Plant an expectation, reap a disappointment

I read this quote in Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed – A Sceptic Makes Peace with Marriage’.

She talks about this in connection with the Hmong(a tribe in Vietnam)’s view towards marriage. She talks about societies where people matter based on their ‘role’ rather than for what they are. As in, based on their contribution to society, rather than as an individual. The collective society versus Individualistic society argument.

Gilbert goes to Vietnam and meets some Hmong people, an ethnic minority there, and asks them about what marriage means to them. The above mentioned quote was the essence of what makes marriages work for them.

Gilbert goes on to say that while this makes perfect sense, it is not easy for a person of her generation who has grown up believing that she has the right to complete happiness to suddenly change that mindset and start believing that being unhappy is alright and acceptable. She questions whether it is wrong to expect happiness. Is it wrong to have expectations from something as important as one’s marriage?

This concept of having no expectations was probably the basis of marriages in almost every part of the world, just a few decades ago, wasn’t it? After all, in India, we still believe  in it quite a bit, don’t we? While the ‘no expectations’ bit is a bit more relevant for women, the men are in no way unaffected. While they may have expectations of their wives, more often than not, these expectations are their’s parents'(and the society’s) expectations of the new daughter-in-law rather than the man’s own personal expectations(although that might be there too). Have we all not heard derogatory remarks made about a man, if he is a solicitous of his wife’s comfort. In a traditional, joint family environment, this is the expectation that he inherits, rather than what he might have had of his marriage if he had not been shackled by the environment that he grew up in. Or had he the freedom to approach the marriage based on what he, as an individual wanted out of his marriage.

Just as Elizabeth Gilbert finds it difficult to settle for anything less than ‘complete happiness’, someone brought up in an environment where all the women are seen giving up their aspirations, being submissive, and non-assertive would find it just as difficult to ‘expect’ anything more than what she gets out of her marriage.

I guess, this form of marriage worked at a time when both the parties felt that this was the only option. The moment, marriage became more about the individuals, instead of ‘convenience’, be it convenience for the extended family or the individuals themselves, expectations start to build. I think, when the marriage is primarily of convenience, expectations are low, so maybe, the disappointments are low as well. While in a situation where both partners are in it with their own expectations, there might be more disappointments when things don’t go as per plan.

With that as the background, I think it makes sense to me why marriages in the earlier times did not break up as much as they do now. That and the fact that men and women had their roles chalked out. So very few women actually got independent (financially) enough to have the confidence of walking out of an unhappy marriage. And again, how many people voiced their unhappiness, if it were considered frivolous to have such expectations from a marriage?

But I do have one question. Is it really possible to have no expectations at all ? One really has to be a superhuman to be able to have no expectations, don’t we? Or is that we have become a really spoiled generation, as some people would claim. I am not so sure about earlier generations not having expectations though. I think the lives were different, expectations were different. Instead of having expectations from one’s spouse, people had expectations from their children. Like a son would always look after them, the son’s spouse would have to be the primary care giver. So while marriages might not end, in the way they end today, it was not because of lack of expectations – it was probably because the expectation was not placed on the spouse. And where the expectation was placed on the spouse- it was more than likely to be the wife, who had far less independence to be defiant or walk away from an unhappy marriage..

So while marriages might have been just as unhappy(or even more, can we ever get a realistic figure?), they might have been termed ‘successful’, just because they did not fall apart.

*I had this sitting in my drafts, so thought I had might as well publish it  – I never have completed posts sitting in drafts normally*

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25 thoughts on “Plant an expectation, reap a disappointment

  1. I agree..its super human not to have expectations..everyone has them and from everyone as well…

    But I do feel that in a marriage, while you are totally entitled to have your expectations, set them right from the start….I may have a million expectations and my spouse may have a 100, but letting the other person know about it, talking about it and discussing about it, is a much easier, and happier way to deal with it 🙂

    I totally agree that it is best to set them right at the start. But there are also situations where people change, circumstances change, and those expectations that were set at the beginning might also change, right? And sometimes, it might not work for one person – even after discussing, and talking it through..

  2. You know, I have wondered many a times about the same things. Marriages did not break up in the olden times as much as they do now, but then, of course, how would they? So many women did not have the awareness or independence or support to walk out of their marriages, even if they wanted to! And I totally agree with the ‘placing expectations on children instead of spouses’ part.

    I can’t think of a life without expectations – small or big. It’s only human to have them. It kind of feels chilling to think of a marriage where a woman is just supposed to ‘serve’ her husband and his family and not expect one single thing in return.

    I agree. That makes it such a sad existence, for the women..

    I heartily agree with what R’s Mom has to say: ‘In a marriage, while you are totally entitled to have your expectations, set them right from the start….I may have a million expectations and my spouse may have a 100, but letting the other person know about it, talking about it and discussing about it, is a much easier, and happier way to deal with it.’

    Yes of course, that is the way to get into a relationship.. But sometimes, as I mentioned to her, expectations might change, right? People might change, and with that so might their expectations…

  3. So while marriages might have been just as unhappy(or even more, can we ever get a realistic figure?), they might have been termed ‘successful’, just because they did not fall apart.
    True. It’s about time people realised that “not falling apart” is NOT equal successful. Unfortunately in today’s world, or atleast in India, most people think so.

