“Expectations are planned resentments.”
Damn, that rang true. I listened to that line as it was read from somewhere in the Al-Anon literature yesterday. It stuck with me, all afternoon, last evening, and into today. Now I find myself here writing about it, so I can think through it and why and how I can change that.
I was big on expectations ever since I was a kid. I remember my mom warned me. “You’re doing it again, Karen,” she’d say. She knew I planned my entire weekend, from where my friends would go, who would drive, what we would wear, who got shotgun, who would kiss, who, etc. And it never went as planned. Never.
My sister has come to replace my mother with that admonishment. And to her credit, I think she’s had marginal success. With her help and a few other resources, I have learned that expectations don’t have to be associated with negative outcomes unless our intentions put them there.
So, what the hell does that mean? Well, what I’ve learned recently through my work with Al-Anon, Improv, and that one big job called Motherhood, is that we often try to script the scene. Here are three examples:
- When I made my make my daughter’s bed I expected to be thanked.
- When I edited a scene and started a new one where I pretended to be sipping soup, I fully expected my fellow player to know there are lentils in the invisible pot on the invisible stove in my invisible kitchen.
- When I rescinded my initial petition for divorce, I expected promises to be kept.
None of my expectations were met.
In the first case, I stopped making the bed because I expected to be thanked. I was infuriated by the lack of gratitude. And then I started pestering Bridget about making her bed. The result was me becoming both infuriated and aggravated. So I started to make the bed because I liked making it. Not because I wanted to be thanked for it. I like a made bed. Bridget could care less. So I accepted that. Now, I smile when I walk into her room during the day. I smile again when I pull back the covers and help Bridget get settled into bed at night, and not have to fight with a bed in disarray.
In the second case, I paused, released the expectation, and rolled with the line that my fellow player had thrown out. Lentils were never uttered, and no one was disappointed, including me. And by accepting the line, the scene was better, stronger, and funnier.
In the last case, it led to a world of disappointment, to sleepless nights, to tear-soaked pillows, to angry phone calls, to a lot of therapy, and to Al-Anon. This is the most significant example. I learned after two failed marriages that we can’t expect others to meet our expectations if they don’t need to, they don’t want to, or they simply can’t because they aren’t capable.
I started to attend Al-Anon meetings last month without any expectations. And I think that’s why I have yet to be disappointed. When I read How Al-Anon Works. I am relieved to find people who I can identify with. Suddenly, I don’t feel crazy about the times when I called the morgue during my first marriage. A story I’d preface with, well I was a reporter back then and spoke with the guys in the morgue all the time. On the nights when morning came and our bed was still half empty I feared something terrible had happened and that he was dead, or even worse that he killed someone while driving drunk and himself, I would call. I am surprised I can’t recall the Medical Examiner’s number as I write this. Thankfully, he wasn’t there. And that he never killed someone. Eventually, I stopped expecting him to change and left. Fast forward 16 years later, and I did the same thing. Eventually, I detached. I stopped expecting change and started accepting the line.
Just like in Improv, it’s not always easy to roll with the line, though. But it’s better than killing the scene. In life, when we accept what’s put in front of us, the outcome, at least in my experience is healthier. Acceptance sure works better than Pepcid, TUMS, and Zantac. It’s cheaper, too. Denial had me drinking alongside the alcoholic, ignoring the problems, and in a constant state of resentment. It sucks to be perpetually disappointed. Saying goodbye to denial is a great relief to the mind and liver, too.
When I went to Al-Anon in late 2016 and early 2017, I was fit to be tied. This line so perfectly summed up my feelings: “Expectations are planned resentments.” I remember thinking, “Why the fuck do I have to be here? Didn’t I do what I was supposed to do? Wasn’t it bad enough that I every time I went to practice yoga, I consistently set him as my intention and prayed for him? Shit, I wouldn’t even pray for myself. And now I am at Al-Anon and get to talk about how my life sucks? This is total fucking bullshit.” I remember getting in the car and crying like a hungry baby. I was the angriest I had ever been. And I resented everyone, especially those who suggested I go to Al-Anon.
So, yes, amen and damn straight, expectations are planned resentments. I believe that to be true. It wasn’t until, I changed my intentions, dismissed selfish and unrealistic expectations, and started to take care of myself and my daughter as best I could, that things started to change. Resentments eventually began to dissipate.
It’s a process for sure. Going to a meeting yesterday and later truly reflecting on the connection between expectations and resentments, I admit my heart felt heavy. I parked the car, let the dogs out, and then picked up the shovel for the first time in a month and started to chip away at some ice and scrape up some slush. I felt a tinge in my abdomen telling me to put it down when I heard Bridget call out, and could see she was excited to see me there.
“Hey Momma, can we watch Mrs. Maisel?”
I stopped and did a mental inventory of all the work that I still had left that afternoon, and started to say no. Then I stopped. I accepted her line.
“Yes, Bridget, let’s watch Mrs. Maisel.”
“Really?” she asked.
“Yes, Bridget, one show,” I said.
“Thank you, Momma. I’ll get it ready.”
And with that, we had one perfect afternoon.