When Expectations (Always) Fail to Become Reality

One of my favorite scenes in the movie (500) Days of Summer is titled “Expectations vs. Reality.” It follows Tom, the main character, as he goes to his recently ex-girlfriend Summer’s house for a party. He anticipates that the party will rekindle their love and that they will end the night together again, but he soon realizes that it is actually her engagement party. The scene shows Tom’s expectations on one side and the reality of the situation on the other. Rather than end in romance like Tom hopes, the night ends when he leaves early because he cannot handle it.

Optimism is a funny thing. It sounds fantastic in theory–always look on the bright side of life, glass half-full, silver linings, sunshine, lollipops and rainbows, etc. A life lived expecting the best from every person and every situation seems bulletproof. Everything is peachy and nothing hurts.

Except sometimes optimism doesn’t work. Sometimes it causes more heartbreak and disappointment than pessimism ever could because sometimes expectations simply cannot match reality. In any situation that involves two people, one person’s optimism can never compensate for the other’s lack of reciprocation. While the pessimist may foresee the worst and prepare accordingly, the optimist will not accept that awful possibility. So when it inevitably becomes reality, the optimist feels crushed beyond repair. Something that initially seemed impossible becomes all too real, and the optimist is blindsided by the concurrent feelings.

Tom is an optimist. He wanted Summer back and assumed that it would happen that night. He could not predict that she was engaged because she was the only one for him, so he must be the only one for her. The idealized version of their relationship convinced him that they would end up together. Anything else was simply not an option. When the situation’s absoluteness became apparent, the only thing he could do was flee.

There is a term for the uncomfortable and agonizing feeling that accompanies failed expectations: cognitive dissonance. When our brains attempt to process two conflicting truths, especially when one challenges all previous beliefs, we are left to decide which holds more value. Tom enters the party knowing that he loves Summer, but she is engaged. He cannot immediately accept this information because all previous evidence suggests that if she would not marry Tom, she would not marry anyone. Cognitive dissonance instills an uneasiness in him that he can only alleviate with time.

I have been victim to the soul-crushing realization that the romanticized moments I imagine will never actualize far too many times. I have set my hopes beyond reasonable doubt and dreamed massive dreams because like Tom, I always expect the best. I know that in at least one parallel universe, these dreams are possible. If I could control the situation, I could ensure that my absurd expectations ensue. And if there were not other people involved with complicated stories and complex emotions, then everything would be fine. But cognitive dissonance is my nemesis, and the resulting desperation takes over.

I am certain that the despair I feel upon failed expectations would be far less poignant without my relentless optimism. But I am also certain that the ecstasy that accompanies exceeded expectations would be far duller. I allow myself to experience the full spectrum of emotions because when I do, I open myself to the profundity of humanity. These feelings make me mortal, and my life would be meaningless without the extremes on both ends. Cognitive dissonance can be unbearable, but its bite means that I felt something.

Tom did not get Summer back that night, but it hurt because he loved her so deeply. And the authenticity of that feeling is all that matters.

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Interesting People and a Collage of Weirdness

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.” -Jack Kerouac

Like Kerouac, I prefer to surround myself with interesting people. People that devote their time to their own eccentricity and reject complacency. People that wear what makes them happy and say things that might not make sense to anyone but themselves. People that approach life with at once both an openness to its uncertainties and an urgency to not waste one moment. These people take YOLO to an extreme but do so effortlessly because to them, there is no other way to live. They feel things deeply because they have intentionally connected themselves to the world and those in it.

In the movie Her, the main character tell his artificial intelligence girlfriend that he often looks at people and thinks about the expanse of their emotions. He wonders how deeply they have been in love and how much heartbreak they have endured. Given, this man says this to a computer program that is only a voice, but his perspective is still worthwhile. Amid overwhelming waves of emotion like infatuation or grief, it often feels like no one anywhere has ever felt the extent of our complete surrender to our feelings. But humans tend to be pretty complex, so chances are that unless the person next to us is a sociopath, he has felt all the same feels we have experienced.

