Events & news

Great expectations: Notes from my quarantine journal


Apollo, Summer 2021 /  Cindy La Ferle

“Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.~ Alexander Pope


It’s been a weird summer. First, a worrisome drought, then day after day of relentless rain. And way too much humidity for my comfort. Unlike my handsome Apollo (shown above in his latest hairdo), I’ve had a bad hair day nearly every day this month. 

I keep reminding myself that I’m experiencing life in ways that I couldn’t last year during the height of the pandemic. For starters, I’ve been to a summer art fair on Lake Michigan for the first time in two years, dined in my favorite restaurants, and gathered for drinks with dear friends — all of whom have been vaccinated. I’m even planning fall writing workshops. 

Still, I don’t expect everything to return to the way it used to be. 

The word “expectation” has been on my mind lately. During our long year of sheltering in place, so many expectations and assumptions were put on hold or cancelled entirely. At some point, we had to question why we’d been clinging to them for so long. Bear with me while I circle around this idea for a moment. 

Consider all the things, large and small, that were usually expected of us, or that we expected of ourselves, before the pandemic. Here are just a few examples.

~Driving to work at another office across town — in nice clothes — and staying there for the entire day. Working from home is a way of life for many of us now.

~Keeping your house clean and uncluttered at all times, just in case someone stopped by for coffee. The pandemic forced us to socialize outdoors, which eliminated the need to keep a clean house for guests.

~Reciprocating social invitations; planning dinner parties and holiday events. Since entertaining in person was risky during lockdown, we gathered instead via Zoom meetings or phone calls. 

~Maintaining a sharp haircut, a good manicure, and a decent wardrobe. Why worry about appearances while sheltering in place?

~Being totally productive or useful 24/7, whether you were working at your demanding job, creating a masterpiece of art, caring for children, and/or saving the world with your volunteer work. The pandemic gave us a break from over-achieving.

~Tolerating offensive treatment from an employer, coworker, or family member. The pandemic gave us a legitimate excuse to distance ourselves, literally, from rude behavior and emotional abuse.

~Wearing a bra because you thought you had to.

Speaking of bras … Watching The View recently, I laughed aloud when Joy Behar said that one of the insights she gained during lockdown is that she enjoyed going braless — and is ready to donate her bra collection to a sumo wrestler. Not since the bra-burning frenzy of the 1970s have so many women felt liberated from the constraints of uncomfortable underwear. So, yes, bra-wearing is another expectation I am ready to set free.

Relationship reboot?

On a more serious note, I discovered during lockdown that I’m not really the extrovert I thought I was — or that most people have expected me to be. This surprised me.

In the past, I was a social initiator — the person who usually called first to make lunch dates or dinner plans. I’m the one who organized the group activities, invited folks to neighborhood potlucks, sent greeting cards to keep in touch, and hosted Halloween parties. But during lockdown, I was (mostly) content spending time alone or with my husband. 

“When you release expectations, you are free to enjoy things as they are instead of what you think they should be.” ~Mandy Hale

I spent the early weeks of the pandemic drowning in waves of grief and anxiety that were — for lack of a better explanation — triggered by fear of the virus and political unrest. So, I was secretly relieved when I knew I couldn’t attend or organize large gatherings. 

And once the usual social obligations were lifted (or curtailed by the pandemic), it was interesting to see who eventually reached out to me after I pulled back. I realized how many folks had expected me to maintain or nurture our relationship, and I began to doubt the health or the balance of some of those relationships. Later, in conversation with others, I learned that the pandemic forced many to reconsider some of their relationships, too.

In quarantine with my husband (who’s more of an introvert than I am), I shuffled around our cluttered living room on my own schedule, with nobody expecting anything more of me. It felt blissful, at times. I spent quiet afternoons tinkering on new projects at home — braless and in sweatpants — without worrying about dressing to go anywhere that same night. I stopped stressing over what I was achieving — or not achieving. 

It occurred to me that so much of what I expected (and thought I wanted) for myself had become enmeshed with what I assumed others expected or wanted from me. And I still have a lot of unraveling to do.

Expectations can lead to letdown or disappointment. Or burnout. If we’ve learned nothing else during lockdown, maybe we’ve learned how to go easier on ourselves. As hard as we might try to meet everyone’s expectations, it’s nearly impossible to fuel and maintain that level of approval without running dry eventually.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy spending time with people and making them happy. I’m grateful for the caring support of close friends and family. It’s just that I savored, if only for a year and a half, the sweet relief of fewer expectations. ~Cindy La Ferle

Throughout my career, I've worked as a book production editor, travel magazine editor, features writer, and weekly newspaper columnist. My award-winning lifestyles features and essays have appeared in many national magazines and anthologies, including Newsweek, Reader's Digest, The Christian Science Monitor, Writer's Digest, Victoria, Better Homes & Gardens, Bella Grace, and more. My weekly Sunday "Life Lines" column ran for 14 years in The Daily Tribune (Royal Oak, MI) and won a First Place (Local Columns) award from the Michigan Press Association. My essay collection, Writing Home, includes 93 previously published columns and essays focusing on parenthood and family life.

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