I made an interesting observation today about expectations.
I was part of a conversation this afternoon with one of the seminarians where I work. He’s in the process of doing his “student pastoring” at a church outside of town, and he was reporting that it had been a rather intense few weeks. Someone had recently outed him (as gay) at the church, and there was a lot of uncertainty about how people would react to knowing this about him at that particular church. It turns out things have (so far anyway) gone very well, and he even took his boyfriend with him to a church function last weekend.
While I was very encouraged to hear his story, the thing that surprised me is that I did not in any way let on to him that I am also gay. I stayed quite firmly in the closet throughout the conversation despite the fact that he was openly out of his as he shared his story.
I remember when I was first agonizing over the prospect of coming out of the closet. Back then, I had the expectation that telling other gays and lesbians would be the safest place to start in my own journey of being honest about who I am. It was the straight people in my life that I was afraid to tell.
In the intervening time, I’ve discovered that the straight people in my life (chosen with care, of course) have been accepting. It’s been the GLBT community (particularly other lesbians) that have had issues with my coming out. I’ve encountered a lot of resentment that I am coming out at a point when it is less dangerous than it was for some of them. I’ve encountered doubt about whether I can be a “real” lesbian since I didn’t come out until later in life (especially since I’m not overly butch in appearance or demeanor). I’ve encountered distrust, unkindness, and dismissive attitudes.
I realized today as I noticed my quietness in response to this seminarian’s story that I’ve come to the point that I am now more likely to retreat to the closet around other gays and lesbians than I am with straight people in my life. There are very few people at the seminary where I work that I’ve come out to, but every one of them is straight. I know of quite a number of people there who are gay or lesbian, but I have yet to tell any of them anything.
My entire expectation of who is safe to tell and who isn’t has completely flip-flopped.
While this particular instance is interesting to note, it’s not a big surprise. My experiences have informed this shift in expectations, and it’s a matter of changing my expectations to go with the data.
The bigger observation from this is noticing how large the gap is between what I thought I could expect and what has been my reality. While this has been a very obvious case, it’s not the only time I’ve discovered that my expectations and my reality are misaligned. How often have I made decisions based on my expectations only to find out that my expectations are nothing but fairy tales that have no resemblance to reality?
I don’t think it’s possible to move through this world without ever having expectations of what future actions might bring. We do learn from past experience to expect certain responses, actions, results from our actions (e.g., if I turn on this stove burner, I expect that it will get hot). But it’s easy to fall into a lazy habit of relying so much on my expectations that I forget to keep checking in with reality to make sure my expectations haven’t taken on a life of their own.
I would benefit from being more aware of the expectations that I carry around in my head and testing them against reality a bit more often. It just might save me a good deal of heartache in the future.
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