Sane Structure

I am only one person, but in my one little life, the more unstructured time I have, the wealthier and happier I feel. This trend is irrespective of what’s in my bank account. The year before I was published, I was broke-broke-broke. I’d scavenged every quarter from between the couch cushions, clipped every coupon in captivity (which made for some interesting menus), and was rationing my gas, my heat, and other necessities.

Which is to say, I was living the way most people have to live all the time.

I was happier than a hog in slop. Part of my cash crunch was because work was s-l-o-w and so I had a lot of free time on my hands. A friend asked me to ghost write a book (Yippee! Groceries!), which project enthralled me. We had a lot of bad weather, so access to the office was even more curtailed, and I had Works In Progress (WIPS) burbling along at a great rate.

I had endless solitude, more free time than I’ve had before or since, and lots of creative tasks to keep me occupied.

And VERY little structure.

When I get a week off of court now, the same sense of glee overcomes me: Recess!

It isn’t recess. I’m writing, revising, or researching at least twelve hours a day, looking after the house, and tending to other obligations. I’m working my behonkis off, but without reference to anybody else’s schedule, space, or priorities.

I understand that not everybody is like me. My former spouse finds comfort in rules and routine. He posited at one point before we married that we ought to talk by phone every night at 10 pm. He intended this as a way to stay connected, a reliable moment in our long and varied days when we could be available to each other.

I tried. I made the calls so he wouldn’t wake Beloved Offspring or interrupt the bedtime routine. I dutifully played How Was Your Day Dear, and I understood the process had some benefit to him.

I came to loathe that call, to loathe one more obligation at the end of a day of relentless obligations. I came to view the phone call as Former Spouse’s mechanism for assuring himself he was “close” to his girlfriend, when in fact the call symbolized to me a lack of regard for how shredded I was.

This insight came in hindsight, of course. Opposites do attract, because they make a strong team if they can work out their complementary strengths and weaknesses.

My tolerance for structure created by other people is abysmal. I do not fathom how sane people can function as teachers, with lesson plans, objectives, milestones, and endless evaluations. I’m even more in awe of accountants and auditors, and there is just no explaining to me how bank tellers can smile at me, year after year, as I walk up to them in their cages with the same transactions to be handled the exact some way.

Where on this continuum do you fall? Are you comforted by the rules and happy in a routine, or do they chafe? If you’ve chosen a partner whose approach to structure is different from yours, how do you work it out so there’s peace in the valley?

To one commenter below, I’ll send a SIGNED copy of Cathy Maxwell’s wonderful Regency, “The Seduction of Scandal.”

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38 comments on “Sane Structure

  1. chafe!! We definitely approach structure differently but for some reason or another we have been working it out it will be 25 years for us this coming October.

    Love the blog!

  2. My X and I were both pretty structurec people. My daughter is the opposite. She is definately her own person with her own rules and no schedules. It is really funny though. I can understand her and her way of functioning, but my way makes no sense to her!

    • I am fortunate that my daughter was tolerant of me, though I don’t know if her capacity for structure is any greater than my own. By the time she hit high school, the dichotomy between the external structure of school (hall passes, bells, seating charts), and the actual chaos (chair fights, food fights, nobody paying attention to the teacher) about drove her nuts. Home schooling was a life saver for her, though I know it can also spell a kid’s academic doom.

  3. I suppose I must admit I tend to get more things ‘done’ when I have a more structured day. But when I’m in free time, I tend to get to those things that enrich me and feed my soul. Finding my balance between the two is what I struggle with most.

    • Balance… what a concept. My idea of balance would be to have two structured days a week, and five where we’re left to our own devices. (I hear my Former Spouse muttering about anarchy and panic in the streets.)

  4. i have to admit I’m trying to be organized but life somehow always successfully messed up with my organized life and well i am become disorganized, so i think i need chafe and I will need a guy who can calmed me down when trouble somehow coming into my life again and again:)

    • Balance… what a concept. My idea of balance would be to have two structured days a week, and five where we’re left to our own devices. (I hear Former Spouse muttering about anarchy and panic in the streets.)

  5. We figure it out…. haha Which is hard some times. I know if I have some structure, I actually accomplish something. If not, I probably dont. So I have to decide if I have things that need to be accomplished! haha

  6. i’m a person who likes routine but dont like rules too much and if i get a guys who’s different from me, i hope we can figure out how to resolve the differences and i think sometimes the differences add to our view in a new thing

  7. I work as a Nurse where my time is structured , but when I am not working then although I am a Mum and Wife I have no structure to follow, other than school picking up times.If I want to read, I do or I want to cook , I do. The only thing I am structured about is being somewhere on time . I hate being late, even by 5 mins. I always aim to be at least 5 mins early

    • I’m with you, Jayne. I think being late is a form of disrespect for the people waiting on you–you’re stealing the most precious thing they have, their time. I understand it’s sometimes unavoidable–we all get stuck in traffic–but if I’m late, I apologize, and somebody is late to an appointment with me, I expect an apology.

  8. love reading your blog, it gives alittle insight to you the person. I work in the accounting field so I do on a daily basic work per a structured schedule. Do I like it, not really but it is a must to do my job and I do like having a job! For me it is not the work itself it is just having to go and do it everyday.
    As far as me and my spouse. I would say we are opposite in many ways. I am a very loving laid back person. He is hyper/high strung. But I guess it has worked we have been married 32 yrs. As far as struggling in life we have done our fair share but I believe that is part of life.

    • An accountant. Along with classroom teachers, you are the people whom I go to bed at night thanking God for, and being really, really glad you’re on hand to do your job, because it’s one I could not do.

      And I like the philosophy behind accounting: Accountability.

