A Rule Follower’s Rant

I’ve been a rule follower my entire life, and ironically it’s a character trait that hasn’t done me any favors. Sure, it’s kept me out of the principal’s office, jail, and rehab, and I’ve never worried about a scary phone call from my landlord, or the IRS, but weirdly, playing by the rules hasn’t always felt like the honorable thing to do. Being the good girl has made me feel bad about myself time and time again, mostly because the rule-breakers seem to be the ones who often actually rule.

As a little girl, I’d sometimes be ridiculed by my own family for being overly cautious about rules. I remember sighs, eye-rolls, and exasperated reactions when I’d voice my discomfort at whatever rule or law was being bent or broken (some small and inconsequential — say, sneaking into a hotel’s pool or hot tub late at night; some not so small — say, having to hold a vodka tonic for the driver). I could go into the myriad of reasons I’ve either consciously or unconsciously followed the rules and done everything I could to not rock the boat since I’ve been a child, but that’s for my memoir … and my therapist.


As I got older, being the good girl got tougher. Sure, I might have earned the expected monikers that were either spoken directly to my face or behind my back, but I didn’t like them. I hated being judged or looked down on because I was the one doing the right thing. In 1987 I was chosen “Biggest Goody-Goody” of our senior class — a class of like 500 kids, BTW — and I was mortified. The fact that I earned it alongside a guy who was not only pretty popular but one of my best friends — not to mention my all-consuming crush — didn’t alleviate my embarrassment. (And the fact that I have almost removed this paragraph 15 times in the past hour because I’m still too ashamed of the 33-year-old distinction tells you how I’m doing in therapy.)

Mortified at being called out for making the right choices; embarrassed for following the rules: It’s a conundrum I’ve lived with my entire life and one that has definitely bothered me and shaped much of my anxieties and self-worth. When did being good become bad? Why does always doing the right thing make other people feel like they can make you feel wrong about yourself?

COVID Rule Breakers

Being a rule follower right now in this time of COVID-19 is maddening. The feelings of frustration for those who aren’t following the rules are amplified and it’s infuriating to see the flagrant disregard for doing what is basic and right. But it’s the same old imbalance: How is it that, yet again, the ones who are wearing the masks, keeping their distance and staying away from group gatherings the ones who seem to be in the minority? How is it that, yet again, the rule-breakers are the ones who seem to be superior and without fault?

Lately (as in since summer began) my newsfeeds have been flooded with photos of people gathering for happy hours, BBQs, lake days, girls’ trips (yes, girls’ trips) and other festivities with others who are not in their household and with whom they have not been quarantining with. They are snuggled up close in photos, arms around each other like they’re at a sorority party or like it’s, oh I don’t know, 2019. At our cabin we’ve seen groups of big families gathering for bonfires and boat rides, parties and cookouts, all without masks. It’s like everyone thinks they’ll die if they don’t get to take part in their normal summer (oh, the irony). It’s as if they think their extended family and friends are somehow magically immune and masks and social distancing are unnecessary because we know them.

I’m dismayed and shocked when I open the comments under the posts and read things like, “looks like fun!” and “I’m so glad you all got together!” There are heart emojis and smiley faces and clapping hands in support of this blatantly irresponsible behavior. What’s interesting, however, are the comments that should be there but are missing, like “THIS IS WHY THERE IS STILL A PANDEMIC,” and “WHERE THE FUCK ARE YOUR MASKS?” and a string of red-faced emojis with a block of expletives covering their mouths, or what I’d like to comment with, just the skull and crossbones. (Interesting, sure, but hardly surprising. Rule followers, you see, don’t like to reveal themselves because of years of being ridiculed and labeled as sanctimonious, so we tend to clam up when pressed. It’s called self-preservation.)

What Is Wrong With These People?

Right now, however, I’m willing to risk the characterizations. While years of being chastised for being the good girl have silenced me and I haven’t (yet) called anyone out on social media or in person, I’m enraged and disappointed in the lack of basic human decency and responsibility so many people are showing (many of them my friends). I’m shocked by their ignorance and I’m saddened by their selfishness. And I’m confused. What is wrong with these people? In a time where following the rules is literally a life or death situation, why do they think they don’t have to? Why do they think their actions have no consequence? Is it because we live in a current society where individualism is favored over collectivism?

People don’t balk about wearing a seatbelt, a helmet, sunscreen, or a condom for protection, but a mask? That’s different. Wearing the seatbelt, the helmet or the condom protects the individual, but the mask’s purpose is not only to protect the individual but everyone around them, and somehow that’s a difference that violates their rights and is big enough for these people to take issue with. (And by these people I mean selfish people, obviously.) It’s a troubling realization.

My New Rule

So call me sanctimonious. Call me straight-laced or a goody-two-shoes, I don’t care; right now I’m ready to unleash on everyone, regardless of how close of a friend they are. And as for if it’s right to correct, berate, or shame these people, here’s my thought: if they can disrespect me and the global community and the health and well being of everyone around them, I have no problem disrespecting them for doing it.
Doesn’t sound like breaking a rule to me.

Main Photo by Noah Buscher on Unsplash


  1. Teri Biebel on July 15, 2020 at 12:05 pm

    AMEN SISTER!!!! I’m with you!!

    • Michelle on July 15, 2020 at 2:24 pm

      Thanks, friend! Happily, that doesn’t surprise me!

  2. Vicki Carruthers on July 15, 2020 at 1:44 pm

    I loved this…I’m just really confused most of the time about what the most recent rull is, and where and when does it apply or not apply. We live in 45 acres..so most of the time we don’t wear the masks…but in our trips to town we read the signs, and have our masks ready.

