Dating, Marriage, and Clenched Fists: When Expectations Become the Enemy

After being married for nearly 2 years now, in retrospect I can see with a much clearer and accurate view what helped and what hindered me in singleness and dating. I’ve realized that much of my belief and in turn, behavior (most of my behavior was fueled by my heartfelt beliefs) was unhealthy and actually held me back in many ways.


I want to share these things to hopefully encourage young women and men like myself who may just need a little bit of a push, or an opening of their eyes.


So much of what I believed had to do with expectations.


I expected this, I expected that.


How I thought (knew) it would all happen


I expected that I would be the one pining away until the man opened his eyes and saw me, and realized I was the girl for him. This had been the case in all my past encounters, so it made sense that this was how it was going to happen.


We’d be great friends, and I’d know we were going to be more, but he wouldn’t right away, but then he’d come around.


I’d know first, because I always do. I would keep my serious crush hidden beneath our amazing friendship until he realized that his serious crush was going to eat him alive unless something happened.


We’d just be the best of friends and so enjoy each other’s company, and be so comfortable with each other. Then one day, something would change. He’d feel the spark too. And he’d sit me down and tell me that things were changing and he had feelings for me, and ask me to be his girlfriend.


And we’d both feel the electric feeling of knowing that the person you like actually likes you back, with the same intensity, in the same way, and it’s real, and you’re not dreaming, and this person is actually sitting right across from you, looking straight into your eyes and telling you they love you.


And it would be so effortless, so easy, so natural, with no messy emotions and no misunderstanding – basically, no two real, live human hearts. Because any time you get two hearts involved, it’s messy.


But it wouldn’t be that way for us, because everything would just work.


There would be no awkward conversation, because our hearts would be at the same place at the same time, once he came round. And I wouldn’t be impatient while I waited for him to come round, because I always knew that someday he would.


What I thought (knew) he would be like


A face with some stubble and maybe a beard, who loved to travel and was a musician and an artist and would sit with me in a coffee shop for hours and talk about intelligent things.


He would be the quiet type, with so much depth and kind, dreamy eyes. He would be calm and easy going, but also so passionate and outspoken, able to speak his mind and communicate well. He’d also be so much fun and we’d go on cool adventures and he would make me laugh til my sides hurt.


He would take me camping and hiking, and kayaking and rafting and mountain-climbing, because he would be the outdoorsy type, too. He would play guitar and sing to me outside of our tent in the mountains. He would read philosophical and intriguing books to me while we lay on a blanket looking at the stars.


He would take amazing pictures of us to post on instagram. He would tell the world about how much he loved me and always be proud to take me everywhere and show me off. “This is my girl!” He would write social media posts on my birthday, and our anniversary, and just because. But not in the overboard, annoying, cheesy and gushy way we all can’t stand. He would be tasteful.


He would be such a respectable person, everyone would look up to him, and everyone would think highly of him. He would be a leader, and well loved by many.


He would agree with all my opinions, long-held beliefs about things, and basically everything I thought, because he had all the same opinions and beliefs and thoughts. He wouldn’t challenge those things ever, because he wouldn’t need to, because of how similar we were.


He would want to stay up late reading and talking about deep things. He would share my passion for nature and opening all the windows and burning candles and putting on records and not owning a TV.


Just like me, he’d want to go outside barefoot and chase sunrises and sunsets, and catch fireflys and take long walks and just talk. And then go inside and make popcorn and hot tea and read books or paint or play guitar, or just talk until 3AM.


His default activity of choice would be to go to the park or the ocean or the river or the city and just enjoy the slowness of a thoughtful, restful day. To take in all the views and smell the fresh air and love life.


His favorite things to eat would not be Mexican or BBQ or pizza – they would be Mediterranean and seafood and bakeries.


He would give me pretty babies and want them right away – the second we got married.


How it all unraveled: When expectations became the enemy


Because I held so tightly to all of these expectations, and refused to let them go in the name of “not settling for less”, I said no to a great many potential relationships that really could have gone somewhere.


And because of these expectations, I almost said no and goodbye to my husband.


When my husband came into my life, I did not recognize him as that. That was my first clue that he was not the right guy. Because I was supposed know – I was supposed to know first. We would become best friends, and I would have a huge crush on him, and then he’d realize he felt that same way, and then he’d tell me and it would all change.


That did not happen at all. He did not enter my life that way, we were not the best of friends, I did not have a crush on him first.


The way he entered my life was by immediately making his feelings for me known. He noticed me first. He liked me first.


He asked me out before I even had a chance to be his friend. The man asked me out when I barely even knew him.


There was no guessing involved. There was no pining away while I waited for his eyes to open and see me. There was no solid foundation of comfortable friendship for this to organically, effortlessly ease into a serious relationship.


This was right away, in-my-face, emotional – because he put his heart right there on the line, no questions asked.


He took that risk and I suddenly found myself with a man’s heart in my hands – and I had the power to break or flourish it with the direction I would choose to go.


The second clue I had that he was not at all the right guy for me – was that he looked nothing like the man I pictured. But there was also much more to the story…


He is not a musician. He speaks and leads and carries, and he lets me be the songbird, and encourages me to step out, and puts my piano in front of our big window without saying a word because he knows it will inspire me and be a place I encounter the Lord.


