What (Not) To Expect From Your Expectations


Guest post from Lady Jane

Think about the people, places, and things in your life. What do you expect from them? What do you expect from your partner? Your cat? Your coffee maker? Your shower? Your phone…

Are your expectations realistic, accurate, fair, obvious, or even possible?

When you turn the key in the ignition of your car, you expect the car to start. When you wait for the train, you expect it to arrive within a reasonable time frame and you are frustrated when it does not. Think about your favorite garment of clothing. You expect it to look nice, be flattering, comfortable, and perhaps, even functional when you wear it. When you purchase something cheap, like a pair of sunglasses from the dollar store, perhaps you expect them to break or you expect that you will lose them. You expect the sun to rise and the birds to sing each day.

Whether or not we are conscious of it, we have expectations for nearly everything in our lives and people are no exception. Analyzing our expectations of the people in our lives is extremely worthwhile and important. It serves as a sort of “reality check” for us and reminds us to take people for who they are, not for granted, and to not be disappointed when people don’t or can’t meet our often outrageous expectations. Sometimes, we even forget to verbalize our expectations and are then resentful or angry when someone important in our lives doesn’t meet them. They have let us down even though we did not communicate what it was they were expected to do. You’d be surprised how often this happens.

One factor we often don’t stop to think about is how we contribute to our own resentment towards someone else’s actions. The next time you are disappointed with someone in your life, check in with yourself because you may have had created some non-verbalized expectations the could not be fulfilled.

How could they be fulfilled if you didn’t verbalize them out loud?

Last weekend, for example, I was invited out on a third date by a friend of mine in the event production industry. Both of us are extremely busy, non-monogamous, and haven’t had the “let’s define our relationship” talk that often occurs after a few dates. I think we both simply appreciate having someone else equally as busy, adventurous, and fun to spend time with. It isn’t serious, there are no labels – it’s just plain fun for the moment.

What can you expect from a relationship in this stage? Should you even have expectations at this point beyond the basics: being treated with respect, occasional communication, and a low-key date once in awhile.

He invited me along to an event where he was responsible for making a large piece of artwork for the DJ booth of the nightclub. Though he had to work, he invited me as company, and I had many other friends attending as well. The art took all day (possibly longer) to assemble and install and then had to be uninstalled at the end of the event at 3:30 in the morning. I sort of selectively heard this last part about the clean up and (here’s that magic word…) expected that my date would seamlessly transition from the event to his apartment. After all, our first two dates had ended this way so why shouldn’t this one?! Given that last two data points, I expected the event to end and us to leave together.

A good number of us hear the word “date” and all sorts of expectations begin to pile up. What do you think of when you hear the word “date” and what expectations do you have for this type of event? Make a list of all the expectations you have for dates… Now, erase them because not all dates are the same or follow a pattern. They are what they are – moments in time, events that begin and end.

Because of my preconceived expectations, when it came time for the event to end, I was of course completely outraged when I assumed I was going home with this guy and he flat out told me no, I couldn’t go home with him, he still had hours of work to do. Outraged is an understatement. I was extremely upset, disappointed, confused, and hurt. I took it personally, stomped out of the nightclub, and trudged all the way home in the rain.

Sure, he could have been more clear with his expectations, too, and emphasized that I could come as his date and we could hang out during the event but not after. He could and should have been explicitly clear that the possibility of me going home with him was unavailable. Both of us failed to fully express our expectations and both of us made a few assumptions about how that particular date was going to go. In addition, he assumed that since I had other friends also at the event, the possibility of me wanting to go home with them was also quite real. Plus, he had also mentioned beforehand that he had to strike the art right at 3:30 am.

When I checked in with him a week later about this situation, after my outrage had ceased, he reported that he was at the club until 5 am. I suppose it’s a good thing I didn’t wait up for him. We’ll both communicate more clearly about our expectations and assumptions next time.

I’ve since learned that especially with this casual of a relationship and with this particular individual, I need to ask more direct, clear questions to get a better idea of how our dates will go. Or, he will simply say, “pack a toothbrush,” and I know he means we’re having a sleepover. I admit, I have lowered my expectations of him and of our relationship accordingly and have stopped making any assumptions about how any of our time together will pass. I take our time for what it is – sometimes it’s just dinner, just sex, or just a night out.

Actually, revamping my expectations has allowed me to enjoy our time together more because I am less hung up what I think is going to happen or what “should” happen and I’m simply able to enjoy his company and the moment more fully.

If you release your expectations, take people for who they are, and retire old assumptions, you can be more fully present with yourself and those around you. To be clear, lowering your expectations for someone or for a relationship does not mean they have free reign to break through your boundaries, take advantage of you, and not treat you how you deserve to be treated. On the contrary, you can and should have basic expectations for everyone around you that include, and are not limited to, being treated with respect, dignity, fairness, and common courtesy.

Furthermore, if you do have higher or varying expectations for someone or for a relationship, let them be known.

Statements (or discussions, preferably) like, “As mother to this child, I expect you to be here when Jane comes home from school,” or, “Since we are going to the symphony, I expect both of us to wear nice clothes.” You may have to further define your expectations because we all come from different backgrounds and have different ideas of what “normal” expectations are. In this case, “nice clothes” for some may be jeans without holes in them and for others, it may be a tuxedo.

Verbalizing expectations that you do have or asking for clarification sets you and your partners up for success, diminishes gray area, and prevents disappointment when expectations aren’t met. You can ask, “what are your expectations for this date? What do you want to have happen?”

Often times, we’re afraid to state our expectations aloud because we worry that they can’t be met. You’d be surprised how many of them actually can be met, how eager people are to meet our expectations, and, on the contrary, how hurt or angry you might be when you say nothing and your expectations are not met.

Our expectations will continue to be built up and broken down throughout the course of our lives with a spectrum of consistencies. Take note of the expectations that you have, and ask yourself whether everyone and everything around you can realistically meet the expectations you create. As always, the monologue inside our heads is a bit different than the dialogue we will have with others. By taking a look at our expectations, we can help ourselves and those around us to be included in the dialogue.

Featured image via WeHeartIt