by Alexandra Burton
Relationships mean shared routines and rituals. Pizza and a movie on a Tuesday evening, without fail. A long walk in the park on a Saturday morning, followed by two black americanos sipped over a deconstruction of the week’s news. Lying in the same spot on the sofa when you’re sick, whilst they wrap you in the same blanket and heat you a tin of soup. Small but dependable acts; comforting signifiers of the little life you’ve built together. If ease creates them, the warmth of familiarity embeds them into your day-to-day living. These rituals prove how well you know one another. The way you move together like a well-oiled machine feels like magic, guided by the special almanac you each hold of the other’s joys and habits. You feel a rush of love each time they remember to order your pizza with extra pineapple, even though you can’t remember the last time they forgot.
When a relationship ends, everybody talks about the loss of your future together in big-picture terms. Your friends hold your hand as you grieve for the house you’ll never buy together, both of you eagerly gripping the key as you open the door to your home for the first time. Your family will listen as you shed wistful tears, letting go of the wedding day on which you would meet their smiling face at the end of the aisle. But whilst these things are painful to relinquish, they are only imagined. They are the loss of something you never had; a story created and ended before it could materialise. Nobody strokes your hair as, piece by piece, life as you know it falls away.
The first time you drive yourself to work, fingers wrapped around the steering wheel rather than grasping one of their hands in yours from the passenger seat. The first time you falter before you put on a show you used to watch together, because it was one of your shows and you couldn’t possibly watch it without them, could you? The first time in two years that you don’t wish them goodnight before you go to sleep. You see each day not as a day of firsts, but as a painful reminder of all the lasts you never fully appreciated because you thought you’d get to experience them all over again. Your routines and rituals were a shining beacon in the dark, and without them to light your way, you are suddenly adrift.
So, you create your own.
“Your routines and rituals were a shining beacon in the dark, and without them to light your way, you are suddenly adrift.”
An old routine, stolen from childhood days: a Saturday evening medical drama that your parents love. When you were young, it followed terrible game shows watched with childish glee and a dinner of fish and chips, and you hold those memories close each week. It is easy viewing. The characters are familiar. The storylines provide fodder for conversations with your family, who are delighted with your renewed interest. It eases the particular ache of being alone at a time when you are expected to be having fun; makes you forget that you’ve lost your automatic companion for the weekend. You watch it on-demand even if you’re busy when it airs, because it tethers you to people who love you. In that time you feel comforted, not lonely. As soon as it is finished, you turn off your light and go to sleep.
A yoga class, three or four evenings a week. Ticking the little box that says ‘register’ is a solid enough commitment that you feel obliged to turn up each time, even when you’re fighting an urge to wallow in bed. The studio is a converted church and you think you may finally have found your religion. You go often enough that the teachers begin to learn your name. For an hour or so, your body works so your mind doesn’t have to. You create space in which you are able to love yourself, and you never leave feeling anything other than full. One day soon, you will face your fear of the slower classes, which you know will give your thoughts the opportunity to take over. Not yet, but one day.
A pre-work routine of journalling and podcasts and herbal tea. Your mind is so noisy in the shower, prone to flights of fancy with what if’s and if only’s. Writing helps to expunge them. Listening helps to distract them. You fill the room with voices you can pretend are speaking directly to you. Sometimes you listen to marvellous women talk about why you don’t need a relationship to complete you; why you are enough just as you are, with this full and varied life you are creating. You know that it’s hackneyed but you don’t care: right now, this is what you need. You keep listening all the way to work, and some days you forget that you used to hold their hand in the car.
Your new routines might be distraction and avoidance, but they are also comfort and safety. You cradle yourself in them and your life feels less empty. Your heart beats to the steady motion of repeating the familiar. Each gentle ritual is a building block, and each day you lay brick on brick until you have built a life that belongs only to you.
Alexandra Burton lives and works in the North of England. When she’s not writing you’ll find her on the yoga mat, at the climbing wall, or tackling her growing TBR pile.