s a decorative metal button on the side of the box that allows the box to open. I push it firmly and the box opens up to reveal a beautiful watch inside, it’s unlike anything I’ve seen before. The box itself is wonderfully ornate but the watch in the middle of it, wrapped around a cream leather holder, is a treasure to behold. It glimmers in the dim light of the living room lamp, somehow attracting all the available light to show off it’s beauty.

“Wow” I say, not sure how to respond. A flood of emotion completely overwhelms me. So many questions are running through my head in these few seconds…

Why has she bought me this?

What have I done to deserve this?

How could she afford this?

“Do you like it?” she asks anxiously.

I don’t know what to say. It’s not that I don’t like the watch, but I feel like I can’t accept this. It’s too grand a gift for me, I’m worried about how much it cost. I didn’t propose to her expecting a lavish gift in response. I feel like I’m on a knife edge, not sure whether to share how I really feel. Our relationship is based on honesty but is this a good time to be wholly truthful?

“I don’t know what to say” I say, thinking that will buy me some time while I figure this out. “Why have you got me this?” I ask.

“It’s an engagement gift,” she says.

“You didn’t need to do that” I say. I really wish you hadn’t done this, is what I mean but am too afraid to say.

“I know I didn’t have to, but I wanted to,” she says with the biggest smile on her face. You’re about to destroy this situation you dick, I think to myself

“How much was this?” I ask, knowing full well this was more than we could afford and likely much more than I expect.

“Never you mind how much it was!” she rebukes.

I don’t know anything about watches but I know this wasn’t cheap. I proposed because I want to marry and spend the rest of my life with this woman. Has she bought me this out of guilt? Does she think that she needs to pay me back somehow for the engagement ring? I feel really uncomfortable. I look around the room and see the worn carpets, the twenty year old couch and coffee table that my parents handed down to us and I suddenly feel sick. I can’t accept this gift, you need to tell her how you feel I say to myself.

“I can’t accept this,” I say. The feeling of sickness is now really starting to accelerate. Damn it Ash, your relationship with money is about to fuck this up in a big way.

“Yes you can, you deserve it and it’s my gift to you for our engagement” she replies.

“No I really can’t” I say, more sternly this time. It’s not an off the cuff remark, I really don’t want this gift. I feel like the gift is too grandiose to accept, like somehow I haven’t justified receiving it “I don’t know anything about watches” I say, “This just isn’t me, I don’t feel comfortable accepting it.”

The feeling of excitement drains from her face when the reality of my response kicks in. She looks devastated. There’s an awkward silence as we both try to digest the situation.

“How did you pay for it?” I say, knowing full well that this is not the time to ask this question. It’s always about the fucking money with you isn’t it Ash she must be thinking.

“I got a loan…” she responds timidly. You got a fucking what? Now I know I’m making the right decision not accepting this. My feelings of guilt turn into anger. I’m actually annoyed that she borrowed money to buy a gift I didn’t want with money we didn’t have. We can’t afford a loan, I think to myself. How irresponsible could she be? Relax Ash, I tell myself, she did this out of love, operate with empathy as to how she must be feeling, she’s crushed.

“Well I can’t accept it ” I say, feeling that I have justification to not accept it.

“Are you saying you want me to take it back?” she asks, completely bewildered as to what has just happened.

“Yes I do. I’m sorry I just can’t accept this” I say with the resolve to stick to what I believe in despite overwhelming guilt surging through me.

“Ok, whatever you want” she says, devastated.

The awkward silence persists for the rest of the night as we both try and ignore the sequence of events that led to this. We both feel terrible and I know I had caused it. Perhaps I should just accept the gift I think to myself. I try to comfort her with cuddles and kisses, we don’t argue but there’s an elephant in the room that neither of us can ignore. We go to bed on reasonable terms and try and put the developments of the night behind us.

In the preceding days my wife took the watch back to the jewellers where she had bought it and had the loan refunded. I feel a sense of relief and thank her greatly for respecting my wishes. It took years to fully get over the events of that night, even now it’s a story that comes up anecdotally from time to time.

There’s a reason for this story. That night I learned a valuable lesson about a principle I hold so deep that it affects everything I do in my life. A principle held so strong, that it cannot be broken in any circumstances at any point in my life.

Live within your means

This value is both a blessing and a curse. It is what has allowed me to achieve financial freedom early in my life, but it also causes conflict as it did that night. No matter what the situation though, I cannot breach this value. It is this that causes me never to splash our on unnecessary purchases and strive towards living a simple life.

In a world where everyone around me is buying the latest iPhone, new cars, eating out five nights a week, this is challenging and sometimes lonely.

Living within your means doesn’t mean not enjoying life, in fact it’s about accepting and being fulfilled by the life you have. I’m on a pursuit of fulfilment in life not driven through the purchase of possessions, but instead by the pleasures of family and friends. The pursuit of a life made up of simple pleasures, saying no to ever moving goal posts of success. I’ve achieved financial freedom and I want to help others do the same.

As for my wife, my quirks were not enough to dissuade her from marrying me. We’ve been together almost 14 years now. She accepts who I am, a money hoarder and impossible to buy gifts for, but she loves me all the same. I’m a very lucky man.

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Financially Free, blogging about the journey

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Money Ash

Money Ash

Financially Free, blogging about the journey

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