Not really a fun thing, but a thing all the same and I have been learning how to do it better over the past few months and much more so recently.
A little backstory…
All of my life I’ve done this thing where I subconsciously expect people to behave the way I would behave or respond to things the way that I would respond to them. Living with expectations like that has often left me feeling confused, conflicted, surprised and disappointed by the way things were not handled at all in the way that I would have handled them or in the way that I expect them to be handled. Not very fun. But… I just didn’t know there was a different way to live. So, I went on expecting people to behave in the way I thought they should and letting their lack of cooperation in this endeavor, really effect me.
I found the kink and poly communities about five years ago and my life has forever been changed. I began learning sooooooo much about people and communication and consent and interacting with other humans and [autonomy][http://www.dictionary.com/browse/autonomy] and myself. That knowledge has completely altered the way I see and engage with the world and continues to do so.
Managing expectations is one of the areas of my life most affected by this new view.
So, what does managing expectations mean, exactly?
To me, it means letting people be who they are without imposing my expectations on them or their behavior, their thoughts or their actions. It means not allowing people’s behaviors, thoughts and actions to affect me because I think they should be behaving differently or thinking and acting a different way than they are. It means not allowing my behaviors, thoughts and actions to be determined by the way other people respond to things, particularly when they respond in a way that is different from how I expect them too.
I like it when those I care about reach out to me on a regular basis, just to say hi, to chat, to share a funny joke or story… just to stay in touch. This can become an expectation if I am not careful. Then, when that reaching doesn’t happen for a while or doesn’t happen in just the way that I think it should, I end up feeling disconnected and disappointed and confused.
I try really hard to look at a person’s situation and motives when assessing a behavior of theirs and assigning malice or disinterest or insincerity to that behavior. I strive to understand where they are coming from, what is going on with them, what is happening in their lives that would make them behave in such a way or think such a thing. Because I place such a high importance on doing this, when others don’t extend the same cautious courtesy to me it can be very upsetting to me. That’s really not ok… for either of us.
A thing is happening between me and another person and my little brain gets to running away with itself with all of the ways I want the thing that’s happening to happen. Then those thoughts grow into expectations. I start expecting things to happen a certain way. I start expecting the person to respond a certain way or treat me a certain way. Their failure to behave in the way I expect them too will begin to affect me in a negative way. It will impact my thoughts on the thing that is happening and the way that I see the person it is happening with and seriously… who the fuck is that fair too? Not me and certainly not them.
Someone important to me is experiencing personal growth but not learning the lessons as quickly as I expect them to be able too or not learning them the way I expect them too or not putting them into practice in the way I expect them too or as well as I think they can. Then I am frustrated and disappointed with them because they aren’t living up to MY expectations of THEIR learning and growth.
But this is where expectation management comes into play. It has two parts for me.
Managing my expectations requires me to scale my personal expectations back and to allow other people to behave as they are going to behave and to respond as they naturally respond to things. It means keeping my expectations in check and allowing things to happen just as they will happen. Managing my expectations means that I don’t drag other people into my expectations and that I don’t allow people’s failure to meet my personal expectations to change the way I feel about those people and the situations we find ourselves in.
All of the disconnect, the disappointment, the confusion… it’s all happening because I am not managing my expectations well. It is up to me to understand when certain behaviors of other people are just those people being themselves and when they are failing to meet one of my unspoken expectations that I have thrust upon them. I have to take a step back and reevaluate the situation and decide what emotions being evoked actually belong to them and which are the result of an expectation they may not even be aware of.
Unspoken expectations put upon other people in our lives can lead to tremendous amounts of resentment and disappointment and doubt. No good can come from that. The worst part is that they may never even know what happened, what they did… they may never even realize that an expectation has been put upon them.
The other part of managing my expectations is to be proactive and take steps to communicate with the important people in my life. Expectation management dictates that I communicate with them how I am feeling about things, how certain behaviors affect me and what I need from them to keep my expectations in check. If I don’t tell them that this thing is important to me… if we don’t discuss things that may become expectations in my world, then that important person in my life becomes an un-consensual (is that a word?) player in my expectation game. They don’t have a copy of the rules, they don’t know what the board looks like… they may not even know that they have become a player.
They don’t know that by not communicating with me often enough, they are leaving me feeling disconnected and disappointed… that by not considering my situation, they are hurting my feelings… that because the thing that is happening between us isn’t happening in the way I think it should be, my demons have started whispering in my ear that it didn’t mean as much to them or maybe I heard the things that they said wrong or maybe it’s not going to be what I thought it was going to be after all. They don’t know that even through all of their efforts at personal growth and change, I’m left feeling like they could do more, that they could do it better and that leads me to feeling like they just aren’t trying. All of that kinda sucks for them. It sucks for me too and, it’s all happening because I’m failing to do my part and communicate with them. Unspoken expectations can cause some serious issues in all kinds of situations.
However, if we talk about it and the other person involved understands how important these things are to me and we can sit down together and agree to a set of behaviors that will help me feel connected to them and which creates expectations that we both agree upon and consent too being a part of. Then the expectations become a consensual and understood part of whatever relationship we are in.