Sex + Expectations = ?
A friend of mine recently said that she sometimes finds specificity annoying, especially in the realm of relationships.
She is not the only one to say this.
I have known several people who find specific requests to be too much; they would rather be given a little freedom and trust.
On the other hand, I know people who far prefer to know if something is working or if it is not. They like to be reassured if it’s good, and helped to improve if not. And ideally they would know ahead of time what the person they’re with would like.
This is all about managing expectations and disappointment.
If you have a hope, that’s fine. But if the hope becomes an expectation, it enters the land of risk. Expectations are the things we count on. We plan for them. And when they don’t happen, we are hurt, sad, disappointed, angry–our expectations, unmet, can really get sharp. And pointy.
But it is really, really hard not to have expectations. We look at a situation, we evaluate it, and we think something is going to happen…so we start to believe it is going to happen. It’s that simple; it’s one of the many ways we keep our brains from exploding from the tons and tons of possibilities that are out there.
And often the solution to potential disappointment ends up being this intense, almost obsessive attention to detail.
It’s a kind of slightly fearful clarity, and it goes like this:
I know no one can read my mind.
I know that I want [thing x].
This other person whose cooperation I need for [thing x] is a good person and probably wants to help with what is important to me.
Therefore, if I ask clearly for what I want, very clearly, with lots of detail, I will probably get it. It’s not fair to expect or even hope that someone will give me what I want if I don’t communicate that.
And if I don’t get what I want after being very clear, then we have a basis for further conversation.
On the other end is the desire for trust, faith, and flexibility, and wanting to feel like a good person. It looks more like this:
I love to be good to people.
Especially when it’s on my own terms.
I don’t like to feel pressured or coerced, and I experience specific and direct requests as setting up an obligation for me.
I like to think that I’m a good [friend, lover, colleague] and that I pay attention.
Therefore, if someone has to ask me for exactly what they want, and then I give it to them, there’s no relationship there. It’s just an act of service. This is fine occasionally, but mostly I would like to give freely from my own heart, imagination, and gifts.
And if I don’t give them what they want even though I know them well, maybe I need to listen more and learn to intuit better.
Neither of these is exactly wrong or exactly right. They are just different. And as usual, the best course is generally somewhere between the two: a gentle blend of intuition and clear requests. Where the relationship generally breaks down, if it breaks down, is when that last item changes from “more learning, more conversation” to “oh well it can’t be fixed and you don’t love me anyway”. No matter which dynamic is at play in a given moment, the key is to believe that more learning and deeper connection are possible, and move toward that.
But they do have a fundamental root, and that is knowing yourself.
If you are aware of your expectations and your hopes, then you can know when you need to speak up and when you are willing to be quiet. You can know when you want exactly what you want, and when you want something deeper. For example, you might want to make love tonight. But what you really might want is the sense of closeness and abundance of touch; whether it has an erotic component might be totally immaterial. So maybe you can give your lover some latitude.
You might want to follow a specific fantasy all the way to the bottom.
Or you might just want the intensity of not being in charge.
When you know, then you can play. Play with letting go. Play with asking. Play with trust.
For some of us, letting go is harder. Letting someone follow their intuition with our bodies can be deeply challenging. For others of us, asking for what we want is harder. Saying our desires out loud and trusting other people to treat that vulnerability with respect and gentleness feels like a quick route to disappointment, grief, and a feeling of abandonment if the other person gets it wrong.
At root, that’s what this is about: getting it wrong. When it feels good, great!
But when something goes off-kilter, it becomes time to practice that deepest trust of all: trust that the other person had good intentions, didn’t mean to cause pain, loves us anyway.
Which means, of course, that we have to believe we can be loved: loved in our brokenness, loved in our distress, loved in our disappointment, loved in our imperfection. Not loved for what we can do for someone, but loved because of who we are.
Trickier for some than for others, but not impossible. And absolutely critical. How do you get there?