life tales

email reflections: the difficulty with sharing expectations

7 July, 2017

Over the past few years I have developed the habit of emailing friends instead of texting or even calling. It started as a way to keep in touch with friends living overseas, and but since expanded to friends living down the road. As someone who finds writing comes as naturally as speaking, I absolutely love it. And considering that practically everybody loves mail (even the digital variety), so do they. Unlike text messages which are usually an instant response to a question (and are often filled with auto-correct induced interpretations of reality), I find that writing emails flows much more naturally and allows me to actually think about what I am trying to communicate – and communicate it in more detail.  In fact, I tend to be even more articulate at times in writing than in person at times (I have been know to just say far too many words without thought at times… especially when nervous). And it helps that I am often in front of my computer during the day, and can type on a keyboard far faster than a phone. Therefore emails = mimimum effort, maximum output. 

Apart from the quick emails between friends which are just to touch base (or, probably more commonly, sharing links to information they might find interesting or things to do), a few of my friends have now  started to use email as a bit of a reflection space to share deeper ideas before we see each other again. One of my dearest friends and I share these emails on a semi-frequent basis in the interludes between our catch ups. 

This friend and my emails have covered all manner of topics over the years. Some downright hilarious, others deeply reflective and fairly challenging. And for some reason, these emails always seem to randomly fit very well randomly fit very well into the current reoccurring themes in my life – whatever they may be. 

For example, I received the following email from her the other day:

“Last night, I again realised the importance of voicing your expectations and assumptions in a relationship, no matter how awkward or vulnerable you feel in doing so. Recently I reconnected with a friend of mine from highschool whom I absolutely adore, and have been through some of the best and roughest times with. When we reconnected she voiced that she could be better friends to me by being more intentional about the friendship. Last night I voiced to her something that I’d been thinking about recently – a way that I could be better friends to her. My face became bright red as I talked about how I could be a better friend by being more vulnerable with her. Problem being, I find it really difficult to talk about myself without being prompted by questions, and follow up questions (which is my strength- apparently I interrogate people whilst making it feel like a holiday). My assumption was that if people want to know they will ask, and if they don’t ask, they don’t want to know. So I was afraid to talk about myself, in case they didn’t want to hear about it. Her strength is opening up about herself, thinking, if I want to tell you about this, I will, without being asked. Trusting that a friend would simply want to know. Her assumption was that if people want to talk, they will talk. Her fear was that it would be overstepping a line to ask if they hadn’t mentioned it already. I’m so glad we talked about our differing assumptions because untalked about they could have been detrimental to our friendship.”

This email brought up two points for me that have been on my mind lately. 

Firstly, her reflections reminded me of the importance of being able to share myself openly – even when unprompted. Like my friend, I often make the assumption that if people want to know, they will ask me. This is not necessarily true. Like my friend, I tend to ask a lot of questions. If 5 years at uni and 3 years working in research have taught me anything, it’s that. In fact, I have been known to unknowingly turn brunch dates into interrogations. So I assume that if people are genuinely interested in me, they will do the same. Unfortunately, what I often forget is that my fearlessness in asking questions, or seemingly limitless pool of questions, is not shared by everyone. 

The second point, and probably the part that has been on my mind the most lately, is how to voice my expectations.

Voicing my expectations has always been a challenge to me. In fact, I oftentimes lower my expectations of others rather than say something. In spite of being an optimist, I am also a total realist, and have naturally shifted towards setting low expectations of others. That way, I am either right, or pleasantly surprised. 

I should probably mention at this point that I set very high expectations of myself. No surprise there. And sometimes I feel as though I have spent so much of my life living up to the expectations of others that I wouldn’t want to put that kind of pressure on someone else. This is ok to a point. 

It’s healthy to change your expectations with some people and important to meet people half way. But more and more I am finding that this attitude poses a big challenge in several areas of my life. 

Firstly, over the past few months, I have been faced with professional challenges through not making my initial expectations clear. Rather than setting out exactly what needs to be done and how I would like it to be completed, I have been vague about particulars and made assumptions, which has led to unnecessary frustration and additional work needing to be completed. It has also led to conversations being had much later than they should have been. 

Secondly, in my personal life, I have been rejecting the notion that I have the right to voice expectations of others, until I have been in a position where it is too late, and I have been unable to. For example, I am not good at asking for help when I really need it. Probably because I hate feeling like I am being a burden to someone or feeling helpless. And yet I have found that I unknowingly place the expectation on others that they will recognise this shortcoming of mine, and help anyway. This is neither healthy, nor productive when moving relationships forward, and is something that I need to work on. It does not come naturally, but it is a skill that I know I have to develop in order to move into closer relationships in some areas of my life.  

Expectations influence how we perceive our lives.

They shape the way that we understand situations and react to certain things. Having unclear expectations can be almost detrimental in business interactions and in relationships. Whilst I believe that you should never go into any kind of relationship expecting to change anyone, there is a point at which you should be clear and upfront about what you do expect – making it clear that if the expectations are not met, you will still accept and love the person anyway.  I have always believed that we are the ones who choose our reactions. We cannot control others, but we can choose how we perceive situations. But being able to discuss expectations and assumptions is critical, and something that I am going to be more mindful of. 

What are your thoughts about sharing about yourself or voicing your expectations? Do you find it easy or difficult? And in what relationships do you find this to be the most important? I would love for you to share in the comments below. 

xx Elizabeth 


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  • Reply Claire B. 7 July, 2017 at 12:35 pm

    Voicing your expectations and needs in a relationship is HARD. “I am not good at asking for help when I really need it.” That is something I so, so identify with–and many of my past friendships have failed to turn into lasting ones because I’ve failed to be vulnerable and to let someone know when I’m struggling.

    The one type of relationship in which I feel I’ve been really successful voicing my expectations is my romantic relationships through the years (especially the relationship with my now-fiance). My parents’ divorce taught me that communicating your expectations in a relationship can singlehandedly make the difference between failure and success–even if what you have to say or what you expect doesn’t sit well with the other person, it’s far better than not saying anything at all!

    • Reply Travelling Table Tales 8 July, 2017 at 8:01 am

      As always, thank you for your authenticity, Claire. I love reading your comments. It would be especially tough, given your experience. I definitely agree that no matter how hard it is, it ultimately adds value to relationships. We cannot predict what others are thinking in the same way that others can’t predict what we are thinking. It is such a challenge though. Particularly when you are getting to know someone, and don’t know how far you can go about certain things. xx

  • Reply Kristy from Southern In Law 11 July, 2017 at 2:36 pm

    I love that you email your friends as another way of communicating. I tend to view emails as a bit of a burden because so much of my work is email based (trying to sort out projects with clients/sending proposals/yadayada) but this is so lovely!

    Like you, I am terrible at asking for help. It’s a mix of being a perfectionist (and not wanting to admit I need help/looking less put together than I am), feeling awkward asking and not wanting to burden people – but I’ve realised that I love when my friends ask me for help and I never give them that opportunity to help me and that’s not exactly fair!

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