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Online Shopping is Rewriting My Life

“You are a post office unto yourself,” my dad tells me. My third package of the week has just arrived, wrapped in starry blue plastic, and I take it upstairs and leave it unopened on my bed. The mountain of mail in my room grows further still, but I ignore it. We slip on our shoes and take the dog for a walk around the neighborhood. It is warm and familiar and entirely insufficient.

Here, in summer’s death rattle, is where my addiction has truly taken over.

As it stands, summertime exists as more of a concept than a reality, especially in our current period of pandemic fatigue. In the first quarter of every year, social media is inundated with photos of rooftop bars, beaches, and music festivals, accompanied by captions yearning for the coming months. We hype each other up for this notion of a perfect summer that never quite manifests in the ways in which we predict. This lead-up to the middle months is oftentimes the main event; once summer rolls around, we realize that the days are much the same, with the only major difference being our accessibility to the thawing outdoors.

This year, we are still dreaming of that perfect summer, even as autumn looms like some self-appointed deadline by which an imaginary fun-quota must be met. We feel cheated, despite not being owed anything. Or maybe you don’t at all, and you’re perfectly content with the way things are; c’est la vie, and all that.

I’m not. In dramatics fit for a Shakespearean prince, I am mourning a youth that has barely started, which is to say, a youth that I am still very much in possession of (whether I fully subscribe to that or not). I spend most of my time in my head, living out fantasies that I construct during work, or falling asleep, or in mid- conversation with my brother over the phone. In my head, I am spontaneous and reckless, living in the way I’d always decided my future-self would live.

One of the most tangible side effects of this perpetual daydreaming is my habit of spending inordinate amounts of money online. I do not have inordinate amounts of money, but I do have the compulsion to buy hoards of clothes I don’t need or even particularly want. I have taken the oft-quoted “dress for the job you want” and turned it into a guiding principle; I have been dressing for the life I want, one that isn’t playing out in the plague-era, devoid of all the aspects that make it worth living. To a point, this is forgivable, but because my fantasy life is beginning to preoccupy more of my time than my real one, I am realizing there is a problem, one I am enabling through fueling an online-shopping addiction.

Pajamas are worn for going to bed, and bathing suits are worn at the beach. The destination informs the outfit, which in turn informs the occupying headspace. Following that logic, I’ve been buying flared pants and carpet coats, novelty tops and hair accessories, making sure to cover all exciting could-be destinations in my quest to procure the perfect wardrobe. This excessive amount of purchases equates, somehow, to the excessive amount of days I’ve “missed out” on. I want to wear outrageous things in outrageous places. I want to crash experimental art shows with friends who don’t care for following schedules or making plans. Life used to be improvisational, and now that freedom is dead. The rigor with which quarantine has filled our days leaves no room for surprises.

When I click through tabs of online shops and auction sites, I feel potential through the clothing at which I’m looking. I just bought blue-raspberry cowboy boots in a wild west-fueled fantasy. The old Sears ski coat on eBay could be worn on a trip to Switzerland, never mind the fact that I’ve never been skiing and have no interest. I could one day, and that’s all that matters now, when I can’t do anything besides grocery shop. It’s as if owning these pieces will grant me access to some alternate reality in which I can do all of the things people are barred from at the moment.

Society is slowly adapting to being sick, and maybe one day I’ll fool myself enough to do the same. For now, I’ll continue to dress up as if I can go anywhere and do anything, because there is so little to get excited about. More than ever, we’re using the internet to distract from real life, to envision a fake reality that is better than what we left and will probably head into. I’m not alone in my bad habits, and you’re not alone in yours.


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