There is a certain beauty in this complexity that molds all the interesting people of the world together into a collage of weirdness. Spoiler alert: all people are interesting, but some people are more interesting than others. Or at least some people have discovered their interesting more quickly and fully than others. I love Eugene because the people there fulfill every level on the spectrum of exceptional weirdness. There are slug queens and roller derby stars, but there are also famous runners and maniac football fans. There are even white collar workers and horseback riding enthusiasts.

People in Eugene–and Oregon in general–embrace discomfort and deter conformity because their surroundings necessitate it. Though it is possible to live in Eugene and avoid all things hippie–Saturday Market, the Eugene Celebration, the Country Fair–it would be difficult to actively dislike these things. Their uniqueness and benevolence requires some respect, so most Eugenians provide it. The Eugene vibe moves beyond tolerance to a certain appreciation for abnormality that enables that same collage of weirdness.

The transition from a 500-person high school to a 25,000-person college has introduced all kinds of new, interesting people into my life, but I am still only one hour from my hometown. Right now, my interactions are mostly limited to those who also seek a college degree, and even more so to those in my major classes.

There is so much world left to see and so many people left to meet outside of this small town. People who have lived on the other side of the globe in situations I cannot fathom; people with brilliant minds and philosophies that understand the universe more clearly than distractions allow me; and people who simply have a story that deserves to be shared. This planet brims with curious people who do spectacular things. The only thing left to do is look for them.

Streaking and Other Forms of Freedom

Last Saturday night, at approximately 9:28 p.m., my best friend and I ran down a dark path completely naked. This was not my first experience streaking, but it was hers, and it was glorious.

Ten minutes earlier, we sat in her car in a parking lot contemplating what the night might present. We had already devoured sushi and coconut ice cream, so we were energized and prepared for adventure. The rain pelted her sunroof and she considered opening it to see what would happen, but ultimately valued the function of her possessions over the unknown of the experiment.

“You know, I’ve never just laid in the street in the rain before,” she said. “Like that’s something I’ve never experienced.”

“Let’s do it,” I replied, then added, “Naked.” We laughed, but then the conversation continued. Eventually, we agreed that streaking was an excellent idea, so we drove to an unlit bike path with racing hearts.

After several minutes of coaxing and pep talks, we were off and running. We danced and hollered and revelled in our freedom before ducking back into the car fully clothed and giggling. Three minutes later, a group of people strolled by completely unaware of the scene they had narrowly missed and our adrenaline escalated once again.

The rest of the night naturally progressed into a Beyonce dance party and I fell asleep feeling more exhilarated and free than I had in weeks.

The whole concept of personal freedom has occupied a significant portion of my brain space lately. Between school, running and relationships, I often feel that my ability to exist in my preferred free state is virtually impossible. In typical stubborn fashion, I struggle to accept anything less than that and blame the world for my lack of internal content. Obviously, it is completely my own fault, but I live for moments and stories, and the best of these occur when I am entirely uninhibited by societal expectations.

I tell myself that amid midterms and responsibilities I simply cannot reach adequate freedom and must wait until summer to capture these moments. I have become obsessed with songs that confirm this. Songs like Free by Rudimental and Cactus Tree by Joni Mitchell that figuratively stab me in the heart. I firmly believe in this lack of freedom most of the time. Except when I prove myself wrong, like Saturday night. Because in that moment, I thought of nothing but the steady rain and the glowing moon enveloping me in the infinite night.

In all honesty, I will never be as free as I want. The only way to achieve this would be to follow in Chris McCandless’s footsteps and abandon everything. But I cannot do that, or at least not right now. I value the people in my life too much. I enjoy too many benefits from my academic and athletic time commitments. And I am too happy in the situation that is presently my life.

So for right now, I will accept the freedom that I find in my life’s snapshots for everything it entails. I will frolic naked in the rain; I will spontaneously pierce my ear; I will dance unrestricted at concerts; and I will savor every one of these moments with all of my senses. Because when I can be that free, I want to remember every detail.