Everyone to be found on an online dating interface is registered precisely because they are on a search. We sign up to have access to these databases of singles because we are looking for something to satisfy our wanting, and not everyone has the same goal in mind. While browsing the profiles of potentials, one is quick to notice that people desire everything from a serious relationship to casual dating, a hook up or simple companionship to roll with in friendly conversation. Regardless of what has brought someone to the world of online dating, the gist remains that everyone is holding on to some form of expectation regarding the connection they are here to make.
It is undeniable that expectation leads to disappointment. Expectation is a form of future oriented imagination that gains ground in our present reality as a form of attachment to an idea. It is easy for us to hold a sense of entitlement around this idea, especially when it involves a particular outcome, and may be fuelled by cultural narratives imbedded in us via the media, or perhaps it is fuelled by the outcomes of previous experiences. Regardless of the source of one’s expectation, it is helpful to remain mindful of our expectations while perusing the pages of possible dates. It does not help that an apparently endless stream of profiles on the market helps to create a sense of there being room to be picky. Not only does expectation bring one further into misery as a result of unmet hopes, as life does not always match up with the particulars of how we would like things to unfold, but it is also a primary reason why individuals do not find success with their online dating experiences.
This always created great tension within me, as my mind swirled with confusion and thoughts like, what can I do to maintain an open mind and yet respect my own limitations? How can I distinguish between expectations that lead to disappointment, and requirements that aid in building a healthy relationship?
We may come to gain greater clarity around this apparent paradox by asking ourselves the following four questions, understanding why they are important, and granting ourselves the space to be honest with our answers.
1. What are my expectations?
Beyond the form of relationship that we expect to develop, there exist expectations on three different planes. To access these expectations, which at times lie at a subconscious level, try giving your mind room to roll through an imagining of the relationship while simultaneously observing the nature of your thoughts. Do this without judgement, simply acknowledging what is present for you in terms of hopes, preferences, tendencies and, ultimately, desire. The following questions are examples of what one may ask to become aware of the expectations one holds.
First, there are our expectations of self. How do you anticipate you will feel while in a relationship? How do you think your routine will change? Do you expect to remain the same person you are now once you begin weaving your heart with another?
Secondly, there are our expectations of the relationship. Are we imagining spending every day with this person, or a couple days per week? Do we see it involving children, being long distance, or holding a business dimension? Are we expecting the relationship to be traditional in regards to monogamy and gender roles? Is the relationship perceived as an end in itself or a means to further growth and achievement?
Finally, allow us to ask what our expectations are of the other person. I have always found this to be a significant layer to unpack when it comes to identifying my expectations, for it is easy to project an ideal image onto someone else without even realizing it. An important question to ask is how much you expect the person you are meeting in the physical plane to remain true to every statement written on their profile, and to the image their written words formulated in your mind about who they are. Furthermore, ask yourself the more general questions such as when you imagine a partner, what are they like? Are they expected to share many of your current interests? Do you believe they should be open or quiet about their past experiences, especially those regarding ex lovers? Are they supposed to be completely accepting of you and your ways? Do they have to share your spiritual and dietary practices or be of a certain social standing?
2. How are my expectations affecting what I get out of my dating experience?
It is easy to create an image of someone after reading their profile and feel as if you have a decent grasp on their general character. However, everyone carries multiple personas and is always changing, and the reality of someone can never be caught in entirety by the written word or a few pictures. You also never know what information is slightly exaggerated on a profile to appear more attractive, or how long ago their page was composed. After gaining a first impression online, how do you react to the reality of a person’s air, attitude and communication when you are sharing space on the physical plane? What expectations did you subconsciously formulate around your date prior to meeting, and how are they influencing your approach to your first encounter? Are you limiting the potentiality of this developing into a refreshing and new relationship by carrying over expectations from your past relationships?
3. In what ways am I willing to open myself to other possibilities, and in what ways am I not?
Remember, it is ok to hold strong to certain expectations, but the tricky part is distinguishing between which ones hinder your search for love, and which ones enhance the possibility of building a strong and healthy relationship.
When looking to identify expectations that are healthy for you and a relationship, and in turn which ones you will not reconsider or compromise, turn to qualities. Qualities are the aspects of one’s being that help to create a useful framework for developing a fruitful attitude towards any activity and relationship. These qualities are the undercurrent to a character’s appearances, and the driving force of thought, speech and action. Therefore, while it may be wise to let go of expectations of a shared love for coffee, fancy restaurants, and having similar skills, which are all manifestations on a surface level, holding significance over what lies beneath the surface is useful. In other words, identifying a necessity for a partner to practice personal development and to tend towards well-being will greatly assist a healthy and successful relationship developing between the two of you, regardless of what forms this takes. The genuine intention behind the action is what is important.
On the other hand, limiting expectations are considered to be those adjectives assigned a person that do not penetrate deeper than the surface level. Sure, you hope to meet someone to go on runs with, but don’t write someone off because they prefer getting their exercise by playing tennis. You also never know if the person who earns a three digit salary carries with them a developed wisdom or insight into living a happy, fulfilling life.
4. How do I let go of expectations that are limiting my experience?
We may begin on the level of thought. Being aware of the direction of our thoughts helps us to recognize thought patterns that are future and fantasy oriented, which may ultimately not serve us well. In coming to recognize these patterns, we may begin to exercise our ability to stop entertaining these thoughts, and free ourselves from the delusion of personal narratives that are not constructive.
We may extend ourselves to an awareness of our use of language. When describing a relationship, words such as should, supposed to, wish, expect, anticipate, can’t be, has to be, and definitive statements are all signs of a limited mind. By simply rephrasing our sentences, we can begin to practice embodying a more aware, intentional and open perspective. For example, “he will love playing music” could become, “it would be fun if he also plays music.” The latter structure acknowledges the importance placed on this shared interest, however it does not prevent us from accepting a potentially wonderful match in case he prefers right to left brain activities. Another example would be, “she should accept me for exactly who I am,” which may become, “I would like for her to be willing to understand my perspective.” While we all want to be accepted, there always remain aspects of our own characters that can be developed to be more intentional, more compassionate, and more relaxed. Try to remember that a partner does not have to accept every negative aspect of us, for if this were the case than the potential of self-growth would be hindered. The truly important part of a disagreement is that each partner recognizes the position of the other through compassionate eyes, and does not extend blame or insult but rather understanding.
We may also begin letting go of expectations by ceasing to compare our current circumstances and relationships with those of our past. All of the hurt we have previously experienced does not mean that this new person we are dating will repeat circumstances of our past. By being present and receptive of our date, we simultaneously allow ourselves to be authentic, relaxed and open.
In the end, we are all human and our desires help to motivate us to bring certain situations into our life experience. However, opening ourselves to compromise and to the gifts another person has to share with us will create the necessary space for developing a strong relationship. It is certainly possible to meet someone who appears to meet all of your desired criteria, but holding on to this possibility with dire attachment will prevent you from seeing the greatness in people you may otherwise come to love.