In 1789, Ben Franklin wrote “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” In 2016, Donald Trump inferred that if you were ‘smart’ you could avoid taxes as well. Apparently, in this world, all you can be certain of is death. Death and the present moment. Everything in between is unknown.
And if it’s unknown, it stands to reason that your thoughts about how the next moment is going to go is completely made up, a fantasy. It might be based on solid predictors or a pattern or your gut feeling – but it ain’t real til it happens, and if it ain’t real – it’s fantasy.
Fantasies thrive in relationships. Relationships that haven’t started yet or relationships that have been going on for decades. The coulds, woulds and shoulds of relationship wreak havoc as we hang our expectations atop one another. (And if you don’t do this with your partner then consider your mom or dad or sister or friend or colleague or boss – our litany of how people should act runs rampant. I also have it with strangers, “Seriously?! Couldn’t hold the damn door open?! Yeesh!” Knowing about fantasies doesn’t change my instinctive reaction when things don’t go my way.)
Our fantasies about how other people should behave are rough.
The more aware we are that we’re adding expectations to another person’s behavior, the more room there is to accept their behavior for what it is (and either negotiate something else or leave the relationship), rather than staying and arguing with the fantasy of what your relationship could be if they would simply adjust their behavior to the way they should be behaving anyway (coulda, woulda, shoulda).
To be fair, we’ve been fantasizing about stuff for some time now. Our jobs, our partners, our children. Such that the main reason your relationship isn’t what you thought it would be is because the you that was doing the thinking is not the you that you are right now. You were younger (and, by definition, dumber. Or at the very least ‘less experienced’). You were also more arrogant, ignorant and unaware of the shit that life was going to throw at you. And you had no idea of what it would take to actually be in a day-in-day-out relationship with another human being.
Quite frankly, if you’re in a decent relationship you should turn around and thank younger (and dumber) you for being smart (and lucky) enough to have picked the person they did for the not-too-shabby life the two of you have built together!
And if older (and wiser) you is done with the relationship you’re in, just remember that the you choosing the next relationship is younger (and dumber) than future you, who might end up mourning the fantasy of what could have been, like you are right now. If only to give all of your you’s a little more compassion about your life choices.
That’s the thing with fantasies, they are pervasive, applying to all aspects of our lives. Your relationship isn’t what you thought it would be but then neither is your body or your work or your home or your family or your life. It was all a fantasy. And some pieces of it came out really crappy and not even close to what you dreamed up and you can’t believe you are in this frickin’ situation because you know that if only this or that were different then the whole picture would be so much better than it is right now!
But there are also other pieces of it that you didn’t think up because there’s no way you could have known about the goodness in store for you in the most unexpected places and how it would feel to have moments of joy that touch your core so deeply that you burst into tears of gratitude for the moment itself for no other reason than that you are in it and that you recognize it for the incredible and very real joy that it brings to you.
And in that moment, reality is better than anything you could have dreamed of.