When we last left our couple, they were coming up on their three year anniversary. They had ‘settled in’ to their life together, which meant that none of the emptiness was talked about and none of the tension broke the surface of their day to day interactions. They were adept at stepping around the gaping holes in their relationship. It was a congenial adaptation of the ‘don’t ask/don’t tell’ approach to problems. Friends and family thought they were happy. They thought they were happy. Neither had expected that the honeymoon would last forever and so both, in their own ways, had been right. They’d gotten what they had expected, what they thought was a normal marriage. Consequently, they did the next expected and normal thing. They decided to have a child.
It is, indeed, normal to expect that having a child would fill in some of the gaps between them that they both felt and wouldn’t address. They would have a new common purpose, a process and an event that they could focus upon. It felt like a purpose. It felt like a renewed sense of meaning. It felt like closeness. It was also all within the range of what was to be expected. And when the child was born, they completely expected that this new life, this ongoing shared focus, would naturally keep them, as a couple, close together. They were completely shocked when that’s not what actually happened.
(Oh, the child was loved and cared for, dear reader. That’s not the story I’m telling… although that story is common enough as well.)
What I would like to draw your attention to is the intricate interactions between the expectational waves. When neither of them knew exactly what they expected, they both did what they thought others would expect them to do. Or what they imagined others expected them to do. Few, if any, of the expectations were based in an awareness of self or in the reality of their situation. As I’ve pointed out, any and every person can be generating wave after wave of expectation in any and every situation they’re in. In case you’ve forgotten or this is the only blog you’ve read, here’s a quick refresher:
We can go into a public restroom expecting there to be toilet paper.(there may or may not be). We can dine out without expecting to be sickened or poisoned by the experience. (fast food being the exception). We can be waiting for a bus, subway, taxi or limo and expect that it will be somewhat on time, that the operator won’t be drunk and that our safety won’t be an issue.(all normal expectations that have nothing to do with the reality of what then actually happens).
The last parenthetical statement is key. Expectations do not alter the reality of a person or a situation. Expectations alter our perceptions of that person and that situation. Our expectations warp reality, bend and distort reality, without our really noticing.
Two people waiting for a flight in an airport can have distinctly different perceptions of the reality that there has been a delay. One can bluster, fret and suffer. The other can accept, read and relax. Same flight, same amount of delay, same arrival time at the other end. That’s the reality. What each of them experienced, however, were worlds apart.
With the birth of their first child, our now not so youngish couple’s marriage became even less of the joining or union of two lives and more of those two lives operating in parallel. There was a physical proximity, additional responsibilities and a new life between them. But this didn’t bring them closer together as people. It simply kept them together longer.
That’s the ending most of us experience.
It didn’t have to be this way.
But what did you expect?
A. Charles – I am delighted we got the end of the story but it was a sad one. An all too familiar story. It is another one of those examples of our expectations actually limiting us. The reality, the possibilities, are far bigger and better if we drop our expectations and simply and completely participate in honesty and continual “check-ins”. .. real conversations.