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The Tyranny of Expectations - Dilbert Blog

The Tyranny of Expectations

Last year I rejoined the ranks of the spouse-free. Things sure changed since the last time I was single.

For starters, it is not necessary for men to ask women for revealing selfies. Those photos just start showing up on your phone after you exchange numbers. A revealing selfie in 2014 is essentially just a digital business card for your dating life.

I have also discovered that the most-used characters on my phone keyboard are emoticons. When single people text each other, every sentence has to end with an exclamation mark or a smiley emoticon or else it looks like you lost interest since the last time you texted thirty seconds ago.

For the most part, texting is just a means of feeling connected at a distance. The content isn’t terribly important. But the pauses between text messages mean A LOT. Single people monitor the pauses between text replies to decipher real meaning in the content. For example, if I text “I really enjoyed our time together,” the real message is contained in the timing of the message not the content. If the text is sent while one person is still driving home from a date, that means you feel a strong connection. But if I text something nice and have to wait seven hours for a reply, the seven-hour wait is the message, not the content of the reply.

Single people in 2014 frequently break up with each other by text, but the words are only the punctuation at the end of the break up. The actual break-up happens with what is called “the taper.” The taper is when you are texting someone at a predictable rate, such as several times per day, and you gradually reduce your texting to one message every third day. That’s the taper, and it tells the other person your interest has tapered too.

But here’s my biggest insight about the single world: Expectations.

I have observed two approaches to dating. One approach involves creating a checklist of expectations that you have for your next romantic partner. You might want a minimum height, a good job, geographic proximity, the same travel preferences, and on and on and on.

Then you find out that no one on the planet fits your criteria. So you have to make hard decisions about which items on the checklist you want to give up on. And if you do give up on those items, you probably resent your partner forever or try to change him/her to conform to the checklist. And that is doomed to fail.

The long checklist is a modern dating problem. Two-hundred years ago, if you and your romantic partner both liked square dancing, you had everything in common. The checklist looked like this:

  1. Are you alive?
  2. Do you like square dancing?

Today the checklist for a romantic partner is 25-items long. Literally no one meets the requirements of anyone else’s checklist. So setting expectations before searching for a romantic match is doomed to fail. And the checklist approach is the primary method that most people are using. It is no wonder that 70% of marriages are unhappy

Let’s call the 25-item checklist a “goals” approach to dating.

The other approach to life is the “no expectations” method I am trying to cultivate.  This is more of a system than a goal. The idea is that you arrange your life so you meet lots of people and you put no expectations on any of them. If I meet someone with a 4.5 tennis level and lots of free time, perhaps I have a new tennis partner. If we click on some other level, that’s great too. No expectations.

It is too early to say if my systems approach is successful. But the first year or so have been wonderful. I’m never stressed or disappointed. Everything pleasant that happens to me feels like a gift.

Stress is essentially the gap between what you optimistically expect to happen and what actually does. That means you can eliminate stress either by changing your expectations or by changing what actually happens. Most people are trapped in a doomed loop of wishful thinking that our romantic partners will change their basic nature and start conforming to our unrealistic expectations if only we complain long enough. For comparison, here’s how my model of no-expectations works:

Other Person: Do you want a hug?

Me: Yes

That’s the beginning and end of my expectations. Or at least I want it to be. It isn’t easy to release expectations, but I hold it as an ideal.

To be fair, if kids are part of the equation you probably do need a checklist before getting involved. So the no-expectations system isn’t for every situation. I’ll let you know how it works for me.

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Scott Adams
Co-founder of CalendarTree.com     
Author of this book  (about systems versus goals)
Twitter Dilbert: @Dilbert_Daily
Twitter for Scott: @ScottAdamsSays