Sometimes we create our own heartbreaks through expectation.
I often joke with my husband that if we could just rid the world of jewelry commercials, sappy movies and basically all media portrayals of romance, we could save a lot of relationships. I mean, take a look at the reality tv show The Bachelor. Based on the recurring details in that show, all dinner dates should be surrounded by magical candlelight hanging from trees. Daters should expect to be picked up by a limo at the very least, if not a helicopter. A proposal must be on a piece of land only large enough for 2 people, adorned with rose petals from 2 million roses, and surrounded by crystal blue water. Oh, and of course both people are dressed in designer outfits with not a hair out of place.
This isn’t real. We know this isn’t real. Everyone knows that’s not real life. Right?
In that place where our logic lies, we know these scenes are masterfully crafted by a huge team of creative people. Nonetheless when it comes time for us to be in those big life moments-- a proposal, a wedding, a monumental birthday, the birth of a child do we tap into that logic? Or has a little piece of that dreamland unexpectedly lodged itself somewhere in your imagination?
Too often, I’ve seen, and experienced, how these unnoticed and unspoken expectations sneak up, and sort of block us from accepting what’s happening right in front us. Most of the time, a person doesn’t realize she or he had a vision for that moment until the moment passes, and suddenly is left feeling heartbroken, confused or disappointed that it wasn’t at all what they were expecting.
One odd but common expectation has to do with emotions-- what sorts of emotions we secretly expect of ourselves, our partners, or our families. Weddings and births are prime situations when these emotional expectations come up. We watch examples of these two events over and over again, sometimes in real life, but more often through tv, movies, and books. More often than not, even if the circumstances are vastly different, we’ve come to expect that someone is going to shed a tear or two at a wedding. Or that a mother will cry in bliss as her baby is handed to her for the first time. That a groom will be speechless and wide eyed when he turns around to see his wife in a gorgeous gown before a big event.
Do these emotions happen in real life? Absolutely. Sure. Sometimes. But what happens when they don’t? Examples I’ve witnessed: Someone’s disappointed.. Or wondering what he or she did wrong? Wondering if they didn’t look as great as they thought. Or if their maternal instinct is faulty and malfunctioning. Or if their families and friends aren’t happy for them, since they aren’t in tears.
One of my jobs as an event coordinator is to help people get really clear about their expectations. To think through, in advance, how they want to feel about an event or special day. How they want others to feel. How can we acknowledge, check, and make space for those feelings and expectations? (E.g. Designating special time on a wedding day with a parent, carving out a window of time for a bridal couple to be together on their own.) And if there are expectations or hopes that need to be communicated to partners or other family members, thinking through how to do so.
That said, sometimes all those movies and tv shows sneak up on us in surprising ways, and boom. Expecting and even picturing a specific emotion from another person is so risky. Yet we do it all the time. And then we are so disappointed when reality doesn’t meet our picture. But A) did that person know they were supposed to cry? And B) should they really be expected to emote just because we had pictured it? Finally, C) Do we really get to hold that against them? Perhaps if two people have an agreement. What we do though is not an agreement, it’s an expectation. An expectation that we carry in the swirling images in our imagination that no one else knows about, but us.
Check back with us soon to see Part 2: What to do with an Expectation Hangover
Including tips on: How to manage expectations. How to manage other people’s expectations Tips for alleviating the pressure of an expectation