The Latte.

I recently learned something from a 12-oz. decaf almond milk latte.

It was a Tuesday. I drove to Cambridge—Cambridge, aka “If-you-find-a-parking-spot-it’s-a-miracle Town”—for a cup of coffee. I had dreamt about this gourmet cup of coffee since the previous Saturday. I had plans to meet a friend in the city, which fell through because, A. Time management is not my forte, and I did not leave myself enough time to get into the city, and B. PARKING. Who decides to drive to the North End at 4:00 on a Saturday afternoon and expect to find a parking spot? This chick. So by the time I would have found a spot, my dear friend had to depart. I gave up and drove home.

Sunday was a new day. A new chance for yummy coffee. “I know, I’ll stop at Starbucks on my way to church.” Sunday was a sunny day, prime for iced coffee. And I dig Starbucks iced coffee with coconut milk. But getting places on time is hard enough, never mind trying to squeeze in a trip to Starbucks beforehand. So, no coffee before church. It was all good, though. Friends invited me out for lunch after church! And we were planning to go to Uncommon Grounds, which I know to have yummy lattes. But when we got there, there was a 45-minute to an hour wait. Uncommon Grounds is that good, people. (If you’re looking for a good breakfast place in Watertown, this is it.) So, not surprising there was such a wait. But it was a wait I couldn’t wait for, as I had to be at work an hour-and-a-half later. My friends and I puttered around the area looking for an alternative. A diner on the corner was the consensus, as it had half the wait time. And a good diner it was, just not for gourmet coffee, or lattes, or dairy alternatives. “Hmm, maybe I’ll have time to stop at Starbucks real quick before I go into work,” I thought. I didn’t. My friends and I were having such a great time that we chatted ourselves all the way up to the time when I would have to leave, with just enough time to get to work—without a trip to Starbucks. Sigh. No such luck again.

Monday was a new day, too, though. Surely then I would have time to stop at Starbucks before work. After all, I didn’t have anything planned for the morning. Except apparently sleeping. I slept until noon, people. I never do that. So inevitably, by the time I woke up, I had just enough time to get up, eat, run and shower before I had to be at work.

But Tuesday, Tuesday was a different story. I had a chiropractor appointment at 10:45, with no plans after that until work at 1:30. Finally! I had time to go buy myself a most delicious coffee. But of course, as it was rainy and chilly, I was feeling more of a hot drink than an iced one. And while I dig Starbucks iced coffee with coconut milk, for some reason I’m not crazy about it in their hot drinks. That, and I just had my mind set on an almond milk decaf latte. So I drove to Cambridge. For a latte. After driving around a couple blocks, I managed to find a parking spot close to the coffee shop I had settled on. Score. I had imagined how delicious this latte was going to taste. I couldn’t wait to partake of its creamy, nutty, decaffeinated goodness. I walk in and place my order. The barista hands me my coffee. I take a sip. “Mmm, this is just what I wanted,” I think. I am pleasantly satisfied.

That is, until a few more sips in. It’s then that I realize that this latte is not the best I’ve had, and really isn’t that great at all. But of course, I can’t admit that, because after all, I had been dreaming of this latte since Saturday! It had to be good. Then I realized something. I didn’t want to admit it was underwhelming, because I had expected it to be fantastic. It was supposed to be great. But it wasn’t. And the only thing holding me back from acknowledging that, was that I had such high expectations for its deliciousness. I didn’t want to admit that I was disappointed. So instead I tried to convince myself it was actually better than it was. But what good was that going to do? It was a less-than-great latte. It wasn’t what I wanted, or what I was hoping for. And that was okay.

That was my mid-stride epiphany, as I held said subpar latte. And I realized I had a choice: I could throw the rest of it away, or I could continue to drink it knowing that it wasn’t as yummy as I hoped it would be. I chose the latter. But it was a choice based in reality, not denial. If I chose to keep drinking it under the guise that it was in fact this delectable drink, I would have been living a lie.

I have lived quite a lie from time to time. And I’ve realized that many of those times have arisen from the choice to deny the truth—the truth that my hopes were let down, my expectations unmet.

Take relationships.

We all hope for the best going into relationships, right? If we didn’t, we probably wouldn’t get into them. Even if things look shaky from the beginning, I think most of us are inclined to have an inkling of hope that things will turn out alright. How many of us really start out thinking, “Well, this is going nowhere fast.” (Although, outsiders looking in might think that for us sometimes.) No, I think most of us hope for the best. I do. And then I attach this expectation that things are supposed to turn out right. So when they don’t, I have a hard time accepting that, and I continue to live as though things are fine. Just fine. I mean, really, really fine. As fine as you can get. FINE.

But who really wants “fine”? I want good. And I don’t mean “We never, ever fight or even disagree on anything, and we both love Amos Lee!” I mean hard-but-worth-it good. And I’ve found that in settling for “fine,” often times things were really not fine. I just never wanted to own that. So, instead of acknowledging things for what they are, I have often continued to sip the proverbial coffee, trying to convince myself it’s tastier than it truly is.

I know life isn’t as simple as a cup of coffee. You can’t pour a person down the drain like you can a mediocre latte. Relationships can be fragile and messy. But they can be handled wisely when you face their reality. You can choose to end them–kindly, quickly, and cleanly, if at all possible. Or you can choose to stay, accepting things as they are, and then making steps to change what you can. But if you stay believing that everything is fine, you won’t take those steps toward change, and things will remain as they are. And if you’re like me, you’ll keep asking yourself why things aren’t how you want them to be. But things don’t just change on their own because you wish they will.

I could have kept sipping that latte, hoping it would magically taste better with each subsequent sip. But that would have been foolish. And yet I’ve done that very thing when it comes to relationships. Things aren’t great, but I keep going, hoping they’ll improve on their own in time. But they don’t. And that wishful thinking has kept me holding on far longer than I should have, simply because I was unwilling to face reality. Because facing reality meant making a choice: should I stay or should I go? And that was a choice I didn’t want to make. It felt easier to stay and hope my feelings would change and the doubts would go away. Facing reality meant realizing I was staying for the wrong reasons: I felt bad, I didn’t want to be alone, it made sense, we’re too far in it to turn back now. I could have saved myself and others a lot of time and heartache had I simply accepted the truth much sooner.

It was my most recent relationship that ended that came to mind when I realized that latte I was drinking wasn’t so great after all. It had dawned on me that I had stayed in that relationship as long as I did because I had such high expectations for it that I wasn’t willing to accept that it didn’t live up to them. And not only did it not live up to them, but things were really not good at all. It was just hard to accept that when it was supposed to work out, we were supposed to get married, and all the other supposed to’s. Just like that latte was supposed to be delicious. But it wasn’t. And the relationship didn’t work out. We didn’t get married. And that was actually for the best, because it had gotten to a point where it really wasn’t healthy. So, I finally chose to leave. It was messy and painful, but it was a choice based in a reality, and the one that I believed to be the best for both of us.

Your best choice might be different. It might be staying. Maybe you’re married. Or wanting to stay present in your son or daughter’s life, despite how strained things might be at the moment. That just might look like creating new boundaries to protect yourself and the relationship from continuing on a downward spiral. Just don’t be like me. Don’t live in denial. Don’t sip the latte pretending it’s better than it is. Accept things for what they are. And then stay. Or leave. But whatever you choose, choose truth.

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