an appointment with dis

Recently a girlfriend of mine went on a trip to Santorini with her boyfriend (of one and a half years).  They’d talked about marriage (they were both for it) and children (two–one of each–they agreed). Back at her overstuffed one-bedroom apartment, she packed sexy underthings and whimsical romantic dresses. Espadrilles. And in Santorini she’d wear them as they drank local wine, too much, and ate fish fresh off the boat.  They walked black-sand beaches combing for shells to bring home. “Paperweights,” she said shielding her face from the sun with her hand, and he smiled thinking how lucky he was to have such a beautiful and creative girlfriend. Their Relais & Chateaux room had an unobstructed blue and white view, fine billowing sheers, and a sun-soaked veranda outfitted with an open air two-post Jacuzzi. They did things they wouldn’t normally do. They had nooners and morning sex without brushing. They lazed about pushing powdery dough through plates of olive oil, heightened their foods with lemon and coarse sea salt. Devoured the skin of things. They were swept up in the blend of fab and folklore, purchasing capers from an old Greek woman at the side of a winding road. At night, he applied lotion to her shoulders after their shower and remarked how much he loved her soft scattering of freckles. They were in love. And man was she pissed.

Each leg of their trip, each rich sunset, was spoiled each and every time he let the opportunity to propose pass him by. “I kept thinking this would be so perfect. Just do it now!” And he never did. Ruined her whole taste for the place. She won’t step anywhere near a kebab anymore. Okay, that’s not true, but it sounds true. Expectations can be harsher than the fluorescent lighting in the fitting room of Bloomingdale’s.

That’s the problem with expectation (particularly the type beyond your own control); it can lead to disappointment. I hate to say it, but even when something brilliant happens, if you were expecting it, you won’t be nearly as elated as you’d have been if you were blindsided by it. We overestimate our pleasure and pain when we have time to forecast things. When unexpected surprises creep in (both the magical and menacing), we feel things more deeply.

But how do you avoid having expectations? Realistic or not, they’re still there, with their own pulse, and what do they add to life, aside from a clear declaration, even if only to yourself, of how you’d like to be treated? I’m not talking about the goals we set for ourselves: losing weight, improving the time it takes to run a 5k, not biting your nails (hey, we don’t all have lofty goals).  When we tote around Expectation, which I think is more exacting than its vague and fanciful sister Hope, we see life as a series of losses. We taint what might have been a memorable experience with the expectation baggage we manage to check on our flight. And believe me, there’s a reason there’s an additional cost for extra bags: we pay for it in the end.

As much as we hate disappointment, we don’t really learn our lesson. Disappointment rarely alleviates us of expectation. I think it’s the human condition to expect, to find a clearance of hope in our darkest times. Even if it’s easier living without them, expectations give us something to live for. And certainly give us something to complain about.

Sometimes, though, disappointment can be the greatest surprise…

When my father proposed to Carol, he placed a medium-sized clothing box beside the menorah.  She was furious; escaped for a pep talk, calling her mother with words like “utter” and “disbelief,” and quite possibly “murder!”  She opened the box to find an ordinary shirt. She put on her best smile, choosing her words carefully. Then they got in the car, off to visit relatives for the holiday. My father’s eyes were bothering him, so he asked her to check the glove compartment for his saline solution. Right before her eyes was the small box she’d been waiting for, and her anger blinded her. She didn’t even see the box. Once she did, I imagine she cried. My father knew, deep down, that half the joy we experience comes when we’re completely taken by surprise. So although she was expecting it, she certainly wasn’t expecting it then. And that, my friends, is how it’s done.



  1. Yeah, expectations are resentments waiting to happen. As hard as it is to not have them, living in the moment pays off. When all you are obsessing about is the destination and when you are FINALLY.GOING.TO.GET.THERE., it completely robs you of enjoying the journey and how beautiful it can be.

    The trip sounds like bliss to me. She needs to refocus.

  2. I was your friend with my ex. Expectation turned disappointment tainted all experiences of the last 1.5 yrs of a 6 yr relationship. I think had he actually proposed, it would have been more of a relief that it finally happened than elation or excitement.

    With my now-husband, I got blindsided by a proposal out great disappointment. He pulled pretty much what your father did. He made me think it wasn't coming anytime soon, I got resigned to it. Next thing I knew there was a 6 ft sign asking me to marry him in the middle of Union Sq on a Friday during my lunch from work and the Farmers Market. I didn't even get it at first, I was so surprised. It was the best and best kept, well planned surprise ever…WAY better than it would have been any of the times I expected it.

