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A couple of weeks ago, I read something that stuck with me. It was an article titled Run the dishwasher twice, and it was written by a woman who was battling depression. She was at a very low point, and when asked by her therapist what in particular she was struggling with, she eventually admitted that it was doing the dishes. “It’s stupid, I know, but the more I look at them, the more I CAN’T do them because I’ll have to scrub them before I put them in the dishwasher, because the dishwasher sucks, and I just can’t stand and scrub the dishes.”
She felt ridiculous saying it; it sounded like such a non-problem. But her therapist nodded understandingly and told her, “Run the dishwasher twice.” She started to argue that you’re not supposed to do that, and his response is what I’ve been mulling over for the last fortnight: “Why the hell aren’t you supposed to? If you don’t want to scrub the dishes and your dishwasher sucks, run it twice. Run it three times, who cares?! Rules do not exist, so stop giving yourself rules.”
Rules do not exist.
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. Because it’s such a foreign, tantalizing idea. Sure, some rules have their uses, like driving on a designated side of the road, locking up murderers, or displaying basic human decency to others.
But what about all the other BS”rules” we’ve been told by parents and teachers, shown by friends and society, or unconsciously manipulated to believe by seeing them in commercials, movies, or Facebook posts?
Like the rule that buying gifts shows your love, and if you don’t buy them, it’s implied that you don’t care about that person. Elsie Larson from A Beautiful Mess has been buying all her own presents for years. She wraps them, puts her husband’s name on the ones that are “from him”, and is happy as a clam. This method works for both of them, because she gets what she wants and he doesn’t have to stress out about it, and I just love that arrangement.
My husband and I don’t usually give each other gifts at all, unless one of us sees something that we know the other will like. We’ve given each other some special gifts over the years, but not on a designated day—we just do it whenever we find it.
Another rule we’re breaking is that we have been sleeping in separate bedrooms for the majority of our marriage. We have lots of reasons, but the simplest one is that it works best for us. It has negative connotations of either being a punishment (wife kicks husband out of bedroom for cheating/coming home drunk/being an ass) or the beginning of the end. But for us, it’s simply how we both get the best sleep, and we don’t care what it looks like to others.
Women in particular get so many rules, it takes a lifetime to learn them all, and because new ones are added all the time, we will never catch up. Wear a bra (nobody wants to see saggy breasts, or even worse, nipples), don’t wear a miniskirt after 35 (hide the cellulite), wear makeup (hide your natural skin with its texture and pores), dye your hair (you have to look young!), put on shapewear (you have to look slim!), don’t be too loud, don’t be too eccentric, don’t be a slut, don’t eat too much, don’t be wasteful, don’t be selfish.
Instead, be this: Polite. Pleasant. Caring. Nurturing. A mother. Successful, but not too successful. Organized. Hardworking. Tidy. Clean. A rule-follower. Fit in, don’t stand out.
We apologize when people come over to our place for it being messy because we subconsciously compare it with the staged photos we see on social media and the beautifully decorated houses on TV.
We feel guilty for saying no, because we were taught to always be helpful.
We feel guilty if we’re having a lazy day because we were taught that being hardworking equals being a good person and being lazy is a sin.
We think we are bad people if we don’t recycle and still buy fast fashion.
We are being told that we should practice self-care—but not too much. We also have to cook organic, healthy meals, provide a magic childhood for our kids, be independent women with their own income, be politically woke, care for social issues, be there for our friends, shop local (even though online shopping is so much more convenient), be environmentally friendly, and for God’s sake, don’t run the dishwasher twice.
Phew. It’s a lot.
Not all of these rules are bad. Some are very good. Some make life easier, some are good for the world and human interaction, and some fall into the category of well-meaning advice (i.e. take it or leave it).
But some are manipulative, created to keep women small; some are made up to sell products, especially anything related to beauty, weight loss, and “staying young”; and some are just plain crazy.
The main problem is that even if you try to be a good, obedient person by following the rules, you are doomed to fail. There are too many of them, there is too much conflicting information being thrown at you, and no matter what you do, you will never be able to please everyone.
That’s why it’s time for some serious unlearning.
The most important step is to unlearn the idea of believing that you should be a certain way: look a certain way, behave a certain way, live life a certain way. You don’t.
All you have to do is to become the person you already are, the person you were before the world got her claws into you and tried to turn you into someone else. This isn’t easy, but it’s worth it. Because once you manage to shake off the heavy burden of expectation and rule-following, you become light and free, and life becomes easy!
That’s the clue to know you’ve got it: life gets easier.
Life will still be complicated and difficult and sometimes heartbreaking; that’s how life is. But the difference is that you have shed a ton of unnecessary problems (caused by the rules) you had before, which helps you focus on what you have to deal with.
If you don’t have the energy to recycle in the current phase of your life, then don’t.
If you can’t afford to shop at the independent store because you lost your job or your hours were cut or something else cropped up, shop at WalMart and don’t feel guilty for it.
If your friend wants to hang out but you don’t have the capacity for it, tell them. If they’re real friends, they will understand; if not, good riddance.
If you don’t want kids and people ask you why or try to convince you that you’re making a mistake, remember: You don’t owe them an explanation. You don’t have to explain your reasons. They are the rude ones for interrogating you, not you for not answering.
If you’re content in your current job and don’t want to climb the career ladder, stay where you are! Job satisfaction is what everyone wants but few have, and one reason is that people listen to other people’s unsolicited advice. If you’re happy, keep living your best life!
If your house is messy, remember that everybody’s house is messy. It’s called living. Sure, there are varying degrees, but if you feel comfortable the way it is, don’t apologize to others because you think they may not like it. It doesn’t matter whether they like it or not.
If you are a woman and I X-ray your unshaved legs, please stop apologizing for your unshaved leg! Hint: Guys never do.
We women have to stop believing that there are certain aspects of grooming we have to follow; we actually don’t. Those are arbitrary rules that don’t serve a purpose except to make women feel inferior. Fuck that.
I applaud you for not having shaved your legs, and mine are most likely stubbly right now as well! I do like the smooth look for my bare legs in the summer, but in the winter I let the hair grow out. Much easier and warmer that way.
I also rarely wear a bra, never wear makeup, and I don’t apologize. Men don’t wear them, why should I?
The rules do not exist.
Don’t let other people tell you who to love, how to live your life, or what they think of your choices. It’s none of their business.
Do what feels true to you. Do what you think is right. Try your best, not someone else’s best.
By becoming yourself you become the very best version of you.
And that is what the world needs.