Oh no! Did I just say that? I can’t believe I just said that! But I know I said it because I heard myself. The auditory center in my brain is the expert witness. But another part of my brain, the part that hovers over the top of my head and monitors me from outside myself, is in shock.
Of course, you have no idea what I’m talking about. You’ve come into the middle of a conversation. So for you to fully appreciate my dismay, let me backtrack.
It was early Wednesday morning. My husband had been up and working for at least an hour before I finally conceded to wakefulness, an act which I try to postpone for as long as possible. I went to seek him out. He was cheerful. I generally hate people who are cheerful in the morning, but for him I make another concession.
“I’m ready for coffee,” he said. Then he asked me if I would like to go out for breakfast. And that’s when it happened.
“But it’s Wednesday,” I said. “We never go out for breakfast on Wednesday.”
This was no insignificant statement, but cause for serious concern. Did my response indicate another giant step towards the porch and the rocking chair? Had I demonstrated a characteristic commonly attributed to OLD people. Was I presently in grave danger of becoming (gulp!) “set in my ways!”
You see, the pattern of our life has evolved so that we typically treat ourselves to breakfast at the diner on Fridays. So to be thrown off kilter by the suggestion that we partake of pancakes outside of the house on a different day was a sure sign of impending senescence.
Before my last birthday, would I have picked up on his radical suggestion that we go out for breakfast on a Wednesday and simply said “sure.” Had I crossed some arbitrary line where adhering to a regular routine was more rewarding than spontaneity? Was I becoming inflexible? A person driven by habit? Did I no longer embrace change? Or was I simply overreacting to an innocuous response emanating from an early morning foggy brain?
The latter explanation was by far the most comforting. For now, I’ll stick with that one.
But even if none of the above is true, the very concept of becoming “set in one’s ways” warrants considerable reflection.
I began to wonder about other habituated behaviors I might have developed over recent years, and how they might impact my decision-making.
For instance, I realized that I always do my laundry on Thursday morning. So what if my best friend suddenly phoned and told me she had just won a trip for two to Paris on a game show, and that she would like to invite me as her companion, but we have to leave right away. Would I say, “I can’t. It’s Thursday and I’m about to put the clothes in the dryer?”
Would I really give up a trip to Paris because of a pile of wet socks and underwear? What an absurd question, almost as absurd as this example. No. Of course not. Probably not. I don’t think so.
As I pondered the implications and ramifications of leading a fixed lifestyle, such as foregoing travel for laundry detergent, I recalled an incident that occurred several years ago involving my elderly aunt. (At least I thought of her as “elderly” at the time. In reality, she may have been only a few years older than I am right now.)
She lived in Florida; I still lived in New York. I had the occasion to be in her neck of the woods and I contacted her without a whole lot of prior notice. I hadn’t seen her in a while, and I wanted to take her to lunch. The only day I could make this happen was a Friday.
Even though the invitation was last-minute, I thought she’d be delighted to see me. Instead, she said “Thank you dear, but I couldn’t possibly. Friday is the day I wash my hair.”
Shoot me if I ever get like that, I remember thinking. So how do I feel about it now, when I might actually be facing those gun barrels?
When people are described as being “set in their ways” it is usually not meant kindly. On the other hand, what’s so wrong about being set in your ways? Is it really inherently bad? What’s the matter with having a routine and liking it?
Perhaps one of the perks of getting older is the privilege of arranging life the way I prefer to live it. There are no longer children to rush off to school, or a desk to report to at a certain hour. The structure of my life has become more or less of my own making.
So I ask again. What’s wrong about being set in my ways if they are MY ways? I’ve had sufficient opportunity to figure out what works for me and what doesn’t. What pleases me and what doesn’t. So to the extent that I can be in control of my days, I’ve earned it!
Therefore, I will continue to do the wash on Thursday and eat bagels only on Sunday. I will continue to crawl into bed at 10 PM on most nights and watch an hour of TV before I read myself to sleep. These harmless little traits don’t make me intractable, but simply comfortable.
And, In spite of my campaign to remove the stigma from routine, I like to think that I will happily accept a last-minute dinner invitation even if I have just defrosted a pound of chop meat, or be willing to try Net Flix, though it took me a year to master the DVR.
May I never become that old dog who can’t learn a new trick. Shoot me if I ever get like that!