Unspoken Expectations, or, the Story of Things That Bite You in the Ass

Be honest–who was disappointed in what their partner did (or did not do) for Valentine’s Day?

I don’t do Valentine’s Day. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I made Valentine themed barrettes for my nieces, and I bought some candy, because candy is delicious. What I don’t do is celebrate Valentine’s Day with my husband. It has taken years of convincing to get him on the same page because he is a sweet, romantic, and thoughtful man, and I am an asshole. It took him a few years to believe I truly didn’t want to celebrate; years in which he got me something even after I expressly stated I didn’t want anything, because he is also not a stupid man and wanted to ensure I wasn’t trying to trick him by saying I didn’t want anything and then getting mad when he didn’t intuit I really had. Even now that he good-naturedly accepts my Scrooge-like behavior, he will still attribute everything on that day to being “for Valentine’s Day.”

Image courtesy of snottub on Etsy.

In years past, I have attributed my anti-Valentine’s Day to “not buying into some Hallmark holiday” and all the other tripe people throw around to justify themselves, but the reality is, I don’t like to be disappointed. One year, many, many moons ago, I put together an extremely thoughtful and fun gift for the guy I was dating. It was an elaborate scheme in which I stole the spare key to his car, put the gifts in his seat on my lunch hour, then called him to ask him to look for something I had forgotten in his car so he would be surprised by the gift sitting there. It included some silly Curious George stationary, because he loved Curious George, among many other items he had been wanting. When he picked me up that evening, my gift was a note about how neat he thought I was, written on the stationary I had left for him a few hours earlier. I was hurt. I was sad. I was disappointed that I had put so much time and thought into something and he jotted some words on paper he had on hand. I didn’t need diamonds or flowers or anything outrageous; if he had written the same note for me on a card, I don’t think it would have been as bad, but it was his utter lack of consideration for me that really hurt. A lot.

A Shop of Unnecessary Necessities by roscata on Etsy.

Here’s the thing, though–I hadn’t given him any indication that Valentine’s Day was at all important to me. If he had asked, I probably dismissed it as “not a big deal to me.” Since that was the case, what right did I have to be upset with him when he did exactly what I had said by not making a big deal about it? How often do we do this to our partners? We put expectations on them to behave a certain way, expecting them to read our minds and intuit what we need or want without ever expressing our desires out loud. We want to know that they know us well enough to know what we really meant, to prove that they pay enough attention to know when we aren’t being forthcoming because we want to be surprised. How often does this work out positively for anyone? We want and expect people to behave as we would behave in situations; we expect from others what we expect from ourselves. Except, those others aren’t us. They don’t have the same life experiences, they don’t put emphasis on the same things, and they have their own sets of expectations.

This habit extends far further than partners. There are certain things at the office that I am very particular about. For instance, our main conference room has double doors. When people leave meetings, they always open one, but rarely the other. That one closed door drives me crazy; something about it being closed throws off the flow of the office for me. My receptionist, who cleans the conference rooms after they are used, never opened the second door when he was done cleaning. I would stomp over there and open the door, loudly clanging it against it’s magnetic door stop to get my point across that the door needed to be opened. He never got the hint; I got more and more annoyed. Then one day, I said, “hey, can you please make sure you open both doors when you are done cleaning out the conference rooms?” and, by golly gee, guess what? I haven’t had to open that door in months. Yes, this is a silly example, but I think it illustrates the point I am trying to make. Basically, if you let people know what you expect from them, they are usually more than willing to do it.

This is a part of myself that I have worked on over the past few years. I try to make sure that if I have specific expectations of something, whether it is a holiday or housework, I make those known. Another example for y’all–the kitchen being clean is important to me. The rest of the house can be a disaster, but for some reason, if the kitchen is clean, I feel more at ease. Instead of expecting my husband to have to same idiosyncrasy, or to read my mind, I let him know my position. Now, even though he doesn’t particularly give two shits about the kitchen, he helps keep it clean. Conversely, he gets antsy if the garage is a mess (the one part of the house I could care less about), so I do my best not to let it get too cluttered or out of control. Both of these items caused tension in our co-habitation early on when we both thought the other should just know this thing; now they rarely have to be mentioned.

We all want to believe that the people in our lives know us well enough that these things don’t have to be said. Unfortunately, this line of thinking usually leads to nothing but disappointment. It leads to frustration and can erode even the strongest of relationships. My challenge to myself, and to anyone reading this, should you care to join me, is to tell people what I (you) need. When someone doesn’t live up to an ideal in my head, I will be upfront and honest about my needs for the future. For the most part, people like to make other people happy. Most people don’t intentionally try to hurt each other’s feelings or ignore their wishes. I will try to remember that, try to remember not to see maliciousness where there is none, and try not to interpret lack of fulfillment of my needs as an attack or inconsideration, but as a genuine lack of the proper information.

Going back to my earlier question about being disappointed by your partner the other day–could anyone’s disappointment have been offset by any of the above?

Image via MetalliCarp Design by Metallicarp on Etsy.

