Friday, 12 January 2018

Unrealistic Expectations

Photo by Samuel Scrimshaw on Unsplash

Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence. 
Vince Lombardi


Gary once said to me that we should always assume positive intent when interpreting other people's actions. It stayed with me, and is something I reflect on quite a lot. 

It's also the hardest thing to do, especially when you aren't feeling right, or are struggling with something and want/need support. It's easy to assume someone doesn't care because they aren't in a position to be as present or as supportive as you would like. 

The one thing that having three children has taught me, is that sometimes the weight of your own life, even when it's going really well, can be so much of a burden that there just isn't room for anything else. 

In learning that sometimes I just have nothing left to give to other people (including my kids and my husband, and even myself), it really brought home the unrealistic expectations I have often had of my family and friends. 

It has made me realise that I can often be too harsh about other people, and judge them, without really reflecting on whether my expectations are too high. 

Or, even if they are not too high, that my expectations may not be able to be met by a particular person (or anyone at all), not because they don't want to, but because there is only such much burden one person can shoulder. 


Expectations on Other People

Gary and I got married in California...

Which sounds fine, until you realise that we lived in Manchester, UK. 

We decided to have our wedding 3,000 miles from home, on a farm, in the middle of Santa Barbara, about as far from an airport/train station as possible. 

I was so consumed with having "Our day, our way" that I barely gave much thought to the pressure we were placing on our nearest and dearest. 

I felt like I was being graceful, because we didn't expect people to come. We understood that it would not be possible for everyone to come, that it would be too much of a time or financial (or both!) commitment for some of our friends and family. (I'm seriously rolling my eyes at myself nowadays). 

The only wedding I had ever been to, at this point, was my mum's wedding to my step-dad. Mum arranged and paid for everything for us, and we pretty much just showed up. So I had absolutely no understanding about the pressure of a close friend or family member getting married half way around the world. 

Because it wasn't about me being "graceful" about people not coming to our wedding. It was about our friends and family who actually WANTED to come to our wedding, who had to reconcile the enormous sacrifices of actually making that happen. 

We had thirty guests at our wedding. All of whom were cheerful and excited and said all the right things about our wedding... To our faces anyway. 

I'm sure there was quite a bit of cursing going on when they realised how much flights were going to cost to California in school holidays; and while they were trying to figure out how the hell they were going to get from LAX to our wedding venue up the the mountains. 

in hindsight, I wasn't graceful, they were the graceful ones. They smiled and didn't complain and our wedding truly was the most magical day. 

It is even more magical now, in hindsight, now that I understand a little more about the cost of our guests actually showing up. Watching our wedding video has taken on new meaning, and I realise how truly "blessed" I actually am. 

Now that I have been to a few more weddings, taken time off work, booked hotel rooms and made travel arrangements, I understand just how bloody selfish we were! How little we even considered the needs and wants of other people, when planning the logistics for our wedding.


Expectations on Ourselves

I have always considered myself to be a good friend. Better than a good friend, I would have said I was a ruddy excellent friend, thank you very much. 

I would always take phone calls, even late into the night, for an upset friend; always be there when they needed me; drop plans when they had problems. I was rocking the whole friendship thing...

Except, it's kind of easy to do that when you are in a nice easy relationship with no pressures, no real responsibilities and a pretty straightforward life with lots of room around the edges. 

I was a good friend because I had the time. I had the mental space to remember other people's job interview's and doctors appointments and anniversaries of their parent's death. 

I sent cards, flowers, presents. I was present. I knew the right thing to say, I knew when to show up, even when friends said it wasn't needed (because I knew that they did need it). 

Now, I'm not that great a friend. I mean to be. I try to be. But I'm falling short of the expectations I have for myself. 

The worst part, is that I no longer know the right thing to say. I get tongue tied and clumsy and say things that just sound weird. 

I hear the words come out of my mouth and I have no idea what possessed me. Even if the words are right, often the tone is wrong. I feel the words fall flat and I know I've missed the mood. 

I don't have the mental space to feel other people's pain in the way that I used to. I can't feel my way through it now. I no longer know instinctively what to say, or what to do. It leave me hesitant and strangely anxious and whatever I seem to say comes out wrong. 

I can't show up in the same way as before either. 

Before we had kids, my mum fell down the stairs and broke both of her legs. I got the call at 1am, and I got dressed and headed straight to the hospital. I took emergency leave from work and I stayed with her while she had surgery. My step-dad and I sat in her hospital room until 3am while she was in recovery. I ran errands, I was useful, I was supportive. 

Last year mum fell down the stairs (again) and broke several ribs. I wasn't there. I didn't get there. I didn't go to the hospital, I did visit her at home. I'm not even sure I sent flowers. I wanted to, but I didn't. I dropped the ball. 

I called and text and tried to offer some support over the phone, but I fell short of the expectations I have for myself, and probably the expectations my mum had for support from her only daughter.


One of my closest friend's husbands was taken ill a couple of years ago. Really sick. Blue lighted to hospital sick. I fell short of the expectations I have for myself. I wasn't really there. 

We don't live very close anymore, and though I don't think my friend ever expected me to get on a train (although I certainly could have, certainly should have), I barely called or text. 

I was a little bit supportive when it originally happened (long distance and by phone only), and then, I wasn't. 

My friend isn't the type to complain, or to push for support, even when she needs it the most. I KNOW that. I know that getting her to talk about what is going on with her, isn't easy. I know her well enough to know I needed to be the one calling and texting and making my presence felt. 

I didn't. The worst part is that I wasn't even aware that I wasn't doing it. I didn't realise until much later, until I realised how much support had been provided by other friends, friends who were significantly better friends during that period than I had been. 

I didn't just drop that ball, I dropped it and it rolled behind the sofa, never to be seen again. When I realised, I felt, still feel, ashamed. That's not the friend I want to be. 


Recently, another friend lost her dad. I knew he was sick, I knew she was devastated. I knew she was coming to stay with him, close to where I live. I dropped that ball too. 

I only realised I had dropped that ball when she apologised to me, for not getting in touch when she was back. While she was dealing with the prospect of losing a parent, while looking after her children, in someone else's house, she felt bad that she hadn't been in touch with me. 


All of this, it made me realise that I often judge other's too harshly. That I often get frustrated when people don't drop everything to provide support when I need it. 

I'm pretty vocal when I'm having a hard time, every man and his dog knows it, it's how I cope with it. I talk too much and nothing much changes when I'm having a hard time. 

Having three children has taught me that I need to practice what I preach. I need to assume positive intent when people don't provide the support that I feel I need. That sometimes people unintentionally drop balls; unintentionally cannot be there for you, even though they love you and want to support you. 

Sometimes a person you love isn't even on your radar, even though you want them to be, even though they need you to be. 

All my family and friends have been nothing but gracious about my inability to be the supportive person I used to be. For that I'm really grateful. That makes me realise exactly how incredible my family and friends are, and how unbelievably lucky I am.