He likes to watch TV and go to the movies. He loves the stories most of all. Telling them, making his own, writing them with his life and our life. His love of stories transfers to real life, and his TV and movie watching is just the surface of a much deeper and beautiful heart. It inspires me.


He is not the wilderness-conquering, week-long mountain-expedition type. Yet he takes me camping and kayaking and lays in the park with me under the trees, and goes on hikes.


His favorite foods are Mexican, BBQ, and pizza. Seafood is somewhere down near the bottom of the list. But he always finds something he likes about the places I like, and I have found something I like at all the places he likes, and we compromise. We grow. Our lives are more rich and full because of each other.


He doesn’t really like to read – especially philosophical books. But he will gladly engage with me in any sort of theological or philosophical or political discussion, and loves talking about the things that matter. His is wise and strong and emotionally intelligent and socially skilled and eager to learn and eager to help others learn, and I love his mind.


He has challenged me in ways that have helped me grow, by not just agreeing with all my thoughts and beliefs, but questioning them, and making me see things from a new perspective.


We have a giant TV resting up on our fireplace mantle, and we’ve gone through several really great shows together, from season one to the very last.


Many people look up to him, respect and admire him, and come to him for advice and friendship.


He doesn’t take pictures of us and barely says a word on social media – but he comes home on a random Tuesday with flowers, and lets me have the center of the cinnamon roll we’re sharing at breakfast, and makes me a cup of tea when I’ve had a hard day – all without saying a word.


I have been blown away by this: Choosing to “settle” for something that was less than my dream, actually turned out to be exchanging it for a dream 10x better.


How God gave me an unanticipated gift


My husband looked nothing like my picture of who I thought he would be, but as I worried and stressed over the simplest action of going on a date with this man, I began to hear God say, “Just jump in, Hannah.”


Jump in. Without knowing the outcome. Jump in with someone who is so far from your own pictures and what you’ve dreamed up in your head, he couldn’t be more opposite. Jump in and see what happens. Just go out with him. Just get to know him. Just see if this could be something more than you so stubbornly and immediately ruled out as not the guy for you.


You may wind up married to him, or you may wind up breaking up, or you may never go past a first date. But just jump in anyway.


So I did. I agreed to go on one date.


And I was pleasantly surprised, so I agreed to another.


And then another, and another, and another.


And then the whole two-real-human-hearts thing got involved, and it got messy.


I got scared. I ran away.


I told him it wouldn’t work out, and goodbye, and thanks for everything.


It was awkward, and stressful, and emotionally difficult. It’s hard to navigate the thoughts and feelings and emotions of two real, different, live hearts, and figure out how it all works out.


In no way was it the effortless, easy, natural relationship that just worked, like my expectations always told me it would.


Because it almost didn’t work at all.


As I drove away from that one pivotal conversation, the one that changed everything, the one where I told him goodbye – something in me was different. I drove further and further away from the guy I thought was never meant to be my husband, and my heart felt like it was being pulled closer and closer to him. It was so confusing, and conflicting.


“What am I doing?”


Somehow I knew it wasn’t over. I knew that what I’d just tried to do and manipulate and change, wasn’t going to work.


My expectations had led me to this coffee date that I initiated, and as I drove away, I realized that I was still holding on to all of them, but I didn’t have him.


I still had all my dreams and hopes and I still had the guy I pictured in my mind – but I didn’t have the man I left behind at the coffee shop – and I missed him.


I drove away with my fiercely defended and self-protected dreams and expectations, but without him.


And I didn’t know it at the time, but in that moment my heart was realizing that I’d rather have him. I’d rather have this real man with a real heart who noticed me first and desired and pursued me, than this pictured in my head story of how it was supposed to be with a guy who probably doesn’t exist.


Exchanging my best for God’s even better


Somehow, we got from there, to here. Nearly two years married, with our baby girl on the way. Two wonderful years that have really felt effortless for both of us, because being married to each other is so natural, it hasn’t felt like work at all. Probably one day it will, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.


But I had to open up my hands, and let everything else go, so that they could be open and empty and God could place in them what was always meant to be there.


Often what God has planned for us is so much bigger than we can comprehend. He gives us gifts that we didn’t even think to ask for. He leads us to people who have qualities we didn’t even know we needed in a person. He gives us a spouse we never could have dreamed up in our heads.


Even the most lofty dreams can always be topped by an unexpected gift from the Father.


So be willing to let your expectations go. If you find that they are holding you back, and if you find that God can’t place His gift in your hands because they’re not empty but too full of your own desires and wishes, pry open those clenched fists and stand before Him with empty hands.


It’s hard to do, and uncomfortable, and maybe even painful. You may feel the pain as you watch your dream fade away and die.


But I know from experience, and am confident of this: His ways are higher, His thoughts greater, His dreams 1000x better than the most amazing thing you could ever imagine.


Maybe what you think is “settling for less” could actually be one of the best things to ever happen to you.


3 thoughts on “Dating, Marriage, and Clenched Fists: When Expectations Become the Enemy”

  1. Oh, Hannah! This is so similar to my love story, it’s crazy! I told him no, twice!! But I’ll never forget when I had told my Grandma everything, laying under the trees at Loose Park one afternoon, we were driving home and she asked, did you just like the idea of him, or do you like him? I thought a moment and realized “I like him, Grandma!!” The rest is history. ❤

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