The ancient Egyptians were fans of the sarcophagus. They entombed their dead in these stone coffins after properly preserving the corpses. No expense was spared and the rituals associated with embalming, entombing and enshrining were sacred.
The box pictured above is a sort of weird, modern-day sarcophagus. The not-so-elegant box enshrines a young woman’s debutante gown. Debuting, in the South, is a time-honored family tradition. Like most traditions, there is plenty to love and bits to wish gone. Some would decry this as foolish folderol at its best and antiquated and demeaning at its worst. I’m not taking sides in any debutante debate. It’s the deb dress, not the belle or the ball that’s the protagonist of this story.
The dress was chosen with an appropriate amount of fretting. It was (and is) a beautiful, peau de soie dress- ballgowny without a hit of Cinderella. It was worn one evening. Then it visited New York to be cleaned and preserved. I was never quite sure what that meant but everyone said it was important. Maybe everyone was the company doing the preserving. At any rate, a while later, the gown made its return trip to Charlotte. It arrived in a cardboard sarcophagus. Acid-free no doubt. Since the wearer of the dress didn’t want to spend any time in that box, the preserver had thoughtfully put a cardboard female torso inside the dress as a stand-in. The box went on the top shelf of a closet, per instructions. You know I love rules and I wasn’t about to break the warning to never store the special dress in an attic, basement or any space that was not climate controlled and free of pests.
You’re probably thinking, crazy, but the irrational part of this story is yet to come.
In Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely exposes the myth of the ‘economic man’ being a rational self-maximizer. He offers solid evidence showing that we’re not so rational after all. When the hard science of economics collides with the soft science of behavioral psychology, the mashup makes for irrationality. Not just random irrationality but predictable irrationality.
I’d intellectually embraced this concept. I even had an elevator speech to answer peoples’ quizzical looks. “We’re made sadder by the letting go of something than we were made glad by the acquiring of it. Losing feels worse than winning feels good.” But it took a deb dress to test me and make this real.
We didn’t feel terribly elated when the dress was purchased. We were satisfied and glad to scratch it off the list. That was enough. But when that acid free box with the cardboard form and the finger-wagging instructions came back from the City, it may as well have been an ancient, stone sarcophagus.
So how was I irrational? By affording the same devotion to a dress that the Ancients afforded to their royalty, am I guilty as charged. I embalmed, entombed and enshrined a dress- one that I was pretty sure that we’d never use again. I don’t think of myself as a hoarder, but the enshrining of this dress was a form of hoarding. I’d carefully hidden this treasure in a safe spot, like a squirrel storing his nuts. I had an opportunity to lend the dress to a dear friend and I was so wrapped up in having had this damn thing preserved that I missed the opportunity to be a friend. I’ve long regretted the decision to not share my nuts. The friend’s daughter wore another dress and she was lovely in it. But she could have been lovely in ours. But instead, the cardboard tomb was sealed shut. And it was taking up a good bit of space in the climate controlled, vermin-free closet.
The rodent has cause to store his nuts. I can think of no reasonable justification for my past behavior. “I’m worried I’ll come up short of deb dresses next winter.” See what I mean. I should have shared my nuts. I’ve finally come to my senses. The dress is traveling again. This time, in-state. And my hope is that another young woman will want this beautiful dress and make happy memories wearing it. I want this dress to be part of another family’s tradition. I can honestly say that in this case, losing feels good.
From the Rules. “Mistakes happen. Admit, learn and move on.” Quit beating yourself up but endeavor not to make the same mistake again. I’m practicing being rational. Better late than never.