When I was in my early 20s, I once prepared an excellent Sunday morning brunch for Paul, my boyfriend. I whipped up pancakes — from scratch — cooked his eggs as he liked them, over easy (NOT one of my talents), and–microwaves then being something available only in wealthy household–fried bacon slowly to crispness in a skillet. I set the table, poured out orange juice and freshly brewed coffee, and called him in to eat. He sat down to this magnificent repast, and said,
“Didn’t you warm the syrup?!”
(And let me hasten to insert right here once again that it is absolutely NOT true that I was every arrested for a boyfriend homicide.)
Warming the pancake syrup was not something that was ever done in our family. It simply hadn’t occurred to me to do so. But he had apparently never been served room-temperature syrup (which sort of begs the question, had the man never been out to eat at a pancake house? But I digress. That’s a topic for another blog post.)
That incident has always stood out for me as a perfect example of the way that our personal expectations overlay and often interfere with our relationships – at home, at work, among our friends and family. Unless we recognize and question our own expectations, and determine if they are reasonable, they can create enormous damage, resulting in misunderstandings, wounded feelings, resentment…or the occasional near-homicide.
In another example of how the dissimilarity of expectations destroys relationships, I was stung once by a friend (a now-former friend, let me hasten to add!) who had recently lost her spouse. Knowing that she was both living alone and dealing with some household repairs by herself for the first time in her life, I had innocently offered her my company and assistance, if needed. Her response was to snarl at me, “You always think that everyone will feel the way you feel. Some of us are different! We don’t need somebody around at every turn.”
I did my best not to feel offended; after all, in one respect she was correct. I could only imagine another’s mindset by considering the way in which I might feel in the same situation. Looking more closely at the circumstances, though, I realized that my expectation had been that she would feel the need for company and assistance and appreciate an offer of help; her expectation was that she be left in peace to get on with a difficult adjustment to her new situation. Even without her ungracious response, the divide between our personal expectations left an impassable gulf in our relationship. I recalled that she had never offered me any form of emotional support or assistance when I was going through difficult times, expecting me to just deal with problems on my own; friendship, to her, was a leisure-time activity. Our expectations of what comprised a friendship were worlds apart. I withdrew from the relationship, and never heard from her again.
I suspect these differences in expectations are what drive a wedge into many a marriage. In its most absurd manifestation, we anticipate that our significant other will “just know” what we need or want, as though love imbued one with some special form of telepathy. The insanity of this notion doesn’t even occur to most couples, but it is probably responsible for a lot of income for marriage counselors and divorce lawyers.
It sometimes takes quite a bit of self-examination to reach the conclusion, too, that our expectations of another are unreasonable, and based more on our own neediness than on a realistic interaction between two adult human beings.
After the unwarmed syrup incident, I never prepared brunch for Paul again, and he didn’t last much longer as a boyfriend, either. But I spent years – decades – always carefully warming the syrup for my pancakes, French toast, and waffles. I had taken to heart his expectation of my cooking, and made it my own – that was, until just a few weeks ago. I was making waffles but forgot to set the syrup pitcher in the microwave. The waffles were already steaming with melted butter on my plate and my coffee was poured and ready to be drunk when I realized my error. So I shrugged and poured the room temperature syrup onto my waffles.
And found, after all these years,that I preferred my syrup that way.
I had at last freed myself of another’s ridiculous expectation.