Last week I wrote about change and this started me thinking about all the routines we have in our lives and how difficult it is to break away from them. It is so very easy for us to fall into set ways, almost to the point of complacency. It is only when there is a break in these routines that we really notice them and the result of all this is often extremely unsettling.
One such break in routine is happening to me. For the last five years I have been used to getting in the car every Friday and driving down for a weekend on my houseboat. In two weeks time this will all change. The houseboat is going to a new mooring to be sold. This break in my routine has been somewhat forced on me, as I have to undergo an ankle operation which will keep me confined to my London flat for two months and after that another month recovering. Even knowing the change is inevitable is still unsettling and started me examining the way in which we all lead our lives. To a certain extent our lives are governed by routines. Children have the years of school terms and holidays. Adults have the routines of their jobs, or parenting, or both. Although my adult life has been comparatively free of routine during the day because of the nature of my work in the theatre, even so,it became necessary to impose a certain discipline on myself with various routines. I tend on the whole to get up and go to bed at the same time each day, plan the same sort of day, go to the same shops for clothes and food, and so on and so forth. It implies a certain sort of laziness and lack of adventure, but to keep the stresses and strains of modern life at bay it also seems a necessity.
The most interesting aspect of all this is when it comes to relationships. After the first flush of excitement relationships tend to settle into a routine and a mutual understanding. This can inevitably lead to a boredom and restlessness from one or other partner, or both. But the breaking away from a relationship, however unsatisfactory it has become, can often be a terrifying and traumatic decision. Giving up something which is such a part of your life can make the split a long and tortured affair. Questions inevitably arise. What will happen to me afterwards? Can I manage such a change? Will I be lost without a life that has been so carefully built up and that I’m used to? The answers don’t come until afterwards. Of course survival is possible and sometimes of great benefit, but any break in the routine of a relationship is a tortuous affair.
It goes without saying that all this is wonderful fodder for the writer, especially in romantic fiction and family sagas. It is one of the topics I most use in my Three Lives Trilogy, the first of which was “Parallel Lines” and the second of which is about to come out! But the boredom of lives riddled with routine has been the theme of many writers, particularly female writers in the 19th century – George Elliot, Jane Austen, the Brontes and Mrs Gaskill.