We have expectations about things.

It’s kinda part of being human. Not that animals don’t have expectations. They learn, as well as they can, and understand cause and effect. But our grasp of expectations is rather more complex than what goes through my parents’ cat’s head when Mom claps her hands and says sharply, “Pixie!” We’re not diving under the furniture in simple fear of being punished, or racing someone to the food bowl because circumstances just happen to look like those where food is involved. Yet sometimes it feels a bit that way, when something triggers a deep response that we can’t quite quell: an expectation that roars up and takes over our thoughts, our emotions, any semblance of human reasoning.

And not all expectations are bad. Things go better when parents expect their kids to do as they’re told and work hard at life. Not least because there’s a certain pain to disappointing someone’s expectations that few would ignore. Expectations can be self-fulfilling prophecies, and that can be used to our advantage. Expectation can mean preparation, too. I expect the roads to be slick: I give myself plenty of time to drive somewhere and I make sure my cell phone’s charged. I know that the first two weeks of the financial Quarter End are gonna be nasty, and thus turn down pretty much any plans that’re gonna take place then. Forewarned is forearmed. We’ve got the gift of planning ahead, and we should use it.

But there are expectations that sneak up on us when we least expect it. (Hah!) There are expectations we don’t even know we have. The mismatch between expectations in a relationship can doom it. The mismatch of expectations in family is a recipe for drama. The ideologies of two political sides can boil down to expectations: who is responsible for what? And why? We expect things that make no sense. We expect things based on social myths and media fairy-tales. It is a human tendency to make things more complicated than they are, to bury every fact in assumptions. Expectations are no different. We can take a set of facts and spin off expectations that have nothing to do with them. And then we get upset when they don’t turn out.

For myself, I’ve been spending the last ten years or so stripping expectations from my life. Some of them, I’m not sure how they got there. Some of them are society’s idea – though why I swallowed ’em, I’ll never know. Some of them are mine. But when I began to see that expectations and facts weren’t matching up, I got worried. Who was wrong here? Where was the fault? Why were expectations not being met, and was there anything I could do about it?

And you’d think it would be easy, watching them fall away, but it isn’t. Not always.

They’re a kind of “furniture of the mind”, the decor of our thoughts. We walk into a room, we expect it to look a certain way. We expect things to be in certain places. And sometimes, when they are, it’s more a hindrance than a help. We’ve put stuff in places where it really doesn’t go, got the order all mixed up, stuff clashes, it doesn’t fit, and of course it isn’t working. You’ve got to tear it all out and start over. You’ve got to really think about how things are gonna work. (And you gotta have the courage to blow raspberries at bad expectations, which is especially hard when people you love are the ones presenting them.)

My latest remodeling project has been the whole state of singleness. I did not have any idea how many expectations I had about that. It’s ridiculous. And I haven’t been the only one. God be praised that my friends and family have been gracious and understanding, because sometimes we’ve all been equally confused. For instance, somewhere in the back of all our minds was the idea that marriage = adulthood. I’d be at a dinner, and the married couples would sit together, and the singles would be put with the kids. Which was okay when I was in college, not so much now. And it bled into my homemaking: I wouldn’t bother getting nice stuff, because single people don’t host or cook or otherwise maintain households. Did single people – especially single people with roommates – have households? Only recently have I decided, “They do when they’re me.”

Yet as much as we want to buck the expectations of others, we have just as many expectations about them. With about the same results. You want to say “unfair”? ‘Cause if we want the world to know the full range we’ve got in ourselves, how wrong is it not to see that full range in other people? Every soul has its own diversity, and we can bring out any side of it just by expecting something, right or wrong. There’s people – lots of people, myself included – who growl and stamp their feet when people put them in a box, and yet spend all their time putting other people in boxes too. For while there are things that any given person may “never not be”, the scope of what they are can be far beyond our imagining.

We usually see what we expect to see. If we expect to see anything, there’s a better chance we’ll see everything.