  3. My husband, bless his soul, didn't pull any torturous punches with me when it came time to propose. I knew it was coming in a nonspecific time-frame and he did it swiftly–in other words didn't get me to the point of spitting mad–and in a very magical way. We got engaged in a helicopter high over NYC on a crisp and clear October night. I think my breath was taken away two times. Once from the amazing views and of course from the amazing rock! Maybe getting engaged at the tender age of 24 had something to do with not having pent up frustrations over wanting and waiting for something I knew I wanted so badly. Time wasn't ticking around me at all. I enjoyed every moment of our courtship!

  4. I love this line: "We overestimate our pleasure and pain when we have time to forecast things. When unexpected surprises creep in (both the magical and menacing), we feel things more deeply."
    So very true.
    I enjoyed this very much.

  5. I think this is womn`s problem: we can`t let the things just happen…we need to think, overanalyze, call our best friend and let out all the frustration of him missing the perfect moment out. We always expect something bigger, better and more perfect. Eventhough it`s already there: as perfect as it can get. We just don`t see it because expectation of something is blinding us.
    Just live and enjoy!

  6. As someone who just recently became engaged, I have to say I've never quite understood the "surprise" aspect of it. This is, so far in my life, the most important decision I'll make. The last thing I want/ed was for someone to spring a ring on me and expect an answer. That happened once in a prior relationship – tropical island, beautiful restaurant, lots of friends hidden away at the bar, and a ring on my plate in place of the pots de creme I ordered. While we had discussed taking the next step in a fuzzy, in-a-few-years context (or so I thought), my then-significant other apparently had other plans. I said no. We were both embarrassed. And there was no other way for that relationship to go other than to end.
    Years later, I'm committed to a mutual love. When we decided to get engaged, we took a walk through the city on a wild and windy day and picked out the engagement ring together. No surprises, no resentment, no expectations other than of a happy, shared life together.

  7. Stephanie, Wow! Great post! You painted the perfect picture with words. In my opinion, your writing is just getting better and better. BTW loved the book and can't wait for Moose. Thanks for sharring.

  8. we are at the crossroads. somewhere between 'what's the hurry?' and 'what are we waiting for?'. it is like time is still and i am forgetting that being with the one is better than waiting alone.

  9. Reminds me of a story that I believe to be an urban legend but it still illustrates dissapointment in its truest form and I have told it to each of my (now fully grown) children:

    A young man is graduating from high school and is packing his belongings to head to college. His parents asked him a few days before he was leaving what he wanted more than anything. He replied "A used or new car would be terrific, or at least the money to purchase one so I can have reliable transportation during college."

    As he packed his last bag, his parents presented him with a gift. When we tore through the wrapping paper, he found a copy of The Bible. He looked at it, and with great anger exclaimed "What the heck is this? I told you what I wanted, why did you even bother asking if you had no intention of giving it to me?" His parents, quite taken aback, said "Son, we chose this gift because of the principals contained within the book, we hope you always lead a responsible life and remember the important things." The son cursed, hopped into his friend's car and the two of them took off for college. He vowed to never talk to his parents after that day, and he made good on that promise. Fast forward 30 years later, when the man is now packing to move his family to a new home. He comes across The Bible, dusty but still unopened. While thumbing through it, he about a quarter of the way through the book, a check for $20,000 with a note on the memo field "For your car, son. Good luck at college. All our love, Mom & Dad."

    Yikes, I still get a lump in my throat…..

  10. You said it so clearly… "That's the problem with expectation; it can lead to disappointment." SO true. If we could learn to thrive in the now…

  11. Like Babs, I feel that the decision to get married is one of the biggest, most important decisions you will make in your lifetime. That women are left out of deciding the when and where of the "proposal" seems so sad and silly. I guess it goes to what type of relationship you're looking for, and I'm all for wonderful surprises, but DAMN – waiting day by day on a beautiful vacation in Greece for a ring to pop out and smack you in the face? Please. I'd take that opportunity to sit the boy down and propose to HIM and buy my own damn ring if that's what I was hoping for. (Ok, of course not really – I don't want to scare the poor thing – but I would have a serious conversation about where I was at and what I wanted. I'd let him know how I was feeling!) I think women need to let their wishes, wants, needs, whatever, be known. I think they need to be confident and comfortable expressing what they want and when. I mean, it's YOUR life. If you want a husband, and want to settle down with the person you're with, I think you should approach it as you would anything else you want – go for it. At least then you won't be in the dehumanizing position of having to wait for something you're probably already damn well ready to have happen. It's got to be a two way street.

