Forward Living: When expectations go unmet

04/05/2011 12:59 PM |

Benjamin Franklin is credited with saying, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” With all due respect to Mr. Franklin, I feel he left out another of life’s certainties: disappointments.

Disappointments are tricky; they don’t come in a one-size-fits-all package. They can feel like a hammer blow to the heart, a kick in the gut or a pervasive sadness. Disappointments are usually ushered into our lives by unmet expectations. This undisciplined twosome pals around together and has the power to make mincemeat out of our emotions.

Back in the day, I worked with a physician who expected his son to follow in his footsteps. The son, a gifted artist, had other dreams. Lordy, lordy! There was enough disappointment floating between father and son to fill Yankee Stadium, twice. The son stood his ground and pursued his dream. When I saw them recently, the physician proudly introduced his son as “the next Picasso.”

I’ve subscribed to the notion that parents should become progressively obsolete; consequently, my sons were encouraged to become self-sufficient. Carving out new lives for themselves, they settled on the West Coast. Ouch! Although I’m incredibly proud of them, having 3,000 miles between us, is not exactly what this mom had in mind.

Dr. Dorothy Tennov coined the term “limerence” to describe the first stage of a romantic love. Research suggests that when we’re in limerence, chemicals are released, giving lovers that crazy head-over-heels feeling of bliss. (Essentially, we’re on a natural high and living in a fantasy world!) We view our love interest through rose-colored glasses and what we see is perfection personified.

Then it’s goodbye to fantasy and hello to reality. Our lover is somewhat imperfect, the rose-colored glasses have become a tad cloudy and the troublesome twosome, expectation and disappointment, enjoys a field day. Nevertheless, at this juncture, limerence can morph into lasting love.

Here’s a commonplace occurrence: We work our tail off for a company, we meet all the required deadlines and, on our own dime, we bring the boss a Starbucks latte every morning. Ready for the punch in the gut? Your buddy in the next cubicle got the coveted promotion and is now occupying an office with a view.

When I was working as a medical practice manger, I had an assistant whose work was top-notch. I was disappointed when she was denied a salary increase due to budget constraints. Shortly afterward, the top brass asked me to invent a job and hire the director’s relative. Oui!

Friendships wane, and most times it’s because we expected something that our friend failed to provide. Even if the issue was trivial, their nonperformance can cause us to feel let down. Alas, it’s the silly, and the not so silly, day-to–day disappointments that can sap the joy from friendships.

Right about now, you may be thinking that expectations are killers — and you’re probably right. Let me pose an interesting conundrum: Should we give up all our expectations in order to forgo disappointment? Or should we set our expectations high and hope for the best? And shouldn’t there be a middle ground between unrealistic expectations and no expectations?

Boiled down, disappointments can be as simple as things we expected to go one way, but go another. And here’s the rub: Even if our expectations are realistic, the folks we expected to deliver are human and, therefore, fallible.

Some folks cope with disappointments by whining (my favorite), crying foul, crying tears, stomping feet, slamming doors, going into lockdown mode. And these strategies may work, but only for a while.  
Eventually, we’re going to have to make peace with the thing that doesn’t bring us peace. Or to put it bluntly, we gotta just get over it.

Ah, me. Then again, the expectation that we can “just get over it,” may be easier said than done!

Ms. Iannelli is a resident of Jamesport.

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