Rules to Live By

The rules I live by are so ingrained that I rarely recognize them as such.

Like most people, I live according to many small, particular (one might say petty) rules and belief systems that are now so ingrained that I rarely even recognize them as such. I’ve mentioned some of these in a previous essay, but a few examples of my personal rule/belief system are:

Beds should be made every day;

If I particularly enjoy a TV show, it won’t last beyond one season;

and

Toenails should always be painted bright, pretty colors during sandal season.

But, as I also mentioned in that earlier essay, I do not constrain anyone to adhere to my rules and beliefs, since my overarching conviction, the one that informs my entire life, is that compromise is essential to peaceful human interaction. This is made easier by the fact that I live alone; my cats rarely argue with me, and, when they do, I’m the Mom; I win. But I still consider the ability to compromise to be a vital element of human maturity. (Unfortunately, the state of current society in America indicates all too sadly that this essential principle has been pretty well abandoned.)

Anyway, being easily entertained, I recently wasted a little time considering the other rules and beliefs under which I operate, and compiling a list of them. I found this activity enlightening, especially when I began comparing my personal “Life System” to those of my friends. It was astounding not just how many factors we agreed upon, but disagreed on. (That whole compromise thing again; that is why we remain friends.)

So here is a brief list of just a few of the vital rules and beliefs by which I discovered I live. To wit:

Bedsheets should be changed every week.

Dishes don’t have to be done until there are a sinkful—and when one lives alone, that takes awhile, so dirty dishes in the sink are a given.

Toilet lids should be put down before you flush. (Have you ever read about what gets sprayed around if you don’t do this?! Eeeewwwwww.)

If you’ve never used it and you throw it out, you will need it.

If a man has to tell you how great he is in bed…he isn’t.

If it’s Amazon’s Choice, avoid it like the plague.

Cats will always walk off the linoleum to throw up on the carpet. Having thrown up on the carpet once, they will walk to a fresh spot and throw up again. They will always do this if the carpet has just been cleaned. They will definitely do this as soon as guests arrive in your home.

If you’re barefoot in the morning, you will always step in cat barf. Somehow this will happen even if you don’t own a cat.

If you are looking forward to a day of just relaxing with nothing urgent to do, 25 different chores will rear their ugly heads.

An old friend who you haven’t seen for years will show up unexpectedly on your doorstep on a Sunday afternoon, especially if you are lazing about in your PJs with uncombed hair while the house is a complete mess.

If a particular public or historical figure is your hero, you will learn something horrific about their behavior that will forever tarnish them in your eyes.

If you really liked a movie, the critics will savage it, and you will look like an idiot for saying you enjoyed it.

The family crisis will always happen while you are out of town or otherwise unavailable.

If you finally discover the perfect shade of lipstick or nail polish, the manufacturer will discontinue it the very next month.

If you belittle a dish at a potluck dinner, the person who brought it will be standing right next to you.

The elegant paper invitation you’re sending to the most important person will always be lost by the post office.

If you plan an outdoor activity involving many people, it will rain.

The pet you love best will die young.

If you hesitate to buy it, it will be gone the next time you’re in the store.

You will realize someday with total dismay that there is always going to be at least one person who will be glad to hear that you’ve died.

If you have to be up by 5:00 a.m. to make it to an early work shift, your neighbors will be having a loud party that keeps you awake until at least 2:00 a.m.

The people you love best will be the ones who hurt you most. The very fact that you love them gives them this power over your heart.

If you’ve been waiting for three months for a vital appointment with a medical specialist, you will get a jury duty notice for the day of the appointment.

The power will go out when you are in the midst of attending a critical on-line meeting.

If you make a disparaging remark about someone, they will be standing within hearing range.

There is absolutely no way to make brussels sprouts taste good.

You will get desperately sick just prior to, or during, your long-awaited vacation.

And, finally, (no, Jack!) it is NOT all small stuff!

I’m sure I’ve many other rules and hardcore beliefs under which I operate my life, but these are the most essential.

Now, what are yours?

Let me know in the Comments what rules you live by! If you missed it, you might also want to read the post “Consider Compromise” which sparked this silly little missive. You can find it in the Archives, published October 12.

Pieces of Your Soul

As we sat talking one day in my lovely little condo which is decorated to my, and only my taste, a friend looked about and, sighing a bit, commented on all the compromises–starting with home décor–that she has made in her household. “When you marry,” she said, “you give up a little piece of yourself.”

WeddingPhoto (2)I understood. I was married for 19 years, and (leaving entirely aside the difficulty of a marriage that crumbled due to my partner’s alcoholism, drug use and infidelity), I made any number of  concessions and compromises—as I’m sure he did, also.  The very act of spending your life with another person is a commitment to cooperation and negotiation.  Many couples never learn to navigate their way through the thorny path of such concessions, though, without one partner giving up too much of her or himself.

And therein lies the rock upon which so many marriages and partnerships and perhaps even international negotiations stumble, never to recover. There must be give-and-take in any relationship. Yet, all too often, one partner becomes the giver, the other the taker. Taking can eventually become a self-fulfilling premise.  From the color one paints the walls to the type of car, to the amount of a mortgage, to the number of evenings out for one partner, to who will be the person attending parent-teacher conferences or helping with homework, who pays the bills or takes the taxes to be figured, who mows the lawn or gets up with the baby, the Taking partner can become so accustomed to the compromise and conciliation of the other that he or she retreats into a sort of childhood cocoon, where everything done is done by a parent-like figure who has only one’s best interests at heart.

The Giver, meanwhile, waits continually for just a word of recognition and appreciation, which comes rarely, or, after some time, not at all. Overburdened, or perhaps just feeling that more and more pieces of oneself have been handed over to a vacuum and vortex of need, resentment begins to replace the contentment of mature compromise.  And resentment is the most vicious enemy of love.

It is hard, sometimes impossible, to strike a balance between two disparate personalities and negotiate a pathway to shared responsibility and decision-making. And perhaps that is why I, divorced now the same number of years as I was once married, continue to live alone.  I know my tendency to try to make another love me by giving until there is almost nothing left of myself—and then, having wrung myself out, beaten myself dry on a flat rock beneath a burning sun—to know the experience of having love gutter into bitterness and resentment; to be, despite it all, left alone because the “me” that the other once knew and appreciated has disintegrated, like damp tissue paper, into nothingness.

It is one thing to give up a tiny piece of yourself for the sake of cooperation and agreement. But let it always be a two-way street.  And save the largest piece of yourself for yourself.  No partner is worth your soul.