More About ExpectationsLet’s think about some of the language used to talk about sex and dating. Some examples: “It’s Friday night, they should have called me and made plans by now,” or “Don’t they know it’s normal to split a bill on the first date?” or “He only wanted to make out all night but didn’t want to do anything else, isn’t that weird?” or “She should know that I’m talking to other people and that this isn’t an exclusive thing” or “If he wanted to, he would.” You might have heard these things from friends. Maybe you’ve said them yourself. These statements contain uncommunicated expectations reinforced through popular culture, social media, past relationships, and antiquated conversations with parents or older folks in our lives. Unfortunately, when we implement these sorts of expectations into relationships without discussing them, resentment can build. For example, let’s look at clients Emerson and Will, who have been dating for five months. They come in for couple’s therapy to discuss a mismatch in sex drive. Emerson would prefer to have sex more frequently than Will, and Will feels pressured and has begun to withdraw from physical touch altogether. When we talk more, Emerson shares that in their last relationship, their partner was more submissive sexually and enjoyed it when Emerson would frequently initiate. Emerson felt good taking control and wanted to apply it to this relationship. When Will withdrew, Emerson started feeling less desirable and wanted to have more sex, as they thought it was an indicator of a “good” relationship. But Will shared that in his past sexual relationships, he felt turned on with a lot of sensual touching, massage, and kissing, and penetration felt secondary. When Emerson showed up with their needs, Will felt pressured and also questioned his masculinity as he acknowledged being satisfied having sex less frequently.
When each partner shared their history and desires, there was much more room for understanding and validation.Unspoken expectations are challenging because of the impact on the relationship, but gendered, heteronormative language also leads folks to feel insecure about their identity. If we start to think about these expectations critically, we can permit ourselves to be transparent and communicative and ultimately get our needs met.