There’s a saying: “Expectations are disappointments in the making.”
That sounds so cynical. And as with all self-helpy kinds of things, I had to struggle with this concept intellectually before I could accept and employ it.
Some expectations are reasonable. I expected Vince to graduate from high school. I was bitterly disappointed when he didn’t. In this case the saying still holds true but you couldn’t fault me for the expectation, right? It’s a pretty minimal one held by most parents. (Vince has since earned his General Equivalency Diploma and finished two years of college.)
But there are other expectations that are unreasonable.
Vince wrote numerous times from boot camp about how he had spent four hours scrubbing the baseboard in the gym, or all day moving manure from Point A to Point B, or how he made his bed with sharp corners and ironed his clothes with exact creases. This was not the Vince I knew from before boot camp. “Wow!” I thought, “How wonderful that he’s learned to be a perfectionist clean freak like me!” I looked forward to him moving in. It would be great to have someone else in the house who would wash windows, dust and vacuum, wash the car (and here I got really carried way), paint the spare bedroom, clean the spider webs out of the basement, tear up the old patio and cart all the bricks away, maybe even wallpaper the dining room!
Ha. Suffice it to say that none of those things has happened. And why should they? Vince met the expectations of boot camp because his freedom was on the line. I had never even voiced my expectations to him—I was barely aware of them myself.
The progress I’ve made is this: I used to be completely unaware of my expectations, then feel shocked when they weren’t met. Now I catch myself—maybe not in the moment but eventually—and I laugh at myself a bit. The only disappointment I feel is in myself, for having unrealistic expectations.
Vince will never be a neatnik like me, but he does clean up after himself. He takes out the trash and puts gas in the car when the tank is low. He picks up items at the grocery that I forgot to get the day before. He replaces the toilet paper when it’s gone. He makes ribs and bakes cookies and offers them to me. He pays rent. He works full time and volunteers at the Goodwill on Sundays. He exercises. He’s started his own blog. He’s going to meetings and has sober friends.
I still have thoughts like, “I hope he goes back and finishes his degree,” and “I hope he meets a nice girl and gets married and has kids.” I notice these thoughts. I name them as expectations. I am kind to myself. I acknowledge that they could happen but that there are no guarantees and that Vince’s designs for his future may not match mine. Just for today, I’ll be grateful for what’s right. I will not go romping into the poppy field of expectations and disappointments.
Nice post, Anne. It gives me something to think about in my own life. As a consultant, one of the most important things I do is manage a client’s expectations. I haven’t been good at managing my own when it comes to personal relationships. Two huge disappointments that forever altered the relationship come to mind. I will examine them in light of your post. Why did I have the expectation? What could I have done differently, or how could I have realized earlier on, to prevent or lessen the pain of disappointment? How can I recognize the trap I’m about to fall into? Hmmmm.