By Sophia Fromell
Valentine’s day is upon us and love is clearly in the air. Heart shaped balloons, teddy bears, chocolates, flowers and cards promising eternal love and commitment.
According to a CNN research, last year 145 million Valentine’s cards were purchased worldwide; while $1.6 billion were spent on candy and $1.9 billion on flowers.
Even more amazing, is the fact that 53% of women in America would dump their boyfriends if they did not get them anything for Valentine’s Day. What does this say about our relationships and even more about our expectations from each other? Were our parents and grandparents expecting annual presents as a declaration of love and commitment? And even more importantly, was the ability to give gifts and plan romantic dinners a quality sought after in a long-term partner?
Looking back in history, entering into relationships and particularly marriage was primarily a means of preserving power, forming alliances and maintaining wealth. That changed, during the 17th and 18th centuries when at the Age of Enlightenment, the idea of the ‘pursuit of happiness’ led to marrying for love, other than power and wealth.
Nowadays we all have a number of expectations from our partner. We have predefined views not only on how they should look like, but also on how they should behave and react. We might expect them to be considerate and support us when we need it, listen without judging us and at the same time have a great sense of humor and make us laugh when we are feeling down. We might expect them to have a successful career, while at the same time find the time to surprise us with a home cooked romantic dinner.
We expect our partners to fulfill every void in our lives. We want them to be our best friend, soul mate, confidant and sometimes even business partner.
Having some expectations from our partner is healthy however, even without realizing it, our expectations are often unrealistic. Functionalist sociologists argue that the unrealistic expectations we place on our relationships today are the main cause of the rising divorce rates. I am not suggesting that we should not have certain expectations from our partner. We should of course expect that our partner is faithful, honest and trustworthy, only to name a few of their qualities.
Unrealistically high expectations on the other hand, tend to make us judgmental. We spend more time focusing on what the other person has failed to do instead of what he has done; on the qualities that he is lacking other than the ones he has; the character traits that annoy us other than the ones that first attracted us to him.
The fact that 15% of U.S. women send flowers to themselves on Valentine’s Day, speaks volumes not only about the expectations we have from our partner, but also on the expectations we place on ourselves and our relationship and the ‘role’ we are meant to be playing in a relationship. Popular culture is expecting us to act and be a certain way. The way we are to behave and react in certain situations has already been predefined for us by the media. We have become increasingly materialistic and the culture of “buy and throw away” is manifesting itself not only in our consumer behavior but in our relationships as well. After all, if our partner does not meet our expectations, we can just ‘trade them in’ for a better model.
It is a fact that modern relationships face a number of challenges and by setting unrealistic expectations, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment and our relationships for failure. So instead of trying to fit ourselves into the predefined box of the modern couple we may just need to accept who we really are and understand what is really important for us in a relationship.
If what we really need from a relationship is not what our society defines for us through popular media, so be it. Let us communicate to our partner what it is we expect from them. Let us spend time together to get to know and understand each other. It is through the ups and downs of the relationship that we get to know each other and it is these ups and downs that bring us closer together.
After all, it is that journey of life that should be important. When in our old age we look back at our life’s journey, it is these moments, the memories and the wealth of experience that we gathered on the way together that will define our relationship, not the number of teddy bears or boxes of chocolate we have received through the years for Valentine’s Day.
About the Author: Sophis Fromell is a Certified Life Coach