Do relationships have a best before date?

I'm very cynical about supermarkets - the bright lights that blind us from the ridiculous profit margins and the manipulative displays that lead us to a trolley full of three for twos; that's why I am totally cavalier about sell by dates. You may want me to buy it by the fifth Mr Sainsbury but that will not dictate when I eat it. I'd rather trust my eyes, my nose and my taste buds. Aside from an unfortunate incident with a sausage sandwich circa 1999, this methodology has seen me well and saved me many pennies; also each time I flout the rules I enjoy the sense of rebellion. Here's the thing, best before dates are more of an art than a science - one woman's spoiled meat is another's slow roasted stew and the same is true for relationships. Recognising the end of a relationship is as much about the individual as the state of the relationship. I love Gretchen Rubin and her wonderful categorisation system of personality types. She suggests that an upholder accepts rules and is the sort of person who keeps New Years resolutions; a questioner questions rules and accepts them only if they make sense; a rebel flouts rules and resists control and an obliger accepts outside rules. How can an individual personality type effect a relationship? Simply put, have you ever tried to complete a Rubix Cube? Did you toil away until you had that sucker completed or did you chuck it in a corner the minute things got difficult? Neither option is correct, the right choice is the one that brings you the most peace. 

There are a few key times when you must end a relationship - if experiencing abuse or neglect or repeated betrayals but outside of those situations when is the right time to call time? A quick survey of my mates didn't make things any clearer. 

'When things feel bad more often than they feel good.'

'When I'm no longer learning about myself or the other person.' 

'When I start noticing other people in a sexual way.' 

'I have no idea. I always let the other person end it.' 

That being said none of the people questioned regretted the time they spent with previous partners, there was always something to learn about themselves and about the world, things that made their next relationship far better. In short, aside from those rare unperishable unions, most relationships have a best before date because we change and our needs change and that's a lot to put on one person for a life time. If you're asking yourself this question your relationship best before date may be fast approaching and if the contents of that relationship are putrid and slimy, if you wouldn't serve it to a friend or loved one, please throw it away but if it's just a bit tired or wilted, add some spice, make a stir fry and enjoy what you have while you can.

The mums who intimidate me at the school gates

I'm about to start my second term as a school mum. I've gotta say the boy has adapted far better than me. A lot has changed, unlike nursery you're supposed to get to school on time, if possible before it starts. If you have a late night or a craving for pancakes you can't dawdle until you feel like leaving the house. And another thing, although I'm grateful for the free childcare, school finishes mid afternoon and there are all these days they call 'holidays', when they won't take him. There's been a lot of adjustments but the biggest has been the jungle known as the playground. Twice a day I find myself hovering in the shadows of the climbing frame, eyes darting around behind my sunglasses, not knowing where to put myself. The playground is divided into tribes, through careful observation I think I have catergorised each one and they all scare me.

Career Mums - Not women who work, women who make mothering their job. They arrive early and have morning meetings by the gates, I overhear them chatting confidently about charity events and the parent teacher association - things I meant to put in my diary. When they leave I assume it's to check on stew in the slow cooker or stock up on crafting supplies.

Professional Mums - These mums are working and also werkin' it. They race to the gates in make up and heels. Their energy communicates much business and importance. Often they are on their phones, I confess that I am intimidated by people who take phone calls before lunch, it reminds me that the early bird catches the worm and I haven't had a worm in a while. 

Young Mums - So bouncy, so full of life. So young.

Sporty Mums - Have either completed or are about to begin a session of something energetic. I try not to get to close because the endorphins can be overpowering. Even in cold weather I can sense the Lycra under her heavy coat. These women have so many gifts - time, energy, waistlines - I'm not sure what we would have in common. 

DGAF Mums - Don't really fit into any of the above groups and therefore categorised as not giving a toss about assimilation. They sometimes wear leather, tend to have red painted lips and sunglasses, you just know they were the cool girls at school. Their kids have hip names and confident mini swaggers, whatever they're doing in between school hours is nobody's damn business. 

And there are dads of course but they don't fall prey to my assessments. Maybe because I find it harder to compare myself to men, probably because I have accepted societal prejudices that any man doing any childcare gets to do so without scrutiny. 

I spoke to my friend about my uncomfortable drop off experience and she asked me which of the groups I fell into. 

'Well obviously, I'm in none of them. I'm the weird loner Mum.' She thought about this for a minute and pointed out that I often wear leggings (because comfort) and I mostly wear sunglasses (because eye bags) and sometimes I'm rushing off to a meeting (because bills) and from time to time I collar another parent to ask about the Harvest Festival or the next Parents Evening (because I never, ever put anything in my diary). And really, to another mum I could look like any of the mothers I've listed and the mothers I've listed could be feeling exactly like me. This doesn't mean I've got over my playground fear but I'm taking steps to conquer it. I'm gonna look up more this term, make eye contact, maybe bust out a smile or two and give me five or six years and I might feel completely at home. 

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Bucket list - a storage space for dreams

In my early twenties I moved from Birmingham where I had been studying and working for six years back to my home time of London. I missed my family and friends and the comforting constant of noise pollution but in order to gain those things I had to be willing to give something up - space and lots of it. I had collected quite a lot in my first years adulting and in those pre Kondo days I felt anxious about letting them go. Luckily my cosy new flat was a stones throw from a Big Yellow Storage and I nabbed one of those metal boxes as my oversized wardrobe space for the next five years. Aside from the monthly direct debit I pretty much forgot about my trove until another five years passed and I it came time to move again. When I finally returned to my storage box I looked upon the mish mash of Ikea furniture and old CD's and saw it for what it was - crap. Almost everything went directly from storage to the tip. I didn't want any of it; I certainly didn't need it and I didn't think about that box until a couple of weeks ago. 

I was talking to a friend and the subject of bucket lists came up. She told me that at the very top of hers was a sky dive. I'm not sure why one would make skirting with death a goal but each to their own. I asked her why she hadn't yet done it. She pointed to the cost. I eyed up her designer handbag and suggested she put a bit aside for a few months. She uhmmed and ahhed and mumbled that she would rather raise money for charity. I wasn't convinced. Maybe she wants to skydive, maybe she simply likes the idea of being an adventurous person, whatever the case placing it on her bucket list means she doesn't have to work out the answer - it's a storage space for her dreams. 

And that's OK, if you want to forget about the them. If you're a parent you might be reading this thinking, it's all good because I don't have time for dreams. But the problem with storage is you pay a price. It might not feel like a lot but each month there is a direct debit from your sense of self. When you design a bucket list, you're sort of saying that the items on it will complete you and for the time they remain there collecting dust, you tell yourself you are incomplete. It's a new year and time I usually think about making grand plans and reaching new highs but my this time I'm going to do things differently. I'll pick one goal and start working towards it, maybe I'll succeed; maybe I'll decide I don't really need it but then it will be gone and I'll be off to the next, like a bucket list without being reminded of my mortality and adding more admin to my life. These days, I don't have the headspace.