  12. how do you know when you need more time to figure out if he's the one or if it's time to jump ship? i mean certainly when you first meet someone you don't always know they are the one? the moment happens but you probably usually miss it? what if that moment just hasn't come yet? what if you bail and miss it?

  13. I agree with Babs – it's such a huge decision, not one to be sprung on someone (and by 'someone' I mean 'me').

    I hate, and have always hated, surprises. Even the good ones, like when I was in 8th or 9th grade and my parents dragged me along with them to the Karat Shop on Jericho Turnpike (right? near Rte 110, I think) and then offered to get me rams horns gold hoop earrings. Even when I first got my permit and after work my father would offer to take me to practice driving.

    I'm all for mental preparation. Surprises are not for everybody, especially I think when you have to react to them in front of the person causing the surprise.

  14. thank you for this post. you have impeccable timing, stephanie tara klein! i've been reading since late 2004 and i continue to learn from you. i quote you a lot and pass on familiar posts to my girlfriends when they're dealing with certain issues. i live in austin, and if i ever see you out and about i am definitely going to say hello and thank you in person. :)

  15. Great writing! I could see and smell and taste everything you wrote about in my mind. And your dad's the bomb!

  16. Awesome post! When my hubby proposed, I was so surprised I didn't believe it was really happening (b/c he had duped me into thinking he wanted to wait a bit longer before marriage)! I thought I had at least another year before a ring, and looking back, that was the most amazing part of the proposal- the pure surprise and disbelief on my part…I also loved your book and also can't wait for Moose! I think you are an amazing writer!

  17. I really needed this post. It's extremely hard to enjoy your relationship, when you are expecting so much from the man you love. It's insecurity, I guess. That the only way to hold on to so much love and happiness is to lock him down into something legal and "binding". I just have to trust that when the time is right, it'll happen, and to stop hating on my boyfriend for missing every right time!

  18. I have to agree to all above who said that surprise is not for everyone. And I know that a friend of mine would agree to: her ex proposed on christmas eve, in front of their families. She was so surprised that she (so she told me later) could only say yes. But what she meant was NO and they broke up a few weeks later.
    And yes, expectation can lead to disappointment, but the only way to avoid this is to not expect anything. For me, I`m not sure if this would work.

  19. Stephanie, this is an incredible post! I loved it! And its so true too. Although, I must say I actually suffer from the opposite most of the time… always expecting the worst and waiting for the bottom to fall out. As many therapy appointments as this tendancy has gotten me, I must say I don't get disappointed a whole hell of a lot, so that's nice (but that's about the only positive aspect of it). One of many great lessons in life I guess!

  20. This is the thing I'll never understand about mixed-religion marriages. Why does a Christian wife completely relinquish her religion to her Jewish husband? What's with this FEAR Jews have that their kids can't even be exposed to or hear the words Jesus Christ???? So effed up. Another paranoid Jew trait….too too funny….hahahahahaha….omg….oy……regarding your EASTER post….

  21. God, this fuming and seething while waiting for a proposal thing just drives me batty. I mean there IS the option of asking yourself. But I understand not everyone's comfortable about it. But what I feel like no one ever says is that this whole perspective is incredibly self-centered. First of all, a proposal is not a (just) a gift that a man gives to a woman. He has to be ready to marry her too! Has it ever occurred to any of these women that perhaps a man doesn't propose because he is not ready, and it is not just an elaborate plan just to torment and spite her? That perspective is just so self-referential.

    Also, this obsession with "NOW would be the perfect moment!" is also totally self-absorbed. Maybe it is perfect for HER, and it is probably perfect for her because it makes a great story. Well, get over yourself. There's more to it than just the story. He's probably not obsessing over telling his friends about how sweet and romantic he was, as she is.

    Engagement is the confirmation of an intent to be partners and collaborators. Just because SHE is totally obsessed and into it doesn't mean he is, and it is more than just scoring the same gigantic platinum diamond ring that every priveleged woman in NYC has.