    True. Just staying together, no matter what, does not equal a successful marriage.. I think the mindset is changing, slowly..

    You know, I initially thought your post had to do with reading IHM’s recent post about a wife whose husband expected a lot of her 🙂

    Oh no 🙂 I had this in my drafts for a while – I jotted this down while reading Committed -just forgot to publish it 🙂

  4. if both treat each other as they themselves want to be treated .. wont it be easier for a couple .. respect – love and care for each other shud do the trick

    Absolutely! But a lot of times, it does not happen..

    although expectation are there and I think shud be tooo otherwise we will lose interest in each other .. if we expect the interest remains toooo and I mean Good expectations .. if you know what i mean …
    That is true.. Life would be boring if we did not have expectations, wouldn’t it?

  5. true this: With that as the background, I think it makes sense to me why marriages in the earlier times did not break up as much as they do now. That and the fact that men and women had their roles chalked out. So very few women actually got independent (financially) enough to have the confidence of walking out of an unhappy marriage. And again, how many people voiced their unhappiness, if it were considered frivolous to have such expectations from a marriage?

    and to add to all this : how many people really dared to walk out even if they wanted to? Of course walking out without any education thus no means to live. But also to carry that shame to the parents house of not being able to live with the husband happily [read:without expectations] They would prefer dying of hurt than dying of shame in world’s eyes!

    True! So very true!

    regarding having no expectation at all : I think it’s not possible. Like you said not sure about earlier times [may be that time also there were expectations but then people were equipped with right amount of patience and let-go skills to overcome the failure of expectations] but look at it this way without expectation the relationships would be so mundane and robotic,no? Like you do your duty and I do mine in the relationship…we just don’t expect anything from each other and be merry with the monotony of life ?

    ‘without expectation the relationships would be so mundane and robotic,no? ‘ – Couldn’t agree more!!!

    Even the house help that comes in we have expectations from her,no? She has to sparkle clean the utensils, clear the floors and make them spot-less…and all in the name of ‘that’s what you’re being paid for’ ? But aren’t these expectations only? You work at your desk and expect a good amount of salary against the inputs your put in for the company and in turn of salary the company expects you to work hard and achieve targets…aren’t these expectations ?

    Very true!

    And yes not that every expectation gets fulfilled and that’s when heart break, disappointment, sadness comes into picture and that’s how the therapist doctors, writers and movies run their business 😉

    so basically,

    no expectations>no disappointment>no heart break>no therapy>no doctors/writers>no business=plain and simple monotonous life just like earlier time 😀

    heheheh I don’t how much it makes sense but re reading my comment made me laugh 😉

    I loved your comment !!! I love your properly analytical comments 🙂 They are much better than my post 🙂

  6. Not a fan of Elizabeth Gilbert by the way. But to talk about expectations, I think rather than no expectations, we need to have realistic expectations. The problem with most of us is unrealistic expectations and then when those are not met, we are obviously disappointed! It’s like the expectation for “complete happiness”…how unrealistic is that??? There’s a brilliant book called “The Happiness Trap” which talks about a therapy known as Acceptance and Commitment therapy and the basis is that most human beings expect to be happy and not suffer at all and that’s the trap we fall into resulting in mental health problems when we suffer. It does have underlying Buddhist philosophies.

    I have a friend who was in a relationship with this guy some years ago and her expectations of him and the relationship were very Hollywood style…she expected he behave romantically, he have a lot of money, he own a car, some of which were unrealistic given where he was at that point in time. As a result, she nagged and nagged and nagged and he got sick of it and eventually they broke up. I guess it’s fine to have unrelatistic expectations as long as one is prepared to suffer!

  7. They say expectation reduces joy… the same intent as the title I guess. But yes, when you expect and are not given what you expected, or do not rise to that expectation yourself, there is heartburn and heartbreak. As R’s Mom has said, talking of our own expectations, especially in a marriage, is what would help sustain more joy in it.
    People of a generation ago, me included, we had lesser expectations, and that is not to say we were right or wrong. That was the way it was. More for convenience than for individual aspiration! That is in its place, but today there IS more focus on being able to find fulfilment, and therefore there would certainly be more expectations. So long as they are real, and sensitive, they are in place!

  8. I did a post on the exact same topic some time ago. Though, it is impossible not to have expectations, I believe in realistic expectations. Now what is realistic might not be realistic for you. So, when two human beings are involved, they can sit down and judge for themselves. But, life does not work out in such simple ways, does it?

  9. Hi Smitha, chanced on your blog sometime ago, love your varied posts and the way you write. My personal views are that marriage is an enterprise, entered by 2 people with some common and some independent reasons (yes, i believe that even love marriages are that way) and the best way forward is of course that each person gets to maximize his expectations but certainly not at the cost of the other. Communication, respect, compromise, dissonance, readjustments, contentment, power play, common goals – all figure in running it well.

    • Welcome here Chattywren. And thank you for your kind words 🙂

      ‘ best way forward is of course that each person gets to maximize his expectations but certainly not at the cost of the other.’ – Absolutely!

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