Monday, June 5, 2017

What to Expect When You're Expecting

"People say that expectations are resentments under construction..."
~Anne Lamott, Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy

The day I turned nine was perfect. I awoke the morning after, went downstairs before anyone else was awake, and recreated the entire thing. I rewrapped my presents. I gathered up the kitten I'd been given the day before (not exactly the one I wanted -- I got grey and white when I wanted the ginger kitten but was a kitten!). And I felt that same sense of excitement and anticipation and delight that I'd felt the day before.
By my 12th birthday, my mother had abandoned any party planning. I invited a few friends over, cooked hot dogs, bought myself a cake in the frozen section of the grocery store. My mother, drunk but also sick with laryngitis, spent the entire party ringing a dinner bell to summon me to her bed for one thing after another. My friends exchanged looks. My helpless fury mounted. Finally, as my giggling mother requested that I get her water or fluff her pillows, I begged her to stop and let me just be with my friends. They left shortly after and I was left with my humiliation.
I've had a lot of birthdays since then. And for way too many years, I've been disappointed. However, as my old therapist would remind me, if your feelings are bigger than the situation calls for, it's always about old stuff.
My birthday is old stuff.
And yet...I can't seem to let go of those expectations.
For one day, I want it to be about me. For one day, I want people to spoil me. Just one day.
And though my family knows that this occasion takes place every. Single. Year. On. The. Same. Day. They can't seem to get their acts together to buy a card, bake a cake, choose a gift (or make one! I'm not picky!). 
Over the years, I've worked to accept reality. I know my family loves me. And I know my expectations are about "old stuff". (Though I don't think they're unreasonable.)
And so I organize something annually to mark my birthday. We see a play (and my son has sat through many musicals). This year, I bought us all tickets for a baseball game. I sometimes make our dinner reservations. This year, I bought all the ingredients for a cake and simply announced that "at some point, I would like a cake." My husband and daughter argued over whose fault it was that they'd forgotten. I didn't take it personally. I managed to find their spat amusing. 
I've come a long way. 
I've learned that, rather than nurse those resentments disguised as expectations, to give myself what I need. What I need is to feel valued. And so I value myself.
It can look different depending on the year. I might buy myself an outfit that I'd otherwise tell myself I didn't need. I might take the day away from my computer. Last week, on my birthday, I sat outside in the gorgeous sunshine and read a few chapters of a devastatingly beautiful book (The Mercy Papers, by Robin Romm). I ignored that little voice that said I should be doing something productive, like making money or taking care of someone.
I was taking care of someone. Myself.
It has taken me more than five decades to see the value in the simple act of taking care of myself. The value in not letting resentments gain a foothold.
My family loves me. I know this. They show me in many ways, none of which involve having a cake made on time or carefully chosen gifts. 
Instead they show me with last-minute promises, like my son's card that told me I'm the best mom "ever" and that he'll take me to lunch and then to the store that sells my favorite yoga pants and will buy me "anything". With homemade cards that, though created out of necessity more than desire, nonetheless are more beautiful than anything in the Hallmark store. With a cake that was, honestly, the best I've ever had, despite my daughter forgetting the eggs until the very last minute. I didn't taste even a hint of resentment in that cake.
Managing my expectations continues to be a challenge for me. People disappoint me all the time. But as I learn to go easier on myself, I'm able to go easier on others. It's not the same as letting people off the hook for bad behaviour. Rather it's about not expecting everyone to think and act like me. It's about letting them be who they are and to love me in their own way. 
But mostly it's about getting clear about what I need and then finding a way to deliver it to myself. That's what being a grown up is about. 
It's something I seemed to understand on that 9th birthday. That, even the day after, I was able to give myself what I needed, to remind myself that I matter. And, for the record, what I almost always need involves a cat. 


  1. Honestly Elle, this is great. I just finished week 5 of my Mindfulness class and last week we delved deeper into the Loving-Kindness Meditation. The instructor gave us a handout with suggestions for finding Loving-Kindness phrases that work for us as individuals and move on from there. The two questions to ask ourselves are "What do I need?" and "What do I long to hear?" The directions are to close our eyes, put a hand over our heart and and feel your body breathe. We are to imagine our hearts opening like a flower in the sun yet opening to itself. We are to write down the words that come up for us regarding what we need and if we heard that during our day. If not, we are given directions for making our own Loving-Kindness mantra like "May I love myself just as I am" "May I be there for myself" "May I know my own goodness" We are to offer ourselves what we long to hear from others. This has been revolutionary for me this week as I barrel down the road to the second anniversary of my D-Day. Those ongoing incidents that happen to hijack my central nervous system have been much more manageable. May you always find peace, love, joy and kindness.

