There are few things that get me in more personal trouble than my tendency to assume things. Yes, of course I’ve heard the old saying that “To assume makes an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me'” and I swear that I don’t mean to assume things… but I do. As an adult, I’ve realized that there is a certain arrogance inherent in an assumption — basically what we’re saying is that we are so smart that we can discern what someone else is thinking or feeling based on selected, minimal, or even no evidence.
It’s no wonder that our assumptions are wrong at least as much as they are right. But because humans tend to ignore information that contradicts our belief structure, I think we generally place more weight on memories of the times our assumptions were correct. “Aha!” we cry, “See?! I knew it all along!” This reinforces our future reliance on our brilliant ability to assume conclusions that may or may not true.
Crises of self-doubt result when our assumptions are wrong, so I think we try to avoid addressing those head-on. Admitting that we based decisions, hopes, dreams, or even just directed emotional energy toward something that was born from a very flawed assumption is pretty hard to swallow sometimes. And it seems like when we do face the fact that we relied heavily and to our detriment on a flawed assumption, everything from mild embarrassment to complete self-loathing can occur, depending on how erroneous and painful the actual truth was.
Most of my assumptions tend to the negative, although there are some ridiculous, Pollyanna-ish exceptions in my past that still cause me to grimace in shame. But, if I’m being honest, I know that most of the time, when I’m scared and uncertain, I’m assuming a poor outcome will result and rationalizing it under the “Assume the Worst; Hope for the Best” rubric. And we all know how easily this can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, which is a whole other post in itself, I think.
I think that most of the time we cling to our negative assumptions out of fear — fear of being duped, fear of repeating past mistakes, fear of being wrong. Basically, it’s fear. And I think that we cling to our positive assumptions out of hope — hope that things are not as they seem, hope that they will resolve themselves, hope that if we wish hard enough, it will be true. So, basically, it’s hope.
Both kinds of assumptions are bad news in relationships. In my relationship with Pete, he assumed certain things about my feelings and about us, based on his own feelings and wishes, which he projected onto me. As a result, he was far more upset at our relationship’s end than he might have been if I had realized the assumptions he was making and made necessary adjustments. He was basing his assumptions on what felt like good, solid evidence, but mostly he was just being hopeful, and there’s really nothing wrong with that. It just sucks when you’re wrong. We frequently see this kind of post-break-up assumption in the form of our expectation that the object of our desire will “come to their senses” or “see the light” and realize how special and wonderful our relationship was. Sometimes this does happen, but it’s pretty rare, isn’t it? A couple of years ago, my friend Annie had a boyfriend of four months, Ned, who simply refused to accept that her feelings for him were never as deep as his for her. Months later, he was still blathering on about it and resenting her for being heartless and moving on. Most of us have been in Ned’s position at one point or another, and it definitely feels terrible. But clinging to assumptions that are nothing but false hope is one of the worst forms of self-torture.
Conversely, in my relationship with James, I have made many erroneous negative assumptions, again based on what felt like good, solid evidence, but was mostly just fear. I have a long list of moments when I was too petrified to ask a pointed question, lest my worst fears be confirmed. So instead, I clung to my assumptions, which were generally worse than any reality might have been. This is a particularly insidious kind of assumption, as it allows you to beat yourself up with the assumed facts first, and then go round two with yourself when you discover the error in your assumption. Good times all around, for sure.
Assumptions are pretty easily avoided, of course. “Just ask,” would seem to be solid advice in this regard. But it’s not really that easy, is it? Because we can be blinded by both hope and fear, and most times we’re not even aware that we’re assuming. It’s only that pesky hindsight that usually shows us how fast we traveled Assumption Road toward Conclusion City.
So, I don’t have any answers to this particular problem, except to say that I’m really working on it in my own life. And I hope it will get easier. Or at least I assume so.