lower your expectations, not your standards


Many years ago, back when I was single and dating all the wrong men, I found myself at the home of a friend, complaining about my social life. “I just don’t get it,” I whined. “I keep giving these men a chance, and every single time, I’m disappointed. Every. Time.”

“You know what your problem is,” drawled my friend, taking a long pull from his cigarette. “You’re expectations are too high. You need to lower your expectations, but not your standards.”

“Lower my expectations, but not my standards,” I repeated slowly, thinking about what he was saying. “I mean … this … this actually sounds pretty brilliant.”

“Yeah it is,” he smiled, and took another drag. “If you lower your expectations, you’ll never be disappointed, and if they exceed your expectations, then you’ll be pleased. But,” he grew serious, “that doesn’t mean you need to put up with people’s shit. Never lower your standards. Never.”

This phrase, of course, works well when it comes to dating — but over the years, I’ve learned it works for all relationships: personal ones, professional ones, even (ahem) the relationship between elected official and constituent. Lower your expectations, but hold people accountable. Lower your expectations, but don’t put up with being treated poorly.

I thought of this today when I was reading my friend Katie’s post about dealing with an online troll. The troll himself didn’t bother her too much; however, what did bother her was a number of comments that people made in response — comments that indicated that perhaps the troll was having a hard day or a hard life, and that she should take “the high road,” because he was probably really unhappy. “I see [this] happen on a small scale in instances like this one and on a more serious scale with my black or gay friends who are told that they should feel sorry for the people who speak such hateful words about them,” she writes. “That, to quote Shakespeare or someone like him, ‘they know not what they say’ and should be sent, to paraphrase, ‘love and light. ‘ Well, I call BS on love and light. I call BS on the default of putting yourself in the shoes of the oppressor, whether it’s the man catcalling you on the street or the online troll smearing your DMs with racism. I call BS on it all.”

Now. You all know that I happen to be all about love and light. But honestly, I agree with her.

See, I think the high-minded of us believe that when confronted with hate and darkness, we are compelled to shower it with love and light, in order to vanquish it. And of course, sometimes that actually works (I think this is often true especially with kids). But I think believing that that’s the only way to deal with something ugly is myopic. It’s like if there’s a fire: yes, of course, the way to fight fire can be by dousing it with water, but sometimes, it can also mean simply taking away its oxygen. If you’re in a relationship that’s abusive, sometimes the best, most loving thing to do is not to return the abuse, or even stay in a relationship and “love your way through it” — sometimes it means simply walking away, and saving your love and light for healthier subjects and relationships.

Lower your expectations, but not your standards.

It’s a mantra that I’ve repeated to myself often, and it has always served me well. There are plenty of ways to make and show love and light without losing or risking yourself in the process. And as my friend Brené likes to say, “don’t try to win over the haters — you’re not the jackass whisperer.”

What do you think?

Speaking of my lovely friend Katie, I had the honour of being on her podcast, the WANTcast, and it was a joyful experience, to say the least. We talked about so many things, like switching careers, surviving catastrophes, and curating a life you can be proud of. If you’ve got an hour, grab a cuppa and take a listen by clicking on the arrow below. And if you want more of Katie, check out that one time that she was on the Make Light Show — because she’s full of all sorts of wisdom about fighting negative self-talk.