On a rare date night over the holiday weekend, my husband and I went out to a movie. As has happened several times before, we cut it too close trying to get the kids fed and ourselves out the door, and the movie we had planned to see was sold out. After a moment of indecision, we decided to see the next showing of “Flight.” Neither of us knew anything about it other than that it starred Denzel Washington. Good enough for us.
We both ended up enjoying the movie, which sparked some deeper conversations than we normally have. Mainly since our normal conversations are about laundry and the squirrel that may or may not have taken up residence in the basement. But the point isn’t whether the movie was good or bad, the point is that neither of us had any expectations going into it.
I have found again and again that a big source of unhappiness in my life is caused by my expectations. Mostly, my expectations about other people. How often do you catch yourself thinking something like, a good husband should be X. A real friend would never so Y. Well-raised children should always Z. Me? Often.
And then when people don’t conform to my expectations — as so often happens with unspoken, frequently unrealistic expectations — I am disappointed. Annoyed. Bitter.
I think the expectation of gratitude is the worst. How many times have you thought, I did such-and-such for this person and THAT’S how they act?! And I’m not just talking about making dinner for my kids. Expecting a certain response takes away all the enjoyment of doing the nice thing in the first place.
But something kind of great happens when you’re able to let go of your expectations. Not only are you pleasantly surprised if things turn out well, but you free yourself from the anxiety of worrying about what happens if they don’t. You release yourself from caring about the outcome. If the Denzel Washington movie had been terrible, I wouldn’t have cared. Because I didn’t expect anything going into it.
I realize that letting go of expectations is filed under “easier said than done.” It’s like when you’re single and people tell you to stop worrying so much about finding a mate. “The minute you stop looking the perfect guy will fall in your lap!” these people say confidently and not at all believably. So then you go around telling yourself: Stop looking. I’m not looking. I’m really, REALLY not looking. This is me not looking for a boyfriend! But that’s like telling someone to not think of an elephant. So then you’re STILL looking but trying to pretend that you’re NOT and beating yourself up over it. Or maybe that was just me.
Anyway, it takes practice, this releasing-your-expectations thing. I tried it again when we took the whole family to a holiday event that turned out to be horribly crowded, expensive, and not that much fun. In the past I might have been really pissed off about it and felt guilty that I dragged everyone there. But not this year. Oh, well. Better luck next time.
So now I’m going to turn my attention — or wait, LACK of attention? This is hard! — to my expectations of others. This is me not caring if I get any comments on this post. This is me not expecting my husband to read my mind and get me the perfect gift for Christmas. And THIS is me not expecting that I will magically transform into a chill, go-with-the-flow person this holiday season. Because, come on. This is mindfulness, not magic.
Have you consciously let go of expectations in your life? If so, what was the outcome?