Disappointment only happens when there’s a misalignment of expectations. -A Close Friend
I stood in this cold, stark space filled with nothing but one bed and some boxes. This was my new home for the next year.
We had set off early. The sun was still rising as we made the hour-long trip east, coffees in hand. The radio was on to mask the silence. Were they sad? Were they glad to have me out of the house?
As we came upon the city skyline, I asked my stepdad specifics about the logistics of where we needed to go and what would happen next. Thankfully, he knew exactly what we needed to do and where we needed to go. I realized I should relish that moment, because after today, I would have to figure these things out for myself.
I had it all planned out once we got to my new college dorm. We would unpack together, I would introduce them to my roommates and their parents, and then we would all go out for lunch together. They would spend the whole day helping me get settled and acclimate to this new place.
We arrived and checked in. We were given a key for the dorm and a map of campus. We navigated our way through the students and parents, dodging boxes and beds. You could feel the anxious excitement coupled with an undertone of sadness. My parents made lighthearted comments about the courtyard and the dorm. We found our way to my room on the 3rd floor in the corner. We were the first of three of us to arrive, so I selected my bed and we made 3-4 trips with boxes and bags.
As my stepdad sat the last bag on my bed, he looked around and said, “Well, we’ll miss you. This will be great. Call if you need anything. We’re gonna head back home.” A lump formed in my throat and it was everything I could do to keep the tears from streaming down my face. I could see that Mom was emotional too. Maybe they needed to leave because it was too hard. But what about me?
We hugged, and they left. Two minutes after the door closed and I knew for sure they weren’t coming back, I sat with my unpacked boxes and cried for what seemed like an hour until I heard a knock on the door. It was a roommate! I pulled myself together and opened the door to greet them with a smile.
A young girl and her parents came in with boxes in hand. They sat them down, came over to greet me, and asked where my parents were. I almost began to cry again. I lied and said they had a busy day and had to drop me off and head back. Heidi and her parents were from Minnesota. They had a long drive, but said they planned to help her unpack, take her out for dinner, and then head home. I was jealous. Why hadn’t my parents cared enough to stay like they had for Heidi?
Years later, I brought this up to my parents. They were shocked to learn I felt this way and had been resentful about this for so long. I had always been an independent child, hardly ever home. I frequently told them I couldn’t wait to go to college and be on my own. They took that literally, and I had left them no reason to believe otherwise.
I realized how painful that day was for them too. Mom said it was one of the hardest things she had ever done. In later conversations, my stepdad said the whole situation was difficult for him and he thought it easier to drop me off than to stick around. They both said they would have loved to stay all day, but they figured I just wanted them out of my hair. Had I asked them to stay, had I told them I needed them, they both said they would have stayed.
Wow. We were so out of touch with each other. My expectations were completely out of alignment with theirs. We had never discussed how the day would go, what each of us wanted or had planned. Then we were all left feeling disappointed. Me wanting them to miss me, them wanting me to miss them.
Does this not happen every single day? We expect things of our parents, our partners, our friends, our co-workers, our bosses, but we don’t tell them what those expectations are and we are left holding a bag of resentment. We are too proud to say what we want or what we need. The movies say that if they are a good partner/friend/parent/boss, they should know. Really? We haven’t yet evolved to mind reading…maybe someday!
Vulnerability and communication have to be a way of life. In day-to-day situations they make life easier. When we face things like abuse, death, mental illness, addiction, and failure, they will make or break us. Yet being vulnerable and communicating what we want and need are the hardest part of being human.
We have been conditioned to think that if we don’t expect anything, we can’t get hurt. But that’s not the kind of life we want to live. In that life we lower the bar.
When I don’t expect the best from myself, I don’t challenge myself to get better…to learn and to grow. I stay stuck in mediocrity and I lose hope. When I don’t have high expectations of others, I sell them short and tell them I don’t believe they can do better. Aligning and communicating our expectations of who we can be and who we know others can be allows us to challenge and encourage each other to be the best version of ourselves.
What would be possible if we set the bar high and explicitly communicated our expectations?