So much of our lives are dominated by expectations. They come from bosses, significant others, family members, and the cultures or societies we live in. Sometimes these expectations serve important purposes in our lives. When they’re expressed directly, they can offer insight into desires or goals and provide clarity around the potential impacts of our actions, but when it comes to creating deep, authentic connection, the practice of dropping expectations can have powerfully positive impacts, as well.
Each of us shows up in life with our own set of wants and needs. Some of these are basic human requirements (food, water, oxygen, etc.) and some are more personal and vary from individual to individual (desire for time alone vs. time spent with others, for example). When we develop relationships with others, we are often participating in a dance of balancing our wants and needs with those of the other, and when we’re not conscious of this process, we can inadvertently project our needs and desires onto other people in the form of expectation.
I’ve noticed this most prominently in my own life during periods of time that I’ve been single. As someone who has always desired to be in a romantic partnership, I would often find myself sizing up every new guy I met as a potential mate. While I think this is a pretty normal experience, I noticed something really fascinating happen when I decided to put my dating life on the backburner for a little while.
Once I stopped looking at each of the guys I met through the lens of whether or not we might be a good match, the interactions became so much more open, authentic, and full of ease.
I was no longer worried about whether or not they would like me and was able to be more fully myself, and it seemed that this, in turn, impacted their experience and allowed them to be more comfortable and more fully themselves as well.
As I noticed these positive shifts in my interactions with men, I couldn’t help but think about the ways that dropping expectations of others, in general, can pave the way for much deeper connection. First, dropping expectations can allow us to be more present in our interactions with others.
When we hold expectations about how we think someone might be, whether those expectations are positive or negative, we’re projecting our hopes or fears about what is going to happen in the future onto the present interaction. Allowing these biases, which are usually informed by experiences we’ve had in the past, to color the way we take in current experiences, prevents us from living in the here and now, the only time and place in which we can actually experience true connection.
The practice of noticing our feelings as we approach interactions with others can help increase our awareness of expectations that we may be holding unconsciously. Any time you find yourself anticipating either a positive or negative experience, it is likely that there is an expectation at play. Sometimes this shows up as nervousness, worry, fear, or a sense of needing to protect ourselves if our expectation is negative.
When our expectations are positive, feelings like excitement, hope, and eagerness can surface. While none of these experiences are inherently “bad”, they are definitely signals that we have beliefs about how an experience will or should be. In relationships, these beliefs set us up to stay guarded (when we expect a negative interaction), to be disappointed (when we expect someone to live up to our hopes and desires), and to convey a lack of openness to experiencing and accepting the person as they truly are.
When people feel that they might not be truly seen and accepted, they often take that as a cue to shut down the connection.
This can happen physically, when someone actually withdraws from an interaction altogether, or more commonly, it happens on an emotional level when people appear to stay engaged, but decide, consciously or subconsciously, to refrain from sharing their authentic presence with us in order to avoid being judged or rejected.
How can you release expectations?
The key to keeping the channels for connection open is staying curious and neutral as we approach interactions with others. Expectations are likely to arise, but when we notice them and then consciously work to release them and approach each interaction with the openness of a beginner’s mind, we allow ourselves to be present with others and we give them the permission and safety they need to be truly present with us.
That authentic presence is one of the greatest gifts we can give to or receive from another person because it’s the basis for true intimacy and some of the juiciest, most exhilarating connection that we can experience.