    • Michelle on July 15, 2020 at 2:25 pm

      Thank you! And I think the safest bet is to always wear a mask when in a public place or within 6′ of anyone you haven’t been quarantining with — this includes friends and family. I think roaming about on your lovely 45 acres is okay to do mask free!

      • Lori Craven on October 25, 2020 at 12:24 pm

        Thank you for this article. I needed it. I needed to know that I am not alone in this way of thinking.

        • Michelle on November 6, 2020 at 8:28 pm

          You’re welcome! You’re not, but it seems like the rule-breakers and the dishonest people are far more numerous — especially right now! Hang tough. And thanks for the comment!! 🙂

  3. Chris on July 15, 2020 at 1:46 pm

    Totally agree and I feel this way all the time. I was running today in a sparce area and had to bail into the bushes because a guy absolutely wouldn’t move from the middle of the trail even though it is at least 9 feet wide. Really pissed me off, but I muttered silently to myself because I feel like I never know when someone is going to go ballistic when they get called out for their lousy behavior, even when you do it very kindly.

    • Michelle on July 15, 2020 at 2:27 pm

      Right?!? As always, we’re afraid of the rule-breakers. SMH. Thanks for reading and for the comment! 🙂

  4. JM on July 16, 2020 at 7:50 am

    Thank you! I’m in Texas and I am so disappointed by how careless my community is.
    I try to only go out when I need to and always wear a mask and use a tissue/napkin to open doors, etc.
    Last week, I had to run into Walmart and they were actually handing people free masks. People were forced to take them but some would not put them on! They just shopped while holding it! It’s free! We are in AC not sweating outside. I was relieved to read this morning that Walmart is now requiring a mask.

    Anyway, I’m ready for this to abate and if wearing a mask speeds it up, I’m going to do it.

    • Michelle on July 20, 2020 at 1:35 pm

      Agree Agree Agree!! I heard that if like 90% of people wore masks this could be under control in like six weeks or something. And that if people had done things differently back in April we’d be operating at near 100% right now. It’s so mind-boggling how/why so many people just aren’t getting it … or are but feel like they’re not the problem. Thanks for the comment! 🙂

  5. Meg Clark on July 22, 2020 at 6:55 pm

    Totally agree with you. I am an ICU nurse in one of the busiest Covid units in Philadelphia…what I have experienced is unbelievable. When I see the posts on social media of friends and family hanging out close to beach other and no masks to be seen i want to scream and cry. My family.including my 18 yo daughter who lost her Senior year and who knows what will happen to college, have gone nowhere. We as a nation need to do better.

    • Michelle on July 23, 2020 at 3:14 pm

      First of all, a HUGE thank you for being right on the front line. I can’t imagine what you see and have to find a way to cope with daily. Your commitment to others is something I admire tremendously.
      Secondly, if I’m flushed with anger and disappointment, I can’t even imagine how it must be eating you. I’m so sorry for all the selfish people who refuse to not only wear masks but who seem to think they can wear masks in stores but still gather with friends without them. I’m encouraged that many states (mine included) are mandating masks (again, in some cases) but fear it’s like closing the barn door once the horses are out. But better late than never, I guess.
      In our house, we too have gone nowhere (other than the store, in masks) and have socialized with no one without wearing a mask. My daughter — a rising college sophomore — is so anxious about all the irresponsible people who refuse to follow the rules that she has decided not to return to school in person and continue classes remotely (something very tricky for a musical theatre major). 🙁 What’s maddening is that if people would have followed the rules in April this would look so much different right now.
      At any rate, thank you for taking the time to comment, and thank you again for all that you do. True hero!

  6. Elizabeth on August 6, 2020 at 5:51 pm

    Oh girl, can I ever relate! I am positively MYSTIFIED at the pics of friends gathering like it’s 2019. Sometimes I have this thought like “is there something I don’t know? Is the pandemic over and I just don’t know about it?” Ugh. Cheers from a fellow mask-wearing stay-at-homer. 😷

  7. Patricia Doyle on October 4, 2020 at 9:05 pm

    Thank you for articulating exactly how I am feeling!! I’m a good-girl too… and every time I see the face book posts or look over at my neighbors sitting in their hot tub with 8 of their “closest friends”, my blood boils (yes, I can see their backyard from mine.) And then watching folks walk past the “masks required” signs at the grocery store…. without a mask. Of course, there is no punishment for not-wearing a mask in the short term. And yes, my passive-aggressive inner voice keeps screaming “I hope you get it!”. OK, that’s maybe not a good-girl inner voice! I just don’t get it… but there is a lot these day’s I just don’t get. And no, that is not because I’m getting older… the world is just getting crazier.

    • Michelle on October 5, 2020 at 6:25 pm

      Oh, trust me, I often silently wish it on the rule-breakers … but then realize they’d just probably spread it to rule-followers &/or highly health compromised people or front line workers (like the doctors who would have to care for them) and then I’m conflicted. I just wish all those who have been ignoring the rules — and still are — would get it without spreading it! And also suffer (more than) a little bit. I STILL see so so many photos in my newsfeeds of people out to dinner, on boats, etc. with groups of friends. I want to SCREAM. Meanwhile, I’ve not been within 6′ of ANYONE since March without wearing a mask. And haven’t touched anyone other than my family who live with me. IT’S INFURIATING.
      Thank you for the comment. I’m happy to know I’m not alone! And thank you for staying safe and keeping others safe!

  8. Michelle Wendehost on March 4, 2021 at 6:34 pm

    I feel your pain! I am you. Stay strong, and stay safe. (I had to put that comma there. I’m an English teacher.)

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