"Anticipation is often better than the gift itself" is a saying in our household (maybe because we never have a lot of money so our gifts are never overwhelming). It seems to be a constant in my life that I get more pleasure out of anticipating a gift or an event than I do out of the actual event itself.
Case in point #1 would be Christmas. As I mentioned back in December, I have a very optimistic view of family Christmas - often referred to as my "Brady Bunch mentality". Each year I dig out the decorations, crank up the Christmas carols and search endlessly for a meaningful gift for each family member. I then wait for my absent children and their spouses to make the journey home - expecting that they will be looking forward to it as much as I am. The reality is often a little less glowing..... they turn up diligently somewhere near Christmas Day - never actually on Christmas Day (but we won't go there.....) and all goes smoothly, but it never has that warm, golden aura that I expect from my family gathering around me. It is all pleasant and normal but I when I look back on it, I think that the weeks of anticipation leading up to the day are much more "fulfilling" than the reality of the day itself.
Case in point #2 is overseas travel. Australia is a LONG way from almost everywhere (and Western Australia is a long way from our East coast). I have done a few trips overseas and interstate and I like to have months to think about them and plan for them before I go. This is because, in all honesty - and with a deal of ingratitude (and associated guilt) towards being lucky enough to have travelled - I HATE airports, waiting, security checks, cattle class seating, sitting with my legs jammed behind another seat (I'm tall), aeroplane food, swollen ankles, luggage collection, and the list goes on. I love the thought of foreign places and I love the idea of travelling and seeing things that I've only seen pictures of, but I am not a great traveller - so I can get a lot of pleasure out of thinking about the trip, about the sights I'll see etc and the memories I'll have, and that helps offset the torture of the airport and plane.
Case in point #3 is my social life. I love the thought of getting together with friends and family. I love the thought of seeing my adult children and their spouses, I like the idea of celebrations and catching up with old friends. When I get an invitation to a wedding or a 50th birthday party or whatever, I immediately start planning what I will wear, what gift would be appropriate, who will be there and who will I talk to etc etc. When the actual event arrives I find myself sadly deflated, I am really not very good in large groups of people. I seem to have lost the ability to mingle all night long making chit chat and having a good time. I last about an hour or so and then I start planning my exit (being married to an introvert makes this part fairly straightforward - he's happy to leave whenever I am).
Case in point #4 (and last for now) would be going to church. I have been a regular church attender for 40+ years. I love God and I love his people, but I have this picture in my head of the family of God gathering together and the wonderful teaching and worship time I will experience.....reality is usually a lot less exciting. I am coming to the conclusion that I need to enjoy the anticipation leading up to Sunday - and then just take the day as it comes. Church is not about "me" it's about God and everyone else - so it's never going to be all that I want it to be and I'll always be disappointed if I try to make it more than it is.
So, as midlife descends on me in all its glory, I will make it my aim to enjoy and anticipate everything that is coming up and get "my money's worth" out of the looking-forward-to-it part and then just kick back and have less expectations of the event itself. I might even enjoy things more that way and reduce my 'Brady Bunch expectations' down a bit.