HealthOpen Letter

standards, expectations and a guide to healthy living

December 7, 2018

PSSST — listen up! I’ve got the secret to happiness. I’ve cracked the code and I’m sharing that shit with you, kind person:  The key to (some of) your happiness is learning the difference between standards and expectations.

The idea for this piece came to fruition when I started distinguishing my personal standards from the expectations I have for other people. In doing so I freed myself from being let down by other people’s actions. I hacked that shit. And you can too.

What’s the difference between personal standards and expectations?

Standards are what you hold yourself accountable to — your morals and ideals put into action. When you hold yourself to a higher standard, you’re living your best life. You’re drinking your water, taking care of yourself, and abiding a personal code. It’s the way you treat other people without expecting anything in return, because it’s the right thing to do.

Expectations are, in some ways, the opposite of that — the impulse to project those standards or desired outcomes onto other people. Expectations are what set us up to be let down by others when they don’t behave how we want them to. It’s normal to be frustrated by this, but it’s not rational. Expectations come in all different sizes, pessimistic to recklessly optimistic.

And it’s expectations that got you fucked up.

For example, I need friends and family to (at a minimum) treat me with respect and kindness. Those are my standards for closeness. What we should do is maintain our standards and if people don’t meet them naturally (i.e. by holding themselves to those same standards), that’s a good indicator of shared values and the possibility for healthy relationships. (Or lacks thereof.)

This is true of romantic partners, as well. As an honorary Southern Peach, my home training taught me that being a good friend means showing up when I say I’m going to, and taking seriously the promises I make to those who are close to me. Recently, I was dating a man who, apparently, had no such training. Words had little meaning and plans were always subject to change until the last minute. Instead of treating me with consideration, like a friend should, this person showed little regard to me in every way. This hurt. Our fake-ass relationship made me feel like I wasn’t worth his time, regardless of any intentions. And, in one way, that’s my fault. I had assumed that my standards were his. He doesn’t believe in making time for girls he pursues (no shade), and instead of taking it personally and projecting my own insecurities onto him, I took this to be a clear indicator that we don’t share the same values.

Now, I don’t expect…anything from this person, good or bad. People are going to do whatever they want. And ‘expecting’ certain types of behavior — because you think it is what’s right — will let you down time and time again.

This doesn’t mean that you need to give up your standards! Quite the opposite. What I learned is that accepting an incompatibility of our values, I was able to move on completely. No more bullshit exchanges or canceled plans. Because my standards won’t allow me to make excuses for someone else’s lack thereof. And it certainly doesn’t mean that I stop living mine.