As I mentioned in my last post, I was recently given a copy of the bestselling self-help book The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuck by Sarah Knight. Whilst I appreciated the gesture, having now finished the book (years after everyone else read it but do I give a ****?) it turns out it was entirely unnecessary as without realising, I have long since mastered this skill.
For those of you who haven’t read it, the book recommends you think carefully about the things that are genuinely important to you and relax into not giving a fuck about pretty much everything else. The author sidesteps accusations of promoting narcissistic arsehole-ness by laying emphasis on polite honesty (as in “I’m really sorry but I’m just not a baby shower kind of person, so I’m going to decline your invitation. I hope you have a wonderful time and here is a gift.”) She suggests this becomes easier the more you do it and the less you are seething with boiling rage and resentment at having to go to yet another fucking baby shower.
I know that for many people this seems beyond reason. For the Obligers among you, it must sound like a nirvana that is forever out of reach. Any Upholders reading this will simply be appalled. But for Rebels like me, it’s as easy as breathing.
So below I’m going to give you a few examples of how my ‘not giving a fuck’ persona has developed, in the hopes they may inspire you.
- Way back at the beginning.
I definitely used to be an Obliger (albeit with a heavy side of Rebel). This was my state when I met my husband, who funnily enough won’t take the Gretchen Rubin quiz and seems to defy my ability to define him, so I think he may be one of those rare people who is all four? Anyway, the Rebel in him was definitely dominant when we went to visit the Sistine Chapel in Rome, on our second holiday together. I’d read that there were very long queues and sure enough when we turned up, there were hundreds of tourists already lined up on the pavement waiting to get in. The husband took one look and said ‘Fuck that, follow me.’ At that time (maybe still … I haven’t been back), there were a number of entrances lined up next to each other. One was the tourist entrance but the ones next to that were for people on Vatican business. My husband marched through one of those doors, across the open space (tourists were kept behind a rope until a ticket desk became free) and straight up to a recently vacated desk. Only one man, an irate German, made a sort of helpless ‘hey!’ noise as we did so. Everyone else was taken in by the husband’s sense of official confidence, which probably stemmed from all those years of being a fire officer and knowing how to shout effectively at people. Five minutes later, there we were laying on our backs, gazing up at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. I was both mortified by this lack of respect for the queueing system whilst also being incredibly thankful that my pizza lunch wouldn’t be delayed. I still had much to learn.
- Bridal disharmony
Indeed I did still have much to learn because when it came to my wedding, six months later, I let everyone else have their way and didn’t get any of the things that really mattered to me (gorgeous cake, glossy photographs, cute bridesmaid or even a frickin’ wedding dress.) And I tell you, although everyone is bored with hearing me complain about it and I am now too old to get away with a strapless ivory merengue, I am still seething with resentment that on the one opportunity I had for a proper wedding, I let myself be swayed by other people’s preferences. If ever there was a time to not give a fuck… but I did, and we’re all paying the price for it, every Christmas when I still bring it up.
- Drama queens
By the time my son was at school I had begun to learn the ropes. At his infant school, there was always so much drama around the school gates. It was a highly competitive school, not least because we live in an 11+ area (something else I’d recommend you don’t give a fuck about) and basically it was a sausage making-machine for the grammars. The gossip and innuendo that went on between parents was constantly at fever pitch and at first, I let myself be sucked in. But it makes you feel dirty…
By the end, I had come up with the perfect response (similar to the one suggested in the book). If ever anyone wanted to whisper something about someone else behind their back I would halt them and say “You know I can’t keep a secret, right? Only tell me something if you want EVERYONE else to know…” It worked. No-one spoke to me after that. Phew.
- Fucks, glorious fucks.
And on the subject of schools, there are a whole host of things your child’s school will try to make you do that you really don’t need to give a fuck about – sports days, cake sales, prize giving. Of course, for the people who work in schools, it’s their life. The drama teacher (I know, because I used to be one!) is almost certainly putting on that overly-ambitious production of Oliver because they really wish they were on Broadway directing Hugh Jackman instead of Little Tidlington Primary school directing Year 4 who all have voices like cats fighting in an alley and can’t remember how to put one foot in front of the other. Because this is really important to said drama teacher (I know, because I was one!) and to the Headteacher of the school who wants to go to “meetings” (coffee) with other head teachers and boast about how flipping amazing the school’s production of Oliver was, with its all singing and dancing cats (you see, there was more appropriate musical to choose) …. because it’s really important to them, they will try to make it important to you.
