In the fall of 1969, my parents decided to run away from home, taking our family to Ireland. Ostensibly, my mom wanted us away from the drugs epidemic in the San Francisco Bay Area while my dad was ready to launch his writing career.
In preparation, we got passports, took swimming lessons and bought clothes because apparently Ireland was covered in water and Irish clothes were impractical and entirely made of wool.
I was happy to go: it was an adventure, and as long as I had dad and Snoopy, we were good. Boo, my older sister, age nine, had other demands and was leaving behind her crush du jour and all her friends. Dad, in a desire to win her agreement, made one of his very rare parental mistakes and in hard fought negotiations, he promised Boo a purple pony when we arrived in Ireland.
Now, I thought the purple pony was funny. It was cute, even, a measure of dad’s desire to make her happy. But Boo who collected Breyer horses and even had the Appaloosa and the Palomino, probably believed she would soon be staring in the gentle violet eyes of her purple pony, lovingly brushing its forelock as I dragged buckets of warm mash to her own private mews.
Over the next few months and years, when the purple pony failed to materialize, I watched her ever-increasing disappointment and unhappiness and thought, “What an idiot; she of all people should know such ponies don’t exist.” And despite my incredulous expressions and generous eye rollings, she still expected my dad to make good on the impossible promise with the delivery of that equally impossible stead.
Through this and other events, I learned early that expectations are a quagmire of misery that should be eschewed, for nothing has a greater ability to make us unhappy.
How many times have you seen or heard of some Bridezilla who on her wedding day is ranting about the cake, the flowers or some such, as the family stands by watching their princess in meltdown as the groom quietly wonders, “What have I done?”
Do we DESERVE anything? Life is a giant and unexpectedly gift and when we expect something, especially of someone else, we trade proper celebration and gratitude for the hope for something even more. When you expect something of another person, you transfer control for your happiness to him. What if that person is some hapless fool who wishes you no ill and is incompetent to deliver nonetheless?
How does this boil down in real life? What if I am quietly going along in a relationship with you and, because you like me and want to keep me around, you attach expectations to me. Even though I am unaware of what is going on, by the very attachment of expectations, stated or otherwise, to another person, you have taken yourself out of the space where the conditions of your happiness reside in your control.
This is not to say that I take any issue with promises or vows. Those are different. When you give your word to another or to yourself, you must follow through or account for that failure; but where I would take issue with vows is when they allow expectations to run rampant, often fueled by one’s own unattended insecurity.
I learned to enjoy a lack of expectations through a game Dad devised and played with us on the lovely country lanes of Ireland. We would start in the car in our driveway. One of us kids would flip a coin, and heads meant turn left, while tails meant go right. We’d drive along like this for hours, never knowing exactly where we were headed, totally secure in the journey, not knowing if we’d end up in Dublin, Bray or Wicklow. This was a game of laughter and wonder, and it taught me to have high confidence in my ability to adapt while maintaining commensurate low expectations of exactly how life would unfold.
At this point in life, I don’t expect anything. My life is a moment-to-moment affair held in an easy and loving grip. I don’t “expect” anyone else to make me happy. I have few preconditions for satisfaction. I don’t have a clue where it is all going or how long it will last, and none of that makes me anxious or causes any concern. This is the true benefit of forestalling expectations: a peace of mind which comes in knowing you deserve nothing more than what you’ve had, and the realization that anything forthcoming is by largesse divine.