When I first moved from Michigan to Chicago, my heart ached for the comfort of family — those who were so close before now seemed desperately out of reach. A phone call away, but too far to embrace, too far to create physical memories. I missed Sunday nights at my brother and sister in law’s house, watching Game of Thrones nestled on their couch — trading stories and quips and laughs. The memories turned rosy and soft-focus, slices of a happy, cozy life. Now, whenever I’m back in Ann Arbor or spending time with my family, the pressure to recapture the happiness of a thousand isolated moments is all-consuming.
At first, I was running back at every opportunity — craving the security, the indefinable sense of home that never had anything to do with a place. But each visit felt a bit less satisfying than the last. I no longer fit snugly back in Ann Arbor, but Chicago was still a monolithic beast. I became cranky and discouraged when my return trips didn’t conform to expectations — I was stuck in pause while others glided smoothly onward.
I eventually settled a bit in Chicago — I started feeling more and more like pieces of the city were falling into place. It was startling to realize I was creating a home home that was mine alone. But the stress of returning to Michigan remained. I longed for something that no longer existed — that truly only ever existed in my mind, anyway. I was longing for a very specific feeling at very specific moments in a very specific time in my life (it was specific, ya dig?). Even though I rationally knew this, I was still unsettled by my inability to reconcile my new normal with my old world. Everything came to a head over the holidays when my brother and sister-in-law (two of my very favorite people) decided to spend the holidays on their own, at their own house.
I was so angry with them. My rosy holiday vision — of a bustling family in matching plaid pajamas, laughing and sharing traditions — dissolved as quickly as it had taken shape. I had balanced the weight of my expectations on their shoulders and instead of bearing a burden they didn’t know they had, they chose to shrug off the constraints and choose their own path. I admired them for their decisiveness as I held on to my anger, my sadness, my confusion — why didn’t they want what I did?
Unburdening others and yourself
We can’t make everyone happy. I know this. You know it too. But it’s hard reversing the sentiment sometimes. Not everyone will make us happy. Even the people that love us most. I’ve been realizing lately that I have been unconsciously placing A WHOLE HELLUVA LOT of expectations on the people around me. And while expecting certain things from your friends and family isn’t wrong, burdening them with unspoken expectations is a recipe for disaster — trust.
My brother and sister in law’s decision pushed me to realize something challenging about how I had been leaning on them through my move, through my feelings of displacement. I had been thinking of the three of us as a unit — us against the world — when in reality, they are themselves and they are also themselves together. And even though I’m a very important person in their lives, I am not critical to their decisions. But I had made them critical to mine. My loneliness in a new place and the stress of trying to find my way was reaching out for an anchor and it latched on to the people I’ve always felt most comfortable with. And it didn’t understand when those people weren’t bowing to expectation.
It’s so easy to long for something you’ve seen in others — for me, it was the ease of family time I saw on social media. The laughter shared, the wine poured, the tree lit. I wanted that vision of the holidays desperately, but I couldn’t control the outcome. I had to let go of the unfair expectation of what I had decided was the right way.
Letting it all go *woosh*
It’s not easy for me to acknowledge that I may be making myself unhappy — that the decisions I make about how to feel are ones I alone have chosen to make. Don’t get me wrong, you should never feel that your feelings are being policed. Feel those feelings, girl. But understanding that you have power over your decisions is important — because you rarely have power over someone else’s. For me, it has meant deciding to let go of feeling like an afterthought to those that matter to me. Because when I stand back and actually look at the situation, I feel valued. I’ve just been hyper-focused on this one thing, this one decision that didn’t conform with my own assumption. Expectations give us something to look forward to, but they shouldn’t be the pin that holds us together. I’ve been working to let go because I know that real life — messy, complicated, silly real life — is better than my half-formed expectations.
Easier said than done, am I right? But I think it’s a helpful first step for me to at least acknowledge that it’s unfair — not to mention unhealthy — to hold on to irrational anger. Life rarely looks the way we have planned — and that’s good. It’s valuable, and exciting, to be knocked off your axis once in a while. It doesn’t mean that longing for something different is wrong — simply that there are things that are out of our control and accepting that makes finding joy in the unknown that much easier.