If your child has the starring role and loves every second of it, then it will be important to you. But if not, there are a number of things you do not have to give a fuck about – late-night rehearsals (he’s 7, for goodness sake and quite frankly you like to be in bed by 8.30 so you’re not coming to fetch him from school at 9pm), making a costume (or spending lots of money on buying one), attending the play at all or forcing your child to if they’re in the chorus and don’t want to. Just buy a ticket and tell the drama teacher next time you see her how she really should be directing Hugh Jackman on Broadway.
- Oh Holy Night
And as for the carol concert…. I don’t have anything against carol concerts per se. Sometimes I chose to go to the ones at my local church. My son’s infant school had a lovely one, in a small, warmly glowing church, with the Salvation Army brass band and the kids all holding those oranges and candle things that look wonderful as long as you don’t think about the fire risk. I looked forward to going each year. His middle school, however, had a whole different take. Held in an austere and draughty cathedral, it was long, boring and pompous. We went to one and hated it. But attendance was compulsory. Hmmm, how to not give a fuck?
We came up with a plan. I’d drop my husband and son off at the cathedral and then go to ‘look for a parking space’. My husband would take my son to his teacher, get his name checked off the register and say “let’s go and wait at the door for Mummy”. As soon as they were out of the building, they would race around the corner, jump into the car (engine revving nicely) and before you could finish the first verse of Oh Come All Ye Faithful, we’d be at home with a plate of fish and chips and an episode of Merlin on the telly. Not giving a fuck.
- When it’s real …
Whilst I can still hear you upholders squealing with disapproval at the above examples (how will your son ever learn respect for his elders? How will he learn to FIT IN….?) we all know that much of what I’ve mentioned is not much more than jolly japes. But what about when it’s real? As the author of the book acknowledges, the most difficult thing to deal with is family, because as well as expectation, there is also the obligation. And love. So where does ‘fucking giving’ stand here?
After fretting about this for many years, I feel comfortable with my realisation that you can’t change what other people think about you, no matter how many fucks you give. Neither are you entirely responsible for them unless you grew them in your body (and not even then, if it was longer than 21 years ago).
Something that I have found a more challenging situation, and because it is, I won’t use the fuck analogy, is coping with elderly relatives. As I am currently a member of the sandwich generation and am likely to be for another decade, caring for family members is high on the agenda. As long-time readers will know, over the past six years we have faced a great deal of illness and death as a family. I know you understand because many of you are facing similar situations.
I obviously care for my husband when he is unwell. I also helped my mother care for my father during his illnesses and of course, spent a great deal of time with my grandparents during their final years. This was all exhausting.
Shortly after my grandfather died, I felt there was a little moment of respite opening up for me. But then my mother-in-law was diagnosed with vascular dementia. Living very close by and being so used to be a carer by then I initially assumed I would carry on with her. But something in me rebelled. I made the difficult decision to not take any responsibility for that. I’m not emotionally close to her or the rest of his family. And my husband did not have any expectations that I would care for her. But I felt selfish. I also have the feeling that other members of his family think I am wrong and unkind to take this stance. But these are people who don’t know any of the problems of the past few years for me so ultimately, I decided that this was not my problem.
I know that my MiL’s age and condition is something that will impact on my life but I am clear that my responsibility is to support my husband in looking after her. It is not to look after her myself.
… will happen, we just don’t know when. Life is finite. I’ve spent a great deal of it over the past decade sitting in hospitals and waiting. Those are minutes of my one and only life that I will never get back. That’s just the same for you.
You could read this book or not (and the number of times the word fuck is written is somewhat tiresome. I’d even tire of the word ‘piglet’ if it were used so many times…). But do take stock of the fucks you give and make sure they’re ones you really want to give. Ditch all the others and soon you’ll be a master non-fuck-giver. Just like me. Life is better for it, I promise you.
T-shirt in header photo by Gina Potter