Expectations

I’m taking a bit of break from the drama in my life. I wanted to say thank you for all the supportive comments on my last post. I wanted to clarify: it’s not that my blog was “found out”, because as I said, I gave the URL to certain (very select) people. What was so hard was to realize that people reading this, people who know me, could take my words, uttered in dark and vulnerable moments, and use them as weapons against me. Maybe I am naive or lucky that that has never happened to me before, but it was a terrible shock when it did. I’m still deciding if or how I will censure myself in this space. Knowing that my words might someday be used against me will make it different, for sure. I will need to think long and hard about what I write here, and I probably won’t be as honest as I once was, though I will strive to say what I feel needs to be said. I guess only time will tell how this space will change, how I myself has changed.

All of this, and a post I read recently, have me thinking about this community, and the expectations assumed within it. I looked up the definition of community as I was pondering this; the one I felt most accurately represented what we have here was this:

a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists. (from dictionary.com)

Is that all, then, that makes us a community, our common characteristic? Or is there something more, some else we expect from others because they share that common characteristic with us?

I realized I was so completely taken aback by having my words used against me because I do have an expectation that the people in this community will understand what I’m going through, or at least suspend judgment when they don’t understand. I also expect they will not use my words to harm me but will instead try to support me by relaying their own experiences or just simple words of encouragement. I expect they will try to console me or, when necessary, gently guide me towards another way of seeing things.

Of course the person who did the opposite with my words is not someone in this community. She is a part of a different community to which I also belong. It’s clear to me now that I can never invite someone from other communities in my life to this space (I still can’t quite fathom why I thought I could before, I guess I’m just incredibly naive). It is inappropriate for them to read what I write here because they most likely can’t understand, and there is a chance they will be angered or worse by what I say.

It has never been more clear to me what I expect of the people in this community, at least one aspect of what I expect. I expect understanding, validation and support. Not in all things, mind you, but when possible. And I expect that if those are not available, people will click away and not hurt me when I’m most vulnerable. I know I hold myself to the same expectations and hope I have done that for others, just as they have done that for me.

Of course, one of the strange things about this community is that eventually your place it in can change. Of course you are always a part of the community (or many people always feel they belong) just by having endured IF and/or loss, but once you are pregnant and/or have living children, you almost move into a community within the community. And the reality is that once you’ve “crossed that divide”–as some have described it–you are no longer so easily perceived “as being distinct in some respect, from the rest of the larger society.” Of course, many people still feel distinct, but it’s not so easily recognized by others, and therefore perhaps more easily ignored by the person themselves (I know that for many this is absolutely not the case).

When members of the community make this move, either out of the community or to a place within the greater community, it can be very hard for those who are “left behind.” I think we all believe that people give the support and congratulations that they can muster, but for some it is just too difficult. Some, despite waiting to be there for others in their time of triumph, simply cannot.

So we find ourselves in this strange predicament. We come here to be supported and understood, but eventually, for most of us, there comes a time when our joy causes hurt to others, when they must step away from us, at least for a time, to protect themselves. What do we owe each other when this happens? We come together in this community to escape the judgment of the real world, for others to understand when we need to step away to save ourselves. But if we’re allowed to step away whenever we need to, can the community survive?

The post I read recently suggest that maybe it can’t. The author believes that we do owe each other congratulations, that we shouldn’t allow ourselves to turn away when others need our support in joy, instead of struggle.

I may be in the minority here, but I do think the same obligation exists in the ALI community.  You might not be able to read the pregnancy post all the way through.  You might only be able to muster a quick comment that says “congratulations” or “great news”, and then that might be it for awhile.  But I do think you need to do that.  Not on every blog you read.  But the ones where you’ve been commenting regularly, the ones whose authors stop by your blog regularly too.  In short, the people you’d want congratulating you, if you were first.