    1. Beach Girl,
      I love the hand to heart part. For some reason, that makes it so much easier to center myself when I meditate or breathe deeply. I happened on to that just a few weeks ago. I also love the idea of offering myself what I long to hear from others. I will be doing that this week! Thank you for sharing this. I feel hijacked all the time too.

    2. Beach Girl, this is genius. Thanks for sharing

  2. As always, you hit the nail on the head, Elle. My continued disappointment and resentment are putting roadblocks on my way to recovery. Since D-Day, I've asked my husband to take me out, to date me, to make me feel special. He's not yet done it. I'm progressively more furious and each time we fight about it, I hear about the kids, the cost, etc. But what I also hear is his continued fear of failure. He's so wrapped up in planning the perfect thing that when he can't, he just does nothing instead. I've been feeling rather sad for myself that I've come to expect nothing--no big birthday celebrations, no special mother's day events, and likely no dates. I think I need to take a page from your book and start to do those things for myself. Wednesday this week is the first of two big antiversaries this month. Maybe I'll take myself on a little date to brighten my mood. Thanks for the continued perspective. Hugs.

    1. NM, you go girl, you take yourself on that date! I find this taking care of/loving myself stuff to be an unfamiliar world. After all, some of us don't even know who we are anymore, let alone our favorite food, etc... Our days have been spent caring for and anticipating the needs of others. Still feels selfish at times. Just look at our friends who have 'happy' marriages. It's working for 'her' to be centered on her husband. Maybe. It's likely their relationship just hasn't been challenged with this nightmare. They haven't had to be brutally honest with each other, AND themselves!
      I have developed a couple interests that are just 'mine'. It hasn't been easy, it doesn't come natural, but I would encourage it. Sometimes I even go to the mirror and pat myself on the back about my progress. Wierd, but works for me. One is a physical activity and no one's more surprised then me that I hold my own, and surpass expectations. VERY satisfying to 'me'. Even if h says he's proud of my progress I inwardly deflect it, telling myself I am the only one who needs to be proud of me. (hmm, I admit I do wanna bask in his praise tho, ha). I've noticed lately that the more time I spend on 'me' activities, the more my thoughts go there during the day. That means less time for my thoughts to go 'you know where'!!
      We all know how long a lonely day can be. And tomorrow might not seem like it will be any different. Here's hoping and trusting it will!

    2. New Mom,
      Start out small with requests with your H. Things don't have to cost money. When we were going through our first summer after dday we went on walks/hikes, coffee on the patio of our home, movies at home, etc. You can make things special and get back on track without spending money. We also read a book together (and no we had never done that before) You think of all the little happenings when you first dated and fell in love and many of them didn't cost money. It was a moment in time.

      On another note: treat yourself and take care of yourself! If you want a spa day, get your hair done, nails done or buy a new it! I did it plenty of times for myself to get my self esteem back. I wanted to feel pretty for myself and screw it if he didn't notice, but most days he did. Turn his head! You are so worth it and brighten your mood with whatever you think will help. Some days it's truly the little things. Once you start shining on the inside it will show on the outside you are doing well! May also show that you will start to turn others heads if he doesn't respond and react. :) Hugs to you!

    3. Thank you so much Anon. You're right--self care does not come easily or naturally to me. It does feel selfish. And more than that, as a working mom of two young kids, I don't really yet want to spend what little free time I have to be with my family, away from them. So it's a bit of a catch 22 right now for me. I love that you've taken up a physical activity through which you're able to amaze even yourself. How satisfying that must be!! Thank you for the message and the encouragement. I'll try to follow in your footsteps and do a little self care this week! Baby steps, right? Hugs.

    4. New Mom,
      Sometimes we need to lead by example. And, oh boy, do I remember when I conflated self-care with selfishness. I could hear that voice in my head haranguing me about being "self-centred and caring only about myself" (which is something my mother used to say to me routinely when I was younger). Not sure who your critic is but she's lying to you. Self-care is healthy. And as a mom, you want to be modelling self-care to your children. Our culture sells us this image of the self-sacrificing mother who does "everything" for our children. It's incredibly unhealthy for mother and child. Of course, we care for our children. But, as the old saying goes, if we're always holding their hand, it gives them one less hand to use.
      It will feel really uncomfortable and the critic in your head will get loud. Ignore it. This is about keeping yourself healthy and strong (you're no good to anybody, including yourself, if you're sick and resentful). It's about reminding yourself that you have as much worth as anyone else. That you deserve to be cared for by yourself. It's about keeping your own gas tank full.