***MJ wrote a really touching article the other day about how much she enjoys celebrating Valentine’s Day with the people she loves–I Don’t Hate Valentine’s Day | Persephone Magazine. It is one of the first articles I have read about the subject that actually gave me pause about my boycott. Check it out!

**** also, I found a ton of adorable Etsy stores when searching for Anti-Valentines items, should you want to check them out. A Shop of Unnecessary Necessities by roscata on EtsyMetalliCarp Design by Metallicarp on EtsyConversation Heart Fingerless Mitts pink by TwinkieChan on EtsyGrumpy Snarky Valentines Day Conversation by suzyqandsallytooOxidized FUCK Conversation Heart Necklace by HannahBlountJewelry.

16 replies on “Unspoken Expectations, or, the Story of Things That Bite You in the Ass”

Hah, this reminds me of when I was a child, I used to make myself sick in anticipation of Christmas, and of course I would be disappointed because nothing can quite compare to the fantasies of a six-year-old with an overactive imagination.

I’ve calmed down a lot since then, thankfully. I’ve never been really disappointed on Valentine’s Day, because I don’t think it’s a very important holiday; when I’ve had a boyfriend, I’ve always spent time with them on that day, and got them a small gift, but nothing over the top. Although one year an ex got me a book called something like “Water Kamasutra” and it was obviously all about having sex in water, and I was highly unimpressed (TMI time) because other than the shower, I loathe having sex in water. It’s either slippery or a UTI waiting to happen. Ahem, I digress. Frankly in this case I wouldn’t have minded not getting a gift at all.

Although this year I felt a bit like an ass because my boyfriend got me a really nice gift, and I stuck with my usual tradition of getting something small and light-hearted. He loved it, but, well. I’ll have to make it up for his birthday.

Thank you for writing this! I’m notorious for listening to someone complain about their partner and then saying, “Um, did you tell HIM that?”

My husband and I get into these messes too, but there’s nothing like suddenly saying in the middle of the argument, “Because you should be able to read my mind!” Then we dissolve into giggles. Communication is the most important thing ever in relationships.

I think I’m one of the few people in the world who actively loves Valentine’s Day.  I think a holiday that celebrates taking the time out to appreciate the people you love is a fantastic idea and I am wholly on board.

My SO and I have been living together for 2 years, and he’s not a particularly romantic guy.  And that’s ok.  I’d rather have someone who can handle the day to day stuff and not have to rely on Grand Romantic Gestures to make up for it.  I do require something romantic on V-Day, just because I need a little romance every once in a while.

Something that we have done that has really really helped in the gift giving department is keep lists of things we want.  I have a list of miscellaneous tools and car parts so if something goes on sale or I just want to surprise him with something I can pick it up without having to ask him in advance and ruin the surprise, and he has the same list for me.  If one of us buys something on our own we make sure to let the other person know so they can cross it off their list.

I’m with you – I love Valentine’s Day.  I even brought tears to my mom’s eyes with a card telling her how much I appreciated her along with a cheesy horror movie (the best!).

My SO and I have lived together for almost 3 years, dated for 6 1/2.  I woke up on valentine’s to a dozen roses and a huge box of chocolates (and the sappy romantic card).  He made dinner reservations at one of our favorite “special occasion” places.  I gave him a bunch of little silly gifts (and the sappy romantic card).

I agree with you, totally. My (ex?) boyfriend and I are “taking time apart” right now. He moved out two weeks ago. But we still talk and we’re hoping to get back together in the future, but he has depression and we were in a big rut that was making him more depressed, so he needs to take care of himself, which I understand despite my sadness. Anyway, he came over on Saturday (long story), and I had made him a bag of different Valentines candies with a plush heart I had sewn myself (I can’t sew, by the way – it looked like a five year old made it) which said “happy v-day” on it. He left the bag at my house, which he later apologised for, and I hid the embarrassing plush heart in the candy, so he hadn’t seen it. I had hoped, though, that I would get something for all my trouble.

Nope, nothing.

I know I shouldn’t have expected anything – I mean, I guess we’re technically broken up – but I still hoped that I would get something from him, something to let me know that he cared. *le sigh* I am so unreasonable.

You are not necessarily unreasonable. Or at least that’s what I think, as I’m in almost the exact same position as you are romantically (except we’ve been broken up for two months now).

With him, a month ago I said something to the extent of, “I want to see action that backs up your words,” so since mid-January, I’ve been expecting some sort of grand romantic gesture. Or semi-grand. Or something. I thought for sure he’d prioritize it if he really wanted me to truly believe that he still loves me and isn’t just full of shit.

After a week or two, I thought, oh man. He’s waiting until Valentine’s Day! This is going to be wonderful! I can’t wait to see what it is that he comes up with!

And guess what I got? A bouquet of flowers delivered to my work! … and they were NOT from him! Thanks, random admirer!

Of course, I passive-aggressively made it known that I’m disappointed and I’m pretty sure we both feel like shit now. Bleh, this comment didn’t end up going where I intended. I just wanted to let you know you aren’t alone.

