Many people create mental expectations of what we should do or be. For parents, it’s common for them to create a mental image of how they want us to grow up. Friends, mentors, spouses, sexual or romantic partners, kink play partners, and other people in our lives can also create these expectations.
What is an expectation? It’s different from a dream or a wish. I may wish that someone would do something or be something, but I don’t expect it of them. What’s the difference? If they don’t fulfill my wish, it’s not the end of the world. Their freedom to choose their own path is more important to me than my personal desires for their life. But if I let it become an expectation, I am sure to be bitterly disappointed and upset if they don’t do what I want, which puts unfair pressure on them to fulfill MY plan for their life instead of letting them freely choose their own way.
In a nutshell, an expectation is you planning out aspects of another person’s life for them and being upset when they choose their own way instead.
How many times have we heard people say that they can’t disappoint their family, that they feel pressured to do something because their loved ones expect it of them? How many kids have dealt with having to disappoint their parents because the life they ended up living wasn’t the life their parents had planned out for them? How many marriages/partnerships/relationships have dissolved because the partners expected each other to be a certain way?
Here are a few examples of harmful expectations:
Expecting your child to grow up to be a certain way- ie follow a certain religion, accomplish certain things, join a specific profession, get married, have children, be straight, live close to home, carry on the family business, etc.
Expecting your friend to always think like you, to never change their opinions or contradict your own.
Expecting your student to go on to do the same things you did when you finished your schooling. eg a teacher who is upset that their star musician didn’t join a major orchestra like they did.
Expecting your relative to hold the same political beliefs as the rest of the family. eg “We’re all Republicans, you should be too!”
Expecting your spouse/partner/significant other to fulfill specific ideals that you have.
Expecting a kink playmate to change to fit your ideals, or being upset when you discover that they aren’t interested in something you thought they would be.
(Note: This idea of not having expectations does not apply to expectations of safety and consent and other things that directly affect other people in a potentially harmful way. Those are always to be expected, for obvious reasons, just like we expect people to not rob or murder us. Safety and consent should always be discussed by the participants to make sure they’re on the same page.)
What expectations have the people in your life had for you? Did you have to break those expectations, or did you feel pressured to fulfill their expectations at the expense of what you wanted?