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Great expectations (or maybe not…)



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 A few years ago, I met a friend for breakfast.

Old diners— the kind that never changes a thing about their decor or the way they make their potatoes— make me feel safe like everything will somehow be okay because the world still has eggs and black coffee in it. 

We were talking about relationships as we moved our eggs around our plates and I told her about some hurt feelings I had when it came to a friend of mine. How the hurt felt like burns, taking longer to heal than I expected. How I lost trust in a friend and how it kept happening. How I felt like a fool for even putting myself out there.  

“You have to loosen your expectations on some people,” she told me, taking another sip of her coffee. “Not all people, but some.”  

She told me I likely was still hurt because I kept placing expectations where they shouldn’t be placed anymore. I kept holding out hope that this person wouldn’t hurt me anymore or that they would magically morph into the kind of person who does exactly what I want them to do. I had to face the truth: my trust had been broken many times before and it wasn’t about rebuilding trust this time around. It was about revisiting the expectations I had placed on that person, thinking they could live up to them.

She went on to tell me there are some people you should relieve of expectations entirely. You stare down the reality: this person never acts how you hope they will act. They don’t come through. They never pay you back. They’re never grateful. They won’t be there when they promise to be there. You’re continually let down and it is hurting your heart over and over again.



Now I want to be clear: people are not here, living and breathing on this planet, to meet our expectations. That is not what I am saying. We are called to love people through the valleys and the peaks, not because of who someone may or may not become. But sometimes we must loosen or dismiss the expectations we have on a person to protect our hearts from falsely hoping in them.

This doesn’t mean we give up on the person or that we tell this person we’ve lowered our expectations for them. This is about taking away the power you’ve given them in the past to hurt you. Chances are, this person isn’t even aware they’re hurting you. This is about you putting up a boundary so that you don’t live your one precious life broken down constantly over how you hoped someone else would treat you. 

Here’s what might happen in the place of that necessary boundary if you never bother to set it:

You keep expecting: You keep your hopes high. And then you watch them crash. And then you build them up again but with a little less optimism. And the whole thing repeats itself. 

It is not wrong to hope in people but trust is a thing that must be built by two or more, it’s not automatically there. The problem with continually expecting when it comes to people with bad track records is you’re the one who gets hurt. You’re the one who becomes angry. My experience with these sorts of people is that they rarely see they’ve hurt you or they become defensive and turn the blame onto you. 

You eventually lose it: You lose your marbles and turn towards malice. You’re so mad that you no longer can just text them with a word of encouragement or say happy birthday. Bitterness becomes a sidekick whenever that person is brought up and bitterness is a pretty unbecoming feeling. 

You vent. A ton. Beyond the point of it being necessary: This has been my problem in the past. I’ll admit that it seemed like at some junctures I was happy to be let down because that fueled me with drama and I’m a storyteller. We, storytellers, love a good bit of drama.  

I’ll also say that I’ve come such a long way in this area from who I used to be. I learned in the last few years that whatever is your greatest strength can also double as your Achilles heel. In my case, my greatest strength has always been words but my words can either be balm or venom. I get to make a choice daily on that.


I have a friend who is continually let down by her brother and it breaks her heart all the time. She has such high hopes for him but she turns those hopes into expectations and those expectations are never met. Meanwhile, her brother walks around the world just as he is and she’s the one who cannot come free from bitterness and disappointment.  

I don’t have much hope that her brother will become this person she’s expecting him to be but I have hope she will release those expectations eventually and come to love him for what is there. 

It’s freeing to get to the place where you are able to love someone as they are, especially if they never become who you expected them to be. This “no contingency plan” kind of love is the type Jesus toted all over this planet. He promises to love us, even in the shortcomings.

Now, this doesn’t mean a person never changes. It doesn’t mean that change wouldn’t be a very good thing for them. It just means you’re not responsible for it anymore. You relinquish false control, open up your hands, and finally have the space to receive something better. 


My friend in the diner goes on to tell me that when you free yourself from the expectations you place on other people then you are free to love those people more radically than you ever expected.

I can tell you this method really works. If you’ve got a friend who doesn’t ever respond back to your texts then the dialogue can easily become, “They didn’t respond to my text and if they were a good friend then they would have.” Watch closely as this anger starts to rise up and rule you. Your day is hijacked by outside circumstances and you’re lashing out at your boyfriend because the phone shows the read receipt but that friend is still silent. 

However, you hold the power to change that script. You could send the text and say to yourself, “I want to send this text because it matters to me. And I have no expectation that I am going to hear back.” 

You do the thing anyway but you free yourself from the outcome in the process. 

You are able to send the text to that person and, because the expectation that they’ll respond is no longer hovering, you are free to go about your day. You have more room and mental space to love others. You’re less angry and the “I knew this would happen” voice in the back of your head doesn’t get its moment to shine.

You are free to love that person without any expectations. You stop asking them to pay you back. You invite them to the party but the expectation is no longer there that they’ll walk through the door. And you know what happens if they do show up? You’re pleasantly surprised and you get to serve them cake and bacon-wrapped dates. But there’s no longer a desperate anticipation hanging the air and the question of: will they let me down again? 

Because people will let you down. It’s part of life. It’s how the fragile exterior is broken off of us and how it grows back again, this time thicker. To let go of your expectations with some people isn’t you giving up on them, it’s a way of saying, “I love you. I love you but I have to protect myself in the process. I love you, and that love is not contingent on whether you show up or you say what I want you to say or you go to church or you pay me back. I just love you because I love you and this is my boundary.”  

And poof— you start to come free. You’ve set your expectations in the right place and now your day cannot be governed by what a person did or did not say back to you. This is adulthood magic. It really is. 

Life is too short to live every day wondering if others are going to let us down. That’s where the devil would love for us to land— hurt, bitter, and closed off. Let’s send the text. Let’s release control. Let’s love anyway, no matter the outcome.


  1. Lisa Thornbro says:

    All I can say is “wow.” I have allowed myself to be hurt so many times—all of my life! I am 63 and I finally understand that you can love other people, and stop getting hurt by them because I expected them to have the same loyalty, the same expectations and loyalty as I do. I understand now that someone else can love you, but not everyone plays by the same rules or will drop everything for you when you need them as I do. And I can let go of the pain, and the hurt, and the unrealistic expectations from others. People can love you dearly, but not see life the same way you do. I can live them and not be hurt or disappointed all the time. And I am not perfect either. Thank you for writing this!!!

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Hi, I'm Hannah

I love writing about all things faith, mental health, discipline + and motherhood. Let's be penpals!


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