22 December, 2011

Great Expectations

It has been brought to my attention on more than one occasion that - for varying reasons - I have not managed to live up to someone else's expectations of me. More often than not, this news has come as a complete surprise to me. A couple of times my fault was in not recognizing that a dear [male] friend was secretly harboring romantic feelings for me, and so I only ever treated him as a dear friend. Let me reiterate that these men never actually expressed their romantic interest in me to me. And so a friendship was wounded and disfigured and died.

Other times my fault has been having too-high expectations for another. Usually this has been in the form of my wanting someone else to want to spend more time with me, or to share all of my interests, or some such nonsense. Inevitably, in these circumstances I would end up feeling more invested in the relationship, under-appreciated by the other, and would harbor a growing resentment for continually being betrayed by my own unrealistic expectations.

Now, I am finding myself on the other end of this 'great' expectation caper. And, just as before, it is taking me by surprise. Someone -a considered friend – who, apparently, had higher expectations of my own investment in our relationship has charged me with being a bad person, and worse friend. And so another friendship dies.

This situation saddens me and perplexes me. This whole question of expectations has been plaguing me for years. It makes me sad to think I have unknowingly hurt someone I care for ... just as it makes me sad when someone I care for hurts me ... probably unknowingly.

So, what do we do about this? How do we open a clear and honest dialogue around expectations with the people in our lives? And when do we have this conversation? When we first meet? Before we even know if we'll grow to care about someone? When we notice the first signs of being invested in a particular relationship? Or after our expectations have gone unmet for so long that we no longer care to share the same air as the person who has failed us? Or … never?

And once the subject is broached, another important question must be asked: How much are we expected to compromise ourselves in order to meet another's expectations of us? When does healthy and respectful compromise become a mask of false representation?

There seems, to me, a fine line where compromise is concerned. Yes, I do believe that a great deal of good can come from someone making positive personal changes in the spirit of Self-Improvement. And these changes, of course, are usually made possible by frank, yet compassionate, discussion with friends and family who are willing to bring a perceived shortcoming to one's attention. The key here is that this information is given with one's ultimate well-being in mind.

Yet, often, in relationships of all kinds, we tend to hold our tongues until we are so wounded by another that we let loose accusatory assaults on the other's personal character based on how it affects us adversely ... with little consideration or hope of serving anyone but our own bruised egos. (I do not separate myself out from this phenomenon, by the way, despite really wishing I could.) This kind of assault does one of two things (from my experience):

1. It invalidates the accuser's argument in the eyes of the accused; or

2. It leads the accused down a path of inauthenticity in the hopes of appeasing the accuser.

Since true and lasting positive change can really only happen when one truly wants to better oneself for one's own Self, these [latter] attempts are usually met with failure, and thus begins the negative feedback loop that started the whole thing. Argh!

So I ask again: How do we constructively manage and communicate expectations?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Even if your thoughts involve your communicating how I've not met your expectations.


  1. every relationship has its purpose, its season, its lifespan. some relations are more important because they end. some are magnified, distorted in importance, solely because they last. its a tremendous weave of dynamics we are part of. winter starts now, and we are part of the winter cycle. such is a love or a friendship or an inspired romance between two people. permanence is the cruelest myth. but i like your inquiry, your response to human nature: your passion. the passion is the only real beauty here.

  2. Thank you, Jay. I like your insights ... and always love reading what you write.