Too little to expect?

One simple thing a relationship can rudely teach you is that ‘expectations are organized disappointments.’ Like other basic necessities, expectations have become very much part of today’s relationship and its issues. And we all have a different range of expectation levels, stemming from each other’s mindset and personal socialization.

A friend teaching German tells me, “Expectations have not only frustrated her, but they also ruined her individuality.” She is presently taking a few meditation lessons from me, after experiencing years of emotional abuse in the name of expectations. Her ex-husband barely managed to give his time and attention, while she could do possibly what she could beyond her personal capacity to ‘let him go’ but luckily there came a time in her life that she decided on her own, in a hard way, that she was acting stupid by expecting the walls to communicate back.

I know, in her case, he gaslighted her in a way that she eventually ended up losing her grip on individuality and identity. The way she pampered him, attended to him, and expected from him, was something she did not bother to check upon. When she shared her trauma, in one of the meditation sessions on forgiveness, I explained how his behavior gaslighted her the most.

Gaslighting is another predicament experienced by many individuals in their relationships without formal acknowledgment of it. Some partners have mastered this dangerous art as well. Gaslighting is purely a manipulative technique that covertly normalizes abuses as acts of love and that is by letting the abusive partner question our own emotions, reality, or judgments. And the abused individual starts to feel unsecured and anxious about their own perceptions. This often leads to disowning of sanity and rationality, too.

I have been a victim of gaslighting, too. My ex made me second-guess myself, whenever I honestly trusted her to listen to my mental states. I was left dazed as if something is inherently wrong with me when all I expected was a little sensitivity from her. With all due respect to her, I was located in such a position that I was blamed for something that I was not even responsible for. I kept wondering and this gradually made me emotionally depressed. When I endeavored to talk about this to a close friend, my ex gaslighted me plentily and made me feel that I am cheating on her. After I broke up with her, I was literally scared to even talk to my friends because I felt I am being watched.

At the onset of my former relationship, I always used to initiate chats and pamper her. I temporarily tattooed her name too, on her birthday. She loved it. I did not expect anything in return, yet she subtly hinted to me to sulk her mind and emotions. I gave in, too. After a few months of a relationship, when I was least prioritized on her scale, despite my constant attention proffered to her, she gaslighted me on how I do not act like before. I shared the screenshot of my chats with her, proving how I am still giving her more time and attention, she blatantly told me I am deceiving her. I corrected myself more, while she stood on the same narratives only to find out that she was double-dating me. I expected a decent break-up but she preferred ghosting me to date.

I know this ordeal, in comparison, might stand for nothing. But everyone’s lived experiences matter. I have done my best in moving on, on my own. My former traumatic experience taught me a lesson that expectations are the root causes of mental and emotional health aches. How ironic that healing from the trauma becomes our own personal duty, while the abuser continues to enjoy the impunity of unaccountability? This state of emotional dystopia occurs due to an unchecked stream of expectations.

To expect is human, to not expect is also human, but it does make fewer things beautiful when we expect less than not expect at all. Maybe you will agree too — on this dimension — that we are humans and we’re not luckily programmed to act like robots to not expect at all. It’s natural to expect because we have trained and socialized ourselves in a way that we would like our inputs to be rewarded or appreciated or else recognized. Since this helps us to incentivize our next inputs/efforts that we undertake in sustaining the cost of a relationship at the price of our own emotions or mind.

A mother of two, based in Australia, and also my social media friend, is a victim of marital rape. She is Indian by birth, resides abroad as a nurse, and is a ‘proud’ divorcee. Her husband normalized having sex with her without consent, as he assumed it’s ‘cultural’ for women to pay sexual obeisance. When she shared her stories with her own parents, they did not believe her at all. When she decided to walk out of her toxic marriage, her parents believed her and instead gaslighted her enough to stay silent. “Well, my parents cared more about their social anxieties than my condition. I pray nobody gets a parent like me,” she tells me, during the post-meditation session. She assumes that she is not alone to experience marital rape and I completely agree with that, sadly.

Supreme Court of India is still unable to judicially review and alter the definition of rape. It’s the 21st century and yet the so-called pillars of India’s democracy consider marital rape as ‘normal sex’. When I discussed with her how uncivilized our legal machinery is to not treat marital rape as domestic violence, she culminates how idiotic of me to expect sanity among insane people. She expected her parents to support her and help her legally separate from her husband, but sadly “log kya kahengey?” (What will people say?) transcended the love for her. With support from her friends, she left for overseas with her kids without divorcing her husband. “It’s too little to expect”, she says.

