Letter to an Ex
Expectation and Relationships
You weren't the first person I cared for. But you were the first in a long time that made me feel like I wasn't alone. We didn't even talk. It was better when we didn't. When we could just lay on the sand and read next to each other. Smoking weed and watching TV. Stand next to each other at a packed show and not feel alone in the crowd because we had each other to hold on to. It was one of those weird relationships that was based on a shared feeling that I struggle to express because we never tried to put it into words. We didn't need words. Until everything fell apart.
Maybe that's why I was so afraid of losing you. We use words like "Love" and "Passion," but we mean "control" and "possession." It's all most people know. I can hardly blame either of us for being human. For trying to force emotions into some semblance of normality. Almost too hard.
Trying breeds expectation. Every relationship, platonic or romantic, is eventually cursed with the slow thoughts of what we know we deserve. It's only fair. My effort deserves and equal effort from you. My sacrifice must be met with equal sacrifice. Otherwise, I'm just a chump giving myself away for free.
I feel your expectations and I know you feel mine. You want what everyone has wanted from me for too long. It's why I hate them. Why I can feel a dark cloud of expectancy lingering over me wherever I go. You want to see me fulfill my potential. To push myself. To be something. To be someone. Not just handsome, or charming, but successful. In any sense of the word. To be a man people respect and admire. Fuck that.
It's not just these giant expectations. It's the little ones that make things gritty. That really drives me crazy. That you ignore because you're too self-absorbed to see the truth behind these unspoken demands.
Sooner or later, an expectation is not met. The effort is perceived to be less than my own. An unfairness, an injustice that I cannot tolerate. Then, conflict. Nothing leads to conflict like disappointed expectations. Lovers who’ve been together awhile tend almost universally to get upset by what looks (on the surface) like certain absurdly small matters. An otherwise quite reasonable and decent person might admit to a range of acute sensitivities around some of their partner’s minor habits — maybe they leave the toilet seat up no matter how many times you remind them, or are constantly late, or ignore our texts and messages when we feel a simple text is so easy to send. Something small drives us absolutely nuts.
My reactions to such things can seem wildly out of proportion in times like these. I get so worked up and then feel mean and possibly insane. In quieter moments I wonder how I could ever let such insignificant matters get me. The little thing — the small irritant — is always a symbol of a large and in truth very important issue operating in the background of a relationship. Though unfortunately, it’s not always easy for me to put my finger on what the real issue is and therefore to give a calm and accurate account of what is, in fact, probably a genuine cause for concern.
Issues with toilet seats could stem from a desire to want to keep things clean and orderly. But our partner treats the issue so casually (as we see it) that a tiny moment in which we catch sight of a much more troubling and larger quality in them: a sense of indelicacy, roughness, and lack of restraint and care for our needs. And we fear this side of them not so much in their life in general, but in relation to ourselves: the real fear is that they won’t realize when they are hurting us. That if they can't handle something so small and trite, how will they handle our real fears and needs? Our worry isn’t for the toilet, but for ourselves.
The missing texts have less to do with communication and more with a fear of abandonment. Being chronically late isn't about timing, but a fear of being treated like an afterthought for the rest of our lives. If they don't want me to know, when will they?
So we are right to worry. The problem is the way I handle my anxiety. Ideally, I wouldn’t simply curse and get irritable. I would patiently transfer my attention and concern away from the minor instance, the symbol, towards the real nucleus of my complaint, which we would lay out with care, sympathy and a touch of humor. But I can't think of a time in my life I've had the self-awareness to do this until it was too late.
Once the real issues in our relationships are raised, the annoying details and expectations may be less difficult to live with. Hopefully, our partner won’t be indifferent to our articulated worries. With the riskiest symbols decoded, love stands a chance of becoming ever more mutual, peaceable and secure.
It's not easy. Putting aside my self-deception and narcissism for real, honest communication is tough. It's too easy in this culture of replaceable relationships to quit when it seems tough, rather than work for something real.
I don't think I'm there yet, personally. I hate that my expectations cause so much frustration. I hate that you care enough to cry but not enough to try and understand the real issues. I hate that my fears are bigger than us. I hate that I can't even begin to understand you either. I guess that's why we didn't make it.