On Unreasonable Expectations

Someone asked me, “Who hurt you?”
I replied, “My own expectations.”

I can’t find an attribution for this quote, so if anyone knows where it originated, please pass it along to me to include, but it resonates with me deeper than the usual pithy self-help meme.

Living without expectations, as other quotes over the years have suggested, certainly makes for what they call a happier life. I struggle, however, with the advice that we should just not expect anything from ourselves or anyone else.

Some expectations are unreasonable. You meet someone for the first time, and you think they will be your world. That’s probably unreasonable. You should have expectations for their behavior — that they will treat you with respect and kindness, that they will not be a serial killer— but you probably shouldn’t make expectations regarding their feelings for you or their commitment to you on first meeting. We don’t live in a novel or romantic comedy. However, if they do turn out the be a serial killer, you can’t blame yourself for believing that they wouldn’t be one. That was not a likely scenario.

You start a new job, and you expect it to be the best job you’ve ever had. If you didn’t have this attitude about your new job, why would you take it? In this case, your expectations are that your feelings will be positive. That’s not an unreasonable expectation. The standard reasonable expectation that your co-workers will treat you with respect is also part of that expectation. When the job turns out to be horrible because your manager is a sociopath, you can’t blame yourself for having had those positive expectations. If you took the job knowing that you didn’t have the skills to do it, however, its failure would hinge to a certain degree on your unreasonable expectation of being able to accomplish something you knew you couldn’t.

Expectations are a minefield of feelings, dreams, and interactions. Sometimes, it’s only in hindsight that we realize our expectations were unreasonable. We just didn’t see it.

Other expectations are carefully constructed over years of iterative experiences that grow like a drip castle in the sand. We build a foundation for them, whether solid or otherwise, on interactions and encounters. These are the hardest expectations to fight. A marriage isn’t built in a day. It’s (usually) built over years of experiences that create a baseline of expectations of each partner’s behaviors. For instance, when two partners have been together for five years with no sign of gender confusion, there is a baseline for behavior that does not include one of the partners being transgender. If one of the partners is in fact transgender, the drip castle feels like a lie to the cisgender partner.

This is not in and of itself a death knell for the relationship. It requires a massive reorienting of expectations, however. That said, to have expected one spouse to live without any expectations as to the gender identity of the other spouse for the first five years on the possible fact that said spouse is transgender would not have been good advice. The simplistic quote about not letting expectations dictate your happiness fails when the complexity of real life, fractal in its threads of experience, comes into play.

I might sound like I’m trying to dismantle the initial quote, but I’m actually not. I read that quote on someone’s Instagram feed, and it resonated with me. There are times when I have let my own unreasonable expectations dictate my feelings and experiences. I have expected someone to feel a certain way because I only looked a their behavior in snippets instead of its totality. I have expected parts of my life to change with no change in behavior from me when there were no objective signs that any such change was out there. It’s not intellectual laziness. It’s bred in the hope that what we so desperately want will manifest. But that is not the reality of manifestation.

Manifesting is short for doing a lot of hard work, self-examination, and orienting ourselves in a direction. Manifestation isn’t actually manifesting. You can manifest a positive attitude and a plan, but you can’t manifest wealth, love, or success directly. You manifest the attitude required to build those things for yourself. That’s an important distinction.

Back to expectations. Not all of them are bad. They help us approach experiences with positivity and openness. They provide a social baseline that can shortcut judgments— in either direction depending on how you orient them (i.e., positive or negative expectations). But, what we need to be careful about are those expectations that make a leap from the normal baseline to a result derived on the desire for behavior from others that is outside the baseline norms of everyday life.

The manifestation of love.
The manifestation of skills.
The manifestation of success.
All of these (love, skills, success) require work and effort to get the result, so the expectations that they are to be approached as an immediate boon are not reasonable.

I would amend the quote as follows:

Someone asked me, “Who hurt you?”
I replied, “My own unreasonable expectations for immediate gratification.”

Today’s photograph is from a new project that I’ve started. You an find the link to it on my site – I’m trying out the idea of writing a haiku a day and scrapbooking it. Journaling done minimal and slightly visual. The ideas are short, the presentation is somewhat precious, but the result is not perfect. Maybe in a year, I will look back and see an evolution in my thinking. Link to the gallery here or check out my daily posting on my Instagram (@alialuria #scrapbookinhaiku).

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