Jennifer Lawrence said this week that New Year’s Eve is often a big letdown for her. At the taping of the British talk show The Graham Norton Show, Lawrence said, “I really hate it. I’ve never had a good one—everyone’s chasing a good time, and it’s always a disappointment. I always end up drunk and disappointed. Drunk and Disappointed should be the title of my memoir!”
Amen, sister. I’ve certainly had my drunk New Year’s Eves. And I’ve had even more disappointing ones. They sort of go hand in hand, I’d say. I think at some point or another, every woman dreams of donning a glittering gown and holding the arm of the World’s Most Interesting Man as they frolic at a glamorous party. But that’s a fantasy, and for most of us reality is quite different. When champagne flows and disappointment seeps in, the night can turn sour quickly. There’s a little fear or despair underneath many of our desires to get intoxicated—to throw our inhibitions out the window for the night.
That’s where I think J. Law hits it on the head with the “drunk and disappointed” connection. Somewhere in there is a sad truth about how, particularly on certain days or occasions, we turn to partying hype to try to fill in the gaps between reality and our unrealistic expectations. Rarely does it work.
But drinking to excess isn’t even the fault here—it’s just a symptom. The larger problem is unrealistic expectations. Sometimes even ones we think are reasonable ones. But expectations, nonetheless.
When I look back on past New Year’s Eves, what mostly comes to mind are some of the worst days of my life. That time in middle school when I had a falling out with my childhood best friend because she wanted to go to an older kids’ party, and I was too rule-following to be cool enough. That time in high school I lied to my parents and drove their car across state lines on a wild goose chase for a legendary party I never found but instead got caught by the police for driving under the speed limit and got grounded for what felt like the rest of my life. That time, last year in fact, that I accidentally stumbled upon deeply painful news earlier in the day and had to put on a smile through the evening as if nothing were wrong. It didn’t work, of course. I had to hold back real tears at the stroke of midnight and swallow my disappointment when my husband just didn’t understand. “THE WORST. NEW YEAR’S EVE. EVER,” I thought. But the truth is, it was just one in a long line of them.
When big milestone days like our birthday or New Year’s comes along, if we don’t get the party we think we deserved, the temptation is to throw a pity party instead. Even now as I write this, the temptation sneaks in. Poor me, right? Wrong. Really, where in the manual of life does it say that we are entitled to a pristine New Year’s Eve? Why, considering all the problems that people are suffering in the world, do I feel entitled to a night of Hollywood-inspired fantasy? Whether it’s movies perpetuating these misconceptions, a childish tendency, or misguided hope, at the end of the day it’s entirely useless. It’s a setup for disappointment.
So, let’s try to be more realistic. This is just one day like every other day. And no day is perfect. If I’m honest, this past year I’ve had to face some larger personal challenges than ever before. Contrary to making that a worse year, it’s made it possibly my best year. I learned that when bad things happen (which they will for every person on this earth, by the way), there’s a point. The point can be as simple as this: If it’s within my control, learning what not to do again; if it’s not within my control, learning to endure it and grow stronger for the experience. Chances are, down the road I’ll need that strength to endure some other thing that will come along or empathize with someone who experienced something similar. It’s not pointless, even if it is a disappointment.
This New Year’s Eve, I challenge you—I challenge myself as well—to look back at what we learned and grew from this past year. Let’s cheers to that. Let’s look ahead to take those lessons for a better New Year. And let’s not think that somehow tonight Prince Charming will sweep us off our feet on a magic carpet ride that gives us a great view of a sparkling Eiffel Tower made of diamonds. That won’t happen. But if we focus on what wealth of things we do have, most of all those intangible things that bring meaning to our lives—the ups and, yes, the downs—the less likely we’ll be expecting something so unrealistic. The less likely we’ll get drunk trying to manufacture it. And the less disappointed we’ll be.
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