Expectations are very ideal in form. They may sound real but they often delude us, since we’re more obsessed with the idea of love than with love. Plus, humans anticipate that expectations will always lead us to a better outcome. The inherent problem with the philosophy of our understanding of expectations is that we undermine rudimentary features of mindful living and thus we expect unrealistically. Buddha, 2500 years ago, taught the world that attachment begets expectations and thus we suffer. This suffering is verily more mental than physical and it’s more painful than any external torture. Since we are attached to our own thoughts, emotions, or mental projection of some ideas, partnerships, etc. we wander aimlessly in the pool of expectations.

A mentor-friend, with whom I often disagree, tells me that expectations help him to stay guided in some form or the other. He elaborates, “expectations are seasonal and also wholesome, without which no individual can focus qualitatively on the volume of self and others.” He is not canceling the spirit of it, but simply channelizing the art of expecting well.

No doubt expectations emerge from the phenomenon of ‘ magical thinking ‘. For example: when I was a kid, after a brawl with my sister, I used to magically think that she will fall downstairs. She did not. This made me more hopeful about expecting more the next time. Even today, she has not collapsed despite multiple attempts of magical thinking. This same phenomenon often betrays the voters, in the political sphere. After voting politicians to power, despite knowing that not all our needs will be entertained, we tend to vote repeatedly and expect magic out of thin air.

Whereas, in the religious sphere, we pray and expect results. Many even dare to bribe God with some promises of fasting or material donation (if God fulfills the list of expectations). We are not ashamed to do that because we believe in the idea of hopeful expectations. Many also don’t mind seeking the superstitious path from astrological readings, in order to expect certainty and prosperity. Some resort to black magic. This overall matrix of expectations makes me confirmedly believe that expectations may not always be scientific and thus the properties of expectations can also be stemmed from the wilful art of nescience or ignorance.

I can say that expecting has also made humanity suffer from ‘ stockholm syndrome’, the phase wherein we share solidarity with hopelessness keeping our hope to expect intact. Despite knowing that expectations are mentally and emotionally exhaustive, we continue to expect. We even experience the state of ‘ cognitive dissonance’ (the phase where we are unwilling to give up our facts in exchange for newer information that is more useful than the previous one), when we expect more. We like to expect because we still believe it’s too little to expect, isn’t it?

Although I am still hopeful about humanity’s sanity as mankind has not expected a cup of coffee on their desk by merely materializing the imagination. I understand we continue to expect that the other person will behave ‘this way’ or ‘that way’, without reflecting on ourselves first, and this has become a ‘part of human nature’ when we are questioned about our own treatment of others. This seems to ratiocinate that humans are not only sensitive and sensible but also rational enough to rationalize our justification conveniently. We do expect this pattern, isn’t it?

When I broke up, I schooled myself a hard way learning that life is simply abstractive. Our decisions, actions, and choices make life a concrete experience, on this temporary planet. We make errors, we are bound to make, we will make, and we should make, and these all make us, directly and indirectly, believe that nothing is perfect, nothing can be, nothing will be. We do expect perfection-ism from things we think about, do, or act upon, but we disappoint more in the process without venting it out, because we are not trained enough to listen and we expect others to listen to us with an intent of understanding than with an intent to simply refute or reply.

Expectations, when decoded deeply, teach us that it does not have any intrinsic existence of their own. It lacks a solid foundation and thus it is empty of itself. But we still expect from our expectations because we’re classically insane to embrace suffering, only to awaken ourselves later that we were not enlightened enough to not expect? It would be a mistake if you think I or you take the hard way or soft way, when I am ‘expecting’ here why do you have to assume that there are only 2 ways?

My basic understanding of life is that it is inherently chaotic and not perfect. I know it’s easy to say and hard to understand but this is how it is. As long as we breathe, we have to be mindful of every breath and this is the only way to understand that nothing is permanent or static. Everything that is bound to appear, is bound to leave. Except for human stupidity, nothing seems infinite. I am sure life has a lot more in itself than definitions or principles. It also has multiple imperfections and thus we experience volatility, at the cost of expecting stability. The problem is here: we do not see things as they are and thus, we expect. Due to expectations, we emotionally suicide with our tendencies to live wisely. I had a hard way coming to this conclusion and it scares me a bit when I recollect how I learned.

My ex taught me a lesson that it’s foolish of me to expect a pinch of salt to turn into sugar by loving it harder. But still, it’s too little to expect? When I replaced my set of expectations with the package of gratitude, I started healing gradually. I took my own pace, although I was expected to heal faster. But it’s eventually up to our own capacity on how we go about doing it. I realized that humans are controlled by expectations and it’s not the other way round, and thus most of us reside in the matrix of past (guilt) and future (anxiety) than in the present moment. When you are in denial of the existence of your expectations, you limit the possibility of actively participating in the truth of your life at every moment and preclude accessing the power of the love of those close to you.

Serenity comes when you trade expectations for acceptance. That’s it!



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A libertarian professor based in Mumbai, youtubing at times, and reading books all-the-time. I write too. Dhamma practitioner.