How do we live a life without expectation? Sylvia Plath in “The Bell Jar” wrote “If you expect nothing from anybody, you’re never disappointed” Is it possible to go through life without expectations? Or more importantly – should we? Are we better off expecting nothing from others in order to avoid having our hearts broken, our souls crushed because of a certain standard in our mind that was not met? I have been thinking about this quite a bit lately and for a while I tried to achieve a “life without expectation”. I miserably fell short. Not because I expected too much of others but because I expected too little from myself. While Sylvia Plath understood that expectations certainly lead to disappointment (and in her life she had her share of them) her downfall was in putting the expectation solely onto the other person. We are only in control of ourselves and our own reactions therefore any expectation we have of someone else is never guaranteed. If we can understand that and acknowledge our expectations, evaluate them and use them as a guide in our lives I believe expectations can be a positive tool.
What is an expectation? Merriam-Webster defines it as “a belief that something will happen or is likely to happen” Our daily lives are filled with expectations with work, family, school, friends, society, government etc… the list goes on and on. We strive to meet others expectations and often just the daily grind finds us weary. In relationships it is even more stressful because we attach emotion to our expectations. Our personal relationships are where we feel loved, cherished and needed. Our whole sense of being is often tied to our emotional attachments and these are the expectations that often are the hardest to define, let go of or meet depending on which side of the relationship you are on. They are the ones that lead to the disappointments, the regret and often demise as in the case of Sylvia Plath.
When I was a little girl all I wanted to be when I grew up was a mommy. I fussed over my dolls, cuddled them, sang to them and spent hours daydreaming of the day when I would have babies of my own. My expectations where much like that of every little girl – I would marry the Prince Charming, he would sweep me off to the castle where we would have lots of babies and life would be happy ever after. My own childhood was a happy one and I didn’t know any differently. It wasn’t until many years later that I realized how our expectations are deeply rooted in our own upbringing. Often what we know growing up is how we assume things “should be” or “will be”. I was young and naive when I married. I expected things from Prince Charming that he didn’t even have a clue at understanding because the castle he grew up in spoke a completely different language. (I think he was living in a gloomy old fortress) After the honeymoon wore off I started to see I wasn’t living in my dream castle but I still had the expectation that “marriage is forever” and I stuck it out for a very long time.To me my expectations were not unrealistic. I expected things that he didn’t think were a big deal such as for him to not be drunk on Christmas Eve with our children. I expected him to not throw things at me or call me every name in the book when he was angry about something. I expected him to put family first but work, his drinking, something else always came before the kids and I. I expected a gift on my birthday or Christmas but while I showered him with gifts it was often not reciprocated. I expected to not have to protect our own children from his rants and rages. I expected him to be a dad like my father was or at least to not be an angry one all the time. I expected the damn fairy-tale and I didn’t get it. Whatever the reason – my unrealistic expectations, the alcoholism laced with abuse or his own failed expectations from his tyrannical father – it led to years of disappointment. It’s not to say that all the years were terrible – I made the best of what I could for myself and my boys. While my expectations lowered each year we were together I clung to hope for a very long time that he would change, that love conquered all and one day he would turn around and realize that his way of living was not making him or any of us happy. Then one day it just got to be too much and I realized I expected more for myself. It was no longer about him and what I expected from him to fulfill my happiness. It was about me and my expectations for myself.
As I was writing this I started to think about the expectations I have formed for myself over the last couple of years and I realized that they are expectations I am looking for in my relationships also. These expectations are ones my close friends unknowingly adhere to – unwritten rules that have characteristics I admire and respect. They are guidelines for me based on my beliefs and are what I want in people who I become emotionally attached to. I realize that not all people will meet these expectations and I know that on days I will falter but at the end of the day these are the expectations I have for my life and those who are in it. They aren’t earth shattering or unheard of however they are things I was missing in my life while I was married. Whenever I am in a relationship and I am not realizing these ten truths I know it is time to re-evaluate my situation.
My Great Expectations
1. Respect – I will have respect for myself. my body and my mind, my family, friends and mankind. I expect others to show the same respect for themselves and others.
2. Tolerance – I will be tolerant of myself, my faults and my mistakes. I will be tolerant of those who are different from me and embrace their differences so I can learn more about them. I expect others to be tolerant when faced with someone who is different in their beliefs or way of life. You do not have to agree only accept.
3. Communication – I will communicate my wants, needs and feelings in a calm, intelligent, respectful manner. I expect others to communicate openly with me. This does not always mean sharing everything but it means keeping the lines of communication open. It’s okay to not want to talk about something. I am a talker and I need to express myself. I expect those who are close to me to understand that.
4. Generosity – I will be generous with my time and money. Giving is important to me and I expect others to pay it forward or help those who are less fortunate.
5. Kindness – I will be kind, gentle and compassionate. I will not be angry or hateful to others. I expect others to show kindness in ways that reflect them the best. There is no room in my life for angry, hateful or mean people.
6. Ownership of choices. – I will own my choices. I do not blame anyone for the past. Everything I have done was a choice I made on my own accord. I will look on the past as a learning experience and move on. I expect others to own their choices and not blame others or dwell on the past. Life is meant to be lived in the here and now.
7. Forgiveness – I will forgive those who have wronged me. There is no room for bitterness or anger. It doesn’t mean forgetting but moving on. I expect others to forgive and not to keep score or hold grudges. I will not be angry or upset if I or someone else does not meet an expectation but will forgive them and move on.
8. Passion – I will have a passion for the things I do in life. I will seek out adventure and will learn as much as I can on my time on earth. I will be spontaneous. I expect others to find their passion and to respect mine. I will not sit by and watch life pass me by.
9. Honesty – I will be truthful and honest even if it hurts someone I love. I expect to not be lied to or cheated on.
10. Happiness – I will seek happiness in my life at every turn. I will look for the positive side and try to bring happiness to others. I expect others to pursue happiness. Life is too short to be unhappy.
I no longer expect the Fairy-tale but I do believe in happy endings. I believe that we make our own happiness and I don’t need a Prince Charming to achieve that. I hope someday I find a man who believes the same things I do and wants to set out on the same adventures. I feel that because I have set some Great Expectations for myself that someday that person may wander into my life and decide to stick around. I expect it will be a pretty amazing journey when it happens!