I’ve always been a big advocate of doing things in your own way. It’s how I’ve lived most of my adult life. But there are times I do (and others I don’t) catch myself setting limits or restrictions on something I might want to do because it would displease an imaginary board of people whose sole reason to exist is to judge my life choices.
It can honestly be something as simple as deciding to spend an entire Sunday indoors watching movie after movie because I’m feeling a bit lethargic and I just genuinely bloody love watching films.
Yet, there will be a voice in my head that tries to instill a sense of guilt for ‘not having achieved anything’ at the end of the day or that it doesn’t fall within the parameters of a ‘successful Sunday’. As if a report of my entire weekend activities will be presented to the aforementioned imaginary board for me to be judged and either lauded or rebuked accordingly. It also says a lot about how I’ve learned to view success. So the Sunday I’ve described doesn’t involve munro bagging, a delightful afternoon spent baking, meal prepping or handling life admin. Who’s to say a day spent in my own company being transported to different times, realms and planets via a screen while laughing, crying and cheering along with the old and new famous faces of cinema, isn’t beneficial? Crying is cathartic. Laughter boosts the immune system and smiling is a stress reliever.
Of course social media doesn’t help with this kind of thing and when you reach the end of the day and ultimately grab your phone to carry out post-match analysis of everyone else’s weekend escapades, the little dark fairy that is comparison is sure to creep in one way or another.
Even without the help of social media the ‘rules’ that can dictate my decision making float somewhere in the ether, ready to make themselves known like a wee flashing warning light if I deign to do something potentially off-piste.
For example, I’ve had some strange breakfasts in my life. These peculiar morning feasts occurred mainly as a result of a heavy handed but delicious dinner choice the night before. The list includes but is not limited to: mince & tatties, chow mein, pizza, pasta (of countless varieties with a wide range of sauces), chips and chocolate cake. Of course these would all result in a black mark against my name from ‘the board’ as none fall into the classic breakfast item categories we’ve all learned to live with (in the UK at least) but there are certain people I might not reveal this too (although, it’s too late now) because at best they will think I’m odd and at worst that I’m disgusting and a bit of a trash human being in general. However, with breakfast supposedly being the most important meal of the day and that whole ‘eat breakfast like a King, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper’ surely my world famous mince and tatties served with a smattering of garden peas courtesy of Captain Birdseye should at least be up for consideration?
I’ve had a few discussion with friends about the ‘rule’ concept. One being with my flat mate who wanted to go for a run but was a bit anxious about attempting a 5km after a lengthy hiatus. I suggested she aim for 3km instead, to which she replied ‘Oh yeah, I could do that. I didn’t really think about doing less.’ She had shared that same thought I previously had, that for some reason, 5km was the minimum either of us should be attempting and any running distance under 5000m didn’t exist. It’s one that put me off running for a while but once abolished from my brain, I found the gentle encouragement I needed to simply run: unmeasured, moving and listening to my body (and my favourite music) along the way. This imagined rule is perhaps quite specific to me and my weirdo pals but possibly not, do let me know.
There are perceived rules around all manner of things. Dating, sex, relationships, work, fashion, food… essentially every aspect of our lives. In 2021 it’s easier than ever to bend or even break the rules and strike out on your own and while I’m certainly a work in progress, I’m trying my best to do just that. I’ve become increasingly open minded about what romantic relationships might look like and the picture varies according to each individual. Whether people want to be in exclusive or non-exclusive relationships, maintain separate living arrangements, have babies, not have babies, be physically non-monogamous while maintaining emotional boundaries and connections with a primary partner, it’s all possible and more importantly it’s all OK. You make the choices that determine your own wants and needs in a relationship and just because someone chooses a framework which is different from your own, doesn’t mean it’s wrong. In fact being aware of and discussing the various ways in which people choose to demonstrate their romantic connections with your own partner/partners can be a great way of improving your relationship. That doesn’t necessarily mean inviting Frank from the office, who you’re sure has been giving you the eye over your weekly zoom calls, to become a throuple with you. It could be an agreement to spend at least 3 nights apart a week or taking turns to plan a weekend away once a month. You alone can decide what will/won’t work for you.
One of the big ways flouting the rules has helped me is the sense of liberation it’s provided. I’ve mentioned my desire to be a parent on this blog a few times and while the only conditions in which I used to think this could happen depended on a number of external factors, I’ve realised it’s much more within my control than Walt Disney initially led me to believe. Before I share this little epiphany with the world (or rather the 120 people who may read this) I’d like to add a disclaimer. I have and always will be a hopeless romantic. I am in love with the very idea of love and meeting someone who makes me catch my breath. Someone who both sets my soul on fire and soothes my mind, who challenges me and is very much a partner to share life with. I’ve most definitely not given up on that. While I haven’t relinquished the idea that this will happen, I don’t put that expectation on anyone I meet now. Learning to date the person in front of you rather than the potential (you see) gives you the freedom to really get to know someone without comparison or pressure. You also focus a lot more on the fun and enjoy things in the moment. And while I know I want to be a mum and will turn 31 in a few months, the ticking of any manner of clock is non-existent and thanks to changing my own rules, it always will be. I know I will make a good mother and should I get to the age of 36 or 37 (there’s no need to get too specific here) and I haven’t found my person, there are other ways of becoming a parent. I love the idea of adopting and bringing a child into my own little world filled with love and laughter. It makes my heart ache when I think of the people who would have made wonderful parents but gave up that dream because they didn’t meet the right person in time. There’s obviously lots of other factors to consider in a decision of this magnitude and I am by no means claiming or assuming it would be a simple process. Families are about so much more than blood or the circumstances in which they were formed. It’s about the people in your life who, no matter what, will always be there with an unwavering and unconditional love.
Sometimes, rather than doing things how we genuinely want to, we simply don’t do them because it goes against learned and outdated behaviour, an expectation we believe others hold or a potential negative response to our chosen action. This happens even when there is naught but one soul (apart from your brain and ‘the board’) to see you do it. Even if it’s something as simple as not making a beard and hat out of bubbles in the bath because you’re a 57 year-old Financial advisor. Promise me and yourself: that day will never come.
It’s dangerously easy to impose rules on ourselves and others. Rules which, if not adhered to can bite us in the arse either because ‘the board’ berates us or we berate others which let’s face it, doesn’t make you feel any better either.
I say, throw out the rule book and set individual boundaries to keep yourself happy and healthy instead.
You’ll quickly discover there’s a reason they say rules were made to be broken.
Photo credit: Board of Directors of the fictional Fidelity Fiduciary Bank in the Walt Disney movie Mary Poppins (1964)