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Passing the Bridge of Sighs

By Annie Waddoups

Many years ago, when our marriage had that just-out-of-the-box shine, my husband (G) and I lived in England for a summer. We visited Cambridge and decided to try punting on the river Cam. (Punting, as you probably know, involves steering a long skinny boat with a long skinny pole while standing balanced in the back, like the gondoliers in Venice.) We were students living on love, air, and jacket potatoes so we opted to guide ourselves down the river rather than spend the extra money on a guide.

G had no way of knowing the vision that was playing out inside my head–or how long it had been looping through my rose-tinged dreams. He had no idea that I had snatched him up from where he stood and cast him in a lovely, historical BBC drama (the ones he actively avoids) in which we drift peacefully down the river, trailing fingers in the smooth water, choral music wafting from the King’s College Chapel as we drift on toward the Bridge of Sighs. (And by “we” I meant me.)

Yeah, no unrealistic expectations there.

So it turns out that punting is much more difficult than it seems–in fact, quite challenging. We launched out down the river shakily, ping-ponging wildly between the two banks of the boat-filled river. Next the pole got stuck in the mushy riverbottom and we spun around and around, pivoting on the stubborn pole. Then, regaining control of the pole we lost control of the boat, banging broadside into another boat and knocking that guide into the water. Yes, really. (And by “we” I meant G.)

I wish I could say I laughed and made it a lighthearted, romantic comedy kind of moment. But, no–it also turns out that I am a terrible boat passenger. I threw all sorts of “helpful” advice-slash-commands in G’s direction, irritated that my vision was getting all sullied with the reality of guiding a boat with a pole down a crowded river. This, of course, was highly unhelpful and only made G feel worse. By the end of the ride we were terse and angry with each other.

Poor G, saddled with the heavy weight of my unspoken expectations. Notice that all of the actual work of my vision was unfairly placed squarely on his shoulders? Is it any wonder we have avoided anything involving a boat and high expectations ever since?

Given a chance for a do-over these many years later, I would just lie back and enjoy the view. I would laugh + jump in with the guy we knocked off (like the dance scene in It’s a Wonderful Life!) and offer to buy him lunch. I would offer to take a turn steering us rather than offering backoftheboat advice. I would lower my expectations and raise my compassion. Or at least I hope I would.

I think we might be ready for another trip down the river.

And by “we,” I really mean we.

Photo by Cantabrigensis

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17 thoughts on “Passing the Bridge of Sighs”

  1. This is so spot on! So succinctly written and lovely.

    Expectations spoil so many moments in our real lives. I think we don't always realize we haven't voiced our inner desires, until they aren't met. And usually after tears, or failed days, we start to see.

    I just had a Sunday birthday (last Sunday, fast Sunday) and what I'd really like to have received was hearing my children and/or husband bear (or is it bare?) their testimonies. But I never told them that. So, despite needing to be prepared to teach RS, I spent Sunday school crying in the mother's lounge. At least my husband came to the rescue and made me see reality!

    Thanks for sharing this.

    Any tips on how to lower our expectations without feeling we're giving up our dreams? After writing that, my own thought is to learn to voice what I want…but then that can be bad too. I always tell my family I just want a nice card or note for my birthday and then that becomes an ordeal too.

    Maybe it's time to focus on compassion like you suggest!

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  2. It's embarassing to say that I look back on too many things in my marriage like this. Even now I think I'm more laid back, but then I get to the end of a long ugly day and wish I'd been more lighthearted. Easier said than done.

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  3. I smiled as I read. I loved the imagery. It also brought home the importance of learning the skills that make an activity look effortless before trying it out. Effortlessness only comes from practice, darn!

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  4. I would like to have been a fly on the wall for your little boat ride down the river. Hilarious.

    So true, too. Why is it that our expectations for a good time get in the way of us actually HAVING a good time? That happens to me so much in marriage, motherhood, and life in general. I think compassion is a good place to start.

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  5. I loved the imagery. It really is all about managing our expectations. And it seems that it is something that gets better with age and experience. Marriage is so hard and I find that I've made it more difficult than necessary when I've placed unrealistic and uncommunicated expectations on my spouse. This was beautiful!

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  6. It's amazing how our perspective changes with time. I started this habit a few years ago of lying in bed at night at the end of the day and reviewing what I would have done differently if I could live the day over. Sometimes as I am reviewing it in my mind I notice things I didn't while I was in the frame of the day. Thankfully with each new day, we get a fresh start.

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  7. My family (the one I grew up in) is completely dysfunctional and saddled by unspoken expectations. My mother has lengthy and detailed agendas and expectations for our every interaction, but never ever shares them with us. This always leaves the family in a big angry fight before we can even get through a meal.

    Learning to openly and honestly express my expectations, and also to not foist unrealistic expectations on my spouse, has been the biggest blessing of my marriage. I see so clearly how different my life is with him because of the difference in communication.

    And then I lay in bed in the fetal position, crying, after every get-together with my family – angry, hurt, confused, and often bewildered by my inability to guess my mother's requirements of me.

    It's an enormous blessing to grow into this understanding and learn that communication skill. I count myself incredibly blessed to fight out of it. Wish I was perfect at it…

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  8. Thank you for your comments. I'm loving them.
    . . .
    J, I loved this:

    "Learning to openly and honestly express my expectations, and also to not foist unrealistic expectations on my spouse, has been the biggest blessing of my marriage"

    I wish I were perfect at it, too (or even very good). Instead, for me it's process of awareness, apology, and growth. What a gift you've given yourself and your family. Old (inherited) patterns are so hard to alter. Thanks for sharing your experience.
    . . .
    Sage, I've always thought it should be both "bare" and "bear" our testimonies! Great questions; I wish I knew the answers. I think J touched on one of the keys: communicating our expectations. I have a relative who is really very good at this so I channel her when it's hard to speak up. And then, as you say, open-hearted compassion, knowing that we're all going to fall short of each others' expectations at some point.

    But the tension between dreams vs. lowered expectations? I'm not sure; I'll have to think about that some more. Maybe the key is to make the dreams about *us* & our efforts and not about a hazy notion of others' making the dreams come true.

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  9. When my husband and I were sealed, the sealer told me specifically that it's ok to have expectations, but I have to express them and to be careful not to make them demands. All I can say is that he REALLY was listening to the Spirit to know what I needed to hear and learn. 🙂 I have to remind myself of this advice every now and then (er, every day).

    But sometimes the expectation doesn't match up with the personality of my spouse. So if I want our family to do something habitually or actively, I need to show that I'm serious about it and take charge until he's comfortable and ready to take charge himself.

    What I'm trying to say is that I'm learning how to hold myself to the same expectation that I hold my spouse. It's hard, but when I succeed it's totally worth the outcome.

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  10. Oh, Annie! So wonderfully written.

    My younger self was so uptight! I wish I had a few do-overs for just such occasions.

    My {fairly recent} older self is trying to be more conscious of the moments like these. I find myself thinking: "how do you really want to REMEMBER this moment?" It often helps me loosen up, let things go, just enjoy; come what may and love it. Too bad, really too bad, I didn't figure this out earlier. Maybe I still have a chance to teach it to my children…

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  11. I just loved this. In my own mind, I am very laid back. Then I have to plan something or fulfill some responsibility or in any way interact with the outside world, and reality rears her ugly head. This post is a more accurate sketch of my life. Thanks!

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