God’s lessons work a lot like high school. He knows he can’t just sit us all in an auditorium and teach us everything we need to know in a day. So our lessons are like class periods and they are broken up by semesters.
This semester God is teaching me about expectations.
Or more specifically, unrealistic expectations. And I am full of them.
I blame this on the fact that I am a writer. And a girl writer at that. And I write romance.
When I sit down to work on my novels I am god of that world. I script out every tiny detail of these characters’ lives, even details that don’t actually make it onto the page. I know the ending (well, sort of. At least I know whether the guy and the girl are going to end up together) and even when my characters go rogue and take on their own stories, I am still master over the keyboard. Sometimes I’ll let them go crazy on their own for a while, but I’m not far behind with the delete key.
Unfortunately, scripting in real life isn’t so easy. There is certainly no delete key.
very rarely never do or say what I want them to. *sighs*
That cute guy squeezing avocados in the produce aisle who just looked at me and smiled? He’s probably not going to approach me, let alone strike up a well-timed and humourous conversation about how silly and cliché it is to meet someone in the grocery store, and then ask me out anyway. *cue the guy’s sexy, sheepish, devastatingly handsome smile* Besides, he’s probably thinking about the guacamole he’ll be making for his girlfriend. And if he has a girlfriend, why the heck is he smiling at me, anyway?
The guy I’ve been dating for a few weeks? Yeah, I should probably stop expecting that bouquet of daisies (I mentioned once they are my favorite) to be delivered to my work because he thinks that would be enough to keep me from going after supermarket guy (see above). But then again, for him to find my work address he’d have to do some serious cyber stalking…that’s just creepy. Somehow books and movies make it seem oh so romantic. But seriously, it’s happened to me before. Totally creeped me out.
And the guy that just walked into the coffee shop who caught my eye? He’s probably not going to notice me. And even if he does, sparks aren’t going to fly across the room. And if sparks do fly, he’ll never ask me out. Oh wait, that one actually did happen. Tee hee.
My point is, each situation we run into has infinite possibilities for how it will turn out. You can pick one, based on your hopes and experiences, which is the stuff of your expectations, and sometimes things turn out that way. But usually they don’t. The examples I gave are romantic in nature, but I actually script out every other aspect of my personal life.
Add to that my penchant for perfectionism and there’s a whole lot of disappointment and frustration going on inside this gal’s head and heart. All. The. Time.
So, naturally, God’s method for teaching me a lesson during this particular semester of my life is to throw me into a situation where nothing – NOTHING – follows my script.
Remember the coffee shop guy I mentioned? The one that actually did follow the script? He’s still around, and that was the last time he read his lines correctly. Every single thing about this relationship has thrown my game way off. He’s disappointed me a ton. And he has surprised me even more – many times the surprise is pleasant. I’ve broken up with this guy four times, but he isn’t letting go that easily. And I’m glad, because he’s turning out to be not so bad after all.
My moment of epiphany came during my Bible study group’s discussion about Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions by Lysa Terkeurst. We were discussing “stuffing,” which according to Lysa is one way that people handle conflict. Instead of dealing with it, they just stuff it down where it will fester.
Okay, I’m definitely NOT a stuffer. At least not most of the time. But the discussion on this topic turned to the nature of conflict, and how often we assume that the other person is going to act a certain way, and then we get miffed when they do something different. Or we assume they have malicious intent and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. This then results in hurt feelings and conflict where there doesn’t need to be.
Just because a guy doesn’t send flowers doesn’t mean he’s not into you. Maybe he doesn’t want to seem like a stalker. Maybe it’s too trite. Maybe the idea just never occurred to him.
If he doesn’t text you for a day it doesn’t mean he’s with another girl or even that he’s thinking about another girl. This is a big one for me and it boils down to my trust issues. But if we go around expecting everyone to hurt us, they will hurt us. Even if the hurt happens only in our own thoughts. For those few moments when I’ve condemned him for cheating in my emotions, I’ve already set the chain of events in motion that will ultimately lead to a break down in trust and ultimately the end to the relationship. And yes, he could be cheating on me, and my thoughts can justify that he is doing just that, but assuming it without proof won’t belay the pain, anyway. It can, however, end the relationship even if he’s not cheating, which is likely the case – not all men are dogs.
Another thing Lysa’s book and my study group talked about is the difference between wants and feelings. Feelings are excellent indicators for what we want, but often we act on our feelings and ignore the wants behind the whole issue. For example, if my guy doesn’t text me to make plans for an evening he knows I’m free (and he knows my free time is limited), I am usually quick to assume that 1) he doesn’t really want to spend time with me; 2) I’m not a priority and I never will be; or 3) he’s going out with another girl that night.
This is a feeling coming from a place of insecurity. This is a negative place and you never ever ever want to camp here. This feeling can snowball into all kinds of bad thoughts, so don’t pitch a tent here. Don’t get even get out the bug spray, because you can’t stay here. Get in your car and drive away. Fast.
So when this scenario presented itself, and after I sped away (okay, okay…I walked away…slowly) from the initial feeling of rejection, I asked myself: “What did I really want?”
At first I thought I wanted to see him, but I made myself dig deeper and I did not like the answer: What I really wanted was for him to make me feel wanted. But why??? Seriously, what power does this guy – who I’ve known for only two months – have on whether I feel validated as a human being in this big ol’ world? And the truth is I ended up not being free, anyway! AND he did end up asking me out, so all my fuming was for naught. And what did it get me? Nothing but useless frustration.
I’m not saying we won’t have problems, or that people won’t hurt us. Or that you shouldn’t trust your instincts and hold people accountable for how they treat you. But if you go into every situation with the other person’s lines pre-scripted, you will be disappointed. And if you find yourself assuming things based on raw emotions, you will ruin relationships.
I’m sure this is a no-brainer for many. But for me, it’s life changing. Just realizing this is what I’m doing is HUGE. This guy I’m dating might be a jerk. There are still some question marks hanging over my head and I’m still not even sort of sure if this is the one for me (I can’t be sure after only 2 months – something I learned during other life semesters). And if history is any indication, he’ll hurt me in the end because I really do gravitate toward jerks. I’m actually considering getting a T-shirt made that says “I heart jerks (apparently).”
But I’ve decided I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt. If he’s a jerk he’s going to hurt me anyway. I might as well think happy thoughts and enjoy the ride for a bit. Worrying about the heartache to come won’t make it hurt any less.
To quote a line from the movie Love and Other Disasters: “I don’t know if he’s the one, but I’m going to give him the chance to be.”
In closing, I feel that I need to point out the difference between unrealistic expectations and high expectations. I still have high expectations. There are certain things I want in a relationship, and some of them are perfectly realistic. But it’s unrealistic of me to expect him to meet all of my criteria without looking at the big picture. He might not hold doors open for me, but recognizes and respects that I am a modern, independent woman. I still have to decide if I’m okay with that, but in the meantime I’m going to enjoy our conversation over dinner. Even I did have to open the door to the restaurant by myself.