Sunday, November 25, 2007

Great Expectations

A mid-night conversation last week sparked the articulation of MinCat's "Philosophy" of love, life and relationships. It has been taking shape over the past two years, and it seems like every couple of months it grows just a little bit more. What better way to document it than here where I can gleefully subject y'all to a little lecture on how to live your lives? :)

Every one of us has been in what I like to call an expectationally-awkward situation at some point in our lives. Person A, in the relationship* "expects" too much of Person B, eroding B's space and peace of mind, and causing the normally stable A to mutate into a strange, moody, resentful, melodramatic creature that, frankly, neither A nor B likes, and B to become withdrawn, distant and cold.** Discomfort rises, if A is like me, then A tries to be cold and distant and fails miserably, being unable to say no to B, and rationalizes it by thinking it is also what s/he wanted to do all along, so there is no point in cutting off his/her nose to spite B. B spends more time solo or on other people in other relationships, because s/he is "teaching A not to be dependent and demanding", and assuages any guilt by telling him/herself that all relationships are unequal and s/he is only being true to him/herself.

One fine day they "have to talk". Except for one time it was always I who started this bit in my experience, though I suppose it depends on the type of A and B in the relationship. They sit down and begin. A says how s/he feels neglected/lonely/left out. B says how s/he feels pressured/claustrophobic/walled-in. A says s/he isn't asking for all that much, just a little attention, after all doesn't B care at all? B says s/he cares, but s/he is who s/he is and A can't change that and has no right to expect it to change just to accommodate A's hypersensitivity and neediness. B has lots of other friends who don't think anything is wrong with him/her! Well so does A! Good! says B. Can't A see that people love A and A needn't be so needy and clingy? The bottom line is that B needs his/her space and A is going to have to accept it.

One of two things happens here. A is deeply insecure and terrified of "losing" B and therefore gives in and makes an effort to be less demanding and less needy, especially since everyone else is telling A that s/he has too many expectations, s/he should just NOT expect anything from anyone! A stops to rethink everything s/he says or does in relation to B and interaction becomes forced and awkward. They are both holding back and watching the relationship, and neither finds the person with whom they originally wanted to interact in the relationship anymore. Eventually they reach what I call the "pre-disappointing stage" where A is expecting to be disappointed and gets no joy out of anything because s/he is always telling him/herself that s/he cannot have expectations and B will disappoint them. This would work very well if it weren't for the fact that (a) in the process of pre-disappointing A is articulating expectations anyway, albeit inverted, and (b) it didn't hide the little baby A underneath it all, who is hoping that the disappointment will be disappointed, and B will actually end up exceeding the inverted expectations. They spend less time together and eventually their relationship dies out, and both move on slightly more wary of As and Bs they might encounter later on in life. The next time A encounters a B, s/he will keep walls up and be ever-so-faintly bitter and resentful from the start, pretty much preempting any real connection, and B will sidestep and withdraw from any A s/he meets, with much the same result. Both imagine they have learned from the relationship and chalk it up to life-experience.

Alternatively, A could get angry and say well THIS is who *I* am, why should you just assume that I am the one who needs to deal with it, I can just as easily say, YOU deal with it or go. This would work except B is the more independent one in the relationship, and so B goes, leaving A hurt and resentful and bitter, and B shaking his/her head and saying never again.

With me so far?

In my life I have had at least 12 like this, with friends, family, crushes, and most recently, BSW. In the beginning I would emerge hurt and angry then it morphed to indignant and resentful (why do they always behave like this??) and finally became exasperated (how come I am the only person in the world who goes out of my way for other people and no one can be bothered to meet me halfway??? I mean, I'm not asking for more than I give!). Of all those relationships, some ended with anger and never wanting to see B again, some ended with feigned indifference but hurt bubbling under the surface, and some, thank heavens, have been salvaged by the Philosophy.

The epiphany I had was simple: the irksome part of this entire routine was that it denied the validity of that statement, "THIS is who *I* am, why should you just assume that I am the one who needs to deal with it, I can just as easily say, YOU deal with it or go" simply because B leaves. At least when A tries to deal with B in the reversed situation, B's point of view is validated. And then it struck me! The problem was not that B wouldn't deal, but that B, and everyone, acted like A had no right to be upset over B. Everyone endorsed B's right to be claustrophobic about A's behaviour, but no one accepts that A has the right to be hurt by B's, INCLUDING A!

The solution, for me, became very simple too. All I had to do was accept that I had the right to be upset, just as B had the right to feel suffocated. Of course it helps if B and "everyone else" also accept my right to be upset, but accepting it myself is the first step. I found that once I did, i no longer resented B, I was no longer indignant for my violated self (hahahaha sorry I couldn't resist) and I could regain the balance I lost when I felt insecure, and restabilize the relationship. Of course, once I was stable again, B became less like a hunted creature at bay and was more open to compromise and negotiation that were not him/her seeking protection from crazy me. And thus, the relationships survived, and I became a stronger person for them, instead of becoming one with deeper insecurities and less belief in myself. If I needed to walk away, I could walk away with dignity and joy in the good that was the relationship, and leave behind me all the ickkiness.

(I just realised that articulated, it sounds ridiculously like some self-help book. sigh.)

*by relationship I refer to interaction between two people on some level of intensity - friends, family, lovers, Sig(nificant)Oth(er)s, whatever.

**I'll be honest here, I'm an A.


  1. i think i may be a bit of an A too. but i wonder if it's fair to expect you *not* to have expectations (i know that sounds funny) but seriously. doesn't everyone have expectations? basic ones? i don't know what yours are, but shouldn't we have them so that we don't get taken advantage of? isn't it more about finding a balance so that our expectations are not unreasonable?

  2. exactly!! its when you're told you cant expect you shouldn't expect that its becomes so difficult. i think its about finding a balance so that both people in the relationship respect the other person's right to expect and not fulfill expectations.
    hmmm i guess i didn't achieve articulation after all :)

  3. But aren't you B with BLW? How does it work there?

  4. CA: no i'm never B. :) but i can deal with BSW because of zis epiphany! woo!

    nutty: hahaah thanks thats a good one!