Why I’m Managing My Expectations of Other People

OK, so imagine the following:

  1. You organized this massive birthday surprise with no attention to detail spared for your best friend (I’m talking about those personalized balloons type detail here), but when it came time for your big day, the effort wasn’t returned and you were left disappointed.
  2. You’ve heard there’s a newly-opened restaurant in town that’s supposedly the bee’s knees (and has “the most delicious salmon in the world”), but when you checked it out, you were far from a fan.
  3. You were hoping to get some work done at your usual table at your neighborhood’s coffee shop with your favorite macchiato in tow, but showed up to see that seat was already occupied, throwing off your visit.

Do any of these sound even remotely familiar to something that’s happened in your own life? If you’re nodding your head saying, “mmhmm, yeah girl,” you met what we know as expectations in those situations. Over the years, I have been told by family, friends, and psychology, that having high expectations risk damaging my overall well-being and road to happiness. You, too, have probably heard something along the lines of:

“There are two ways to be happy: improve your reality or lower your expectations.”

While this is definitely a valid statement in its own right, looking at many situations as series of surprises versus outcomes from the expectations we make with ourselves could definitely be a hack to help us feel less defeated by matters out of our control. But does that mean that we just shouldn’t have expectations at all? Would constantly keeping them at a low end up just making us pessimists and doubtful of everyone? When we were kids, our parents and teachers reiterated the importance of wishing and dreaming big, which ultimately set us up to be more optimistic, goal-oriented, and determined individuals. Is getting rid of expectations and hopes entirely going to keep us driven and let us attain the things we think we deserve?

Is disappointment a given when expecting from others? 

We’ve all been there: doing nice things for our friends, family, and partners, and hoping in the back of our minds that they do the same for us. Many of us, though, might not get that reciprocation that we’d like, and this can cause some (rather unpleasant) tension in our relationships. We also sometimes find ourselves believing that a person can change for — in our opinion, at least — the better. Then, when they don’t show the qualities or actions we had come to expect from them, we often get upset or even offended by the fact that they’re not ticking all our boxes. This can lead to them skating on thin ice in our lives.

But let’s be real, as cliche as it might sound, mistakes are often necessary for growth in relationships. They steer us towards a conversation, and that hopefully creates a better understanding. People will slip up, and in the spirit of the classic Hannah Montana song, nobody’s perfect. We can’t expect others to change, that’s what results in the let down. The only thing we can depend on successfully is changing our attitudes towards them.

Essentially, disappointment from others is inevitable if we expect that people can simply change on their own to suit our needs and wants. All that can really be done is on our behalf: treating our relationships with respect, attention, and positivity. In turn, this will help them live their best lives, and us live our best lives.

Unburdening others and yourself

We can’t make everyone happy. I know this. You know it, too. But it’s hard reversing the sentiment sometimes. Not everyone will make us happy. Even the people that love us most. I’ve been realizing lately that I have been unconsciously placing a whole helluva lot of expectations on the people around me. While expecting certain things from your friends and family isn’t wrong, burdening them with unspoken expectations is a recipe for disaster. I’m a person who typically tries to the follow the golden rule, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” But I’ve found that this may not always be reciprocated in every single situation.

As I mentioned earlier, understanding that you have power over your decisions is important — because you rarely have power over someone else’s. For me, it has meant deciding to let go of feeling like an afterthought to those that matter to me. I’ve been working to let go because I know that real life — messy, complicated, silly real life — is better than my half-formed expectations.

Managing expectations is not always going to be easy, since there are good and bad sides to having them. We should always remember that certain things might be in our control, while many might not. What’s important is that we stay aware of all the expectations we’re creating, while also understanding the logic behind why we have them. Communication and checking in with our loved ones, as well as ourselves, may help us align what we want with what we (ideally) actually receive, and just might make us happier in the process.

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