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  • Ashlyn

(not so) great expectations.

Updated: Aug 6, 2018

Let me tell you. Expectations are the fuckin' worst.

Full disclosure: Kyle and I got into a fight. It’s obviously the first one in nine years, so I’m in uncharted waters. Does this mean we’re divorced now? I won’t go into the details because, shockingly, there are some parts of our life together that I believe are just between us. Although, I’m entirely blameless in the situation, I assure you. All you marrieds out there know what I mean. But it all started at my high school reunion last weekend. Believe it or not, I graduated ten years ago. My mirror just shrilly screams Botox! now, every time I see my reflection.

I’ve got to be honest. I didn’t want to go. Not only does it seem absolutely impossible that so much and so little has changed in ten years, but I truly dreaded having to explain my life now to old friends and acquaintances. Surrounded by doctors and lawyers and engineers and teachers—people who have worked hard for success and achieved it—all I could think was, “What have I done?”

What have I done? Well, just a quick tally: I’ve been laid off. I’ve struggled to find work. I’ve had panic attacks. I’ve gone to therapy. Did you know that senior year I was voted Most Likely To Be A Millionaire? And also Best Dressed, but we won’t talk about that because they wouldn’t let me have two. I promise that I’m not bitter about it at all.

But instead of a career, I have a blog. Instead of a family, I have two dogs, neither of whom I can control with any effectiveness. I have sacrificed our finances for my mental health. I have ruined friendships with my own selfishness. This is not the life I expected to have. It is not the life that others probably expected of me. And because of that, it feels like a failure.

Phil and I discussed this when we met last Monday. One of my closest friends has seen her therapist since college, once a week, like clockwork. It’s been six years, and I had no idea until just a few months ago. Like me, she struggles with anxiety and depression, but if you didn’t know, you wouldn’t. I certainly didn’t. She has a management position at a lauded company. She takes cool trips. Has unique experiences. Enjoys financial freedom. I love her dearly, and I am positively green at her success. Not because I wish she didn’t have it, but because I am broken that I don’t.

I often think about how different my life would be if I had made different decisions. If I had chosen better. I can see the endless branches and tributaries veering away from each potential option. I can see where the paths would’ve led. And I am ashamed. I did not meet my own expectations. My anxiety made me too weak to endure and too unhealthy to cope. My friend’s path veered early, and I am six years behind. Who would I have been if I had started this journey earlier?

And I am angry at myself that I let this fester inside of me for so long and did nothing proactive about it. I feel stupid that I didn’t realize earlier what was wrong. I am resentful that my life could’ve been different, better, had I sought help sooner. There’s clearly a lot of unpacking required for me to organize my emotional baggage. And just like in life, a short weekend away means eight weeks of tripping over luggage on my bedroom floor.

During the reunion, an acquaintance mentioned how I thought that I was All That (Her words! I do realize I can’t pull that off with any level of panache.) as a teenager, which I found extremely surprising. Partially, because I thought she felt that way about herself. Isn’t it strange the way we see things in others that we never look for in ourselves? But primarily, because I never felt like I belonged. Even as a kid, I always saw myself as a puzzle piece, trying to force a fit with different groups, but never really clicking just right. Am I a border piece? No? Well, maybe in the middle. Not quite. Perhaps the corner, instead. It’s ten years out, I am still waiting to click just right.

I’m no high school hero, but I ache for the girl who believed in herself with such blind aggression. The girl who thought she was All That. The girl who imagined a life at 28 that she will never have. I have ventured nothing, and as the saying goes, gained nothing, in return. And as shallow as it seems, I wonder what my classmates think of me. Will I see my own disappointment reflected in the faces of my old friends? Even worse, will I see perverse glee? I gotta say, this all feels very Romy and Michele. Full disclosure: I definitely did not invent Post Its.

For the record—although, several of you were there, so you know—the reunion was lovely. It was incredible and humbling to see the passage of time and maturity, each of us (except for me, apparently) so much more comfortable with ourselves than we were the last time we were all together. I am grateful I chose to go and excited for the reconnections I made.

But I also wonder what year twenty will bring. What will I have done? Anxiety makes my life harder in so many small ways, but in huge ways too. It throws the possibilities in my face while reinforcing all of the boundaries. How will I feel if I’m never Best Dressed? Oh. Wait a minute.

The flood of these ancient expectations spills into all the cracks of my life, drowning me in a toxic suspension. I ache for the day I can let them go and just be in the life I have made, regardless of how small it may seem to my teenage self. It is there, off the in distance, just out of reach. But until then, I'll push the boundaries in pursuit of the possibilities. After all, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

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