I had to Press This blog post from Fat Ballerina. It brought me back to many memories over the last few years and made way for some deep reflection.
Reality – 1, Expectations – 0 | Fat Ballerina.
Here are my thoughts and what Fat Ballerina’s post has conjured up in me:
As a young girl I had expectations. It started with the expectation of a family. My family was broken through separation and (the constant threat of) divorce very early on and so I found refuge in the Sears catalogue. I would sit for hours and thumb through the pages looking at all the models – male, female, children. From the pictures and settings I would put together my ideal family and imagine the comfort of such a thing.
As I moved into adolescence and through into the teenage/young adult years, my expectation was for love from a boy. This of course would lead into marriage, a family, and a happily ever after. But I was lonely and shy and the boys never came. I watched other people kiss and hold hands. I watched movies where men and women had beautiful romantic encounters. I longed for love but my reality was loneliness.
Nearing 21 years old, someone stepped up. He thought I was beautiful. He treated me well. He took care of me. Right from the start of the relationship he was clear that he was in pursuit of a girlfriend, not just another girl friend, and that he would one day marry me. I was smitten. I jumped on the bandwagon of the first person to ever show a lasting interest in me.
He wanted me so, in turn, I wanted him.
And I expected from him what I’d dreamed of as a young girl. A beautiful marriage, a romantic relationship, emotional connection, a family. But I’d never shared that dream of mine with him. What he wanted I always conceded to because I didn’t want to lose my chance. I thought that eventually the expectations would become a reality. I just had to be patient.
It’s not a fair way to enter a relationship, but I didn’t know any better.
We married 10 years into the relationship. I dreamed of a beautiful wedding filled with love and romance. I didn’t know it at the time but the wedding, to him, was a party and an excuse to get kick-ass drunk. The day after our wedding he left the hotel hungover and went home. I stayed and had breakfast with our overnight guests. Alone. After breakfast, and making excuses as to why my new groom wasn’t around, I went home too where I spent the remainder of the day binging in solitude on leftover wedding cake and throwing it up in the toilet.
I expected an emotionally charged and connected relationship. But the reality was, I married an alcoholic. He’s a functioning alcoholic – he works, has a good job, pays his bills, saves for retirement, and makes sure the basic necessities are provided for. But, beyond that, he tapped out of the relationship emotionally, and has never been back.
I truly thought that by being obedient and honoring him and helping him and being a dutiful wife, that in turn, he would be won over by my Godly conduct.
The reality is though, that over the years, constant concession on my part eventually led way to resentment. I did, I did, I did and gave, and gave, and gave. But nothing was coming back to me.
The relationship began to suffer. My eating disorder got worse. The anger overcame me. I began to point fingers – YOU, YOU, YOU.
I expected so much more.
At the crux of it all, I was mid-way through treatment. My emotional state was dangerously low. The fights were constant and my anger was like a volcano ready to erupt. The emotions were difficult to contain. Hope was dying. I was dying.
But I kept trying. I kept searching. I was in the middle of reading two books at this point, one on assertiveness and one on co-dependency. Both books were resonating strongly with me in the area of expectation.
Getting lost in expectation was taking my control away and I was starting to blame everyone else for failing me.
Two ideas from each book were so important to me in helping propel me out of helplessness and I go back to them time and time again as a reminder that I am in control of one thing only – myself. I’ll share them here.
From The Assertiveness Workbook by Randy Paterson:
Recognizing that we don’t control others is not really a helpless position. This knowledge prevents us from attempting ultimately futile tasks: controlling how others think, feel, or act. A feeling of helplessness does not come from tasks that we cannot accomplish; it comes from impossible tasks we want to do, try to do, and feel we should be able to do. You seldom feel frustrated that you can’t fly like a bird, because you don’t feel that you should be able to do so. It is the belief that things should be otherwise that causes the frustration…your behaviour is your decision, and others’ behaviour is up to them.
The other is from the book Codependent No More by Melody Beattie. There are so many things in this book that were important for me to read. One part, in particular, was striking. I confronted my husband so many times about the lack of emotional commitment and about his alcoholism but was always responded to in a way that made me feel as if I was being ridiculous. This point hit home and gave me hope that I wasn’t alone:
Maybe we’ve been taught to not trust ourselves. This happens when we have a feeling and we’re told it’s wrong or inappropriate. Or when we confront a lie or an inconsistency and we’re told we’re crazy. We lose faith in that deep, important part of ourselves that feels appropriate feelings, senses truth, and has confidence in its ability to handle life’s situations. Pretty soon, we may believe what we are told about ourselves – that we’re off, a tad crazy, not to be trusted. We look at people around us – sometimes sick, troubled, out-of-control people – and we think, “They’re okay. They must be. They told me so. So it must be me. There must be something fundamentally wrong with me.” We abandon ourselves and lose faith in our ability to take care of ourselves.
And so began my process of detachment, of letting go of the things I could not and cannot control. In some ways, it’s a sad process.
I have let go of any expectation of my husband. I have zero expectation anymore in the realm of emotional and relational responsibility. He is not capable of providing the emotional stability that my heart and body yearn for. And I don’t hate him for it. In some ways, by letting up and not pushing him to perform in ways that he is not capable of doing, he has been less confrontational with me. I’m starting to see that expectation can sometimes be more of a hurt for someone else than a disappointment for me. I think my high expectations scared him. He knew he would fail so he stopped trying completely. I am actually remorseful, to some degree, for having placed such a burden on his shoulders.
I still want more from my relationship. But I’m not sure I’ll ever get it. I’m not even sure that if it came that I could welcome it. In some ways, there’s a wall up that prevents further damage. By detaching from him and giving up my expectation, my relationship with my husband has evolved into a mutual friendship. He’s a dear friend and we share many laughs together. But I’m not sure I could ever welcome him back as a lover, as a romantic partner. He doesn’t know me well enough. He doesn’t know me at all.
It’s really not all sad. Whether it sounds this way or not, I have come to happily accept that which I cannot change and instead joyfully welcome what is possible.
There is joy in simplicity. My expectations of life have dwindled and continue to do so as I age. The only enjoyable moment is the present one I’m living, not the distant one I’m hoping for. It may never come.