Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Wedding Gift

Right this moment I am cheating. I should be doing work for my museum job. I'm even typing on my work laptop with all my notes and papers spread around me as if I crashed into a crate of office supplies on my way to the computer.

For whatever reason, I can't connect to the museum's online system at this moment, so instead I'm writing for me. And it feels like cheating.

I shouldn't feel guilty about this. No one told me what to do today. No one said, "You must complete this work by today, during these particular hours." In fact, no one has responded to the work I have completed yet because no one is in the office until tomorrow anyway. I put all of these expectations on myself. So why do I feel like I'm cheating?

Because expectations ruin everything.

Before I explain, let me concede that expectations can be useful. Setting deadlines for work in order to accomplish assignments or setting goals for personal growth that have timelines attached...these are helpful. The difference is in how explicit we are with these, and the contingency plans aligned with the failure to achieve them. As in, the museum expects to receive my completed work by next week, this has been communicated and if I don't comply, my paycheck is in jeopardy.

The danger with expectations is when we have them but don't admit them.

As in, I am really excited to have the house to myself for a few hours, and then I am devastated when I find someone home. This is only crushing because I expected no roommates to be home. And I only expected this because it happened last week. I never explicitly confirmed this to be true with anyone else. I assumed it. And we all know what happens when you assume...hidden expectations are the exact same.

I've been recognizing this behavior in myself and stopping it much more successfully in the past few months. Mostly because I am terrible at planning. And the surprising upside of this is that I don't have a lot of expectations in my personal life. It's difficult to be disappointed when you have no idea what you are about to do. So I've been extending it further. As in:
  • Am I writing this email in order to get a response or because I really just want to say these things?
  • Am I calling this friend so they will tell me something I want to hear or because I want to hear their voice and anything they have to say?
  • Am I giving this present to elicit a certain reaction or because I want this person to have this thing from me?
These distinctions draw the line between what we expect and what we hope for. I still hope for certain reactions or phrases or interactions. But I'm not expecting them. And this helps me enjoy the ride of the present moment invaluably more. No matter what, even in the worst moment, you have no idea what will actually, tangibly, truly happen in the next moment.

In November I went to a wedding in Los Angeles. A beautiful, mountainside wedding commemorating the love between two of the most authentic selves I've ever known. And in finding a present for these two, I felt compelled to be my most authentic self. Which meant no last-minute drawing-on-planes.

(To be honest, I was so my most authentic self on this trip that true-to-form I had no place to stay when I showed up on the first day. I landed at LAX and began texting friends from the shuttle to the rental car: "Hi I'm here! Want to take me in?")

The night before I left, I wandered into one of my favorite stores. Not convinced of anything other than it was a good place to start. And there I found it.

Marriage, or at least my approximation of the idea of it, is intangible. It is a journey, an ever-amorphous ride. Flexible enough to accommodate a twisty path and strong enough to sustain bad weather. There is no product, no expectation of an end result. (My documented aversion to registries could be seen as symbolic then - do not expect me to get you these particular things!)

The only explicit expectation in marriage is that the other person will be on that journey with you. To find your way together. To forge into the unknown, the unpredictable, the pure unexpected as a team. You and me. And when I picture this Us charting a path into the Un, I see two arms linked, skipping, holding packed lunches and carrying raincoats as they playfully lurch into a forest.

So what do you get for two about to find their way in the Un?

A worn, weighted, magnetic, bronze compass.

Expect nothing on your journey but hold fast to your true North, dear friends.


  1. Kate, I love how you think. Just keep on being you! (And at least you were honest about cheating, which is like not cheating, sort of, isn't it?)


  2. Kate, I just discovered your blog! I love this post.

  3. Thanks all - Betsy I have been inconsistently reading yours as well! Thanks for the kind words. :)