It’s been said that there’s no surer way to disappointment than having high expectations.
But when it comes to partnership, I believe that it is, in fact, in the compromising of our expectations that we find ourselves disappointed.
But it’s not for the faint of heart. Having high expectations for our partners demands that we hold ourselves to the same high expectations. Permission to expect a lot of our partners comes from a space of personal excellence and consistently striving to be better.
And yes, everyone will fall short sometimes. If the expectations are adequate, we will fail regularly in our attempts to meet them. But these failures are our guideposts to self-improvement, not because we aren’t good enough just the way we are, but because we want more of life—we want to live and grow and die better than we were born.
So when it comes to my relationships, and in particular my primary romantic relationship, I have high standards.
I expect my woman to be brave, courageous, independent, and self-reliant.
I expect that when sh*t hits the fan in her life, she can rise to the occasion and deal with it. I expect her to be subordinate to no man, free in her womanhood and wildness. I expect her to fight fearlessly for what she believes in and to live her life according to her own moral compass. Because even though I call her my woman, we both know she belongs only to herself.
But I also expect her to be soft. I expect her to touch me in ways that make me melt. I expect her to give one hell of a massage, and to kiss me with the tenderness of someone who’s never lifted a finger against anyone. I want her to let me drive when we go places, and I love it when she refuses to decide where we go to dinner. I expect her to be good with all children, but especially my own, and I expect her to wash some of the dishes, do some of the laundry, and cook a meal every once in a while.
Yes, that’s right—I expect my woman to be a fiercely independent, professionally competent wild thing, and do housework.
Because I am the same.
Because I also expect myself to be fiercely independent and affectionate. Because I also work a demanding executive job and then come home and cook dinner and do the dishes and put my darling children to sleep. Because I expect myself to be able to melt her into a delicious, womanly puddle of eagerness and submission with hands that are both strong and tender, fearless and free, careful and conscientious. You see, I expect a lot of myself, too.
If I can plan a sunset charcuterie board picnic on the mountainside, and also rebuild the engine in the car, I also expect that my woman has her own enigmatic combination of competencies.
Robert Heinlein said, “Specialization is for insects,” and he’s damn right. And though he spoke of men in particular, perhaps because he was writing in the 1980s, I believe his expectations spread fairly across the gender spectrum.
I also believe that the benefits of diversity in skills and competencies go farther than just a solemn expectation of what men and women should be able to do. I believe that not only should we be capable of a broad array of things, but we are better humans for it.
I believe my children are richer for a father who can cook a delicious, healthy dinner, teach them to shoot a traditional recurve bow, and play them to sleep on the piano. I believe my children are better for a mother who can deliver another woman’s baby, wash the dishes, and climb a mountain. I believe my children learn grace, acceptance, and ferocity from my girlfriends who use power tools, work in law enforcement, sew Halloween costumes, and clean up after dinner.
I believe I am better for my multifaceted, three-dimensional, enigmatic self, and I believe that my high expectations for the women in my life are a powerful way to filter in the types of people I want to have around me. Just the same way my high expectations for myself ensure that I am a positive, productive member of my community.
Because the truth is, there’s a whole lot of hiding going on in the name of shunning our current cultural fences of gender. There’s a whole lot of everyone trying to say what they shouldn’t be expected to do. Some men say they shouldn’t be expected to be emotionally intelligent, though not any I consider my friends. Some women say they shouldn’t be expected to split the check on a date, though not any I’d ever court.
It’s true that no one should be expected to do all of everything. The burdens of life are meant to be shared equitably, just as the opportunities are meant to be. But striving for versatility never hurt anyone.
I believe the very basis of feminism and gender equality movements is that gender shouldn’t box us in—any of us.
So rather than arguing that women shouldn’t be expected to do all the housework, I’m advocating that we all do the housework. And that we should be able to do a whole host of other helpful, interesting, and textured things.
Being capable, multidimensional, and nuanced is beautiful. When my woman fights with me to let her do the dishes because I cooked, it turns me on. When she kicks ass at work and then comes over to my house and yields her body to me in acts of loving submission, it makes my knees weak. When she argues philosophical intricacies of public health and then plays easily and effortlessly with my children, I feel my heart swelling. It is the paradox of her varied competencies that most attracts me.
And so I will hold my women, and myself, to high expectations for the rest of my life. Because the world is more beautiful when we all rise to the occasion and hold ourselves and those we love accountable for greatness.