Wednesday, August 1, 2012

IKEA and Other Letdowns

You know this scene from 500 Days of Summer?

How fun does this look? Don't you wish you were as quirky and carefree as these two?

Well, the other day when Daniel and I were planning a trip to IKEA, this is pretty much exactly how I imagined everything going. We would run around the store without any consideration for other customers (in fact, in our minds we would pity their lack of freedom), we would pretend that all of the model rooms were our home, and Daniel would say something clever like, "Darling, I don't know how to tell you this, but there is a Chinese family in our bathroom," and we would laugh and laugh. It all seemed so doable.

Believe it or not, that is not how our trip went. How could it? I'm not Zooey Deschanel, and we were not there for a date. We were there to make serious decisions about serious pieces of furniture for our very serious apartment. Now, I've had different experiences at IKEA, and I'll admit that it can be fun as long as you are just browsing. However, when you're there to get business done, it is like walking through each circle of Hell in Dante's Inferno. Each section is a new decision which brings along a new level of stress, and at certain points, you begin to wonder if there is even a way out.

A Map of Dante's Hell

Map of IKEA. It's a different layout, but you can't deny the similarities. 

What broke me was when we were deciding on curtains. We've just moved into a new apartment, and the view from our windows is of barbed wire and about fifty other apartments. I want to get our windows covered, like, yesterday. When we got to the window section, we had already made about 1,000 different trivial decisions and there were crying babies and messy beds everywhere and all I could think about was that $1 cinnamon roll at the end of the store that seemed so far away. By the time Daniel told me that he hadn't measured the windows (to be fair, neither had I. I would never have thought of that), I had completely forgotten how to think. All of the bright patterns and umlauts had finally broken my brain, and I let out a strange grunting noise and let my body collapse onto a FÖRHÖJA.

What made this trip even more difficult was that I had this romanticized idea of what a visit to IKEA  should look like. Obviously, I didn't think it would be exactly like 500 Days of Summer, but I at least had a strong misconception that it would be some romantic experience. While the whole notion that life is not like the movies is absolutely a cliche at this point, I am the type of person who constantly forgets that. I do this a lot, more often than you would think, and I am always disappointed.

Here is a short list of experiences from movies that set me up for disappointment:

1. Painting our apartment (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)

Expectation: We're going to paint love notes on the walls and splatter paint onto each other's faces without making a mess and we will laugh and laugh and laugh!
Reality: We paint in a room with no air-conditioning and I sweat like a faucet.

2. Riding the subway (Rent)

Expectation: I am going to love this! There are going to be tons of interesting people, and there are those rails that you can hold onto, and we're all going to dance and sing and laugh and laugh and laugh!
Reality: There are rats everywhere and it can take you an hour to travel seven miles and sometimes it is so crowded that you have to basically lay your entire body on total strangers.

3. Watching Fireworks (The Sandlot)

Expectation: The entire sky above me will be lit up and I will have a hotdog in one hand and a vintage Coca Cola in the other and, in our amazement, we will all laugh and laugh and laugh!
Reality: There are some dim lights in the distance that are vaguely colorful and I have to pee.

4. New York Weather (You've Got Mail)*

Expectation: It will be crisp and cool year round and I will look adorable in my coat-and-snuggly-scarf combo and I will own a charming children's bookstore and all of my co-workers and I will laugh and laugh and LAUGH!!!!
Reality: Sometimes it is so hot and muggy that my face feels like soup. Also, I don't own a bookstore.

*To be fair, this movie is mostly set in the fall and winter. For some reason, I just assumed that New York weather was always perfect.

People are pretty negative towards having too many expectations, and I think they are generally right. Someone wise has probably said this to you at one point in your life:

Expectations are premeditated resentments (or disappointments).

If no one has said that to you, just pretend I made it up. But here is another quote that I think I really did make up:

Disappointments are like baby carrots; They will almost never kill you.

I made this image so you could pin it on Pinterest. The sunset and butterfly indicate its high level of inspiration.

Yep. That's my quote. You can tell because it basically makes no sense, but let's pretend for a second that it does.

I would argue that if expectations lead to disappointments, maybe that isn't the worst thing that could ever happen to you. Just like baby carrots, disappointments are gross. You feel kind of cheated out of something great, and you've got a terrible taste in your mouth. Baby carrots, however, will almost never kill you (unless you have an allergy which I assume is rare, or God forbid, you choke on one) and the same is true of our disappointments. At the end of the day, baby carrots aren't the end of the world, and some people will actually tell you that they are good for you.

I look back on our IKEA experience and I kind of love it. It is true, I probably should not have expected it to be a romantic comedy, but that's part of why it's so great. I remember that day and I think about how distraught I felt and how awesome Daniel was at taking care of me. At the time, we didn't laugh and laugh and laugh, but when we think about IKEA now, we pretty much can't stop laughing.

The same is true of all of my other "disappointments". No, the weather in New York isn't the perfect chill I had always dreamed of, and yes, sometimes someone sits next to you on the subway and decides to clip their fingernails, but it's almost better this way. From the ashes of expectations comes a sense of humor about things. Sometimes I need my idealistic world to be rocked to find a realistic sense of appreciation.

Some people can skip these steps altogether and just enjoy things immediately. These people are better than me, but I kind of like my system.

Also, sometimes your expectations actually come to fruition, and that can be pretty great too.

Despite the sweat, we actually did end up painting love notes on our apartments walls


  1. Oh my gosh you crack me up. I love your writing!

    1. So glad to hear it made sense! I was worried about that. Phew!

  2. This might be one of my favorite posts that you've ever written.

    Also- have you seen the 30 Rock episode where they go to Ikea? So funny.

    1. I have! But I'd forgotten about it. Maybe if I'd remembered it, I would have had lower expectations and my brain would not have exploded.

  3. I couldn't even finish this post because I was so appalled by your baby carrots quote. Check your facts, lady:

    1. Man, it makes you me sad you couldn't finish it. I worked hard on this one. If you'd read just slightly further you would have seen that I covered choking as a possibility.

    2. Is it bad that I laughed out loud at the thought of choking on a baby carrot? I mean, if it happened to someone I'd definitely be sad. But seriously... saying those words is funny.

    3. Just kidding, I read the whole thing! I was being melodramatic. Michael always tells me to lower my expectations so I won't dasappointed when events don't turn out like renditions of musicals. Doesn't always work, though.

    4. I knew you did! You love me. Tell Michael I said that the disappointment is part of the fun!

  4. I'm just now discovering your blog thanks to Pinterest so that's why this is a random comment 9 months after you posted this..
    I'm the same exact way about having movie-styled expecatations! A few days ago my boyfriend brought up the idea of us moving in together. Let me compare the scenaraios:

    what I imagined: Him sitting me down somewhere quiet, and telling me how much he loves me and is ready to take the next step and move in together and I'd laugh giddily (is that a word?) and say yes and we'd have a happy moment that could be cherished for all of time.

    what actually happened: he came to my house, sat on the couch, kept fidgeting and it basically came out like "Well I was talking to the apartment manager todaayyy...aaaand an opening for a 3 bedroom apartment has come up..aaannndd I probably make too much for it but I don't think you do..sooooo....wanted to see what you thought..I know this is kind of fast for us, but it's a really good deal.."

    Sheer. Magic. Don't get me wrong, I'm touched that he would even have considered this so soon. But it was a little too soon. Anywho! Enjoying your blog!


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