Toxic Expectations

The funny thing about expectation is, for me, the fact that it swells and expands with time. Take one relationship you have with a friend, for example. I’d bet all my money that you didn’t start off as close as you might currently are.

toxic environment
Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

Like everyone else, you must have started as total strangers, then you gradually become closer. Notice that the expectation you have towards them also grows, almost hand in hand, with the maturity of the relationship.

At first, during the “we-are-still-strangers” phase of relationship, you wouldn’t be harboring any expectation at all. After all, how could you? You barely knew them! This will not stay for long, however, when you start to know them a little better, and “no expectation” turns into “they should invite me to lunch,” and then into “they should be as thrilled as I am to spend our free time together,” which will later turn into “they should confide their secrets and troubles to me, as I do to them,” and finally, “they are my best friend / partner / (insert any platonic or relationship pronoun)”.

And you know what? As long as the other party reciprocates your feelings—as long as it is mutually exclusive, it is okay to have expectations.

What’s not okay, is forcing the other party to act like the way you envision them. For you to demand the other party to fulfil your expectations. We hear this all the time; parents who demand straight A’s from their children under the pretense of “we know you can do it if you’re willing to try harder,” husbands who want their wives to stay as attractive physically as when they married them, wives who complain about how their husbands are inefficient at doing household chores, and even corporates who find their employees’ performance unsatisfactory.

Expectations could easily turn toxic, given enough time to expand. Even in a professional environment, where one should expect to be assessed for their performance, the cycle just goes haywire at some point.

You perform well on your task, and they’ll expect more from you. They will keep on increasing the difficulty and impact of your tasks, until at one point, you will eventually hit a wall, and they will start chiding about you not being able to meet their standards—the elitists’ choice of word for “expectation”—and potentially even start discussing your early retirement program.

This toxicity, unfortunately, will also come from your family. Parents who were brought up in a conventional South-eastern Asian upbringing will most likely have several—if not all—of the following unhealthy expectations towards their children: that their children should care for them during their old age, that their children should get married as soon as possible so their parents will get to see the grandchildren before they die, etc.

drowning depression
Photo by Ian Espinosa on Unsplash

When I asked my mother why is she so keen on me finding a partner, she said that it’s so “Somebody will care for you when you’re old and helpless,” which in all honesty, sounds like a toned down, less explicit way of saying “so they will pay for your shit later on.”

In fact, at the time of writing this, my mother just forwarded a seemingly touching article to my Whatsapp. It’s a pretentious life advice that coaxes children to feel guilty for not giving enough for their parents, and that a parent’s love is unconditional.

Under normal circumstances, I might get swayed by the article, but I suddenly remember that “unconditional” means “expecting nothing in return”. And the fact that my mother sent me the article, to me, looks more like a subtle, subliminal way of guilt-tripping her children for not giving her the “happily-ever-after” she so desires. When I start to put things into perspective, her love doesn’t seem unconditional at all.

But of course it’s nigh impossible to live without expectations. I can’t blame my mother for feeling the way she feels. After all, she is only human. But maybe it isn’t about living without expectations in the first place. Maybe it’s about accepting that there is nothing in this world that could satisfy each and every expectation we have. Maybe it’s about having expectations, but not getting upset when they’re not met.

expect light
Photo by Dil on Unsplash

Maybe it’s about realizing that your “best friend” has other friends they also cherish.

Maybe it’s about realizing that your wife will not stay young forever.

Maybe it’s about realizing that your husband is not, and will never be, perfect.

Maybe it’s about realizing that your employee has contributed so much, despite their flaws.

Maybe it’s about realizing that your children are living, conscious beings—not an investment for your old age.


I post new contents here every Saturday. This includes writing tips, reviews on writing/reading spots, short stories, poems, personal essays, and more. Keep yourself updated by following me on Twitter and Instagram!


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