“She knew all these by heart, had always known it. It all belonged to the make-up of the life of elegance: there was nothing new about it. What had been new to her was that short interval with Nick – a life unreal indeed in its setting, but so real in its essentials: the one reality she had ever known. As she looked back on it she saw how much it had given her besides the golden flush of her happiness, the sudden flowering of sensuous joy in heart and body. “
By “these” here refers to the unspoken expectations of a hanger-on – to be a distraction, to be an entertainment and to be a co-conspirator, and finally, to “manage”. And before she met Nick, Susy welcomed the little luxuries that a social climber like herself was afforded with. (After all, what else could someone sitting along the fringes of high society aspire to.)
Social climbers Susy and Nick found a loophole in the unspoken laws of the society they so desperately want to become a part of by marrying each other (despite not having any money or property or means for earning) and live off of their friends and their wedding cheques for a year (or until those cheques run out or they overstay their welcome in friends’ villas or chateaus.) When either or both find other partners who can advance them in society, they will part and divorce. Good – until the couple actually truly fall in love with each other that they contemplate living “the simple yet happy life”. But in an uncharacteristic (for Wharton that is) rom-com fashion, hi-jinx ensue, before our hero and heroine get back together.
Before the happily ever after though, let’s back up a bit and talk about Nick. When he found out how Susy “managed” their stay at Ellie’s by aiding her in covering up for her affairs, Nick freaked out and ran away. So melodramatic and on some level, arrogant! He can’t admit that social parasites “managed” no matter how much bitter taste it leaves on the mouth.