Thoughtful Indulgence

While the modern gentleman certainly appreciates some quality down time for a massage, a drink and a cigar, or a good, mindless, sporting event, what really distinguishes him is his consideration for others and, perhaps even more importantly, the realization that the world is a big complex place and, alas, does not revolve around him.

There will always be something unattractive about the spoiled man or women who is focused on the self-indulgences of the moment, and loses sight – perhaps by design – of the incredibly complex, often difficult, and maddening world around us. Your moment of pleasure is usually made possible by someone else’s drudgery, often for low wages; this might be the dishwasher in the restaurant in which you are feasting, the maid in your five star hotel, the clerk in the cigar store, or the person washing the towels at your spa. Especially while indulging himself, a gentleman is considerate of those who make such indulgences possible. A smart prince of the city realizes how precariously he wears his crown.

It’s important to realize that indulgence does not have to mean mindless excess. A great meal can leave you feeling satisfied without feeling stuffed. Bigger is not better: Indulgence that you really enjoy is about quality, not quantity. Enjoy one really good drink at a leisurely pace – so much more pleasurable than throwing down drinks like a frat boy on Spring Break. In fact, adult indulgence is an acquired skill, and distinguishes the gentleman from the obnoxious and flashy conspicuous consumers. As usual the question is about substance versus appearances. Are you doing something because you really want to, or because others expect it? Because you enjoy it, or to impress others? Pleasure is about introspection and honesty – what really makes you genuinely happy?

The key to indulgence is to reward yourself for some challenging, but achievable, attainment. The indulgence should be modest in proportion to the achievement. Especially, it should not overwhelm the achievement, in keeping with a gentleman’s sense of modesty. This is especially true in exercise related rewards; a mile run only burns X calories, so if you have a milkshake to celebrate, you’ve consumed Y calories more than you’ve burned. In celebrating financial victories, a 1% indulgence is probably appropriate; a $100,000 bonus means that $1,000 can be blown on a fine dinner, good champagne, the best cigar you’ve ever had, and a room at the Ritz for you and your better half. If you’re feeling particularly virtuous, give away half of the $1,000 to one of your favorite causes; donating to something that gives you pleasure can also be an indulgence.

It’s important to remember how much fun small pleasures can be; a top of the line cigar can be had for $15; $50 should buy an excellent champagne. But if you really enjoy the sweet Italian champagne for $12, that’s the one you should buy. Giving $20 to the gentle street person you walk by everyday will provide as much pleasure for you as for him.

Indulgence requires skill and experience; pleasure might seem much more like pain if you find yourself trapped at a small table at an expensive restaurant feeling pressure to buy overpriced food and drink. An expensive call girl who makes you nervous – about VD, among other things – or guilty, is not a pleasure. Sometimes an indulgence does not require spending any money. Getting an extra hour of sleep for someone who is always sleep deprived can be a real pleasure; a day without any computers for the perpetually plugged in might be a refreshing indulgence. Or a meal that you don’t have to rush through.

Discovering true pleasure – and how different it can be from conspicuous consumption – is an important step on the road to becoming a real gentleman.

There is a myth that women are only now just starting to shed their selflessness for the joys of self-indulgence. This following advice to middle aged women from an article in Time magazine is standard fare:

Be selfish. After years of nurturing and caring for others, you’ve earned the right to put yourself first. It’s okay to have a facial, travel by yourself, or have a relationship without a wedding ring. (Time, page 61, May 16, 2005)

You must be kidding – women have to be told that its okay to have a facial? Women have been the queens of pampering for many years, and far more so than men, as the endless nail salons across the country will attest. Manicures, pedicures, massages, fancy hair treatments, shopping trips, expensive jewelry, fantasy weddings, girls night’s out, making reservations instead of dinner – affluent women across America are no strangers to self indulgence. And given that one third of all babies are born to unmarried women, it would seem that they have pretty well mastered the part about relationships without wedding rings.

To a large extent this indulgence is fueled by the availability of foreign born women who are willing to make a living by providing the personal services as manicurists, maids, masseuses, hairdressers, shop clerks, nannies, etc.

And in their interpersonal relations, it is much more common for men to indulge women than vice-versa, although this situation will usually reverse itself in the bedroom.

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