Raise your hand if you’ve ever said something along the lines of, “if they don’t text me by Wednesday, I’ll be so frickin’ pissed,” in reference to the person you went on a date with last Saturday. Almost everyone, I see you. I hear you. I am you. When dating, it’s easy — natural, even — to get swept up in your expectations of another person. We know what we want, and we want it now, dammit. If you’re someone who is clear about what they fancy, more power to you! But you should also realize that holding fast to certain expectations can stifle your dating life.
“Expectations get in the way of the joy and opportunity,” says sex and relationship expert Megan Fleming, Ph.D. “It’s really important that we don’t get ahead of ourselves with expectations, because you want to let a person show up as they are, not as who you imagine or project them to be [in order] to see if they are partner material.” In a sometimes unconscious attempt to exert control, you set yourself up for disappointment. “It’s easier to feel in control [if you are] the one leaving than [if you are] the one who is rejected,” Fleming adds. “There are self-protective strategies in having these criteria, and in doing so, we’re not opening ourselves up to [who and what is out there].”
Big expectations like “this date is going to be my last first date” and small ones like “she said she was going to send me some new music but hasn’t” alike can strip you of many of the exciting and mysterious parts of dating, and leave you disappointed. These expectations box you into only reaching for what you think you may want, rather than allowing you to discover what that is organically. You get so excited about something that you end up building it up in your mind. When it doesn’t happen or when it does, only differently than you imagined, you feel let down.
“Any time someone’s reminded of something historical that they didn’t like, they jump to the conclusion of oh, this might be a warning sign, so let me bail early,” Fleming says. But one delayed response isn’t, on its own, indicative of anything. That’s not to say there’s not a time and place to be a little more discerning, though. Fleming suggests trying to practice tolerance and give someone space to deliver until something becomes a pattern. Once it happens at least three times, it may be time to raise that red flag to full-mast.
Look, you’re not going to stop yourself from mulling over a date — or most events, for that matter — before it happens. The same goes for analyzing it after the fact. But when your mind does go there, you have to (try) to give people the benefit of the doubt. Let’s say someone doesn’t text you back promptly. In today’s world that’s a little weird, but you’re also just getting to know them. How realistic is it to think that you’re immediately going to get to the stage of texting on an hourly basis, asks Fleming? That expectation indicates anxiety (understandable) and trying to close the gap of uncertainty (also understandable). It may be particularly acute depending on your romantic history.
Until then, it’s up to us, the expectation masters of the world, to free ourselves from the weight of assumption. “As humans, we’re always trying to make sense of something, but in this context, we’re mind-reading,” says Fleming. Well, when you put it like that, it doesn’t sound terribly rational.
Focus on who you are and your actions rather than desperately attempting to mold the person across from you into the partner you’ve imagined. “When we have all these expectations, we’re not making room for the surprises [that] we might really like,” says Fleming. She reminds us to go into every date with good intentions — you want to have a good time with and like the person you’re meeting. Be mindful of tapping into the logical part of yourself when it comes to evaluating their behavior. Are they doing something wrong, or are they just doing it differently? Are they acting from a place of malice or a place of confusion? An easy way to put this into practice? If you wouldn’t expect it from a stranger, don’t expect it from the stranger you went on two dates with either.