#LiveTogether: (Not So) Great Expectations

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We're continuing the #LiveTogether series, in which we take a look at the highs and lows and in-betweens of doing life with people.

I'm excited for today's post--it's from my good friend, Sarah Gurley. Enjoy!

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When I was four years old, my dad found me crying on the floor of my bedroom, buried by my dolls and a palpable sense of anxiety.

“Why are you crying?” his concerned voice asked.

My pre-school self tearfully responded, “Because I don’t know who I’m going to marry.”

At four years old, it was silly. Juvenile. Innocent.

But then 23 rolled around, and I had yet to experience a real romantic relationship. I’m not talking about holding hands at lunch, or circle “yes” or “no” notes; make-out buddies or a date here and there. No. A real relationship. A partner. Someone you can depend on. An automatic plus-one to the prom. A “you hang up first” wave of nausea for anyone unfortunate enough to be within earshot.

I saw it perpetually happening to my roommates and friends. College was the absolute worst place for someone grappling with singleness. While everyone eagerly coupled up around me, I stood firm on my island of solitude. Who needs a man, anyway? I’ve got my ambition and body pillow, dang it.

I moved to South Korea after college graduation to seek adventure. After all, I made it out of college without a significant nibble on my romantic fishing lure--why not move halfway around the world and ride out this single wave while I’m young? I packed away my yearning for romance, locked it in a box and left it under my childhood twin bed. Let it collect dust; see if I care. I was headed to the Land of the Morning Calm where I most assuredly would not find a romantic interest.

But the unthinkable greeted me upon my arrival. I met someone. As soon as my feet found the sweltering Korean ground, a fetching, blonde-haired New Yorker started to show interest. Not just casual interest either. We’re talking Ethan Embry in “Can’t Hardly Wait”, ridiculously in like with me. So I did what any relationship amateur would do. I jumped in feet first.

But there was a problem.

After that day my dad found me in my bucket of self-pity tears, I spent the next 19 years racking up expectations and ideals for whoever would eventually fill the role of significant other in my life. Everything from appearance and talents to personality type and disposition were accounted for.

This poor guy didn’t stand a chance.

I finally found an eligible male who was head-over-heels for me, and three weeks into our relationship, I dumped him over a plate of Korean dumplings (the irony in our food choice was not lost on me). One may ask why on earth would I break up with a guy who was kind, compassionate, caring, handsome and all-around wonderful?

Simple: he didn’t fit the bill.

I started my collection of expectations before I even hit puberty. And without a significant relationship in my past to give me a healthy dose of reality, those expectations ballooned. What started as an innocent “that would be nice”  multiplied into countless dealbreakers. I didn’t have to give a reason for the breakup other than, “He’s just not what I’m looking for.”

This guy in Korea didn’t have the right profession. He was a teacher. I wanted a pastor. He wasn’t super musical. I wanted someone to write songs with. He was blonde. I wanted a guy with dark hair. He was super athletic. I wanted someone less…hunky. (Editor's note from Paul: All of the nerds of the world are thinking, "Where was I when you were single??") Sure, he had everything else I was looking for but to my novice and nitpicking heart, what he lacked drowned out the whispers of his outstanding qualities.

We parted ways.

Then, something curious happened. My mom, whose opinion I esteem more than just about anyone’s, told me I was being a self-centered, unrealistic, hypocritical idiot (not in so many words, but that was her gist).

She didn’t want my unrealistic expectations and ideals inhibiting me from experiencing life to the fullest. We can’t all marry Ryan Gosling, sigh.

We’re always going to find something in our significant other that doesn’t quite fit the bill; nobody is perfect. But life isn’t comprised of rigid puzzle pieces needing to fit together just so. If that were the case, we’d spend 50% of our time looking for that specific person and the other 50% stressing over whether or not we already missed him/her. But have you ever put together a worn-out, old puzzle that has eroded and chipped pieces? What was once a beautiful landscape is faded and filled with gaps. When the pieces no longer fit perfectly, what’s the use? It’s not worth the effort so you just throw the puzzle away.

What I didn’t realize was that by racking up all those expectations, I was setting myself up for a temporary, throw-away puzzle of a relationship. Even if he fit my 23-year-old self, would we still fit together at 33? 57? 81? By going in with a checklist of qualities, I was preventing myself from experiencing the wonderful unpredictability of love.

I took a few months to rid myself of my unyielding plans and expectations. I threw my puzzle pieces away and instead embraced moldable clay. Where one piece pushes, the other can give way to allow for the new formation. A beautiful, flexible push and pull where chips and gaps are simply rubbed away.

One day, the guy came back around and asked if I wouldn’t mind giving it a go again. He hadn’t changed during that time apart. He was still a semi-musical, hunky, athletic, blonde teacher. But after sloughing off my own expectations and preparing myself to jump in sans deal breakers, I found myself falling in love with this unsuspecting gentleman in a far-away land.

A wedding, two adorable children and seven years later, he’s still creatively exceeding my original expectations each and every day.

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Sarah is a travel-addict who leads worship and teaches bible at a private boarding school in Western New York. When not reading age-inappropriate YA novels or searching couch cushions for lost binkies, she spends time with her hunky husband and two daughters. You can check out her book reviews and mom rants at Paperbacks & Pacifiers

Feature photo ©2011 Aric Cortes | Flickr