When we are young, one of the first things that we grapple with is learning what to expect on a basic level. What to expect of our caregivers, and what to expect in relation to the environment that surrounds us. In order to confront the sometimes subtle but ever-present intensity that just being a living and breathing entity presents, expectations can act as a safety mechanism to prevent us from constantly feeling like a deer in the high-beams of life. These initial, formative expectations teach us what is dangerous, what is safe, and what we should be uncertain about.
These expectations might take on a more simple manifestation — the essentials, just the things we need to be able to wake up every day, and get back in bed at the end of that day unharmed. But once those fundamental expectations are solidified and we grow as individuals, we start to develop more complex relationships to the people around us. The largely instinctual expectations that have guided us up to this point gradually become less prevalent, forcing us to operate in a more nuanced manner.
Although this relational nuance is something that we must accept, actually coming to terms with it can be hard.
I turned 23 years old last month, and it is a bit of a personal tradition of mine to reflect on certain aspects of my life around the time of my birthday. The truth of my current position is that I have found myself largely friendless. The majority of the friendships that came about in my college years have eroded with time, and with the lack of location-based convenience, each one had a shorter life expectancy than I would have hoped. Though I do mourn what has felt like the death of these friendships, I accept it as a reality of growing older and try daily to move forward accordingly.
However, what has proven more challenging to deal with are the friendships that have collapsed as a result of some sort of fall out. As humans, we can at times be reactionary. In the heat of the moment, and for days, weeks, and sometimes even years after, we will place blame on another person for the way that something played out — despite the possibility that we also be at fault.
One of my favorite front-women right now, Sophie Alison of Soccer Mommy, once said “Oh I choose, choose to blame it all on you / cause I don’t like the truth.” Something that I’ve recently determined is that many of my friendships have failed because of an unequal balance of expectation. Generally, I end up expecting more than I maybe should of the person, and when conflict arises, I implode in a way that has likely been frustrating and even confusing for past friends. This has, in most cases, led to those people slowly distancing themselves from me.
Many of these conflicts, generally occurring between myself and college friends, would manifest in the form of me reaching out to someone in an attempt to coordinate a hang-out. More often than not, me reaching out would be met with something that usually came across, in my view, as an excuse as to why we couldn’t spend time together, but to them, a valid explanation. “I’m too busy/broke” etc. The harsh truth that I’ve frequently faced is that sometimes when people say they’re too busy, broke, or whatever other myriad of reasons they offer up, what they really mean is they’re too busy for you, they’re too broke for you. They have the money and time to do what they want, but they’ve chosen to spend it in the way that is most fulfilling for them. The reality is that we aren’t always going to be a person’s first choice.
Since then, I’ve realized my perception of the depth these relationships was inaccurate. Some of these fall outs were happening with people that I, in the grand scheme of life, did not know for very long. Yet I wondered why I was getting passed up by friends of mine so that they could spend time with those who they had deeper relationships with? My misconception of the intimacy of these relationships likely has to do with my tendency to become emotionally invested in people very (too) quickly.
Another aspect of this expectation based issue I’ve encountered is that I can be an incredibly spontaneous person, the type who will hit you up out of nowhere and suggest that we hang out that night or within a few days. While this works for some, for a lot of people, they require you to ask them x amount of time in advance otherwise it’s not going to happen, typically leaving me feeling frustrated and unimportant.
I’ve come to understand that these people were operating in this manner because it works for them and makes their lives easier, not because they were intentionally trying to make me feel ostracized. Are there people that I genuinely believe treated me in a questionable way and possibly even manipulated my investment in them for their own benefit instead of just being honest with me? Absolutely, but that isn’t always the truth and it’s unfair of me to act like it is. Everyone can’t “do” spontaneity, and not everyone should have to just because I prefer it. I was placing certain expectations on others without having consideration for what might be best for their schedules.
There are some people who simply prefer to have as few expectations placed on them as possible, especially by people with whom their relationship only has a finite history, and instead of me trying to force these people into relating how I relate, I should have just moved on — or, modified my expectations to be more accommodating, which sometimes is easier said than done, especially for me.
So for the time being, the conclusion I’ve reached is that I must declare a death of expectation. The less I expect of others, the easier it is for me to move through life in a way where I don’t feel continually damaged by a lack of reciprocation, because the toll it has taken on me has proven to be overwhelming. Decreasing your expectation of others, while it can be painful and disheartening, provides a freedom to take things as life brings them to you, allowing you to be more grateful for the good that comes your way. Plus, this way it’s less discouraging when something doesn’t pan out.
For those out there like me, who naively jump in too deep too fast and end up getting hurt, I want you to know that I feel you, I see you, and I hear you. That said, it is up to you to figure out what is healthy and functional for your relationships. For me, I’m opting to lower my expectations.
Photos (in order of appearance) by Joseph McDermott, @wiissa0, and Victor Sjöström.