This article is part of the 2015 Word of the Month series, based on the monthly theme featured in the Every Day Matters 2015 Diary I designed for Watkins Publishing. In the planner, each month has a theme highlighted in the weekly illustrations, quotes, and activities. This month's theme is LOVE.
As I often do when February rolls around, I’ve been thinking lately about love. In particular, I’ve been thinking about what that all-encompassing, difficult-to-define word really means, particularly when it comes to expectations of what love should be — and what we expect of others when we're in love.
Take a moment to think about the people you love. Now consider what you expect from them.
I’m not talking about basic human decency and kindness. You expect your husband not to cheat on you. You expect your girlfriend to be honest with you. You expect your significant other to speak kindly to you. What I’m talking about is: once you have all the basic expectations met, what else do you expect from your loved ones? And how do those expectations translate into how you feel about them? How do you feel (and act) when those expectations aren’t met? Are those expectations realistic? Necessary?
It’s difficult not to have expectations. We’ve all had previous experiences we want to recreate or avoid. We all have pressure from society to follow certain love (often gender-based) guidelines. For example, a guy should call a girl after a certain amount of time after a date or a husband should plan a fabulous Valentine's Day outing for his wife or a girl should behave a certain way when it comes to communicating with a guy. We all want to feel loved and respected and admired and, like it or not, some part of us wants others around us to view our love in a positive way. For example, we want our friends to think our boyfriend meets societal expectations.
Society places a lot of pressure on love and sets up a lot of expectations for what it should be, but I wonder how many of us would have these expectations if they weren't set up for us. It's important to look at love-related expectations and ask: Are the expectations you set what you actually want? Or are they what you think you should want?
Expectations are all about looking to the future and anticipating that something will happen in the way we do (or don't) want it to. Expecting the opposite of being present and it also has a lot to do with control. We expect from others because, on some level, we want to control them, to feel as if we have some say over (or at least an understanding of) how they will act. But control isn't love. Expectations aren't love.
Lots of questions came to mind once I started thinking about how expectations play into the world of love, but perhaps one of the most important questions I pondered was this: What would your relationship be like if you let go of those expectations? Is it even possible to love without expectation?
It's possible — and probably very beneficial to your relationship — to love without expectation, but it's no easy task. We've all been trained by society and by our own families, friends, etc. to have certain expectations when it comes to a relationship. Some of these are vital and good (like not having a boyfriend that treats you badly or not dating a woman who can't be loyal), but so many of these only hinder the possibility for deep connections with others. It won't be easy to let go of expectations (especially if you've had them for quite some time), but here are some ideas for loving without expectation.
(As you read these tips, please keep two things in mind: (1) expectations are not always a bad thing; sometimes they are necessary and useful and (2) loving without expectation does, in no way, mean acting like a doormat and letting people walk all over you; it's about having self-respect while letting go of control.)
BE MINDFUL OF WHAT YOU EXPECT
Most of us set expectations for our loved ones without even realizing it. We expect the timing and actions of others to follow a set of rules we've established. Some of these rules are good, but some of them are arbitrary. When taking note of your expectations, consider these questions: Is it really your expectation or is it society’s? Or is it someone else’s — like a parent, friend, etc.? What are the expectations based on? Gender? Personal desire? What your relationship looks like to others? Look closely at your expectations and see if they have a true, positive purpose. Make sure your expectations are your own — and they’re your own for a reason. When you look closely at your expectations, you might find that they aren't necessary at all and they might not even be things you need. Also, in conjunction with being mindful of what you expect, it's important to communicate expectations with others. Be mindful, but don't keep it all in your mind.
LET GO OF THE NEED FOR CONTROL
This can be tough to do if you like to be in control or if you've held expectations for a long time, but being open-minded to letting go of current expectations can be an incredibly positive choice, both for your own peace of mind and for the relationship. Consider this: Are you trying to connect with the other person or direct him or her to do what works for you? Are you more focusing on directing others than connecting with them? When we focus on connecting with others — rather than trying to directing them to meet our expectations — we start letting go of control and find that we can be more present in the relationship. When you’re connecting with others — and by this I mean real mutual connecting, not just trying to have moments in which you feel loved — you let go of your expectations and you appreciate what’s happening in the present moment.
DON'T KEEP SCORE
Real love isn't a game. There aren't winners and losers. Still, it's hard not to keep score sometimes, to track who appears to be putting in more effort, to want to assess who is adding more value. But if you want to love without expectation, you have to stop keeping score (even of the goods things). True love is about doing what's good for the relationship without expecting anything in return. Consider the possibility of giving without hoping for anything in return. It’s such a foreign concept to most of us that it almost sounds absurd, but that’s what true love really is — no expectations, no wanting more than what is given, no hesitation to give more and more and more. The best way to cultivate this kind of love is to stop keeping score. If a love is real, it doesn't matter who gets a better gift, who calls first, who says "I love you" more. Keeping score keeps encourages a me vs. you mentality; real love is focused on an us/we connection.
CONSIDER INNER EXPECTATIONS
It’s possible that your personal expectations are igniting the fire for some of the expectations you have for others. For example, let’s say you expected to have a live-in boyfriend by the time you were thirty and you’re dating someone in your late twenties and are starting to feel like you should move in together even if that's not where the relationship is. It’s important to look at the pressure you’re putting on that relationship all because of an arbitrary (perhaps society-pressured) expectation. It’s not a bad thing to have goals or thoughts about how you want you life to be, but make sure those expectations aren’t causing you unnecessary strife and aren’t arbitrary. And keep this in mind: just because you always thought things would be a certain way doesn’t mean that’s how they should be.
Are all expectations bad? No, not at all. Obviously we need some — like expecting others to treat us well, to be kind to us. We have to have expectations for ourselves too. We have to expect good things for ourselves, expect ourselves to get up each morning and work hard and do things that bring us happiness. But a lot of expectations aren't based on anything positive or essential. So many of them are arbitrary and cause strife in a relationship. When it comes to love, I think it's important to be aware of what we expect and to consider the ever-important question: What would this love be like if I let go of unnecessary expectations?