By Jennifer S. White
It all began with my four year old, really; this lesson that we cannot expect more from someone than they can give.
The thing is, that sometimes I forget she’s four.
She’s kind and she’s beautiful, and these two things are much beyond the measure of her lifespan.
This said, I can’t expect more from her than she’s capable of giving—and this goes for all people.
We all have people who challenge us.
Sometimes it’s childish temper tantrums, sometimes it’s spouses and sometimes it’s co-workers. Regardless of the nature of our relationships, we need to regularly consider that it’s not possible to expect a person to be someone who they are not—with a favorable outcome at least.
I re-learn this lesson over and over. Partly this is because I married a man my opposite; in every way that’s incredible, he’s nothing like me.
I’m horridly anal retentive and, “Put the wine glass over there; on that table; more than two inches in; where the children can’t get it…No! Not near that corner where my clumsy elbow will knock it.” You know…that kind of anal.
He’s adorably slow at making coffee in the morning.
It’s a running joke.
But the kind that’s not entirely funny because it’s too true. That kind of running joke. Anyways, I make coffee at lightening speed (given that I don’t believe in drip pots or microwaves) because I need it that badly. (I seriously mentally envision two fingers tapping a vein in the morning while simultaneously hearing Barney from The Simpsons’ voice, “Hook it to my veins!”)
So he’s slow at making coffee and Every. Single. Stinkin.’ Morning.
I expect him to make coffee quickly. Only he doesn’t. So I make it, but then I’m internally angry that I make the coffee every morning—only I make it because he’s “too slow.”
While I’m aware that this is easily becoming the longest example ever, I think the point is relatively simple: expecting a person to be someone who they are not is upsetting to all involved.
On the other hand, people will surprise you.
My husband’s grandpa once said this and, for me, it’s proved entirely true.
The “best” friend that I thought, through everything, would be there for me…wasn’t.
Likewise, other friends have unexpectedly come through.
Isn’t life funny?
Isn’t it strange how people can surprise us, again and again?
Sometimes, too, I have this thought that I want my parents to live forever and that it’s not okay they’re getting older.
I try to picture losing my mom the way she’s already gone through losing hers and…I can’t. I see the way she envelops my children—as if she bore them herself—and I then try to picture my children losing her, the way that I already did my own grandmother and…I can’t.
Yet life has a system.
We are not meant to last forever. We are not meant to be there for every single friend who needs us. We are not meant to be perfect.
And the way my husband makes coffee, ultimately, doesn’t matter—it has no bearing on how he is as a person and says nothing of how wonderful he’s been as a partner.
Still, this cyclical experience of his consistently slow coffee making reminds me of when we lived apart and how I missed the way he always left his pants lying on the carpet in our family room after coming home from a long day—where I tripped over them every time I came home, wondering why on earth he couldn’t put his pants in the bedroom instead.
Because, fundamentally, our flaws are what make us lovable (to the right people), and, sometimes, we need to extend this kindness even more and recognize that we cannot expect more than we can give either.
Every single morning I have peanut butter toast.
I smear two slices of toasted bread with nearly an inch of natural peanut butter. This and two coffees make me not despise the world again. I am not pretty, or even able to speak in full sentences, until these items are inside of my stomach. But my husband knows this, he lets me eat my toast and drink my coffee and he doesn’t pass unkind judgment on me in the middle.
He’s a happier person than I am.
He’s a happier person in general because he knows that I need messy toast and hot, brown water to be my best Jennifer. Every day I wake up and I want to be more like him.
I want to be more like someone who understands who a person is, what a person needs and then lets them be that.
This said, there are times when we can see the people we know and love with more clarity than they can see themselves.
Life, as I’ve lived it at least, has ups and downs and there have been several times when my husband, for instance, was my reminder of what I’m capable of—because I had lost sight. This isn’t the same, though, as holding someone to unfair standards.
Additionally, just because we accept an individual for who he or she is—limitations and all—this doesn’t mean that we have to settle for these qualities when they don’t mesh with our own needs.
Learning to see a person for what they are capable of, rather than for what we wish they were capable of, is not the same as lowering our own needs to meet another person’s abilities.
This is a fancy way to say that sometimes we need to accept what someone can offer us—and then turn it down.
And this is exactly what would make me happier: to accept where I am inmy own life and then go from there.
Because how can I move forward and into my best me if I don’t clearly see where my feet stand, now?
Further, to surround ourselves with people who hold us to what we can do, to ask us to achieve more greatly when they know we are able and, more, to understand that love also includes not using our flaws against us—this is who we should be taking into our lives and into our hearts.
This is what would truly make us all happier: to see a world as it is, to accept it, to find where we can better it, to understand where we cannot—and to wake up every single stinkin’ morning not expecting fast coffee from a slower pourer; to remember we are human and to celebrate this, mourn it and then help one another be the best versions of ourselves.
Editor: Dana Gornall