by Emma Gilpin
“Expectation vs. Reality” is a classic meme, one that has achieved its success through the relatability of its wry analysis of the sometimes seemingly unrelenting disappointments of modern life. The internet is a strange, ethereal space where we are able to connect with people who have similar, or wildly different, interests and views to our own, and the beauty of memes such as “Expectation vs. Reality” lies in their simplicity. They allow us to feel less alone and to seek solace in the fact that, like us, other people recognise the sense of dissonance, disappointment or surprise that comes with realising that something is very different to how you had initially anticipated it would be.
“Expectation vs. Reality” often centres itself around disappointments that not only come from external forces or circumstances, but from within us. For example, the expectations of many of us when a new year begins might be to start exercising regularly, eating healthily, drinking less alcohol and spending less time looking at cute comics drawn by rich New Yorkers on Instagram. The reality, which is hilarious in its almost shockingly stark contrast to these (clearly too high) expectations, is that we find ourselves trapped in a bleak cycle of January darkness, unable to get out of bed or to press pause on Netflix, living on a diet of pringles and the occasional orange. In the memes, both sides are clearly supposed to be exaggerated for comic effect (if this is indeed your 2018 experience, hang in there and maybe try opening a window,) but reality can often seem like this. The way we imagine things will be is rarely the way they actually are, and it can be a strange experience to discover that something is not going to be anything like the way you had presumed it would be.
Nobody can ever really know exactly what to expect when they embark upon a new phase of life, like starting university, starting a new job, moving away from home or starting a new relationship. So where do these expectations come from? And why are they sometimes so insidious, causing us to feel disappointment when things are not exactly how we thought they might be, or causing us to self-sabotage in the constant pursuit of an imagined ideal? My own expectations of life have been influenced by a number of sources that have generally proved fairly unreliable when I have tried to map them onto my own experiences. I assumed that university would basically just be a live version of the programme Fresh Meat, that my romantic relationships were supposed to resemble either the novels of the Brontë sisters or the film (500) Days of Summer, and that this January would be dull and depressing.
Although I wasn’t that far off with Fresh Meat, most of the things I have imagined to be a certain way have ended up being completely different. But, although the appeal and hilarity of the “Expectation vs Reality” meme lies in the fact that the reality is always portrayed as a little disappointing or quite a lot less impressive than the expectation, I think quite a lot of the time we imagine things will be a lot worse than they actually are. Whilst reality can often seem boring or disappointing in comparison to the daydreams we have when we are lying in bed at night, the films we watched repeatedly when we were 15 and the social media accounts of our peers, it can also surprise us in unexpectedly wonderful ways, not only with experiences that are less bad than expected, but with those that are great in ways that we, and the Brontës, could never have imagined.