August 30th, 2012
While sitting in the theater, waiting for Avenue Q to start, hubby turned and asked me about expectations. Hubby felt that my boyfriend and I had a good handle on setting expectations and asked how we did it. Or more specifically, how He had done it with me. I jokingly said that when you tell a girl for a year and a half that you are a sexually satisfied man, and then start dating her, expectations start out pretty low. In all seriousness, though, he and I usually played three times a week during most of the year prior to dating, and had already started conversations on expectations and happiness.
One of those conversations began with him asking me if I could be happy without him suspending me for a whole year. I had passed through most of my newbie sub-frenzy by that point, so I could actually consider the question. It took a little back and forth before I understood the intent of the question. It wasn’t about him denying me what I wanted, it was about expectation crashing with reality. What if he got hurt (which happened)? What if we lost our suspension point (which has happened repeatedly)? What if I got hurt? The real question was did my happiness depend on suspension, or could I be happy without it? This started the thought process in my brain that expectations have to mesh with the reality of the situation.
Another set of conversations we had was him asking me if I Deserved to be suspended. At the time it felt like a trick question, given the dynamics we were involved in. But it was really about suspension not being a think I could deserve or earn. It was a gift, given because he wanted to. Not because I deserve it or expect it. Giving affection only because it is expected or only when someone has “earned” it can lead to abusive situations. For me, affection must be given because both parties want to give it. But beware putting expectations on what defines affection.
Back to the question that I started with. When he asked if I could be happy without suspension, he wasn’t asking if I would be happy not seeing him for a year, simply without one form of play. In our relationship, I expect to see him fairly regularly and I expect affection. Sometimes that means a hug, sometimes a text message, sometimes a flogging and sometimes it means dinner and a movie. When it’s been a long day, it can simply means his arm around me while he falls asleep. He shows me affection in whatever way he is able, mentally, physically and emotionally. As I do him.
Another way we have set expectations in our relationship was to write them down. In our contract with toy, we wrote out what all the expectations were. What we all did before play, what types of play there would be, and what could preempt or prevent play. It was very clear what we could all expect, and even then there were surprises.
So, what do we do then? What happens when expectations are not met? No matter how clear you think you have been, or how mutual you think your expectations are, you will still face disappointment occasionally. The important thing to do, of course, is to talk about it. What were my expectations? Were they the same as his expectations? What happened that caused them not to be met? Was it reasonable? Were the expectations reasonable to begin with? Was it just a special case that won’t happen again? How can we prevent this situation from repeating itself? Do the expectations need revised, or does one party need to be more conscious of meeting the expectation?
For me, another good conversation to stay on top of is wants and needs. My needs tend to be where I set my expectations, so I have to communicate that those things are needs. And I have to set reasonable expectations of where I’m going to get those needs filled. Being poly, they don’t all have to be filled by one person. Wants are things I would like to have, and I have to communicate them, too, else they won’t have a chance to be fulfilled. But the important thing to remember is that I cannot expect all my wants to be fulfilled all the time. Life isn’t that simple. But I can work on getting them filled through expressing them and making plans. And sometimes my needs aren’t met either, at which point we return to the previous paragraph of questions to have another look.
As always, the most important part of setting expectations has been clear communication. Second to that is acceptance that we are human and life isn’t perfect. Talk about your expectations. Unspoken expectations Cannot be met. Understand that life gets in the way, even of needs sometimes. Be flexible, accepting, and keep talking. And while you are talking, offer solutions. Once the problem has been stated, clarified and understood, move forward and find ways to avoid future disappointment from that source. During your conversations, if the other person has expectations that you cannot meet, have a conversation about why and about what can be done instead, or how to change that expectation. Expectations are a two-way street, both parties must be actively involved in setting, meeting and revising them. Everything changes, keep talking.