TLDR: It is not uncommon to start any connections/interactions with exchanging expectations, the transactional nature in mind. Have we stopped and asked ourselves, is that helpful in living fulfilling enriching relationships?
“You have changed” – this ran through my mind when my then-boyfriend told me he preferred to spend the weekend apart from each other after long busy weeks at work when we had plans to meet. Little did I know that it marks the beginning of my conscious contemplation of what a ‘life partnership’ constitutes.
Long story short, we spent the final moments of our ‘relationship’ trying to point fingers at each other and wanting to change the other person into the ideal image in our mind.
I was exhausted and felt I have turned into this ugly person (not figuratively, of course 😊) and called it off.
Having been immersed in personal development themes for some time now, I took the subsequent weeks and months to reflect and review. “What was that experience trying to teach me?”, “What have I learnt from it and how will I respond in a more helpful way for the relationship in future?” – these questions were coming up, nudging me to honestly find answers within.
Life Keeps Sending You Messages…Are You Receiving Them?
It is true, life will keep sending the same lessons in one form or another if we did not fully understand the whole message the first time around. Deeper reflection surfaced to me that I was holding onto certain expectations strongly.
The idea that my boyfriend should be caring, consistent with his words and actions, generous – written in ‘the list’ (no joke, I did have a list of 10 qualities of a life partner!).
On the surface, it might seem reasonable to have expectations for someone I consider spending the rest of my life with (or however long it turns out to be). Many relationship experts even encourage both parties to clarify expectations early and regularly to avoid future misalignment or disappointment.
While I am not speaking against these experts, I have now taken another angle to this topic.
Reviewing my experience to date, I realise I have adopted my parents and society’s view that I need to have the career, the spouse and the child(ren) to be considered successful in life (whatnot with my mom’s regular comment of “You are my only worry now, that your brothers have their own families”).
There were rebel days when I challenged my mom with “Is my life purpose only to get married and have children then?” which she had no ready and convincing answer to.
Ticking The Boxes Of Society
Sure, many are happy with ticking these boxes and it is not the intention to reduce those ‘accomplishments’ and make them any less. I too would find joy in simple family life, at the same time I have the inkling there is more to life than just ticking the boxes.
I restarted contemplation practice in silence, coinciding with the Circuit Breaker period which gave much-needed space for such retrospection.
Various thoughts and feelings arose; from questioning my worth as an individual, to swinging moods of wanting to take back my decision – all are valid experiences, though might not be the truth.
I dutifully journal the thoughts that arise during those sessions and find myself acquainted with a friend who nudges me to review my beliefs and expectations on everything. This included the impermanent nature of life, personal relationship expectations.
And the journey begins.. more questions surface “Who’s to say life has to be lived only this way?”, “How can I be sure that my expectations are reasonable?”, “Where have I picked up these beliefs, do I truly believe them?”. With more contemplation, the questions get deeper and more challenging. And I face them one after another as there isn’t much to lose.
Monologues And Realisations
The first realisation arises: this person is not my boyfriend, he is a person of his own – with his habits, preferences and nature of mind. I cannot dictate how he should behave to my liking and not to my disliking.
It was my strong grasping of an image of how he should be that contributed to the arguments and blames. It was almost like I had these monologues in my mind during our interactions – “You do this, that’s why I love you”, “You are like that, and I dislike that part of you”. Although it is part of human experience to have preferences, it does not mean these preferences are the be-all and end-all.
It is okay to have them, it is even more important to be aware of them as they are, preferences – which is also changeable.
The outside world serves as a mirror to me, reflecting the part that I value and dislike of myself. Being clear on my values serves as the lighthouse for life’s journey, though it is not my position to demand that others align to them.
In the case they do have similar values, we might have a great time together! Otherwise, it is an opportunity for me to expand my worldview or even practice being kind to others who are different from me. At the end of the day, there is no need to see me and others as opponents in a battle.
Wanting to be with someone with qualities in the list is probably not as within my control as being someone with those qualities.
And if I need to ask for someone to be a decent human being (there might be judgment here too), he/she is probably not someone whom I want to associate with, at least not for long.
Even more, wanting someone to be a certain way so that I feel pleasure or ‘happy’ is fleeting – like trying to draw on the sandy beach, it will be wiped out by each splash of waves.
That pleasure and happiness will change when (not if) the person changes for whatever reason. As we learn, the nature of life is ever-changing – the impermanence lesson which we are trying to truly understand.
Of course, I have not decoded the mystery of relationships and dare not claim to know even a tiny bit of it. This is my learning so far, and I have felt more peace today with what is than ever before. Who knows, life might consider me receiving the message now and send me another lesson to learn 😊
- Understand the difference between grasping on expectations and practising our life values
- Embodying values within ourselves, rather than demanding the qualities from others, will bring about a more peaceful state of mind
- Whenever there is an inclination to place a source of pleasure on something or someone, pause and ask “is this right action based on right view?”