The Jew­ish Book Coun­cil is delight­ed to pub­lish a con­tin­u­ing blog series in part­ner­ship with Ask Big Ques­tions, an ini­tia­tive out of Hil­lel Inter­na­tion­al aimed at get­ting peo­ple to talk about issues of heart, soul and com­mu­ni­ty. Each month, Ask Big Ques­tions will fea­ture a JBC author on their blog, shared here on the JBC Pros­en­Peo­ple blog page, and in cam­pus pro­gram­ming reach­ing over 10,000 col­lege and grad­u­ate students.

Ilana Garon works as an Eng­lish teacher at a pub­lic high school in the Bronx. She is cur­rent­ly on tour through the 2014 – 2015 JBC Net­work with her first book, Why Do Only White Peo­ple Get Abduct­ed by Aliens?”: Teach­ing Lessons from the Bronx.

Once, in the midst of a par­tic­u­lar­ly bad breakup, I was coun­seled by a good friend to expect more from peo­ple I was dat­ing. You deserve bet­ter,” she told me, earnest­ly. And when you expect it, that’s when you’ll be treat­ed that way.”

Her obser­va­tion was well-inten­tioned (and like­ly cor­rect), yet it made me bris­tle. The idea of deserv­ing” has always rung false with me; it seems some­how enti­tled to think that way, let alone to expect that what peo­ple get and what they deserve will ever have any­thing to do with each other.

We come into all rela­tion­ships with expec­ta­tions. In pro­fes­sion­al rela­tion­ships, these are expec­ta­tions are for the most part uni­ver­sal, and clear: We expect a doc­tor to diag­nose and treat our ill­ness­es, a bus dri­ver to con­duct the bus along the appoint­ed route as safe­ly and quick­ly as pos­si­ble, a garbage col­lec­tor to retrieve our bagged trash on the appoint­ed days. These expec­ta­tions cir­cum­scribed with­in these roles are most­ly unam­bigu­ous, and the pos­si­bil­i­ty for mis­un­der­stand­ing is limited.

In emo­tion­al rela­tion­ships, the expec­ta­tions are far murki­er. The Greeks exem­pli­fied the diver­si­ty and nuance of emo­tion­al attach­ments with mul­ti­ple words for love”: Agape, god­ly love or benev­o­lence; Eros, sex­u­al pas­sion; Phil­ia, friend­ship or affec­tion between equals; Storge, love between par­ents and chil­dren. Strains with­in rela­tion­ships of all stripes are often the result of a mis­match of expec­ta­tions, both about the inten­si­ty and the very nature of love itself. We expect, implic­it­ly, that our feel­ings towards oth­ers will be mir­rored back at us; dis­cor­dance between that expec­ta­tion and real­i­ty leave us feel­ing imbal­anced, hurt, and even angry.

But per­haps the most vul­ner­a­ble we feel is not in hav­ing the expec­ta­tions, so much as in con­vey­ing them to oth­ers. At least, that’s been my expe­ri­ence. It can be hard and scary to tell some­one, I love you.” It is hard­er still to ask for love in return, how­ev­er basic and uni­ver­sal a human need it may be. To explain how we need to be loved is the hard­est yet — per­haps because it requires more self-knowl­edge than many of us pos­sess. To have rea­son­able and viable expec­ta­tions of oth­ers requires us to be ful­ly cog­nizant of our own wants and needs, and aware of what role — if any — anoth­er per­son can play in help­ing us to cre­ate the lives we want.

In that respect, it can feel ter­ri­bly expos­ing to have expec­ta­tions of those clos­est to us, when the threat of mis­un­der­stand­ing or rejec­tion is ever-present. Yet, it is also imper­a­tive that we do so: To be open to mean­ing­ful human con­nec­tion, one must con­vey one­self ful­ly and vul­ner­a­bly to anoth­er per­son, mak­ing one’s own expec­ta­tions known, as well as being ready to receive the expec­ta­tions of anoth­er rec­i­p­ro­cal­ly and empathetically.

It’s scary to have expec­ta­tions of oth­ers, to con­stant­ly sub­ject one­self to the pos­si­bil­i­ty of being hurt. We all make mis­takes,” I wrote in a (slight­ly over­wrought) email to the ex who had spurned me, but we have to tread care­ful­ly with those we brush clos­est to in life and love.” And in the end, it’s what we must do to make any mean­ing­ful con­nec­tions in life — main­tain our expec­ta­tions that we’ll be treat­ed with empa­thy and care, and meet each new encounter with all the opti­mism and hope that that entails. 

Ilana Garon lives, writes, and teach­es in New York City. She is the author of Why Do Only White Peo­ple Get Abduct­ed by Aliens?”: Teach­ing Lessons from the Bronx.

Relat­ed content:

Ilana Garon works as an Eng­lish teacher at a pub­lic high school in the Bronx, N.Y. In addi­tion to her book Why Do Only White Peo­ple Get Abduct­ed by Aliens?”: Teach­ing Lessons from the Bronx, her writ­ing has appeared in The Guardian, Busi­ness Insid­er, Gotham Schools, Edu­ca­tion Week, Dis­sent Mag­a­zine, The Huff­in­g­ton Post, Tablet, and Pre­sen­Tense Mag­a­zine.