A good friend of mine, let’s call him Ryan, has a bit of an issue. Or rather, many of his friends have a bit of an issue with him: He’s one of those people who, despite living in the age of technology and microwaves and “time is money”, doesn’t like to use the phone, email or any other form of technological communication. He’d rather meet up in person. He’s old school that way. Fair enough, one might say. That’s his prerogative. Only, because of this disposition, he also doesn’t see any need to immediately return text messages, phone calls or emails. Unless it’s an emergency, he waits hours, sometimes days, and sometimes doesn’t return the text or email at all. And that causes tension and hurt feelings for many that know him. For the sake of the example, let’s compile those friends into one: Let’s call her Lisa.
I’m not here to defend or denounce either side. I’ve already pointed out in a previous blog post how everybody’s right. But I do think there’s a powerful point to be made here, using this example. And that has to do with expectations.
The reason that Lisa’s feelings are hurt, is because she has an expectation of him to call back right away. On the surface, it would seem that this would be easy to fix: Ryan could simply explain to her that he doesn’t return calls right away, and the issue would be resolved, right? Only, Ryan has actually done that, and it didn’t work. That’s because it goes much deeper than that. The expectation isn’t just that he return the call right away, it’s that he validate his affection for Lisa by returning the call quickly. In fact, the faster he returns the call, the more he seemingly cares about her.
The real issue here is Lisa’s insecurity. What she really wants is to feel secure, to feel lovable, cared for and relevant. She wants to know that she’s important in Ryan’s life, that her friendship matters to him. And she’s decided that the WAY for her to feel that, is for Ryan to answer her communications promptly.
She has a desire, something she wants, and has decided on HOW that desire is to be fulfilled. She’s essentially trying to do the Universe’s job. The truth is, that if Lisa is truly insecure, nothing Ryan says or does will make that go away. His rejection of electronic communication is just an excuse she uses to feel the way she does. If Ryan answered texts immediately, she’d find another reason to feel insecure. And asking him to change his behavior so that she can feel better is never, ever going to work.
When we’re disappointed by someone, it always comes down to us having had an expectation of them, and it generally goes much deeper than the task we wanted them to do. If there were no issue, the behavior (or lack thereof) of the other person wouldn’t really bother us. No one can make us feel anything. The feeling is ours, and we have to own it.
No one can love you enough to make you feel loved. No one can reassure you enough to make you feel truly secure. Friends can talk you through some of those neuroses, but if you don’t believe it, if you don’t shift your perspective and energy, nothing they do will help. And blaming them for the feelings you’re having is the easy, but unproductive way out.
Now, I can hear someone asking a question like, “But what if my husband said he’d take out the garbage and then he didn’t. Don’t I have a right to be mad?” The question I would ask back is: “How mad are you?” Are you a little bit annoyed, but ultimately unaffected (it’s just a bag of garbage, really). Or are you using the incident as an excuse to start domestic World War III? If you can’t let it go, you’ve tied the whole taking-out-the-trash thing to something much, much deeper. Respect, perhaps? How much he cares about you? How committed he is to the partnership?
Figure out what it is that you really want (to feel secure, a partner who respects and helps you) and focus on that. Let go of the need to determine just HOW that will come about. Again, you don’t need to do the Universe’s job.
I know it can seem hard and unfair to always have to take responsibility for your feelings and reactions. Can’t it ever just fall to the other guy? But trust me, it’s worth it. For example, if I had been Ryan’s friend ten years ago, his unresponsiveness would’ve driven me crazy. I would’ve been asking myself why he didn’t call back, would’ve been hurt and angry, and ultimately probably would’ve cut him out of my life. Now? It didn’t even occur to me to take it personally. It’s just the way he is. It has absolutely nothing to do with me. So, the upshot of all this work and responsibility taking is that after a while, a lot of things that used to bother you, just don’t anymore. You don’t get mad anymore, or pissed off. You don’t take things personally anymore. And that makes life so much easier to live. To me, it’s more than worth it.
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