I can sum up what I’ve learned over the years about successful relationships in two sentences:
- Understand the other person’s basic personality and perspective.
- Accept these qualities, work with or around them, but don’t expect them to change.
With friends, I use my rules to create three broad categories of friends. Loyal ones, fun ones, and the ones in-between. For example, I have a friend from childhood who shares priceless memories of parents and grandparents, old friends and school days. She is the kind of person you can call at 3 AM and she’ll be there for you, no questions asked. But our interests have diverged over the years and we have little to talk about except family and common acquaintances. I don’t expect scintillating conversation or a great times when we’re together. Yet she is a valued and loyal friend who I know I can count on for big as well as small things.
At the other end of the spectrum, I have a fun friend who is fascinating to talk to and entertaining to spend time with. She is also very absorbed with her own life and family. I know that she is only available to me when it is convenient for her. I’m not saying that she’s a bad person. I just know that I will be disappointed if I count on her to always be available for me whenever I’m having a family crisis or personal meltdown.
These are the two ends of the spectrum of my friend categories. However most friends fall somewhere in-between. They are interesting and also will at least try to be there for you. I have found that it’s harder to manage expectations with this group because all friends have their own lives. You are only a piece that has to fit into their overall life puzzle.
So with this middle group, when do I allow myself to be disappointed when they fall short of what I wanted from them? I always initially give them the benefit of the doubt. I assume good intentions and motives. If negative behavior goes beyond that threshold, I will talk to the person and/or lower my expectations for the future.
I think with all friendships, expectations must be periodically reassessed. I think most misunderstandings and hurt feelings occur when I expect something more than I should reasonably expect.
Here is an example of adjusting expectations to current reality. I might have expected a particular friend to come over to comfort me when a beloved dog dies. But if she has a demanding job and is having a tough work week, maybe I should graciously accept the half hour she spends on the phone with me as the best offering of love and support she is capable of at the time. Maybe I should accept the love and not question the form in which it was given. I have to accept her for who she is and where she is in her life.
You may have already figured out that I just let myself get very upset about a friend’s behavior towards me. I wrote this blog as a reminder to myself – accept a person’s limitations and temperament and adjust your expectations accordingly.
Lesson learned. Again.