When I was in the 6th grade, my family made the decision to leave our church. The pastors that we worshipped under were unhealthy and controlling, and my parents recognized that in order for us to have normal, stable views about religion, we needed to leave.
The backlash from the pastors was tremendous. I remember watching my parents lose decade-long friendships. My very best friend was instructed by the pastor to tell me that she was no longer allowed to be around my parents. We were 12.
I’ll never forget that day. I came home, and my mom met me at the door. She told me what had happened and that my best friend and I couldn’t ride to school together anymore. The pastor had told them that she wasn’t allowed to come to our house. I left the house sobbing and walked around the neighborhood in the rain for hours. I don’t remember where I went or what I was thinking, but I remember the rain. I remember the cold.
I felt like I could have walked for days. Would anyone come to look for me? Would anyone wonder if I was okay? Would anyone miss me? Most of all, would she? Would the church care if simply vanished forever?
That was the first time that I remember feeling lonely. Not just a feeling of, “All my friends are busy and I wish I could see them,” but actual, cold loneliness. I felt shame as if I had done something wrong and concluded that that’s why I had been uninvited.
When I was gearing up to write this, that’s the memory that popped into my head. I haven’t thought about that moment in at least a decade. As I surveyed my own pain with fresh eyes, for the first time ever I thought about what that did to my friend- what being forced to live out someone else’s expectation of her own life must have felt like. The pain that it must have brought her to have to, at 12 years old, tell me that she couldn’t be the same with me anymore…I can’t imagine that pain. The anxiety that she must have felt overwhelms me even now. In that moment, she had faced extreme loneliness, too, and it had taken me 22 years to realize it.
When I look back on this entire situation, one thing is clear: Unhealthy expectations will isolate us.
At the root of loneliness lies a thousand scenarios that turned out differently than we thought they would.
We all have expectations for our lives. And when we have a picture in our mind of what it will look like in a year, how a situation will turn out, or how love will feel- and that picture doesn’t pan out like we think it will, we take it personally. This is where it starts. Loneliness takes root, and our high expectations turn into feelings of
I will be alone forever
nothing ever works out like I want it to
nobody can love me and nobody will.
The things that we took personnally weren’t even reality yet. We made an idea so real that we have forgot to be kind to ourselves. And in that lack of kindness, we begin to prepare for a life alone.
Sometimes, when we feel lonely, it becomes comfortable. It reminds me of a scene in my favorite Christmas movie, The Grinch. He is invited to the town to partake in the Christmas festivities, but long ago, when he was a child, he was taught that he did not belong and the happy expectations that he had for his life were dashed.
He continued to live, convincing himself along that way that all he needed was him. In this particular scene, he is thinking of a thousand reasons why he cannot and should not reinsert himself into the world around him. He looks at his planner, marked with time slots of self-loathing, and decides that he simply doesn’t have time to show up. And while this is a funny (and clearly fictional), one truth remains:
Because of the moment that he didn’t feel as though he measured up, he built a life with zero hope, zero expectation, and zero love. And not zero love for others…zero love for himself.
So it’s Christmastime. You haven’t seen your family in a year, and nothing has changed. You don’t have a partner yet. Yup, you’re still working at that job. No, that business idea you had never quite made it. You’re ashamed. You’re embarrassed. You’d rather avoid the pursuance of actual, meaningful relationships than admit that you have, in your own mind, failed at everything.
So, you’re lonely. And not only that, but you allow it as if you deserve it.
But then I think of 12-year-old Leah and Leah’s BFF, I think to myself, “We never deserved that. We wouldn’t have planned that for ourselves. We never would have picked that or thought that would happen.”
And that’s because the expectation was not our own.
Loneliness around the holidays hurts harder than normal because not only have your own expectations not been met, but you feel as though your life, as is, will be a disappointment to the people you love. So, you’d rather compromise who you know you are to make them feel good about who you’re not.
We’d rather act like we belong than actually belong. We will allow our minds to go to very dark places when we feel as though we don’t belong.
Loneliness, at its core, is a mindset that we were taught. There is not a person in the world who was born lonely. We adapt to loneliness when we think we do not deserve more.
I want to interrupt that mindset. To those who are lonely, who feel the weight of unmet expectations that were carelessly cast upon you by yourself and others, know this:
You might feel lonely, but you are not alone.
You might feel ashamed, but you are not shameful.
You might feel distant, but you are not far from hope.
You might feel like a failure, but you have not failed.
You are brilliant and loved and in your darkest, most lonely moment, still have the same capacity for greatness and happiness that you had when life was its most peaceful.
The expectations that have been placed on you to
look like this
be married by this age
have this job
are a wish that society has made for you. And you have accepted that wish as your own.
At your deepest core and you’re most honest depth, what is your greatest wish? What is the highest expectation that you have for yourself? To be wealthy, to be adored or to be recognized are not realistic expectations if you cannot define them.
I do not have lots of money in the bank, but I have lots of happy memories. I am wealthy.
I am not loved by millions, but I am loved by my nieces. I am adored.
I am not gracing the covers of magazines, but I am the screensaver on my boyfriend’s phone. I am recognized.
What if the highest expectation that we had for our lives was to be content with what we had when we had it? Would we feel real shame? Would we feel like we didn’t measure up? Would we feel the coldness of loneliness?
Or would we feel like we were enough and like we belonged here because the expectations that we set for our lives were met with patience and grace. Healing is not linear. Resetting your mind is a process, and it will take time. And in that process, you may be met with lonely feelings that are the result of the actions of other people: a parent who has forgotten you, a partner who has left you, a friend who has died. Life never, ever happens like we think it will.
But through it all, you are brilliant and strong. You are able to say “This is not what I planned, but it doesn’t define me.”
Let’s change our thinking.
Today, while lonely and frustrated that you do not have that companionship or love or status that you thought you would, you are still worthy of all of those things. They just might look different than you thought they would…and that’s okay.
Today, you have the power already inside of you to change your circumstances. Or, even more powerful, to look at your circumstances thru a different lens: a lens that says, “I can be happy in this moment.”
I want you to know two things:
The Grinch Who Stole Christmas ends on a happy note. He is reunited with the town and with his friends because he was able to redefine happiness for himself.
The story of my 12-year-old BFF and I ends on a happy note. Because we were able to define expectations for our relationship and were brave enough to choose each other. We are still friends to this day, something I am thankful for. But even if we hadn’t kept the friendship going, even if we hadn’t been able to maintain the relationship despite pressure to end it, it would be okay. Life would move forward because we would allow it to move forward.
Do not let moments become months. Months become years. Years become your life.
Your feelings of loneliness and despair can end on a happy note when you decide to set expectations for your life that fill you with peace. You are not broken. You are learning about who you are and making adjustments along the way. That takes courage. You are brave.
Nothing looks like we think it will look. And sometimes, that’s the happiest possible outcome.
Happy Holidays. You are so loved.