Friday, 28 October 2011

Convention will get us all

Health warning: what follows is is my personal view, and will read as 'me, me, me'. Please don't think I'm talking about you, unless you think you're exactly like me!

One of the most powerful coercive forces in existence is what other people do and think, and how they might judge your own actions and way of life. Because rightly or wrongly, you will be judged. 'When in Rome, do as the Romans do' is on the whole pretty sound advice if you want to blend in, avoid difficulties, and make the locals feel comfortable with you. It's anathema to diehard individualists of course, but for everyone else it generally pays to have regard to what is expected of you by the people in your society.

But social convention is the enemy of personal freedom. That may be good, if it constrains bad behaviour. But in other ways it can smother and defeat, and steer people into situations that they wholly dislike.

What do I have especially in mind? Well, in my own case, just two broad areas: work and relationships.

Work first. I've retired. I'm a lady of leisure. I'm out of the workplace, permanently. Out from under the control of managers. The days are all over when I had to watch my step, bite my tongue, and pretend to be ambitious. I now live a life without fear, without the threat of job loss or blocked promotion through spite, character assassination, discrimination, or a complaint made. I'm not bound to follow crazy procedures, or promote an interest, nor do anything against my better judgement. I'm not selling my soul for a salary, and I'm not compromising on notions of justice and fairness, and what constitutes humanity. And because of all that, I live an honest life. I can be independent. I'm free. Surely all that is a wonderful gain. The pension is enough to live on, and I pay my bills, owe nothing, drop no litter and make no noise. I'm a good citizen. I'm even cheerful with it.

If I were bored or lonely, I could take a job, but I think it would be immoral to take one simply to add some interest to my life, or to find company. Not when so many people are losing their jobs and can't get another. There's unpaid work available. I haven't overlooked the possibilities in that field, but I'm keeping voluntary activity up my sleeve, and won't put myself forward until life gets unfulfilling and I really need to get out there and be useful. It's my choice, up to me entirely. After all, what's the use of an unready volunteer? There's plenty of people who are ready and willing, and if I get in before them, they will be sidelined and disappointed, and the voluntary agency will be denied their better talent.

And yet there is most definitely pressure on those who have retired to get into work again. To do something useful, as if it's a crime to experience leisure. As if one should be stepping forward, and getting immersed in charity work and hospital services and things like that, anything to avoid idleness. But why shouldn't someone have idle hours to throw at things that enrich their outlook, and make them better-qualified as a human being? And some of those things involve spending that helps to keep other people in work.

This social convention that one must not be idle is hard to counter. The implication is that you are drifting, merely existing, not contributing anything, a drone, a drag on society. And I get annoyed about it, not merely because it's a lie, but because of the moral censure, the wagging finger. And as government money runs out, and pressure to be an unpaid volunteer mounts, that finger will wag all the more.

Now, relationships. I'm a divorced woman. I live comfortably, and enjoy an interesting life. I've plenty of inner resources, and don't have to be spoonfed entertainment or manufactured sensations. Nor do I lack for friends. I always say of myself that I don't know what loneliness is, and feel nothing of the kind, even though in a sense I've been solitary all my life. I need a lot of personal space and personal control, much more than most people. And now that I have it in spades, I intend to hang onto it. That means repelling all boarders. I'm not going to let anyone walk into my life and take it over. Anyone who tries is out. And I think that I'm justified in having it that way. Why should I be compelled to share and compromise? Sharing and compromising are ideal notions that may not work in practice. I haven't been able to make them work. I'm afraid I've lost all belief in them. I've also stopped believing that there is Someone out there who is perfect for me. Or I for them, because the attraction and suitability must be equal. I don't see that as a disaster, or a personal failing. Just a recognition of what is true for me, based on experience.

Behind these feelings is also the instinct of self-preservation, and a wish to live my closing years with all possible choices open to me. I don't want to get stuck in a relationship where I'm frustrated and unable to do as I please. Unable to go where I'd like to. Unable to mention certain things. Unable to learn, or pursue new interests. And probably ending up as a nurse to my companion, cut off from a wider life. A sort of prison sentence without parole.

I admit that's a scarily negative view of how it could be. And I do know couples who seem to prove me wrong. But consider: who exactly am I now able to attract, if I were seriously looking for a partner to live with or marry? The choice is very small, and likely to be as frail and grouchy as myself in not too many years. After sixty, you have to work hard at being fit and active, socially engaged, and smiling all the time. The temptation is strong to ignore the world, stay in the warm, and put your feet up. Well, it may be companionable for a couple to doze their days away like that, but it isn't going to suit me.

And yet I feel pressure from society to get a partner in my life. To make the best use of living space, and free up accommodation for families desperate for proper housing. To team up with someone else. To team up with someone 'appropriate'. Who might that be? A man, of course. If you're accepted as a woman, it's expected that you'll want a man. If you would actually prefer a woman, then it's not the usual thing, and eyebrows will be raised. That's still the way of the world, at least here in sunny Sussex. Raised eyebrows won't necessarily make me do anything I'd rather not do, but they will make me feel uncomfortable. And that means there is a subtle, insidious curb on my freedom. And a constant nudging to give in.


  1. A really good post Lucy! In your opening statement you point out that what you are about to reveal doesn't necessarirly fit the mould of other folk's experiences, beliefs etc. (paraphrased) and I smiled at that. Having read through what you said I felt that my life was similar to yours on certain things but different on others, as to be expected of course. One particular thing struck me was when you said that you have always been a loner and that was one of the things we have in common. Although I've been married, had children, loved and lost in life I have always remained a solitary soul of sorts. Reading on I noted your indignance at the thought that some might think your lifestyle now as one of being a drifter in society whereas in fact you've earned the right to be a lady of leisure. You rightly say that you are now out of the 'rat-race' and you don't have to conform to the will of others any longer in order to earn your keep. I somehow get the feeling that you've enjoyed your working life, despite any problems that you've encountered along the way and that all you now wish to do is enjoy your retirement. As far as relationships go, well, that is always up to the individual but I can understand your stance on that. You value your freedom and as long as that remains intact I suppose you would be open to whatever comes your way. You have taken some time in writing this post and I thought for that reason alone it deserves a longer than normal comment. Anyway I enjoyed reading it Lucy.

    Shirley Anne xxx

  2. Thank you.

    Reading the post, it seems a little strident here and there, as if I want to put off all approaches! Not so, but I really do need a lot of personal space, and can't see myself bowing to convention and pair-bonding!

    Nor do I want to spend time serving in a charity shop or driving a minibus just because people think that I have the time.


  3. I would love to know then what your aspirations are, assuming there are any. Love

    Shirley Anne xxx

  4. Aspirations? Well, clearly not a white wedding!

    Just now, getting my weight in hand. I've got out my notes on low-calorie meals, and I'm looking at things I can work into my daily routine that will give me more exercise - even with cold winter weather looming. I have to admit that when working the brisk mile-long walk to the station in the early morning helped no end to keep me fit!


  5. I suppose you could still do the walk and then smugly walk back home knowing you don't need the train today! LOL. Best wishes on your weight control and exercising.

    Shirley Anne xxx


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