09 Jan First two crisis of escort’s career, as defined by money attitudes
- When psychologists speak of crises, in the context of psychological development, they don’t mean crisis as in “a calamity,” as the word might generally mean. A “psycho-developmental crisis” means the central conundrum for a given stage of life.
- In this blog entry, I’m talking about the career development of escorts who use a multiple client model, as opposed to a sugar daddy model, of business.)
From collaborating with escorting women as their psychologist, I’ve concluded not only that there is a typical pattern of psychological changes that reflect an escort’s career development, but more specifically that her attitudes concerning money—what it signifies and what she does with it—might be a useful way to define the psychological stages of an escorting career. And it seems to me, whether or not one is a sex worker, that there is something to learn from the psychology of escorts as it relates to money.
The first crisis—and remember I mean conundrum, not calamity— is whether to make the shift from not thinking of escorting as her solution (to needing income), to deciding to pursue escorting as a career. Every escorting woman consulting me has said money was not the only consideration (Additional motivations comprise a long list. To list a few: adventure, opportunity to meet—and learn from—high income men, fun & luxury, to feel appreciated, to enjoy doing something they’re good at, and just maybe …a husband.) Yet money is certainly an important reason, if only because in a capitalist social order not having money is no. small. problem. To say the least, people who don’t have lots of money get treated badly.
From a psychological view, the notable thing about this developmental stage is what a woman doesn’t see. While seeing having more money as the solution to not having money, there’s no appreciation whatsoever for the problems that will come with having money. And so there’s no interest in her own attitude about money. She can’t. Her attitude about money isn’t yet an object she can look at; it’s still the lens through which she sees. It is as though she doesn’t realize she’s wearing glasses, so it doesn’t occur to her she can change pairs, and that changing pairs changes how she sees the world. And if she saw the world differently, she would interact with it differently. Nor does she realize that the wisdom to know which pair to wear for which purpose, is a valuable life skill.
The second psychological crisis begins when she starts earning money. She discovers, “Wow, I can do this, and I can get paid,” which is followed by the thought, “Gee, how far could I go with this? How much could I earn?” The second psychological crisis has an external, behavioral facet and an internal, attitudinal facet. I’ll describe the external facet; note that escorting women are often puzzled by their own spending behavior; and then offer a theory to explain why.
The external facet of the crisis is evident in her “money-allocating,” behavior: how she allocates her earned money— I mean spending, investing, and saving. There are three psychological qualities typical of her money-allocating behavior in this stage.
- It is highly and hedonistically consumptive (a large proportion of the spent earnings of spent on luxury goods for herself, as opposed to invested in real estate, spent on charity, or intended to bail out others’ financial problems). Yes, sometimes it covers tuition, but shoes and purses feature highly.
- For all that these shoes and purses are supposed to be luxury consumer goods, they don’t get consumed. After spending all that money on whatever she bought, it’ll often then sit on a shelf….Perfume, shoes, dresses…all just sit there.
- It seems like the shopping itself—the deciding what she wants, the looking forward to getting it, the going to the store—is more pleasurable than the transaction, the unwrapping it at home, or the using it.
For a luxury good, very little luxuriating happens, and more than a little anxiety comes up. Why?
Well, as I said, I think there’s an internal and an external facet. The money-allocating behavior is the facet on the outside. What’s happening on the inside once she’s started making money by escorting? A big shift in self-regard. And big shifts are by definition disorienting: Whereas needing a solution to her income problem was a familiar psychology, having money and facing the prospect of having much more of it is new. And being new, it requires new answers to the questions of “How do I see myself? How do I feel about myself?” at an emotionally charged time when she is feeling excited, empowered, and proud.
However, the project, the need, to consolidate a new self-regard, to really step into her new view of herself, sets up another problem. Here’s how the second problem happens: In addition to sitting in her closet with shoe boxes full of cash—feeling maybe giddy, maybe stunned, marveling at what she’s been able to do—there are times of troubling realization, “Who can I tell?” Who would she most like to tell? Well, deep down, her parents, as in, “Look! I’m a success! I’m good at what I do! I’m so pleased!…. Aren’t you pleased and proud of me too?”
