So, it’s been a while. I feel like this is a response to a text that you see when you’re busy but then you forget about it until like a day later and it still warrants a reply but it’s so awkward that you put it off some more and then at your funeral the person who texted you says, “I mean yeah, she cured cancer and saved the rainforest, but she never texted me back that one time and she totally could’ve like, any time in the last 70 years.”
What’s important to remember is that I did not forget about this blog, I just haven’t had time or anything to write about. I’m taking online classes and working two jobs, and those two dots aren’t going to connect themselves.
However, today I am miraculously ahead (and somehow simultaneously behind?) on homework, so I decided to take a minute to talk about expectations, because the only thing more boring than no blog is a blog that includes a mini social science lesson.
Of the three classes I’m taking, the only one I’m genuinely and deeply interested in is sociology, so I’ve been spending a lot of time learning and thinking and talking about human interaction. It’s really taking a toll on my personal relationships since pretty much everyone I know got tired of talking about prison systems after like 12 seconds.
However, through these conversations and my coursework I’ve started to really consider how much our expectations affect our lives. I don’t mean the whole “If you decide your day is going to be terrible, it will be!” stuff we’ve heard from moms, grandparents, teachers, guidance counselors, senators probably, etc. I mean the process of getting used to something and then feeling personally affronted when it does not meet your expectations.
When I took psychology in high school, we talked about how sometimes we’ll get so used to something that we won’t even notice when it changes, because our expectations of what will be there are so ingrained that it dictates our perception. This is kind of ridiculous in and of itself, but I think it’s more interesting how we react when we do acknowledge that our expectations have not been met.
This ties into the whole ideas of social norms, in which we as a society decide what is acceptable, normal behavior in society and react adversely when they are not met. For example, a woman exposing her ankle in the 1700’s would have been rejected socially and died an old maid at 35. Not covering one’s mouth when sneezing will get at least one guffaw and send a handful of people scrambling for hand sanitizer while they shoot dirty looks at the perpetrator. Wearing an ill-fitting thong at Walmart will result in one’s photograph posted on the internet for public ridicule. Really, humans are amazing.
The most fun way, however, to thwart expectations is to ignore societal norms in a way that there is no societally normal way to react. April Ludgate from Parks and Recreation is a perfect example of this. She delights in making people uncomfortable, and she accomplishes this not by disrupting convention in a way people are used to dealing with (for example, not using a blinker when turning– it’s a crime against humanity, but we’ve all experienced it enough to have a go-to reaction), but rather by saying things like “Thanks, I was buried in it” when someone compliments her dress.
Honestly, does anyone have a socially acceptable response to this? Or, for that matter, an unacceptable one? Probably not, which is what makes these disruptions of norms so entertaining and delightful. It’s not enough to not meet expectations, you have to completely throw every convention out the window and watch society flounder.
However, people like April Ludgate aren’t particularly abundant. Instead, I have found that the roles we play to certain people are the most relevant form of expectations in our lives. Or at least mine. I realized this full force in college, where I was in a state far away from anyone who knew me in middle school.
While I definitely preferred it that way, it was a little weird sometimes. None of my new friends remembered that prolonged 80’s hair band phase I went through, because they didn’t know me then. If I were to play some Cinderella, it wouldn’t be a throwback, it would just be trashy. I didn’t feel the pressure to conform to expectations based on what I used to be like; instead, I got to be present-day Rachel, based only on what I had been since starting college and whatever I felt like bringing with me from my past. And let me tell you, it felt amazing to not be the “weird Bon Jovi girl.”
Returning home, on the other hand, meant that I reverted a little bit. I was more aloof with my high school friends, because that’s what I was like in high school. I didn’t periodically check up on the safety of their actions, because I wasn’t the mom friend in high school. (I still wore leggings though because some things change and never go back to the way they were.)
I’m sure you’ve noticed this phenomenon with other people, such as seeing a friend around someone they’re interested in or your parents at their job. I once had the opportunity to actually measure this when my dad brought home personality type tests from work and we filled them out for each other. This led to some familial bickering, but we eventually agreed that the Dad we knew at home was a lot more cautious and paternal than the person he saw himself as at work. There are widely varying expectations of what he should be and do at work and home, and he adapts to meet them, just like we all do.
The other side of the coin is how we react to other people. I’ve gone through how we are conscious of others’ expectations for us and adapt appropriately through role-taking (something George Herbert Mead studied to develop his sociological theory of symbolic interactionism), but something we may consider slightly less is our expectations for others.
I think a clear example of this is the presidential election. Based on experience, we expect candidates to be polished, knowledgable, and to say the right things 100% of the time. On one end of the spectrum, Hillary Clinton has all of this down to a science. She’s been a politician since at least the 1870’s, and she is clean and rehearsed and professional. Everything she says and does is with her candidacy in mind.
Donald Trump, on the other hand, doesn’t give a shit. I don’t really feel like anyone needs me to expound on this point.
However, there is another layer to this dichotomy, and that is the expectation that politicians are slimy. I feel that you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who thinks politicians are good, wholesome people with the good of the nation as their priority, but they are still typically clean and appear respectable. Consequently, we’ve sort of come to expect that those polished individuals are actually kind of scummy. This is where the support for Trump comes from: People are tired of the establishment. He is refreshing. He can be trusted, because he does not conform to any of the expectations we have for politicians.
This applies to more personal relationships, though. Think about people you went to high school with: You expect the kid who’s been doing stupid things on a dare since 2nd grade to buy and emu and put it in the cafeteria, because he’s been doing stupid things on a dare since 2nd grade. But if the quiet nerd on the quiz bowl team did it, everyone would collapse into anarchy because the greatest disturbance that kid has ever caused is timidly correcting the teacher’s spelling on the whiteboard. You expect that kind of tomfoolery from the class clown. You don’t expect it from a quiet nerdy kid.
On a similar note, if a professor yelled at the class to shut up, you’d grudgingly oblige. But if a classmate did, you’d probably feel inclined to punch him. What gives him the right? Not societal expectations, that’s for sure. We tend to react negatively when people disrupt our expectations, whether it’s just being moderately unsettled or actually spurred to violence. I’m starting to think about why I feel negatively, and where these expectations came from. Even if I still settle on feelings of rage, at least there was more than just a knee-jerk reaction that got me there.
I didn’t write all this out because I assume you don’t have a working understanding of this concept. I wrote it because I think expectations for ourselves and each other color a lot of our interactions, and in being more aware of and thoughtful about it, we can understand ourselves and each other a little more. Also, it’s been a month since I’ve updated this and I literally could not come up with anything better. Here’s a rutabaga I drew a face on.