    5. New Mom, I hear you! Let me tell you - you are NOT being selfish. Think about it this way - no working man would ever feel guilty for going golfing and missing half a day with the kids (plus society would never think of that dad as being selfish either). For all those years my H was living a 'married single' lifestyle - I put everyone else first and myself last. It seems that is a theme for the women on this blog, so you find yourself in good company. I barely found time to get my hair or my nails done but H found plenty of time to go on fishing, hunting, ski trips with the guys. Because I worked outside of the home and traveled about 20% I never wanted to take additional time away from H & the kids. I most vividly remember packing for everyone else when the kids were toddlers if we were going on a trip and by the time I got to my own suitcase I would inevitably forget something important. I remember getting ready to go to parties and making sure the kids looked picture perfect and H's clothes matched and by the time we needed to leave I had no time left to curl my own hair and was lucky if I could slap on some mascara and lipstick in the car. Since Dday I have done a 180 and now put myself first. The kids are older (11 & 14) and they don't need my undivided attention like they did when they were babies. When money is tight we can still lock the door, fill the room with candles & soft music, pour yourself a glass of wine, buy a good book, buy a new pair of tennis shoes so we can start walking or running, etc. And although I am no fan of credit cards or debt, this is one of those rainy days that I think it is reasonable to not go overboard but to treat yourself to a new outfit, a massage, a great meal out alone or with a girlfriend. As for childcare their dad can & should be responsible for watching them while you take care of yourself. Shortly after Dday 7 mos ago I told my H that I would be doing nice things for myself (and not to worry that I might be going out cheating or getting hammered or putting us into financial trouble) but I WOULD be going to the salon, the spa, having coffee or cocktails with the girls, exercising, etc. He was very supportive of me doing that (and even if he wasn't I would still do it).

  3. Am I expecting too much? A friend told me about the 7 languages of love (which I have yet to read), and my h has grown up so materialistic and shows this as his way of liking you, loving you and making himself seem so wonderful - giving people "things". Me, I have never been materialistic like him. I want the deep connections that money can't buy. Those intimate moments with your loved one. This is partly why I am so pissed off, that what I want he stopped/can't give and was giving to others.
    I think I need to go to a boxing class tomorrow. That usually helps release some anger.
    Gabby xo

    1. It's The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts (by Gary Chapman) You should buy it or check it out today. I've read it twice since dday. It's pretty much common sense, but good to read because after you get married, kids take priority and things (important things fall to the wayside) Read it WITH your H. We read it together and took turns reading aloud. It was a good moment to connect and discuss the chapters and understand how different we are and how we each have expectations as to how we feel loved and how we choose to express it. Those totally make sense when your husband is a gift giver and feels like you should feel loved with just that alone. Your language is more than likely the gift of time. Read it as soon as you can and possibly he will get some insight as to filling your love tank. Boxing is also good!

    2. Gabby
      My h and I read several of Gary Chapmen email article on the language of love and it did give us insight into our differences and he slowly made changes that helped me through some rough times but he also has fallen back into old patterns at times and I gently remind him what I need. Sometimes it's as simple as falling asleep with his arm around me and sometimes I need him to plan special dates. It changes depending on how much stress from life we're both having. His from work mine from caring for my mother. I've also asked him to step up and help plan our meals as I've grown tired of guessing what he wants for dinner. He's trying hard and I'm trying hard not to be disappointed when he falls short of my expectations. He's only human and he's still a man! But his willingness makes the most difference! Hugs!

    3. Gabby,
      I haven't read the book but know many who found it really helpful. And I certainly subscribe to the underlying premise of the book, which is that we "speak" our love in different ways. My husband, for instance, tells me he loves me by filling my car with gas, by making sure we're insured up the wazoo, by planning for our retirement. I express love by cooking meals, by creating a warm home, by remembering occasions. Not right or wrong. Just different.
      Your husband's love of material things likely means a lot of different t things to him. Maybe it represents success or security. Maybe it represents indulgence. But if you can begin to see it as an expression of love -- even if it feels different than how you express love -- it will be easier to let go of the specifics and focus on the underlying effort.
      That said, you can also share with him what does meaningful to you. Spending time together, remembering to call if he's going to be late (or not being late!!), etc. But you may never change what feels "valuable" to him.

