Damn Those Expectations

We generally expect that if we are willing to do something for someone, they would do it back.

“Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.”
― Alexander Pope

When my birthday was approaching one year (I think it was my 33rd), my husband asked me what I wanted for my birthday. My reply was “I can’t ‘think of anything”. Now, to me – this means ‘Oh I don’t know – pick out something you think I will like’ – but that’s not what I said. Because what I said and what I meant – exactly – were two different things… on the day of my birthday – there were no presents.

“I don’t have ‘anything’ to open?”, I said. “You said you didn’t want anything!”, he exclaimed. Aside from the fact that his interpretation of “I can’t think of anything” transformed into “you said you didn’t want anything” – which, is an entirely different post about communication…. In my mind – the way ‘I’ would have treated that situation… would have been to find something – even a little token gift – so that he would have something to open on his birthday. Who doesn’t like opening presents??

How many times have you found yourself thinking… ‘that’s not what I would have done?’ or ‘why did they do it that way?’ or ‘they should know me by now’.  We typically make the assumption that people who are similar to us in one way must be similar to us in most ways. The assumption is so strong in fact, that we fail to talk about very basic needs; assuming they will be met because the people who love us – “know” us. Even more frequent are the assumptions we make when we have been in a partnership for a long time… ‘after all this time, you should know.’

You remember the golden rule right? ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. And then there is the biblical reference in the New Testament, Luke 6:38 – “Give and it will be given to you.” And Confucius said “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.” There are similar quotes that permeate throughout social media, posters, and books such as “treat people the way you want to be treated” and “Be a reflection of what you’d like to see in others.” And we make general assumptions along the parameters of ‘What comes around, goes around’ and ‘What you put out there, comes back’.

I believe the general premise of these ideas are helpful. I believe that they are meant to guide us and stimulate positive intent. However, I believe they also set us up with the expectation that people are paying attention to how we treat them – literally – and then we anticipate that we will be the recipients of similar treatment.

I’m not talking about the generalities such as doing nice things or speaking kindly. I find that we develop expectations of specific behaviors and I see examples of it across my life and the lives of almost every client I’ve talked to. Examples are almost boundless… (names made up)

Joyce speaks her mind and is quite opinionated. She has a strong point of view about almost everything. Bob cooked dinner for her the other night because she had to work late. Joyce was appreciative of the meal and commented that if he ever were to make it again, he should add more spices so that the flavor was more intense. Bob was insulted that Joyce would comment about the meal. His comment… “I’d never tell her how to cook, I’d just eat and enjoy.” Joyce’s thought process was very different… she would want him to tell her if something needed more flavor. She didn’t understand why his feelings were hurt.

In this example, Bob decided he was inclined never to cook again because it would open him up to what he believed to be criticism of his cooking. Since he would never think of commenting on her cooking, he was insulted that she did.

Pete and Chris had a small apartment and when Chris’s parents came to visit she thought that they would sleep in the bedroom and she and Pete would use an air mattress in the office. Her thought was that her parents should be as comfortable as possible. Pete had never given up his bed for anyone and resented that he was being asked to now. His thought was that if her parents wanted to sleep in a bed, they could get a hotel room. Chris knew her parents could afford a hotel but she wanted to spend as much time as possible with them. She would make the same concession for Chris’s parents and didn’t understand why he wasn’t willing.

That’s the crux of the issue here – ‘I would do this for you – why won’t you do it for me??’ – no matter what “it” is. We generally expect that if we are willing to do something for someone, they would do it back. We subconsciously ‘expect’ it. Sometimes, we count on it.

Lucy was home on bedrest with her third baby. It came about suddenly and she didn’t have time to plan for the downtime but wasn’t concerned because she was very active in the neighborhood and had cooked for other families often throughout the years. In fact, she was often the organizer for helping other moms when there was a need. After a week, it was apparent that no one was coordinating efforts for meals or childcare help and she felt abandoned by the people she thought were friends. She never reached out specifically with a request for help but she didn’t believe she needed to… couldn’t they ‘see’ that she needed support?

In this case, the fact that Lucy jumps up to the plate to direct and facilitate services when someone needs help dictates her expectation that the ‘like-minded’ people (other moms) from her neighborhood would surely know to reciprocate the efforts.

Kevin is the kind of guy who pays really close attention to the times when his wife says “I wish I had…” and makes a note to add that to a ‘gift list’. For birthday’s and Christmas he always gets just the right thing and she is amazed that he knows her so well. She, on the other hand typically comments that she “never knows what he wants”. Kevin feels unappreciated and unimportant to his wife. He fails to see that she fixes his favorite meal once a month and always has his favorite ice cream in the freezer – her way of saying ‘you matter’.

Some are lucky to have people in their lives that are so like-minded that there is an effortless symbiotic flow between them. My friend and her family lived with us for a month while they were house hunting – many years ago. Even though we had eight children in the house (7 of them under the age of 8) dinner and bath time were amazingly calm and harmonious because we were of the same mind… we were so precisely in tune with one another that speech was barely needed. This same person and I drove through a fast food restaurant one day, attempting to pacify the cranky toddlers in the back seat with French fries. Each of us grabbed a couple of hot fries that we intended to hand back to the kids when I noticed that we were both holding them out the window to cool off. It was a funny moment although, reading this… I guess you had to be there. In regards to those things… we thought the same way.

Of course, we don’t want a world filled with people who are exactly like us – that’s not the point here. We need to acknowledge and honor our differences. We do, however, need to become aware of how WE think… what assumptions am I making? What are my expectations? Have I communicated them in a clear and concise manner? Am I asking questions? Have I sought to define and clarify?

One thing is clear… many, many times, if there is disappointment… there is a failed expectation because we ‘assumed’ that someone would do ‘what we would have done’.

Author: ThisIsLeslyn

I am a mental health counselor, a very proud mom of four great people whom I love to pieces and a grateful partner to a perfectly imperfect man who always challenges me to be a better me. And, while I haven't always liked the things that life has dished out to me, I am eternally blessed by all its lessons. Sit with me as I learn and share at ThisIsLeslyn.com

6 thoughts on “Damn Those Expectations”

  1. Communication is the worst, always open to holes to have the expectations fall through. Using alot of the “I” hear you saying…..and “is this what you mean”? Gosh even worse as we age!!

    Liked by 1 person

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