I was listening to a couple episodes of “Dear Sugars” along the course of this week. For anyone who hasn’t ever listened to it, it is essentially a podcast associated with the New York Times where people can ask for advice. I had never listened to it before but it was recommended to me. Each episode has a theme and the themes I listened to this week were about relationships, sexuality, infidelity, restarting your life, self image and consent culture. Some of these are related, some of them aren’t but the one thing that seemed to tie them all together was that we ourselves or other people have some sort of expectation to define ourselves.
Stay with me. None of the complex situations that were being discussed on the show have a simple answer. I would never want to simplify or lessen someone else’s experience. All of them are valid and could have an infinite amount of “solutions” (quotes around solutions because I have recently discovered not everything needs fixing, but that is likely another post). However, at the core of these situations it just seemed like the writer wanted permission to be themselves, not be held to some unrealistic expectations that they didn’t sign up for, or have the permissions to change. In the episodes about relationships the writer discussed how they felt guilty for not being the person their partner decided to marry. In the episodes on sexuality the writer also expressed a degree of guilt for questioning their sexuality, putting a label on it, ripping the label off, putting another four on and then still having no “accurate” way to describe how they felt (as you may have guessed, I don’t believe in somehow limiting the beautiful, infinite complexities of a human’s spirit by ascribing an “accurate” label to someone). Those who were featured in the series about infidelity weren’t sure what to do because either themselves or their partner changed so much and so someone strayed because they were looking for something else. That “something else” in many of the cases turned out to be themselves. Even they expected themselves to stay the same and were some combination of shocked, hurt, and confused when that didn’t happen.
I really don’t know where it comes from, but there is some sort of invisible expectation that we ourselves or other people try to enforce upon ourselves. I can’t speak for everyone, I can only speak from my own experience and make gentle observations from what people have stated about theirs. However, I have not yet met a person who is completely liberated from every expectation that comes from friends, family, society, ourselves, etc. I say yet because I’m sure they exist though so if you’re reading this and you are one of them, please message me or leave a comment because I would love to know your experience!
But where does it come from? Why do we even have it? My first encounter with this was when I went through this huge, earth shattering shift entering my junior year of college. I had a partner at the time and he noted how much I had changed and how it made him uncomfortable. My first reaction was questioning, “what on Earth did it have to do with him?” and wondering if there was something wrong with me for changing so much, should I change back etc. I had never had someone comment on me not being the same or what they expected. To be fair, it was a lot and it was over the summer when we hadn’t seen each other. Either way, why did I need his or anyone else’s permission to change? When we decided to be in a relationship, I didn’t sign some invisible contract that said we were both meant to stay the same as well as our partnership. So why was he uncomfortable? Why would he expect me to be exactly the same from when he last saw me?
The same questions came up this summer as I tried to squeeze myself into a couple more boxes to try and find what kind of career I wanted. This has been a very challenging experience but it has brought up so many beautiful questions regarding who I am, what I want to create in my life, etc. All of the existential ones. I tried to find all of those answers. That was until I realized being in boxes and defining who I am doesn’t really work for me. I change way too much. I have had two earthquakes of changes in my life and this is one of them. Even though it has been so hard I have learned to love every minute of it. I noticed how different I was and I’m not sure anyone outside of my closest friends would even recognize me on the inside. That is oddly enough what made it hard because I guarantee you my parents don’t know much about me anymore. I am fortunate enough to have close friends from high school but as of now don’t know me as well, besides the one I talk to literally every day.
That’s okay. I won’t stay in a box for anyone. I love changing and shifting all the time. For me life is way more fun when you’re changing it up, growing and getting to know yourself all over again every time. Whether it is the food you like, sexuality, colors, whatever really, you can change your mind. It sounds so simple but this practice of having expectations for others is so deeply ingrained within us. I’m talking about how I’m pretty sure in my mind my sister’s favorite food is still spaghetti. She’s almost twenty now so that may not even be true. My point is with something even as seemingly simple as that, I never even tried to investigate and get to know that aspect of her again. Why not? Even the things that may seem like small details… they a part of the people we love. Why wouldn’t we take the wonderful opportunity to know the people we love on such a deep and intimate level?
Relationships (with other people and ourselves), preferences, self image, desires, whatever it is that is a part of you is always evolving. I don’t believe in any universal truths but something I have observed in my life is that change seems to be pretty constant. So as long as that continues I am no longer going to put so much pressure on myself to define myself at all or do the same to others in any aspect of life. I read somewhere that your body isn’t even the same everyday since there are always new cells replacing the old ones. There is no reason to expect that anyone, any relationship, situation, or anything in life will stay the same. There is no reason to fear that inconsistency either. You don’t owe anyone any explanation of who you are and no one owes you that either. It is up to us to keep checking in with ourselves to get to know ourselves and if we want to, continue to check in and get to know other people without any expectations or judgements. Hold space for them and allow them to be themselves. Allow them to show up however feels the most natural and authentic. Don’t put pressure on anyone to be something other than themselves. It sounds so cheesy and overdone, but it still happens all the time.
I’m talking about a radical change in how we view and treat other people. If I were to come over to your house and you asked me if I wanted some tea and I said I liked mint, don’t just assume the next time that I want mint tea. Ask. (*cough cough* Sound familiar?) So much happens in even an hour. Are you the exact same person you were yesterday? Why would you assume anyone you know is? Don’t make assumptions about other people. I once heard, “it’s not our hearts that get broken, it’s our expectations“.
Throughout all of this self discovery, if someone were to ever ask me who I was or to define anything about myself, I would say that, “I am fluid”. I am ever changing, always evolving, cannot be contained, do not need labels or boxes… I guess you could call that wild and free. What matters to me is not the judgements and expectations of other people but the relationship I have with myself and how I get to know me. At the end of the day it is me who I am spending the rest of my life with and I am very in love with that person, no matter what is happening around me. I want that for everyone.
with love, katie