I went to the Italian place down the street for dinner the other day. It wasn't a big deal—my dining partner and I were hungry, and wanted pasta, and he hadn't been there, so hell, let's go. We each had a glass of wine; I had a pasta entree; he had some sort of rolled chicken thingie. Both were delicious. I was telling him about how this was a special place to me—I celebrated my 25th birthday here. As I talked, I realized that I spent my 25th birthday there because it was a special-occasion place—and now it's just Sunday night dinner.
Part of me misses the way things felt back then, when anything more than a slice of pizza for dinner felt indulgent—there's a magic that accompanies the financial situation that makes a $17 pasta dish feel extraordinary. But then I think of the actuality of those "indulgences": ordering an appetizer instead of an entree and feeling like the waiter was glowering at me, holding my breath while nitpicking over every dollar on the tab and hoping that nobody would be a jerk about the bill (myself included), forcing myself to "love" a dish that may have been mediocre just because I'd spent five times my usual dinner allotment on it.
My financial situation now isn't so grand as to let me order $17 dishes every night of the week and not have it take a noticeable toll on my bank account. But I have the freedom now to have a dinner out just because I feel like it. There doesn't need to be some sort of bar of specialness that needs to be met before I can plunk down a $20 and be done with it—I don't need to justify my gourmandise with a birthday or a promotion.
There's a friend I dine with about once a month. We pick a fantastic restaurant, we order whatever we feel like, we taste each other's meals, we ooh and aah. We order wine. We order dessert if we feel like it. And it is a celebration, of sorts: We're celebrating our friendship, our love of excellent food, the successes we've had that enable us to have these dinners, quietly tuck a few bills into a leather folder, and leave feeling as though we've nourished our spirits.
I never needed to spend money to nourish my spirit, of course. But it's nice to have the choice.