My husband and I had talked about it for years. We knew it was something we’d probably do eventually, even though it might mean a big change in our lifestyle. All of our friends had been doing it, and although they sometimes complained about how much work it was and how expensive it could be, they seemed happy with their decision. So we took the plunge, and two weeks ago we bought a car.
The addition to our family is shiny and comfortable, and has that intoxicating new-car scent. It’s even a hybrid. I think I’m supposed to be proud of our purchase, my first-ever car, but it’s just freaking me out. I’ve always defined myself as a public transportation whiz who can get anywhere with a fare card and my own two feet. Now that I have this new key, who am I?
Before my identity crisis could get out of hand, I turned to Dr. Andrea Bonior, the psychologist who writes the “Baggage Check” column every Tuesday in Express. Her advice? “Abandon the all-or-nothing thinking. It’s a false dichotomy that you’re either a car person or not.”
She suggested I think about what I’ve enjoyed most about not owning a car, and try to keep those qualities alive. “Maybe it’s feeling financially savvy. You can cobble together bus rides that will be cheaper than the gas you’d be buying,” she said. Maybe it’s being physically active, or being more environmentally friendly, she added. The car doesn’t negate those, especially if we keep it parked when we don’t really need it.
I can prevent myself from taking the car for granted, she said, by capping the number of drives I take a month or the amount I spend on gas. “There’s a spectrum. This is not black-and-white,” she said. “You can be a public transportation-focused person with a car and feel like you’re still doing better than most of the population.”
With that, she touched on what’s probably my real hang-up. In the same way that people who drive flashy convertibles and tricked-out SUVs feel superior to everyone else on the road, not having a car made me feel superior. What the good doctor wants me to recognize is that cars are really just hunks of metal designed to get you from place to place.
And having one will probably make my life easier in the long run. Although that will require actually driving the thing — and facing my fears of denting it. Hopefully, Dr. Andrea will be available for a few more sessions.