No client has ever told me that she has gotten such parental rejoicing. The double standards of capitalist morality block her getting her parents’ proud embrace in either of two ways, implicitly or explicitly.
- In the implicitly blocked scenario, she does not get this familial embrace because she does not tell her family: She doesn’t disclose either her success or—really—the new person she feels she’s becoming, because she expects she’ll get in response capitalist moralizing (a well-paying career that results in innocent deaths—health insurance executive, corporate defense attorney, investment banker—ok. A well-paying career that kills no one but involves commercial sex—not ok).
- In the explicitly blocked scenario, her family does know, but due to that double standard regards her, how she earns, and the money she earned, as tainted.
So either way, she doesn’t get to tell her parents and be met with their joy and approval. Not only that but she’s still left holding the questions, “How do I see myself? How do I feel about myself?” For most of the escorting women who consult me, this has been a very long phase. And during this phase, she experiences—as odd to her—a combination of not fully enjoying what she purchases (things sit on shelves) or of feeling anxious or ashamed about her purchases, purchased returns, or rate of savings (she resolves to save, but still experiences anxiety).
The fact that she doesn’t get parental joy and approval is no mere problem. As anyone who lived in the closet can say with greater eloquence than I, not getting to reveal the totality of yourself—especially what you want to embrace about yourself, and especially by those whose acceptance is important to you—in effect blocks you from feeling like you are fully you, like you can fully occupy yourself.
And now to complete the circle: Big financial accomplishment causes big self re-assessment. Desired parental beholding and pride is blocked by capitalist double standard. So where can she go to reveal herself, her accomplishment, and consolidate her new self-regard by enacting it? To the luxury goods store. (I am not about to say she is assuaging her pain by shopping.)
For those who do not shop at luxury goods stores, there is an important difference from shopping at Target for the reader to appreciate. Luxury goods sales staff offer individualized attention; you’re not left to wander the aisles on your own. The individualized attention might include knowing your name and purchase history. Thus, someone is paying attention to you, noting not just what you want to buy, but what you can afford to buy. To the escorting woman, this is double-edged.
On the upside, someone is paying attention to her act of buying, an act that signifies to the escorting women what she has accomplished, what she can afford, what she can do for herself. The buying act is an enactment, for herself, of all these things, and because the act is witnessed (by the salesperson) the psychological realness of the enactment is intensified. The salesperson is not her family, but is at least somebody, to whom she can demonstrate and enact her new self-regard. Not only has she become someone who can afford this item, she might be so able to afford this item—meaning, so accomplished in her career—that making this purchase might apparently be a trifle. Apparently.
Non-luxury goods stores don't offer this individualized attention, so they can't provide this sort of witnessing, so they can't gratify this need.
But, in order for this gratification to happen, there has to be the downside of the double-edge. The purchase has to be something of a reach, financially. Otherwise, the purchase act is not an accomplishment, hence no help in consolidating her new self-regard.
If the significance of the buying-act is the opportunity to express and consolidate a new self-regard, then this explains why so many of the luxury items purchased wind up on shelves, unused. The purchase and not the item is what’s psychologically valuable. This model also explains two other observations many an escorting woman tells me strike her as odd. First, sometimes, when the salesperson seems to be giving off an attitude, “Can you really afford this?” she might buy something she doesn’t really want. Second, she might feel anxiety, even shame, about returning the item to the store. Both make sense if her progressing sense of self is at stake in the purchasing act. The anxiety is about whether she really is the competent, accomplished woman she hopes she is becoming. Backing down from making the purchase or returning the signifying purchase feels like conceding one isn’t really the new self she would be proud to be. It is human to feel shame in reaction.
Thus the career progress of escorting women can be understood as having psychological stages, and these stages can be classified by her series of attitudes she has toward money-allocation. The challenge of each stage can be understood as a psycho-developmental crisis. None of these crises is unique to escorting women, because neither the problems of capitalism nor the difficulty of consolidating new self-regard as one makes career progress is unique to escorting. This is why understanding the psychology of escorting women is valuable to everyone.
Next week: The third and fourth crises. The third crisis begins when the other people in her life realize she’s got money and, approving of her career or not, they want some.