A weekend without Sunderland to disappoint you often represents an opportunity. An opportunity to do some DIY, catch up on that latest Netflix series or show some attention to your partner, whose needs you have neglected because you're too busy fretting over what mess Papy Djilobodji is going to get himself into this week.
We all know what usually happens on a Sunderland-free Saturday, though.
You'll firstly watch the early game, later followed by a few hours with Jeff Stelling & The Banter Squad before taking in the late kick off - rounded off by nipping out for a skinful on the night time with the lads. Then, the next day, you'll spend most of your time plonked on the sofa watching Sky Sports' WrestleMania-inspired Super Sunday coverage. You've not been to a Sunderland game, but you've still over indulged on football - and you feel grossly bloated after it.
With last weekend's fixture away to Middlesbrough being postponed due to the Smoggies' cup commitments, I had the chance to do all of that and get some stress-free soccer down my throat. Unconsciously though, I didn't take in a single game. On Saturday afternoon, I got to binge watch the aforementioned latest Netflix series (seriously, Love is brilliant and you should all be watching it) before heading out with some friends on the evening. I went bowling. Bloody bowling! While the magic of Arsenal vs. Lincoln was taking place, I was knocking down pins and having a whale of a time - all without the dark cloud of Sunderland's latest capitulation hanging over me.
Even when I got home in the early hours, I didn't take to my usual drunk routine of watching classic Sunderland moments on YouTube. One of my greatest alcohol-fueled pleasures is getting misty-eyed over Fabio Borini's goal at Wembley at 3am, when I can already feel my hangover kicking in. I even have a non-Sunderland favourite of Hibs fans singing Sunshine On Leith after they won The Scottish FA Cup for the first time in 114 years. I rejected all of that and instead opted to watch footage of the doomed Sex Pistols USA tour of January 1978 though, which is riddled with pathos but doesn't tug at the heartstrings in the same way.
I still got to experience some shame and regret on Sunday by not getting out of bed until 2pm but even then, I couldn't be arsed to watch a game. And I kind of liked it. I thought, "is this how those freaks who don't like football feel all of the time?". It might have been a good weekend but I realised it was akin to a gateway drug. If I don't dive back into the throws of football and Sunderland's habit of bringing me perpetual misery, I might end up like one of them - the people who ignore football every weekend. The people who probably have a passing interest in rugby and still tell you how disappointed they are that Jeremy Clarkson left Top Gear; the type of folk who don't travel to places like West Bromwich, feeling half cut by mid-afternoon only to be sobered up by being 2-0 down in 20 minutes.
People like that may only exist inside my head but either way, I know I don't want to end up like that. I like that football is defining part of me, specifically Sunderland. I like that some members of society think I'm silly for investing so much time in them. It's a kinship shared with many fans up and down the country and all over the world and maybe I just needed a break last week to remember that.
I'm not sure why I did what I did last weekend. It can't be because of Sunderland's poor results - if that was the case I'd have given up ages ago. It could be the lack of feeling and the sense of apathy around the club at present. Defeats aren't being met with boisterous fury from the stands, just acceptance. A win against Burnley will certainly ignite the fire amongst the supporters but a defeat could do the same. A win and we'll be buoyed by belief but a loss to a team who haven't won away all season? That could see the quiet acceptance of our situation turn to outright rage.
Whatever happens on Saturday, it will be emotional and that's exactly how it should be. Hopefully I'll be dreading the upcoming international weekend, rather than welcome it with open arms.