I found this post to be interesting; I don’t think I’ve ever read a similar insistence on another blog. I’m not saying I disagree with what she’s saying, I’m just pointing out that I haven’t seen it said similarly elsewhere (and that is not to assume it hasn’t been said, only that I haven’t read it). Generally the consensus seems to be, do what you need to do to survive, to stay whole; we come here because the rest of the world has those expectations of us, but here we understand.

I realize after my recent ordeal that I cherish greatly the safe haven this community affords me, that I literally NEED a place where I can say that my cousin’s pregnancy announcement stings without being berated as selfish or jealous. That understanding and suspension of judgment is why I write, why I feel safe to disclose the darker parts of myself, the parts I’m not proud of. I wonder if it’s asking too much to also require congratulations when things go my way. I can get those congratulation in the real world, I can share that joy with everybody, I don’t need this special sanctuary to revel in a pregnancy. And I don’t know if it’s fair of me to ask others who are struggling to follow me when my journey is difficult for them to bear. Basically, if I can only expect one of the two, unwavering support in my darker moments, or congratulations when I reach my goals, I’d prefer the former, because I can’t get that anywhere else.

Communities are made up of people, held together by relationships and when that is the case, there will always be toes stepped on and feelings hurt. I’ve had my fair share of that these days. But the wonderful thing about this community is there is always someone ready to follow you on your journey, wherever that might currently be taking you. Some might need to step away but others will take their place. As long as we have someone on the sidelines, supporting us and cheering us on, I think that should be enough.

I will continue to support those that I feel able to support, and I will step away when I need to step away. My guiding principal will always be, what would I want this specific person to do for me if our situations were reversed? I hope I don’t offend anyone irrevocably and that I find it in my heart to forgive those who unwittingly hurt me.

What are your thoughts on this issue? Do you believe the defining understanding of this community is that you do what you need to do? Or do we owe each other more than that?

16 responses

  1. This is a tough question. I always subscribed to the theory that those who could cheer on those who needed it throughout pregnancy should do so. I’ve always tried to do this as someone who came to ALI blogging with two children already in tow. Sometimes just because of that situation, I think I bring that particular ability to the ALI table (as do others) and I’m glad I can.

    But TTC within the ALI community: I guess I don’t feel placed to answer this question because I haven’t been there, really. I’ll leave it to others who are or have been in this situation to respond….

  2. First, I didn’t have a chance to comment on your last post, and I’m sorry that your sacred place has become less sacred through someone’s hurtful remarks. This post poses some really difficult questions. I think it depends – when you’ve reached a level of reciprocity where you both comment on each other’s blogs with regularity, maybe more is “owed” to tough it out and comment on occasion even when it hurts. But then again, the person you’re commenting on, if truly a friend, wouldn’t want you to comment just because you feel beholden to. Catch-22. In my corner of the twittersphere, I recently witnessed some very strong opinions on someone supposedly “owing” the twitter community… do you have to stay in the community indefinitely to support everyone until they reach their resolution because someone, no matter how recently they joined our community, might have thrown a “good luck” your way once or twice? When would it ever end? These are the things I’ve been thinking about. (And would be blogging about if I had enough time to put together something thoughtful enough.)

    • Ah, that is the Catch-22, isn’t it! We would hope they would be there for us but we also understand if they can’t be! It seems to be the crux of the whole ALI community. It creates a strange dynamic sometimes, to be sure.

  3. I think that it depends on the person. I think that there are some people who are strong enough to cheer other people on when they have achieved what so many of us seek; I think that there are other people for whom that is psychologically, emotionally, spiritually devastating. I don’t think that we should be expected to give anything more than what we are able to, but that we should be expected to give what we can.

    What’s interesting to me in your post is your discussion about the “safe haven of this community.” Because while in one sense we are absolutely what you describe, in another sense, there isn’t any such thing. It’s fictive. Yes, we have blogrolls, and “circles” of commenters, and we talk about ourselves as a community, as a collective. But on the other hand, we’re really just stand-alone blogs, and there are many gaps in the “circle.” Anyone can come in, and anyone can leave. And even those of us who identify ourselves with the “ALI community” have had different experiences, and different perspectives on our experiences, and different reactions and responses to them. Which makes defining the rules and expectations all that much more tricky.