  22. I usually hate surprises, but when it came to my proposal I had the best of both worlds. My then-boyfriend and I had decided that we would get married when he finished graduate school, and that it would be silly to postpone a wedding any longer than necessary just so he could save for a ring. (Besides, I'm a pretty independent girl, and like Babs, I saw marriage as an important step where two mature adults agree to spend the rest of their lives together, building a partnerhsip, etc.) So a ring, while a beautiful sentimental gesture, was not the most important thing to me. A few months after having that conversation, he took me out to a romantic cafe and pulled a modest but absolutely beautiful ring out of his pocket. I was stunned and absolutely speechless. To this day, I don't know where he got the ring or how much it cost. The fact that he went out and bought it, knowing that I would have married him without it was definitely a great surprise.

  23. She really needed to think hard about this one and PROPOSE herself already! Cripes. She could have made it a really beautfiful experience.

    What a wasted trip if that is all she had in mind.

  24. Ashley, I know exactly what you mean. I remember the specific time when I decided as a child, "From now on, I'm just not going to expect anything at all. That way, I won't ever be disappointed." Pathetic, isn't it? I've had to fight against that a lot, particularly because it involves never expecting anything of myself, either.

    I agree with Babs, too… I think I would actually be kind of upset if the guy I'd been seeing suddenly surprised me with a proposal. I'm not big on surprises, and I would definitely want to talk together about a decision so huge. That's just me.

  25. This was such a great post. It got me in such a sweet lazy mellow vacation frame of mind, to then have it shattered by female neurotism.
    I wonder why she kept presuming he would propose during that particular vacation. Did he drop obvious hints etc? I would understand she'd get pissed if he did that and didn't follow them through. My boyfriend sometimes does this (the obvious hint dropping) as a joke and it makes me want to bash his head in (… as much as I do dearly love him of course). That stuff just isn't funny.
    If the guy in question did not give of signs that 'this was the time', she just ruined her vacation by her own.

  26. Women truely do tend to ruin these things for themselves. We have time lines we want to be fulfilled. Dreams from childhood we still expect to be played out, despite that fact we have long since realized life is a journey we can't pre-plan.
    However, we also ruin these things for each other. I spent the three months before my engagment waiting for my now-fiance to propose. The biggest fuel to my desire fire was all my girlfriends' anticipation of the moment. Every holiday, every out of town trip, every Saturday night dinner. "I bet he's going to do it….." I would walk into a room and their eyes would glance at my finger. I felt like I was disappointing them. By the end I really started to get antsy, becuase I felt people wouldn't be excited for us, but instead greet the news with a sigh of relief, "Finally!"

    I wish their encouragment had been to enjoy every moment of my life as it was then, and not just in expectation of what is to come. I wish I had lived more in the moment. I'll never have those three months back. It's something I strive to do now during our engagement. Not to live every day planning my wedding and in expectation of the life I'll have as Mrs…. I still have a job and friends and life to attend to. I think this had made my time now more enjoyable.

    May we all live in the moment as often as we can!

  27. Wonderful post. Can't help feeling sorry for your friend. I wouldn't have let a wonderful vacation go by waiting and waiting like that. I would have tried to say something if it were actually ruining my trip. That's incredibly sad. How can you imagine planning your life with someone if you have to hide how you're feeling about something so important – perhaps she didn't actually feel like it was going to happen and it was wishful thinking anyway? I proposed to my husband and we've now been married 10 years. I was really frightened to ask but I did it anyway. If it's the right person it doesn't really matter how it happens!

  28. Expectations are pre-meditated resentments. If we have expectations of others they will usully let us down.

  29. In reading your blog for quite a while, I've grown to love your dad. He is a funny guy. He seems sincere and thoughtful. I love the speeches. He seems like the kind of guy that winks.
    I wish you would write more about the dynamic between him and his new wife, maybe he and your mom. I realize though that that may be difficult for you since its one thing to share all the intimate details about your own life, but quite another to impress that same candor on someone who has not signed up for their life to be public knowledge.

  30. I know someone who was waiting for a ring. At Christmas there was a ring box…. The whole family was there. She opened it up and there it was—-a $1.00 McDonalds certificate. Yes, home of Ronald and two all beef patties.The ring came weeks later. I believe that he is on the 3rd or 4th wife now. Burger King …KFC… You kinda wonder why she even married the ass.

    1. Author

      The vacationing duo… he eventually proposed. She accepted. Day of their wedding, he didn’t show up. She’s now happily married (to another man), with a sweet baby.

      1. WOW. you can’t make this stuff up. glad it worked out for her. i’ve always liked what my friend’s mom told her after her divorce – ‘be assured that you will be okay in the end… b/c if it’s not okay, then it’s not the end yet.’
        thanks for the update :-)

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