For the first time in human history a culture, ours, has a divorce rate around 50% along with a comparable increase in single parent families and the disappearance of the day to day extended family experience. We’ve become islands unto ourselves. The resulting social isolation experienced by vast segments of our society evokes a deep sense of disconnection… in a word, loneliness. Why has it become especially difficult for modern people to either find, or remain in, a stable and lasting relationship? Simply put, one’s personal expectations (wants, needs, desires, ideals) drive a wedge in one’s relationships. … as Buddha noted so long ago, “The cause of suffering is lust”. Note: My final post, Taoist Thought deeply examines the circumstances that account for most of the worrisome symptoms, like loneliness, we see in civilization.
This situation might be more easily considered if we broaden the context and inquire into the nature of our relationship to all things external, to nature as a whole. Are we comfortable with nature, or do we relentlessly struggle to conquer it until it serves our personal expectations of comfort and security. Surely a cursory glance a history answers that.
Currently, though, we are experiencing an era of rising expectations. Ironically, the ‘better’ things get, the even higher our expectations seem to rise. Clearly, meeting 19th century expectations hasn’t made us happy campers. The opposite may even be true. Life a few centuries ago, or so, was much harsher, with a life expectancy half of what it is today. Medicine was rudimentary, there was no refrigeration, no electricity, and personal life style ‘choices’ were extremely limited. We enjoy a level of comfort and security unimaginable by even the wealthiest folks back then, yet, do we suffer less? Are we more content now then folks back then, despite our longer lives? Is life more meaningful now than it used to be? Mmm…
Back to rising expectations. The more you expect of your relationships, the more demands you place on them. The higher the standards rise, the less chance they can be met. This is just as true of the food served at your local restaurant as it is of your relationship with people. As your personal preferences climb toward an idealized ‘vision’ of perfection, the less likely anybody or anything will bring you fulfillment.
Simply put: The quality of my relationship to life, and people of course, is inversely proportional to what I expect out of life and people. Only a willingness to give up my expectations can safeguard my relationships. Expectations bring only the pain of disconnection in both my relationship to life and to others. To assume otherwise is to bury my head in the sand and flail around endlessly until death relieves me of my illusion of self and what “I” imagine will make me happy.