Mismatched Expectations

How do you let go of the expectation of a relationship that isn't what you hoped it would be and let it be what it is?

My partner and I separated last year after ten years together. We got to the point that pushing to continue the romantic relationship was doing us too much harm inpidually (emotional and mentally). We were already non-monogamous so the separation felt non-traditional as well. We stayed living together (separate rooms) for the 6 months following the separation and it was a genuinely nice time. We felt a weight lifted and the friendship was working well.
I then left to go traveling and have been away for around 7 months. Over this period that I have been away I have been struggling a lot with expectations/disappointment. I want us to have a close friendship. I want us to keep the bond that we built over ten years. However, he isn't putting much/any energy into the relationship. He will respond when I message him but he rarely reaches out or asks me how I am doing.
I can see in his eyes that he still cares about me and he even thought we would go back to living together when I get home from traveling, but he seems to have zero bandwidth to foster the friendship. This leads me to feel really disappointed and then resentful. I feel we could have had a beautiful platonic relationship and that he's happy to just let that slip away. I have tried to talk to him about it and he said he understood why I was feeling this way but then didn't change anything.
My question is, how do I let go of expectations so that disappointment doesn't follow? How do I let go of the fantasy of the relationship I want and accept the reality of what is? 

I’m sorry to hear about this and feel like I understand exactly what you’re going through in many ways. I’ve experienced this with a lot of adult friendships. In fact, I’ve been in situations where I moved to live literally a 5 minute walk from someone who I thought I was a close friend, thinking that it would mean we would hang out more and that just wasn’t the case.

It can be incredibly difficult when people define relationships in different ways and when you have expectations of people that they can’t for whatever reason meet. In my experience, my fault was deciding someone was my new best friend without really discussing things with them. But in this case, I think it’s just a simple case of differences in how friendships are maintained and what that means to each other.

Unfortunately, you can’t really make someone change their behaviour. They have to want to change their behaviour. It’s very possible he doesn’t experience friendship decay and doesn’t need to check in with people in order to maintain a close relationship with them. It’s possible that he needs physical proximity in order to maintain a close relationship with someone in any way. Neither of you are “wrong” in terms of how you have relationships, but you may not be compatible as friends.

For me, in situations where I felt myself constantly growing resentful and disappointed with reaching out to people and having them not put enough into our relationship, I dealt with that by taking a break from the friendship and finding other people who could give me what I needed. In my situation, I didn’t have the skills to be able to resolve our conflict and ended up kind of ghosting my friend, which was really foolish of me. I feel like you’re going to be able to do a lot better in this situation.

One of the things that tends to happen in my experience in this situation is that when we don’t understand why someone isn’t investing into a relationship, our brains tend to want to come up with an explanation as to why, especially if we operate differently in relationships. And with that comes the idea that he is “happy” to let your relationship slip away. I don’t think it’s that simple, but sometimes it’s easier for us to believe someone doesn’t care so we can try and stop caring about them.

Rather than sitting and letting this stew until you continue to build on the story you’re creating, it might be a good move to sit down and agree to a complete cool off period, even as friends. Rather than continuing to have an on and off connection, take six months and take care of yourself. Join some social groups, make some new friends and see if you find a connection that can help fulfil you in the way that this relationship cannot anymore. 

While my ghosting was a foolish move on my part, it did mean we had a hard line. I wasn’t reaching out anymore and it gave me time to let go of the resentment. I reached out and apologised after some time and we could start over and it was easier for me to let go of the expectations that my friend would behave differently when I had a break from constantly reaching out.

It’s totally understandable you would feel frustrated from this and it’s also understandable that he may not conduct his friendships in the same way that you do or may need physical proximity to have the same type of a close relationship. I do believe you can get past these expectations, but I think you may need a brief break from reaching out and a bit of a break from expecting him to reach out to you. 

I think if you give yourself a little bit of a break and return back into the friendship, you might find you’re a little less invested in this fantasy of how your relationship might be and it might be easier to meet your ex where he is and form a friendship that works for the both of you. I hope this helps and good luck!

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