People can be disappointing. I know because I happen to be one of those “people” who doesn’t always come through, measure up, do the right thing, and the list goes on. The difference is, sometimes I forget that I am “people too” and don’t extend the same measure of grace to others, as I do when measuring out the excuses I make for myself when I disappoint someone. In other words, it’s easier to feel slighted and hold a grudge when friends, family members, colleagues or others fail to keep their word or behave in a way that brings pain to you undeservedly.
What do we do in those moments of disappointment? How do we know when to forgive or when to walk away? How much is enough? The answers vary as individuals vary. Some of us have a high tolerance for pain, while others walk away over the slightest perceived slight. Offense comes from expectations. We can even call them standards, you know, that line in the sand between what I desire and what I will allow myself to receive or experience. We say “I can’t be disappointed if I don’t expect anything from a person”. However, if I expect you to show up on time, or greet me with a smile, or fill my car up with gas if you borrow it…and the list goes on, and you fail to do the things that I expect, then I have choices. I can become bitter, write you off and walk away, I can become bitter, resentful and stay, I can let bygones be bygones or any combination of these choices, depending on how I feel that day.
If we have a steadily evolving sense of self, we may realize the role that our personalities and preferences play in shaping our expectations of others. This comes out in a myriad of ways. When I was single, a guy friend and I would share stories about our online dating experiences. I took a one at a time approach. He took a four at a time approach. I would often ask him, “how in the world can you get to know four people at the same time.” His answer, “I get to know enough, besides, if one is busy there’s always another that I can call for a date or if one is flaky, there’s three more to fill her shoes.” This is how my friend guarded himself against disappointment; he managed his expectations by setting the bar low and keeping a plan b, c, and, d in his pocket at all times. He is a brother that is quick to write a sister off and walk away. He doesn’t really do the “bygone” thing. I had to accept that this was his choice and that it works for him (at least he thinks it does).
While that approach worked for my friend, it didn’t work for me. I had to find another way to manage my expectations, to limit my disappointments. I had to learn that unspoken expectations are more likely to end in frustrating and disappointing experiences. This holds especially true if you are not dating or engaging with a “mind reader.” Since I haven’t met many mind readers in my life, I have had to learn (albeit the hard way) that if I expect something of someone and if I value the connection, then I have to tell them what it is I expect. If they can’t deliver, they can’t deliver, but at least, I was honest. This saved me from a world of pain later because it allowed me to know where I stood early enough not to let disappointments take over my emotions. It was quite freeing. Sticking with the theme of relationships, it was nice to be able to say to a guy that I was dating, early on, and certainly before intimacy, that I believed in monogamy and wanted to be in a relationship with someone who felt the same. There was a range of responses to this declaration, but no matter their response, I knew what I wanted, expected and would accept. They had choices to make to make too and for both parties in this equation, if losses were to be cut, then the sooner the better!
Finally, this gets us to acceptance. First, I had to know and accept who I was and be cool with what I thought that I wanted or deserved. If I had a reasonable expectation (and yes, you should always check to see if your expectation is reasonable) then I had to get comfortable with the notion that if I stick to this expectation that it could result in wins but could just as easily result in losses. I had to accept me for me, no matter the consequences. Secondly, I had to accept the fact that other people get to make choices too and that their choices are not within my control. Something that I learned a long time ago is that, the one thing that you should expect from people is that they will be who they always are, so manage your expectations then you can limit your disappointments.
Lastly, since we are all more than the sum total of our mistakes or failures, try to extend grace when apologies are offered and sometimes, even when they are not. Disappointments internalized will lead to grudges, resentments and unforgiveness. You may remember the popular saying about unforgiveness which is “unforgiveness is like swallowing a poison pill and waiting for the other person to die. Other’s won’t die from the poison inside of you, but you can surely let grudges and resentments take hold of your inside and allow you to die a slow and lonely emotional death from a diseased heart and mind. There’s another way to live and I encourage you to explore it. Manage your expectations of others to limit the disappointments you experience and then accept people for who they are and love you for the better you that you’ve become as a result �+