The one time I DID surprise Mr. Silverwane on V-Day was our first one; we had “agreed” that we wouldn’t do anything…but I ended up surprising him with roses, a love note, and some DVDs he had mentioned really wanting.

It was great, because at the time I was still pretty depressed, and I was constantly in a mood where I knew I was happy being with him because I acted affectionate when he was around, but didn’t “feel” happy. In addition, at the time it was hard for me to express my feelings. So, getting to do that was really fun and I got to say some of the things I wish I had said before.

He didn’t get me anything, but that wasn’t disappointing at all to me, because it was his reaction and the dinner we had afterwards that counted!

But that’s how I am about these sorts of holidays; I guess I don’t really expect anything from the people in my life with them, because I don’t always give either. In fact, I’m usually pretty bewildered when people are insulted over shit like not getting a Christmas card. I suppose, in some sense…I just don’t get it!

I tend to go overboard for gifting occasions, but for occasions that would involve me getting a gift, I’m so indecisive. And I don’t want to seem greedy, so I usually say, “Whatever is fine.”  This week is a good example: I got future mister a cute pop-up card, season two of Community, and a fancy leather case for his kindle. In return, I got nothing. I shouldn’t say nothing. We went to dinner, and I got a rose from the restaurant. Honestly, I would have been fine if he’d stopped on the way home and picked up a card, but he couldn’t be bothered with that, and my feelings were hurt. I need to get better at saying when things are some kind of deal to me and that on occasion I would like to have a fuss made.

I’m doing a lot better at this than I used to. With Mr. Juniper in particular, he knows me incredibly well, he isn’t however, a mind reader. It works the other way round, too and while it’d be nice to think they know what you’re expecting it doesn’t hurt to check with the other person about XYZ.

I’ll admit to Valentine’s not being a disappointment. I was nigh on certain Mr. Juniper would get my flowers and chocolates, and he did. He has been very, very good at knowing not to expect me to be great on Valentine’s as I don’t like the day (not a commercialisation rant, but it’s the anniversary of something) but I was able to surprise him with a graphic novel this year and I think he was tickled about both the surprise and what it meant for me to do it.

Oh, this is me. The only bridge I need to cross is not do everything I want to be seen done (seen done? This sounds better in my head) myself. But take the step back, ask if someone else (usually le bf) wants to do it. And if he says yes, I will be patient (after giving him a time frame).

Boyfriend and I are both ‘We don’t need Valentine to show appreciation’ followers and yet he surprised me with colorful hand cloths, a big fake rose and chocolates. The perfect combination of need and want.

I tend to have the opposite happen to me. When I tell someone my expectations, they just seem to not get it or think I’m not being serious. Example: my family is huge into birthdays. We celebrate birthdays for a full month with random things because my father is one of six and had to share his birthday as a child. Now, I know my expectations of birthdays are absurd, but it’s the major holiday we celebrate in my family. It’s super important to us, so we all make a big fuss for everybody on their special day. Because I’m aware of this familial idiosyncrasy, I make damn sure to tell whoever I’m with at the time well in advance (and then remind them closer to the date) how important it is to me.  Without exception, I have been completely ignored on my birthday by all but one guy I’ve ever dated, and it pisses me off. I don’t care about Christmas or Valentine’s day, but dammit on my birthday we had better at least go out to dinner. But it never happens. So while I agree sharing expectations is exactly what you should do, I also know that even when you try to share them, it doesn’t always work.


Note: I wasn’t disappointed on Valentine’s Day and all we did was watch a movie, in our separate apartments in separate states and talk on the phone. It was perfect, simple, and relaxing. Exactly how I like my holidays.

I work so hard to do this in my day-to-day life.  For me, it’s not just an issue of asking for what I need or expect.  I have a tendency to run all over people and aggressively get my own way (honestly.)  This means that I’ve had some bullying tendencies in my past, and not always treated my loved ones well.  It’s not out of malice, it’s just that when I decide I want something or want something to happen, I usually get it, and that’s the paradigm in which I’ve always lived me life.  This is not always a bad thing – I’m a strong woman, I always stick up for myself, and I never let myself get talked out of what’s important for me.  The challenge for me is discerning what is really important, making sure I at least try and take the nicest way of getting it, remembering to compromise, and not letting myself get so far into “I don’t want to be a jerk” mode that I forget to ask for what is important to me.  I think I’m doing a pretty good job of finding that balance right now, but it’s a constant struggle for me to ask for what I want, ask nicely, and not go too far overboard for things I don’t want.

Your point about clear expectations is right on. Personally, we avoid disappointment on birthdays, Valentine’s Day, and our anniversary by telling each other exactly what we expect. We don’t do surprises! Usually one of us or both of us will give the other a card along with whatever gifts or date plans or whatever we’ve discussed–did I mention we both work at Hallmark?–but that’s it as far as unexpected things.

This is getting me thinking, though, because I am actually planning a fairly big surprise for his birthday this June. I want to arrange a day off from work for him in advance with his boss and tell him on our way to work that we’re going to do fun stuff instead. I think he’ll like it? But I do feel a little apprehensive.

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