I’ve always liked rules. Not the kind that inhibit actions but the kind that provide conditional instructions. Commandments that provide clarity and quell difficulty. I would make them for myself. The hope was to turn some of the messiness of growing up into objective protocols. I wanted assurance — statues that would guide me down the right path, and when they didn’t, I could say, well I did everything right — I followed the rulebook. I remember when I was twelve, I had two friends up to my cottage for the weekend and they had a lot of fun with each other and I felt excluded. I told myself, okay, no worries, from now on, if you’re going to have friends up, make sure it always ends up with even numbers. The rules were aimed to be clear, free of exceptional clauses, and prohibitive of loopholes — generally, they were supposed to help me.
A lot of the rules ended-up regarding relationships… In eighth grade, after I flirted with a girl for a long time over text and our first date was awkward, I figuratively wrote, never start a new relationship over the internet — phones are for planning in-person dates only. After a first date at the movies (my idea) in grade nine between me and a girl that I was extremely attracted to ended with us not saying a word to each other, and later ended with me giving her a hug when I should have given her a kiss — which resulted in her laughing at my nervousness — two new rules were added. Never go to the movies for a first date; always, with consent, make a move on the first date. When I was cheated on, gave a second chance and it failed, that was easy — never give a second chance. When a girl wanted to make our relationship official so that our intimacy could progress and I hesitated, only later to backpedal and ask her out anyways — ultimately causing it to all blow up in my face, I added: never ask a girl out unless you don’t see it ending. When I broke up with a girl by slowly ignoring her texts and she hated my guts, break-up with girls honestly, was added. Then when I broke up with a girl in under a minute in a hallway, saying it all to clearly and all to simply, and she hated my guts, I amended: break-up with girls honestly and allow follow—up.
Down the road into my monogamous life, more rules were added. Don’t try to fix her problems with advice — just listen, was a rule bolded and underlined but was still sometimes forgotten, to my detriment. One rule, the most recent attempted addition, that at a time I rehearsed and rehearsed, but didn’t end up executing was: imagine your significant other breaking up with you. The thinking was this: you don’t want your house to burn down; it probably won’t burn down; if it did, it’s not likely you were the direct cause; still, you would be devastated; and Thank God you bought house insurance. The thinking was — relationships are much more likely to burn than houses. So I pictured it. At night, before I went to bed, in detail. Do it with me… Their hair, their knowing face. Them sitting you down and something not being right. What they would say, what excuses would be used, and what underlying causes you would know had broken the camel’s back. Because you would know, you’d know why it happened. If I played it out over and over, with my reaction and my plan for the following weeks, I hoped I could manage the situation. I hoped that, with insurance money, I could rebuild and move on. That was, if I was dumped. But I wasn’t. Circumstance cleaved that relationship. Its edges were age-difference, geography, and ambition. I could not have planned for that eventuality. Like in every quiet moment that caused a rule to be appended to the working list in my brain, I was dismayed. But this was worse than the rest. It couldn’t have been avoided. There’s no rule for this. Go back in time, perhaps? Never date the strong one, the one with the will? Wait and see what happens? That’s the case with doomsday prepping. You can build an incombustible house, but you didn’t plan for the hurricane.
These rules are not tokens. They’ve all been employed, and each has saved me from a share of torment. Should they come up, I obey them to this day — without fail. They are more than lessons, they are scars with a fine print that says: “to avoid this scar, do exactly the following….” I wish I had more. I wish I had one for every possible circumstance. Printed and bound and volumed. But as I reflect, I realize that I haven’t added a new rule in quite some time, and maybe it’s even time to archive the old ones. The paradigm has changed, the game is boundless now — there’re innumerable variables. It’s no longer clear what conditions will be repeated, what people will be in my life, or even what I want. And while I still scour for them, and there may be some to be discovered in this chapter of my life, I sense that I won’t be able to say “I did everything right” anymore. Maybe growing up is realizing that you can’t prepare. Maybe it’s realizing that the messiness only gets messier and the best game plan is porcine: that is, to relish the muck.
With food stores and life jackets,
B. F. Greeno, aka
at the whims of it all
P.S. Send me your rules.