I had avoided letting my older fiancé, Patrick, buy me a condo or pay my rent. That part of me that wanted to remain financially independent was critical to my sense of well-being and self-esteem. It was also a way of protecting myself, should he decide to leave me. But he always paid for everything else: vacations, flights, fancy dinners, weekend getaways, and incidentals.
Christmas was coming up and he wanted to surprise me. I told him he always did a very good job of surprising me and as long as he avoided real estate, I looked forward to his gift. Meanwhile, I shopped for the perfect leather jacket and white silk scarf for him that year. I wanted to show him that I could spoil him, too.
I found the perfect jacket at Neiman Marcus—it was a black Ralph Lauren Purple Label lamb jacket made in Italy. It was gorgeous and far too expensive for my budget, but I bought it anyway and put in on my card. Even at a high-end store like Neiman Marcus, this jacket raised eyebrows, and I was given special treatment in the private lounge area where a glass of champagne was presented to me as I pondered my decision.
A couple of weeks before Christmas, Patrick called me at my office and said he’d like to take me to dinner at a restaurant in Winnetka, a posh northern suburb of Chicago. I loved the northern suburbs, built along the shores of beautiful Lake Michigan. I had driven along the lake many times by myself when I was in the throes of grief and loss, after my younger ex had abruptly left me. I found it soothing and I imagined myself living there someday.
Patrick picked me up outside my office and we drove up Lake Shore Drive. I was looking forward to a new restaurant. Traffic was smooth that late Wednesday afternoon and as we entered the exclusive village of Winnetka—one of the top 15 richest zip codes in the United States—I realized how good it felt to be out of the city. Patrick pulled the car up to a beautiful white stone building with a canopy and dark green carpet leading to the entry. It didn’t have any signage, but I assumed it was probably a private dining club.
We stepped inside and an older, very well-dressed man greeted Patrick like they were long-lost friends. Handshakes, back-slapping, head nods, holiday greetings—it was all very merry. I was introduced to Bill, who looked me over rather closely and then asked us to step into a private room.
Inside the room were racks of furs arranged artfully, with overstuffed chairs and sofas strategically placed near different stations. Mannequins adorned in coats, jackets, vests, stoles, and capes made from beaver, fox, rabbit, leather, mink, and coyote stood under a ceiling studded with lights that reflected off mirrors and raised platforms, meant for fittings and 360-degree views.
This was certainly not a restaurant, and once again, Patrick had arranged a surprise that left me speechless…