Chapter 14: Raising Expectations

Last Friday was Valentine’s Day. I used to make a fuss about Valentine’s Day a lot. In my earlier days as single, I used to desperately try arranging a date for the 14th of February. In my previous relationship years, I would expect my boyfriend to surprise me with something sweet and special on this day of love. But no matter how much I wanted the stereotypical bouquet of flowers accompanied by a fancy dinner, I never got it. None of my romanticised dreams ever came true; I only ended up feeling frustrated, with the impression of being seemingly unloved and uncared about. Year after year, I envied all women getting showered by tokens of love on Valentine’s Day while I received nothing.

Because the 14th February kept disappointed me, I learned to not care about it anymore. Therefore, this year has been the first time that I did not bother with it. I mean, Valentine’s only represents this arbitrarily chosen day for proclaiming affection anyway, and its biggest benefactor manifests the industry alone. So, this year I decided to not treat this 14th February any different than the other 365 days of the year. But now guess what happened…I received a rose – not to mention, my very first rose ever.

Of course, my romantic Valentine’s fantasies had to come true when I had given up on them already. Life seems to enjoy this little game a lot. The game, wherein it withholds you the object of your desire until you lose interest, only to surprise you by fulfiling your wishes eventually – of course, at a time when you had expected it the least. This is precisely what had occurred last Friday. Without a specifically arranged date for Valentine’s, and without the thought of receiving an affectionate gift crossing my mind in the slightest, I found myself getting handed a rose by this guy who I believed was more a friend than a love interest. He and I had spontaneously decided to go for drinks together to celebrate mid-term deadlines being over. By pure coincidence it had happened to be Valentine’s Day which is why I had not expected that rose from him whatsoever.

Speaking of which, this brings me to the point of this post: Expectations. We raise expectations. We raise them towards the world, towards others, and certainly towards ourselves. We raise them consciously, sometimes unconsciously. Expectations are either met or failed. When they are met we feel satisfied; when they are exceeded we gleam with happiness and joy; but when reality fails to live up to them, we feel beaten up, betrayed, hurt, and emptied.

The truth is though that not any met expectation manages to fulfil us as thoroughly as an unforeseen reward – a happy surprise, so to speak. Just remember all the times when your expectations where exceeded although you had not even formed any expectations in the first place. When you had finally managed to discard expectations that kept disappointing you in the past, and then those very same old desire suddenly turned into reality after all. The times when your dreams came true in the moment when you were least prepared for it to happen: just like my story about last Valentine’s Day. Those are the times when you were moved by unconditional content and bliss, aren’t they?

Perhaps we should discard our expectations altogether because they tend to cause us disappointment and negative emotions. I cannot speak for you, but as far as I am concerned I could call out a dozen times when my expectations got disappointed. In fact, it hurts the most when it is people, especially close friends or family, not acting in the way we expected them to. We all create images, mental templates, of the people that are part of our life. It is only natural to presume behaviour of others, and it is our most intimate relations that we approach with the strongest expectations. Hence why our most intimate contacts hold the power to disappoint us the most.

For example, I assume your parents are the people you automatically expect to care about you. Hence, if they violate this expectation, your reality falls apart like a broken mirror. My mum shattered my reality when she abandoned me during my hardest time in life. In my first semester at university, I struggled so much with the financial burden of paying the mere essentials for a living that I sank into a dark whole of a depression. At that time, my mum would talk with me, asking how things were going; thus, she knew about my situation and my desperate need for money. Nevertheless, she showed no intentions to help although she obviously enjoyed a more regular income than I did; in fact, she apparently possessed so much money that she was able to afford a lawyer for an unnecessary lawsuit against my dad. When I realised that she prioritised paying a third person over her own child in need, I felt the utmost disappointed like I never had before.

Experiences like these make it seem as expectations are nothing but an ungrateful scam. Thinking about such immense disappointments, it begs the question why we do not get rid of all our expectations to begin with. Discarding all expectations must surely allow us to live life a little bit freer from sorrows.

However, there is a flip side to the coin.

Without any expectations we would lose our inner sense of orientation. Expectations lay out directions for the choices we make in life as we would otherwise get overwhelmed by the infinite range of opportunities. They bring certainty to the uncertainty in this world.  Think about how nervous you get when you do not know what can be expected. When the future is unpredictable, we become anxious, and it is expectations that help us predict what is to come.

Also, expectations represent the fundament to defining our standards. They reflect our values, determining how we want to be treated, who we want to be, and what we want from life in general. Any violation of them signals us that a change is needed which usually means to distance ourselves from bad influences, while trying something new. In sum, expectations are useful for guiding our decisions, for providing a framework in our life, and for encouraging us to grow.

Considering this I guess erasing all expectations does not solve the problem even if some heartache could be spared for sure. But approaching life without any expectations would leave us hiding away in vacuum, which is impossible indeed. Accordingly, the challenge is to keep expectations realistic, so that we do not get disappointed as easily and often. Finding a golden balance between too little and too high expectations is a hard-learned skill, a life-long apprenticeship.

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