I am so tired I am using my hand to hold up my head as I write this. But a promise is a promise so I am writing. It may suck today but then again it may be the most insightful writing ever. That’s the thing, you never really know what’s going to happen. Never.
Take my pregnancy for instance. I had dreamed about getting married and having a baby since I could remember. When I was around children I just lit up. Their innocence, cuteness, wonderment, laughter. And my family just loved children, so it was either hereditary or contagious.
In any case, I didn’t get pregnant until I was 37, the first year of my marriage, and boy was I excited. When that little stick turned pink or blue or had a positive sign, whatever it was, so long ago that I cannot recall, I was thrilled. I couldn’t WAIT to tell someone. So, I looked at my little red poodle and said, “PepAroni, we’re pregnant!” He was thrilled. (I named him PepAroni after his Italian cousin MacAroni, from a storybook I published long ago.)
Anyhow, I had to wait the whole day until my husband “A” came home. It’s appropriate that he’s A because that’s the initial of it first name and he was my first husband. I haven’t met B yet. Although I did have a B relationship just after so maybe I’m waiting for C. Where I am going with this? Okay, back to story. Surprise husband with baby news!
I went out to the local Walmart to find a baby gift to wrap up and use as a surprise to hand to him when he came home from work. I picked out little white baby booties, so adorable. The other reason I wanted children, to buy those incredibly cute little clothes. (One of the worst reasons to become a parent, but whatever).
I went home, wrapped it up and put together a picnic. When he came home I told him I wanted to take a walk to our local park in Bowie, Maryland, called Allan Pond. It was in short walking distance from our little house. So, I put Pep on a leash, handed A the food goodies and we walked hand in hand to the park. We laid out a blanket and the food, with my heart pumping a mile a minute . I had waited 37 years for this moment!
We sat down and I pulled out all the food containers. Then I said, “Before we eat I have something to give you.” I took the little package from my coat pocket and handed it over, trying to hide the smile that wanted to burst from my face. He slowly opened the package (it always seems slow when you want someone to rip it open!). As he pulled out the little white baby booties, I yelled, “We’re pregnant.”
And he replied, “I know,” in a flat, matter of face voice. Cue sound of balloon bursting. I was completely deflated and disappointment was written all over my face. Now, you should know A was a very cerebral person, he didn’t wear his emotions on his sleeve. Well, let me clarify, when he wanted to court me he was very expressive.
When he was newly in love with me he expressed his love and compassion and kindness very openly. We would read, “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” together. We would talk about hopes and dreams and our feelings for one another. But generally, he was very cerebral. This was totally NOT the time to be cerebral.
Thankfully, I had recently finished re reading the book, “A Return to Love,” by Marianne Williamson. (Highly recommend this book!). In one part of the book Marianne recounts a time when her boyfriend tells her something and her response was something she didn’t like. So she says, “I want a do over.” He tells her that thing again and then she responds in a more powerful way.
So, I say to A, ” THAT IS NOT WHAT YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO SAY.” About that loud and it probably echoed around the pond and woke up half the men in the neighborhood who thought their wives were saying that exact thing. “Aren’t you happy? Aren’t you excited?” I ask. “Yes,” he replies. “Then act it!” I demand.
I should explain, he does not always know how to act appropriately in social situations, he can be awkward or shy or blurt out things that make people uncomfortable. Definitely an introvert who tries his best to have conversations and connections when he’s not always skilled.
So, I say, let’s have a do-over. I’m going to tell you I’m pregnant and you’re going to get really excited, give me a big hug and a kiss and we’re going to celebrate. ” I re-wrapped the gift and handed it to him once again. He unwrapped it and I exclaimed, “I’m pregnant!” and he smiles and says, “Oh my god, that’s wonderful, I’m so excited,” and he puts his arms around me and gives me a big hug and a kiss. And I’m happy. It actually worked to have a do over. And we went on to have a nice picnic by the lake and imagine all the wonderful things that becoming a parent would entail. We dreamed and talked and laughed and PepAroni begged for food, a perfect picnic.
