Expectations are funny things. For something that can’t be touched, or seen or smelled, I marvel at how something so seemingly invisible could be so not-invisible. Visible?

I am always tripped up by my expectations, sometimes because I expect something to be different (better) than it is, but mostly by expecting people to do things the way I would do them. I’m reluctant to admit feeling my way is the right way, but unrequited expectations can only mean that very thing. Because really I imagine I’m the nicest, most smartest, most thoughtful-est person in the whole widest world, and anybody who would do anything different must be doing it wrong. Poor Marc, marriage for him is a particularly dangerous mine field – I expect.

I was recently saddened by what I can only describe as mis-matched expectations. I zigged, they zagged, and despite explanations that resonate completely with the zagger, my zigger just couldn’t get it. I tried to listen and understand, because despite my aforementioned perfect-ness, I really do recognise I’m nuts and try to accommodate the sanity around me. Yet there we were, round and round, back and forth, cosmos filling the void between us, and we could do nothing to bridge the disagreement gulf. I imagine the zagger would say we parted ways on conduct, I’d say I zigged over feelings, but either way, we each expected the other to act, then react, differently. So here I am, with all my ideals about  having a moral compass, respect and integrity, and all I have to hold is frayed disappointment, which is about as weighty and invisible as the expectations that caused it.

All grown up and in firm control of what I do with my expectations and the disappointment that may or may not arise from them, I realise my conundrum is really a parenting one: is there a way to teach Kate and Simon to have a strong compass, to embrace compromise but not at the expense of their integrity, to be understanding and thoughtful and to believe the world is full of like-minded people? And can it be done without making them expectation-full and relentlessly let-down by the differences that make people unique and interesting?   I want them to treat people with dignity and expect it in return, and to know when it’s missing, and walk away when it is.  That it’s possible for a boyfriend or girlfriend, or friend, or family member or fellow transit rider/shoe shiner/roofer/gardener/boss/colleague/barista to be as committed to kindness and respect. Are you not always surprised by someone who honks because you’re not turning fast enough, or swears at a cashier in a grocery line for forgetting to ring in a coupon, because I am. I am surprised everyday I see strangers yell at other strangers for getting in their way, and when it happens to me personally, stranger or otherwise, the shock is a thousand fold.

So maybe I’m enormously a tiny bit sensitive, but there has to be somewhere in between it being okay to holler over a mistaken no-foam-but-got-the-foam-latte and horror over the hollering. Certainly there a few, incontrovertible expectations most of us can heartily agree on. For instance, at least as far as I can tell, we’re in agreement that murder is generally bad, we don’t want people to do it, and in fact expect them not to. When someone does engage in the murdering, we are disappointed, collectively, and collectively, expect it not to happen again. Even when it does. Again. And again, and again, and again. Same for driving drunk, abuse, hurting children, ATM charges, system access fees and the impossibly (and infuriating) short supply of the iPhone 4. We expect these things to be different from they are, is that wrong?

After considering the crude list above, I realise the argument lies in that few things are in fact incontrovertible, that for every obnoxious cash machine in a corner store, there’s someone bottle feeding instead of breast feeding and the argument isn’t so clear anymore. I suppose I answer my own question on the nights I’m too exhausted to spell my name and dump a box of Kraft Dinner into a pot of boiling water instead of steaming broccoli and grilling portobello mushrooms. I suppose it’s also how you negotiate your life and the relationships with the people around you. And as hard as it is to relate when Meursault “kills the Arab“, I suspect we are all as capable of that as we are of losing our shit over a latte, given the right circumstances.

For now I’m comfortable with my disappointment, which I assure you persists. Not because I’m oddly committed to feeling bad, but because I’ll take the disappointment as a natural consequence of what I hope is the standard I hold myself to.  I’m still a tad unsure of the best way to teach/model expectations without judgment and strength with compromise, but now that I’ve talked it through I feel even more like it’s possible. Thanks.

And because she only reads my blog to find her name, hi Alison.

alison walking, 2010

p.s. I apologise if you read this before I spell-checked. My secret is out, I spell expectation wrong every time without help.

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