I once read that there is a small but noticeable spike in breakups shortly following Valentine’s Day. Initially, I thought perhaps people were waiting until after Feb. 14 to break things off so they wouldn’t have to be alone on the “holiday.” But, then I wondered if the timing of these breakups occurred because of residual disappointment. Maybe he forgot to acknowledge the day, but you really wanted him to send you flowers at work. Or maybe he made reservations at an expensive restaurant, but you’re much more comfortable cooking at home. Particularly in the very early stages of dating, these non-reciprocal expectations (NRE, as the professionals – or really just I – call it) can destroy budding relationships!
Valentine’s Day might be a relatively insignificant example of how non-reciprocal expectations can result in disappointment… or worse. I’m sure we have all fallen victim to other examples of an NRE-scenario in some way or another: you paid for dinner and expected a kiss, but she gave you a cold hand shake; you thought he would meet your parents on his day off, but he expected to go out of town, etc. It sure is disappointing! But why does this happen? Where do expectations come from?
Well, not to get all Freudian, but we form a lot of these expectations in childhood. Our family of origin, the environment we live in, our own personal experiences – all of these start forming our outlook on the world from a young age, and through trial and error, we learn to harbor certain beliefs and expectations in certain situations.
Because we learn how to develop expectations from a pretty deeply rooted and personal place, it can be jarring to manage your expectations to mesh with someone else’s. This is true in any relationship, but especially in romantic relationships, which focus on pleasing the other person. Say you start sending messages back and forth with a seemingly normal guy. You expect that he should ask you out after four messages. You then grow disappointed when he doesn’t do just that. Or, say after several good dates with someone, you expect that she should remove her profile from 100hookup… but she hasn’t, and you’re concerned. So what’s a 100hookupr to do?
Other than erasing all expectations from your brain and entering every new situation with a completely blank mental slate, there’s a relatively simple way to identify someone else’s expectations before it’s too late. I’m talking about a radical solution here… you could communicate! You know, like actually talk to the other person and explain what you’re thinking. I am not saying you should present a list of demands, nor am I suggesting that you remove all spontaneity from your dating life. And do not verbalize that you expect mediocre conversation and a tentative goodnight kiss. However, do communicate your hopes and intentions!
To help our aforementioned friends in the example above, a simple, “Hey, I think we seem to get along pretty well… want to meet up in person?” or “You know, I enjoy dating you and am not interested in meeting other people – how do you feel?” A simple question or two should do the trick. Put your expectations and thoughts out there… in the open! The worst that can happen is that the other person has an incompatible or unreasonable expectation with which you can’t compromise, and you reach an impasse. But if that’s the case, I expect that relationship to fail, anyway.