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Expectation vs. Desire

January 27, 2012

I’m travelling at the moment, staying with friends as I attempt to escape the worst of the Canadian winter.  Today I transfer to the house of my friend L, whom I met last year when visiting his area and have since come to care about and trust. I’m spending four nights at his house.

It takes me awhile–sometimes a long while–to figure out if I’m attracted to someone, so there was certainly no instant attraction to L last year. But I was starting to think that we had some lover-type energy there, that we might get a chance to explore a little during this visit. I didn’t mention it to him, though, preferring to see what I felt when I saw him again today.

We’ve been chatting a little about plans for the weekend, and this morning I got an email from him that tonight, after we go out with his girlfriend for drinks, he’s going to go stay at her place. I can have his bed.

Now this doesn’t necessarily mean anything. L and his girlfriend are both poly, so that doesn’t rule out him having a lover. I’ll have three more nights there. And I never did mention to him the little stirrings I’ve been feeling. He’s really probably just trying to be nice to me, give me space. It’s just that I felt disappointment because I’d been expecting to spend the night with him–at least in the platonic sense of the word–and now I’ll be alone.

As I processed my disappointment and recalibrated to the new situation, I thought, as I often do how much expectations can fuck with you.

Then I thought, what is the difference between expectations and hopes, fantasies, wishes or desires? If you have the latter and they don’t come true, you may feel sadness or disappointment, even grief, but I don’t think that means it’s bad to have them. And yet the people I know (including me) generally speak of expectations as bad things. So what’s the difference? And what’s the difference in what you feel when a hope or desire isn’t fulfilled, vs. when an expectation isn’t met?

I think the difference for me is that maybe an expectation implies a responsibility on the part of another person (or even an entity, e.g. the cold, cruel universe), perhaps even a sense of entitlement. So when it’s not fulfilled, in addition to whatever disappointment you might otherwise feel, there’s also anger or blame.

E.g., let’s say I do feel something when I see L today, and it turns out he doesn’t feel the same. I might feel sad and disappointed, but that doesn’t mean I had any expectation of reciprocation. But if I had an expectation, then I also might feel angry or bitter. But in this case, I know I won’t. It won’t be his fault (or mine) if he doesn’t feel anything. That’s just the way it goes.

From this perspective, I think I’m generally not burdened by a lot of expectations, despite my many desires, wishes, hopes and fantasies. I tend to translate my own disappointments into, “well, that’s what you get for having an expectation,” but in fact I think that’s actually (usually) not the case. Because usually I’m also pretty good at not holding whoever/whatever disappointed me responsible for the disappointment.

Unless it’s a broken promise. That’s another matter entirely. I care a lot about promises.

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