This could have been a disaster. I could have been totally disappointed. I could have started a fight. I could have made him feel like a piece of crud. I could have sulked and told the entire world what a terrible human being he was. But that didn’t happen. I chose to be honest, ask for a do over and give clear expectations or guidance for a person who simply sometimes, without malice or ill intentions, didn’t have a clue as to how hurtful and disappointing “take one” would be.
Expectations can really be the death of a relationships, especially if you never share what yours are. We all grow up with expectations of how friendships, jobs, children, and even life is supposed to be. And we cannot control how things turn out. But we can share expectations with those in a relationship who care about the relationship and want to participate fully. And they have every right to say, “yea, no I’m not going to do that, but this instead would be okay.”
It’s not about control or manipulation, it’s about understanding the hidden expectations you have and cluing in your partner about them. Some people expect their marriage to be like their parent’s relationship. One example is: Person A, as a child, got up every morning and the mom cooked breakfast for everyone. So when Person A gets married he/she expects the partner to do the same, cook for everyone. But Person B grew up in a family where everyone made their own breakfast, so he/she thinks that’s what’s going to happen every morning. Can you imagine the first morning together? (In a world where people never slept over before marriage. You know, that world.)
Person A, let’s call him Dan, goes downstairs, sits at the dining room table and waits for Person B, let’s call them Pat, to come downstairs and prepare eggs and bacon. Pat comes downstairs, walks into the kitchen and starts making their own meal, cereal and toast. Dan is watching in disbelief. He thinks, “You don’t even notice that I’m here waiting for you. You’re only thinking of yourself. You don’t even care about me!” And maybe even says one of these wonderfully connected thoughts aloud. Or he holds it in all day feeling resentful. His expectation has not been met, and he can choose to share that or not.
Scenario 1: Dan says, “Aren’t you going to make breakfast for me?” Pat says, “What, can’t you make it for yourself? Are your arms broken or something?” (Pat is clearly enlightened). Scenario 2: Dan realizes Pat is not going to make his breakfast so he gets the cereal out and pours his own. That night he tells Pat he realizes he had an expectation their marriage would be like his parents and they discuss how to deal with these expectations. In the most open dialogue they would share each expectation and come up with a plan how to deal with meals in the future.
But, most of the time we aren’t conscious of our own expectations nor do we share them, in advance or after the event. So, a do over is a great method, as is talking about expectations prior to events. What is your expectation of a best friend, a boss, your child. Get clear in your own mind. And see what stories you may come up with about that expectation. One I found for myself was, if they didn’t do X, they must not love me or care for me. That could not be further from the truth.
I once had the courage to convey an expectation to a good friend and shared it in this way. I said, “I realize that it’s really important to me to have friends who call me and check in with me, how was your day today, kind of thing.” She told me how she doesn’t need that at all, but she heard me and said she would try to do that more often. So I changed my expectation about her. I understood that was not her style, not her strong suit.
As I looked at my friendships in general I could see that some people were the, “I always be there in the tough times” kinda friend. Others were the “let’s hang out from time to time.” Some were , “I can talk you through stuff but I’m just too busy to spend time with anyone but my immediate family.” None of them had to do with how much they care about me, or how caring of a person they are, but it about what works for them in terms of friendships.
So, check in with yourself. What are your expectations? When people aren’t meeting them, and they seem really reasonable, have you shared them? If you expectation is that you expect people to read your mind and know what you need and appropriately respond or know before you do and do the exact thing you need, you might want to reconsider the expectation. Be realistic. Don’t expect an introvert (husband A) to be an extrovert. But you can offer tools and ways to keep a connection that means something to you. Or you may find this person just cannot or will not even try to meet your expectations.
And, more deeply. What are the expectations you hold of yourself? To be a perfect partner, parent, worker? I definitely held expectations of never making mistakes and would really beat myself up if I missed something at work, or said the “wrong” thing to my loved one, or lost my temper with my child. Then, I started being a little kinder to myself and allowed myself “mistakes.” I would apologize and take responsibility but I wouldn’t beat myself up.
Ok, so you see my expectation when I began writing was that this blog would probably suck. WRONG. At least I think so. I expect you to fully love it and write me a long love letter in response. Hmmm…maybe I need to look at that expectation.
With great expectations, grandi aspettative
Barbara Your Intentional (expectant) Co-Creator
PR expert and author of Feeling Loved, A Ted E. Bear Story