      And then I screw up the math, even using a calculator.

  9. I work in accounting,too. (Are we all attracted to your books?) While at work, I do like my structure, and quite honestly, surprises and disruptions fluster me. However, once I leave work, I HATE to have a routine. Why do I have to make dinner? I’m not hungry. Oh, hubby is. Darn! I love to schedule vacation days with no plans and just let things fall where they may. (I already have this very enjoyable book.)

    • Bonnie, that is interesting. I lost a little of my faith in “personality diagnostics” when somebody pointed out their Myers-Briggs profile was different at work than it was at home, and more different still when unemployed, or back visiting the parents. You seem to have an enviable adaptability–Hubby can cook, right?

  10. As a graphic designer, it’s kind of the best of both worlds. I have a structured work day, but each day is different in terms of the kind of projects I work on. I save typesetting projects for days when I need a little structure and rule-following, and bigger design issues for days when the creativity needs to be let loose. My Other Half is all about structure and the calendar … unless the need for a nap takes over half of some weekend afternoon. ; ) I do love a good afternoon nap with the hubby.

  11. If I look at myself honestly, I’m a person who likes the idea of living without structure, but in reality I thrive on it. When I have a free day, I often write my own schedule! (8:30 chores, 10:00 work out, 11:30 shower, etc…)
    The husband is the opposite – what he likes least about work is how his time is not his own. He would happily do away with all schedules – yes, we are opposites, and it actually works well for us – one notable place is on vacations: where our differences get us to do a decent bit of both: structured activities and relaxing free time.

    • Melonie, I probably have more structure to my days than I can clearly perceive, but it’s MY structure, not the structure set forth in the corporate handbook. I usually write in my jammies, for example–a uniform, but My uniform.

      I have to ask how you choose vacay destinations, though.

  12. When I was younger my life was very chaotic but then I had children and remarkably you tend to need more structure in your life for theirs. There in lies the rub, my current spouse is not necessarily a structure person pre se and recently “chafes” at attempts of being managed. Harmony has not been a frequent word in our household of late. I am trying to find balance but at this later stage of life it seems difficult for this “dog” to learn a new trick.

    • Lisa, learning new tricks with a spouse is an ongoing challenge. I realized that my husband’s attempts to make rules and routines was his effort to deal with feeling powerless and unvalued. He presented a nightly call as a piece of relationship protocol, but what he wanted was to know he mattered to me. Took me too long to realize that, and to find ways to give that reassurance in a manner that didn’t leave me feeling resentful and controlled.

      Relationships are such hard work.

  13. I’m probably the antithesis of the teacher that you are impressed by/thankful for. I’m tightly packaged chaos. My desk is only clean at the very beginning of the semester and at the very end. But even the kids seem to have figured out that I pretty much know where everything is in the mess (so don’t lay your test in the middle of the desk or it will be lost for eternity). I’m going to post a picture on my blog because it’s just that amusing/horrifying.

    I need the structure of a school day to force me to get things done in a timely manner. I’m just a tornado within that structure. Once I walk out the door I often need to be held responsible to others expectations to get things done (like clean my house or put the laundry away). In fact, last night I made a list of what I need to do each evening this week because I can’t let my friends come into my house looking like it does right now. I find that lists are very beneficial to creating some structure in my life outside of school. I try to find that balance that everyone keeps talking about. I’m so off balance most of the time I can’t quite wrap my fingers around it. 🙂

      • The key to me exercising regularly is two parts. Part 1, I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes about 3 years ago and I intend to die with my feet still attached and not have my obit say “complications of diabetes.” Part 2, my exercise is “structured” because the guys expect me to be there and shelling out money to exercise makes me not want to waste my money.

  14. As a kid and young adult I was all for structure, routine, precise definitions, control. All black or white. Then as my health declined and maturity started creeping into power, the shades of grey, need for flexibility and chafing at 90% of any stricture eclipsed my prior position. In other words my Type A learned to be highly selective on triggering.

    Now life does feel more balanced, fluid and enjoyable. Do I get less done? Yes. Well, except reading, life has far more reading, resting and relaxing.

    • Somebody turned me on to the Got Done list a few years ago. Instead of making a long, uncompromising list of all that MUST BE DONE, before I go to bed some nights I make a list of what I accomplished. Sometimes, I astound myself. What I thought was a lazy day in fact included revisions, a new scene, a blog, some house cleaning and two short walks… in addition to the usual pet care, laundry, email, etc.

      Productivity is a subjective concept.

  15. My husband is more structured than I am. I think I’m more flexible. But I do like to know things somewhat ahead of time (give me more than an hour’s notice but he rather know a week in advance). We’ve managed for 43 years (I do a lot of compromising lol).

  16. I HATE structure. I like things to be tidy and organized, but not my time. I love it when I can do what I want, when I want, how I want. My husband and I are more alike in these notions than different.

    • Now what we have here is somebody who enjoys clarity on this issue, and somebody with whom I absolutely agree. MY TIME…MINE. Unfortunately, one can’t make a living in the halls of justice with this approach. So, a-compromising I do go, some of the time.

  17. I’m such an imperfect creature. I’m not always organized, precise and on time. I’m apologetic. I am terrible at estimating how long things take, esp doing my hair and makeup before appts. however, I need about two days of structure per week then the rest of the days are mine – all mine! except to feed the critters in my world. They never let me deviate from their schedule. Critical exes – off with their heads, i say!

  18. My dearest would love for me to be “tidier” and “more organized” but I’m afraid I have different priorities. I know where my keys are, the bathroom and kitchen are clean and the other stuff is not that important to me. He can live with it as long as he has clean socks. We are married 24 years now, so I suppose this is our happy compromise.