“If you expect nothing from anybody, you’re never disappointed.” — Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
Apparently, I have high expectations of the men I date. Not unreasonable expectations, but high expectations. I’ve spent a lot of time recently not knowing the difference.
I’ve written before about how other people can make us feel like we’re utterly unreasonable or overly demanding or just plain crazy. There is something almost hypnotic in the way that someone can make you question aspects of yourself or other things you know to be true.
I am so susceptible to this. Really. It’s amazing.
And it’s something I need to work on. In a really big way. And I suspect that I’m not the only woman (or man?) who needs to do so.
Because there is simply nothing wrong with healthy, reasonable expectations. Certainly, the length and nature of the relationship should be considered, and not all expectations can be met each and every time. But on the whole, having expectations that are reasonable and healthy for the relationship you’re in is a good thing. This sense that you can count on your partner to be whom you need them to be is one of the things that knits you together and creates further intimacy and closeness.
On Friday, I spent some time with someone who pushed me to identify the healthy expectations I’d had — and found myself disappointed about — in my last relationship. I hadn’t thought about it that way before, but it’s a great exercise.
It is healthy and reasonable for me to expect:
- To hear how my boyfriend of over a year feels about me.
- My boyfriend to want to spend holidays, vacations, and special occasions with me.
- That I am involved with a mature man who will treat our committed relationship with integrity and respect and not behave with other women in ways that would embarrass me.
I could go on, but you get the idea.
I think that sometimes we lower our expectations to meet whatever the person we’re with is capable of or willing to give us. Perhaps we take that on ourselves, or maybe our partners put it onto us through their claims that we are “too demanding” or “unreasonable” or that we “just don’t understand” the position they are in. Either way, the result is that we end up confused and uncertain — Are we too demanding? Too controlling? Lacking compassion for their circumstances? Pretty soon, it all feels very confusing. Your needs aren’t being met (or even considered, as the case may be), and when you attempt to express that, you’re attacked. It’s not really surprising that you start to feel like, just maybe, you really are wrong for wanting or needing what you do.
None of us wants to be that person in a relationship who steamrolls our partner with our needs or desires. We don’t want to push our partners into something with which they aren’t comfortable. I think most of us simply want to figure out which of our needs our partners are capable of and willing to meet and which they are not. But conversations of this nature typically devolve into personal attacks and defensiveness — with one person claiming that the other person is pushing too hard or attacking them or being controlling. What a shame that we can’t simply listen to each other and say, “Sorry, but I can’t do that for you. I just don’t want to.” At least then we’d know, and it would be clear.
James and I had many, many arguments like this. I always walked away discouraged, feeling like it sounded like he couldn’t or wouldn’t do what I needed, but I simply wasn’t sure. Usually I was characterized as being selfish, instead of us simply wanting different things. James frequently thought I was angry with him over problems in our relationship, but, to be totally honest, more often than not, I was just disappointed and let down by him. I’m ashamed to say that he succeeded in making me wonder if there was sincerely something wrong with me for wanting the things from a relationship that I want. It wasn’t until that conversation on Friday that I remembered that the things I want are the things most women would want 15 months into a relationship with a man. They are the kinds of things that build and reinforce a healthy and close adult relationship. They are the kinds of things that I deserve.
Perhaps James will be able or will want to give those things to someone else, or perhaps not. I cannot speculate, because I was never able to learn from him what he truly wants or how he truly feels. What I do know is that I loved him very much. I offered him everything I knew how to give, and I did so with honesty and integrity and compassion. I was loving and faithful and supportive and understanding.
And I wasn’t wrong to want the same in return.