  4. Within the past 3 days I have had two of my closest girlfriends (who don't know that my H cheated) in different contexts tell me that they have no idea how a W can stay with a H who had an A. With one we were talking about a favorite restaurant we used to live and it organically came up that the restaurant is failing because the woman owner embezzled money at the same time she cheated on her H & left him for the other man (the business got dragged through their messy divorce). My friend said that's the one thing that if it happened she could never stay with her husband. This friend knows I have other marriage problems, but not about the A. So I did my best to muster a poker face & say 'I can't even figure out my own situation let alone judge anyone else'. My other friend who also knows I'm unsure about the future of my marriage, but doesn't know about the A said 'I don't know how anybody could EVER have a good marriage after an affair'. I told her a true story about a couple I met who have been married 50 years, the H had a 3 month long A with a coworker 30 yrs ago, she caught him, he worked very hard to repair the damage he'd done & they are very happily married today - you would see them waling down the street or in church holding hands looking like they are in love and never suspect what happened in the past. My friend was surprised to hear that story. I had to pretend like I wasn't a BW. It was so uncomfortable for me. It was incredibly hurtful to see how my close friends unknowingly judge us (BW). I know one never knows how you will react until it actually happens to you. But one thing I don't think anyone understands is how hurtful it must be for the many BW in our situations to hear that judgment from a close friend. So my expectations about my friends has been lowered. I know I made a good decision to not tell either of them because they would have both told me to leave. Neither one of them would probably ever want to be around my H again (and that will only hurt my friendships and our kids are friends). I see now that they would be the girls who would take me out for a divorce party but not be happy for me if my marriage recovers. Only my best friend knows & she has never been cheated on, but she is like all of you - she will support me no matter what I decide and she has never advised me to stay or go.

    1. browneyedgirl,
      That is a hard one for me too! The person who does my bikini wax ended a relationship with a boyfriend who cheated. Yesterday she said, "I will never stay with anyone again for even a minute if there is anything even LIKE cheating going on. I'm done with all of that. Anyone who stays is stupid." There I was, completely (ahem) vulnerable (bikini wax!) and conflicted. Really hard not to tell her about me (but would have been a terrible idea). I said, "I have experienced that pain before and it is very hard I agree. There is a lot of pain involved. I'm so sorry this happened to you. I'm glad you are doing what is right for you. You deserve so much more." She didn't ask more about my experience (thank god). I ended up dreaming about leaving my H and former boyfriend all night. Just working through my choice to stay all over again. It was still way easier than having others who have no idea speculate on what they'd do because I felt compassion for her and what she was going through. The worst are the lookers-on who feel so certain what the right answer is. I am so ashamed to say that I would have been one of those people before all of this! Now when I hear gossip from onlookers with advice, I always speak up in support of the person going through it figuring it out for him/herself!! This experience has cured me of any judgement syndrome I had about any topic. I don't know ANYTHING, and I am in no position to tell someone else what to do about their personal tragedy.

      A friend of mine who does know about my H's affairs recently told me she wished her H would have one (she's very unhappy in her marriage and wants out). Her logic was that if he did that, she could leave and no one would blame her and she would have "the upper hand". I had no idea how to respond. Lucky me I guess! Lol.

    2. Hi BEG and Ann, Yes, I think most of us had somebody say this to us if we've chosen to stay mum on the infidelity in our marriage. And, I hate to admit, I would likely have been one of those who would have said "I would never put up with that." Gulp.
      What I say now is that I've learned, after 20 years of marriage, that none of us has a clue what's really going on in another's marriage. I say that I try hard not to judge because I don't want anybody else judging how I live my own life. In most cases, whoever I'm speaking with pauses and agrees. It's just such a knee-jerk response that I suspect most don't really think about it. It doesn't hurt to remind people that what they would put up with (a husband who golfs every Sunday, for instance), others say they wouldn't tolerate. And I always ALWAYS point out how common infidelity is so that a LOT more marriages than we realize are actually dealing with it/have dealt with it.
      But all that comes with practice. I know, at first, it feels like a slap in the face. It feels like an indictment of our circumstances and choices. But it's really about their ignorance, their lack of imagination, and mostly it's about their fear.

    3. Thanks ann & Elle.

      Ann, in your waxer's case I have to say, for me, if it was a boyfriend I would be much more likely to end the relationship than in a marriage. And in a marriage, I would be more likely (not for certain, just more likely) to leave if there were no kids. It's the # of bonds you have (children, friends, extended family, a home, finances, faith, common interests, shared experiences, etc, etc.) a couple has the more it is likely that you will the betrayed spouse will not file for divorce quickly and without significant contemplation. Maybe that's something I'll work into my response the next time I hear a friend make that statement!

  5. I just came across this research study from the Gottman Institute and there is still time to apply if you live in the right place.



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