    • I absolutely agree that it depends on the person, but I also think there are a lot of people that end up in a gray area and it’s harder to understand how those situations should be handled. That is why I try to determine what I would want them to do if the situations were reversed, I think that is my way of gaging what the relationships means to me.

      As for the safe haven, your bring up more good points on that one. Perhaps I am again naive to see this “community” as a safe haven but I do, or I realize now that I had. I do feel there are a select few that make up the “inner” circle of my personal blogging community and I have high expectations of them. That being said, I have been let down, just as I’m sure I have let others down. Like any community, it is imperfect, but it seems to be worlds better than what I’ve found anywhere else.

  4. I started my blog when I was single and childless and it has followed me on the journey through marriage, motherhood and loss. Because of this, I guess, I feel (naively perhaps) differently about what I write about as opposed to blogs started specifically to address ttc or loss. I love when people comment, but I expect nothing. I guess what I’m trying to say is that while I am a part of this community, I’m not positive my blog is. Does that make sense? I might have to come back after thinking about this. 🙂

    • I think that makes perfect sense. I know many people who feel a part of this community as commenters and participants but not necessarily as blog writers – some have blogs and some do not. It is an interesting point of view to bring up, thank you for adding it to the conversation.

  5. This, and the post you referred to, are really interesting. I’m in a different place again, of course, being amongst the “untouchables” community within a community. But I share that similarity with the pregnant women. Those still ttcing stay away from us in much the same way that they also avoid pregnant blogs, though for very different reasons.

    Your guiding principle in your last paragraph really sums it up. If we treat others the way we would want to be treated, when we can, then that is all we can do. And so I agree with the post you linked. That the polite thing is to give a quick congratulations (if it is someone you’d expect would congratulate you), and then move away in self-protection mode if you need to do that. And whether you want to stay in support mode will depend on you, but it will also depend on the person who has beome pregnant, or is now a parent. If they change, if their attitudes and approaches change, then they’re less likely to keep you as a follower. I mean, we all have to accept that friendships change. And if what brought us together has changed, and if we haven’t developed any other commonalities, then it is inevitable that some of the friendships here might drift apart. But not all will drift apart. Probably surprisingly few, given the sensitivity of the community to this issue. They’ll just change. And that’s life, even if it brings with it some hurt and feelings of rejection.

  6. I think that asking “what would I want this specific person to do for me if our situations were reversed” sort of misses an important point, i.e., that actions should not necessarily be dictated by what one would want in return, but about what one feels capable of at the time, under the circumstances.

    we often refer to the “ALI community” but I think the term is broad and loose. as members who identify with this community, we find our niches, or sub-communities where we feel we “belong,” or maybe we crossover and identify with more than one “group” (and I’m not just referring to blogroll categories but to life situations, which are far more complex). that’s where I think much of the freedom lies, i.e., you are free to identify however you choose, to be moved by whatever story resonates, to connect with others or not. you are free to offer support or to click away.

    now I didn’t read the post to which you linked, but I think that “expectations” are bound to lead to disappointment, especially on this journey. when it comes to capacity for support, I don’t think it’s right to hold a person to someone else’s standard. what’s right for one is not for another. following your guiding principle, you will act out of obligation rather than sincerity (making no one feel good). and you may find yourself disappointed when you hold others to this standard. plus for me, blogging is about authenticity and I’ve had to offer enough lame congrats IRL.

    rambling now, but trying to make a point. yes, we need to support one another when we can because this journey is hard and we are often alone and misunderstood. but expecting something of others because of our own desires isn’t realistic or fair. if you’ve formed a real connection with someone, then you will either be able to offer a heartfelt congratulations or they will understand why you can’t just yet. as for others, while mutual commenting is nice, quid pro quo in blogging never really adds up. we write because we have to. we support because we want to, and because and when we can.

