What’s in a bag?

I am on a quest for the perfect purse.

Maybe only women will understand this, but that does not diminish the seriousness of the mission. The purse is an integral part of a woman’s life and I bet I would be hard-pressed to find any woman who hasn’t been on this quest before.

Some women will never find “The One.” Some will search for years until one rainy afternoon, on the bottom of a sales rack, their unsuspecting but hopeful hands will come upon the softest leather, the best little hidden pockets and the perfect length strap.

I have found my match once, and I am afraid that no such luck will ever come my way again. It was about 9 years ago when one of my friends gave me a very small, black, beaded purse. It was very dysfunctional, as far as purses go, but I couldn’t care less: it was love at first sight. It fit my wallet, lip balm and keys. On the inside there was a little coin purse — also beaded. The bag had a woven strap that was long enough that I could fling it across my shoulder. It was practical for day, but small and elegant enough for night. The purse and I went everywhere together. As the little bag gently bumped against my right hip, all was right with the world.

A woman’s relationship with a bag can start at an early age. I got my first purse when I was about 4 or 5: it was white with a red apple on the flap. My Dad brought me a marble every day from work and the little white bag was the best place to keep them.

Once I started school, I entered the “I carry my entire life on my back” phase. For those next 14-15 years of elementary, middle, high school and college, there really was no need for frilly little purses. It was heavy-duty backpack time.

After graduating from college, I was more than happy to downsize to the little black beady bag, and for a while it served its purpose perfectly.

The first sign of trouble came when I purchased a car and later a cell phone. I had a hard time fitting both my keys and the phone. I knew that something had to change, but I was reluctant and, frankly, in denial about the limited abilities of my favorite bag.

But unfortunately, the little bag couldn’t take the stress and slowly started to fall apart — first just a couple of beads fell off, then the strap broke. Thus, the great search began.
First I tried the no-bag policy, but that just seemed plain silly. Next came a small, clutch-style bag, with a very short strap that tucked under my shoulder. It wasn’t much improvement from the favorite purse, because it was just as tiny. While living in a larger city, I also tried the messenger bag and the backpack, but they didn’t exactly scream city chic, not to mention the disapproving looks I got as I tried to navigate crowded buses. The straw bag looked like I got lost on my way to the beach, and I definitely was not hip enough for the red studded and fringed number I tried for a couple of days.

I’ve also been through professional-looking briefcases, leather backpacks, L.L. Bean totes, suede, embroidered bags — but honestly, they just weren’t me. They were either too serious, or not quite serious enough, too girly, too soft, too … something.

Then one day, Drew, my husband, finally shined a light on the whole purse issue for me. I think he was pretty sick of standing around department stores while I searched piles of bags like a mad woman.

“Could it be,” he said, “that this is not really about the purse, but where you are in life?”

Great. So now I am not only looking for a bag, I am trying to find the true meaning of my existence. I bet Macy’s doesn’t have a coupon for that.

But I had to admit that he was right. Maybe I just have to accept that I am stuck somewhere between the beaded party bag and a diaper bag. While the days of carrying just a lipstick and keys are over, I am also not ready for carrying around sewing kits, science projects, a week’s worth of groceries and baby wipes either.

So, while the quest continues and I never leave a store without checking out the bag section, I am a little less obsessed with my search. I trust that the right bag will come along when I am ready for it.

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