expectation vs reality meme

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Expectation vs. Reality: How ‘500 Days of Summer’ inspired a reaction meme that perfectly encapsulates disappointment

It's perfect for when you had your heart set on something, but get something much worse instead.


Allie Hayes

Pop Culture

Posted on Mar 29, 2024

Have you ever expected something to be one way and then, lo and behold, reality has a different plan for you? Well, do I have an iconic meme format for you.

What is the Expectation Vs. Reality meme?

For those not in the know, the Expectation Vs. Reality meme format has been alive and well for many, MANY years now, working to showcase what it feels like to want one thing, but receive another.

Basically, it’s a way to express disappointment while having a little fun with it, because why not?!

How did this meme come about?

Per the very valid and scientific source, KnowYourMeme, the meme came into being thanks to a unique sequence from the 2009 classic film (500) Days of Summer, wherein the audience sees what the lead character expects to happen while attending a party thrown by his ex-partner side-by-side with what actually happens at the party. Furthermore, the scene is quite literally labeled “Expectation Vs. Reality.”

Per KnowYourMeme, after the release of the film, the format gained steam on places like X, Reddit, Tumblr, and even YouTube, with users using their own life experiences as the set-ups and punchlines to create shareable images and videos that compare their own expectations in any given situation versus the reality of what happened.

Cool! So what are some examples of the meme in action?

Being that this meme is over 10 years old at the time of our writing this, there are countless examples of the meme in use, but here are just a few:

Ever expect your friend’s photo of you to come out way better than it did?

Or maybe your vacation destination looked better in the photos online?

Or did you imagine a drastic haircut looking completely different on you?

Or perhaps you bought your cat a cute bed and expected them to use it as such—but nah?

But, interestingly enough, food gone wrong appears to be one of the most popular forms of the meme, with people sharing what the receipt promised them vs. what they ended up with:

My expectation was that this post would help you understand this meme format better, and I sure hope that’s also been your reality!

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*First Published: Mar 29, 2024, 2:23 pm CDT