    • Luna, thank you for your thoughtful response to my comment. I must say, I think you might have misunderstood some of what I wrote. When I said, “what would I want this specific person to do for me if our situations were reversed” I’m not saying that I would actually hold them to that expectation, but I’m using that guiding principle to put my best foot forward in that situation. Maybe it is impossible for me to do something for someone based on what I would hope they would do for me and then not have that expectation later when the situations were different, but I feel that I can. My point was just, if I know a person in a certain way, and feel close to them in a certain way, what are my expectations of our relationship, what would I hope from them? That is the way I hope to put my best foot forward, to treat others as I would want to be treated. I of course realize that others, in situations that might seem similar to me, do not feel similar to them at all, and I am almost always willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and let go of any expectations I have.

      For example, I am currently commenting on what recently became a pregnancy blog even though that person stopped commenting on my blog when I was TTC, because she couldn’t handle it (she told me this herself). She became pregnant quite suddenly and although it’s been a bit hard for me I still comment because I feel that is appropriate given our relationship, and despite the fact that she still doesn’t comment on my blog. I’m just doing what feels right for me, but I’m don’t have any expectations of what she should feel is right for her, if that makes sense. So I don’t feel like I’m acting of “obligation rather than sincerity (making no one feel good)” as you said. But maybe I’m just kidding myself, I’m not sure.

      • of course it makes total sense to treat someone as we wish to be treated, golden rule and all. but I think those wishes can and often do lead to hopeful expectations (which would be totally natural in a relationship). my point is just that I think it’s hard to let go of those expectations, and that they can lead to disappointment. being aware is a first step though.

  7. I commented on Deborah’s post too. Funny, I’ve seen both sides. There have been times in the past 7 years where I had to be mindful of my own emotions FIRST, cry, and/or retreat before I could offer happiness to someone else. There have also been times where I was hoping for happiness and support from people who were important to me, and I didn’t get it, and it was hurtful. But, you know, too? I knew she was in a really bad place, and I understood, too.

    JJiraffe posted recently about 2 way communication in a community, and I really think that if we are a REAL ALI community, it’s about giving support as well as receiving it. I’m starting to spend more time TALKING to the people of the blogs I read. It’s that important – to forge a connection beyond the words on the screen, and giving support for both the good and the bad (thus the increases in my commenting, in case you noticed. :))

    Community is only as strong as the connections you forge, and that’s based on mutual support.

    So yes, I like the idea of balancing your own needs and the Golden Rule. That and the idea that everyone really MEANS well, even if their words hurt me.

    Thought provoking post. Thanks.

    xoxo

  8. Thanks for posting this. Since I don’t have all that many readers, it’s great to hear more people’s thoughts on this (although since you posted, I’ve gotten a few comments from people who’ve never commented before, so maybe they came from you).

    The consensus seems to be that you should offer support, except when you can’t. Or that sometimes you can’t offer support immediately, but you should try to offer some once you’ve had time to process. Which reminds me… when I was trying for #1, I was in a sort-of support group. Whenever anyone in the group got pregnant, we were asked to call the facilitator as soon as we were comfortable to tell her, and she’d call the group members individually. That way by the time we got to the next week’s meeting, we’d all had time to process the news and were in a better space to be supportive. Same principle, I guess.

  9. This is just a really wise, insightful post and I hate that I’m short on time right now for responding with the thoughtfulness it merits. I think you’re really on to something here regarding expectations and the idiosyncrasies of this fluid community.

  10. I think one of the critiques of the ALI community is that we focus so much on what we are going through and our pain that we feel it gives us a license to opt out of what would ordinarily be considered politeness or civility.

    Part of why we come to this community is to be able to find those who can understand our grief and pain and to provide support for the dark times when real life friends and family fall short. Those online relationships become real, and I don’t think it’s right to say the ALI community is the wild west of the blogosphere, following no rules other than what feels right to you at the time and what you are capable of. I understand the impulse, though. God do I understand it. It’s still hard for me to read pregnancy posts, but if I rely on support during the bad times, I should be able to offer and receive support – basic support – during the good times.

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