I really, really, really do not like to let myself hope. I’ve heard it said that expectations are resentments in the making, so I usually try to never allow myself even the slightest luxury of hope for fear of letting it slide into the category of expectation and thus inevitably leading to failure. The worst part about things not working out the way you want them to is the crushing disappointment you feel afterwards. Therefore, it stands to reason that by not allowing myself to hope, I can avoid this pain entirely and live a simple, carefree life.

Growing up, I’ve always been an optimist in the long term. I truly do believe that the world is changing for the better, that I will always be taken care of, and that I will ultimately lead a life in which I find serenity and fulfillment.

When it comes to the immediate future, however, I could not be more of a cynic. If there’s something I want for myself, I do not believe that I will get it. I’m certain that if I let myself want something, if I allow myself to hope that maybe, just maybe I’ll get what I want, then it will never come true. The only way I could ever manage to actually get things to work out in my favor is by resigning myself to the idea that they never will. That way, if things do work out, then I can be pleasantly surprised. And if they don’t work out (which they won’t), then it won’t hurt quite as much.

I remember sitting in my seventh grade class as the end of the year awards were being given out, thinking to myself, “I’m not going to get one. They’re not going to pick me. I’m not special enough to win anything.” I did not get an award. Therefore, I was vindicated.

When I was in high school, I desperately wanted a boy in my Theatre class to like me. I used to listen to sad Taylor Swift songs and lie in bed, hugging my pillow and thinking about him. I told myself he would never be interested in me, no matter what I said or did. He wasn’t. I was vindicated again.

When I applied for colleges, I allowed myself to hope, just a little bit. I told myself that maybe I was good enough to get into NYU or UCLA, maybe I had the talent to pursue theatre. I did not get into either of those schools. I beat myself up for having the stupidity to get my hopes up. I would not make that mistake again.

My journey of recovery from alcoholism and food addiction has involved performing rigorous amounts of self analysis, looking at my character defects and patterns of behavior that don’t serve me and end up causing me more pain than they’re worth. Recently, I began to notice that perhaps my disdain for the concept of hope was not actually a normal view of life, but perhaps a self-pitying defense mechanism.

I began to notice how judgmental I was of people who would tell me that they were hopeful about something. Whether they were talking about a weight loss goal, applying for a new job, or entering a new romantic relationship, I would roll my eyes at hearing the hope in my friend’s voices. Didn’t they know that by talking about it out loud, they were almost certainly ensuring their own failure?

“Why are you so afraid of letting yourself hope?” my friend asked me one day.

It was an excellent question. I think the answer is that I have always been good at is finding new ways to keep myself from harm, to wrap myself in a cocoon of comfort and familiarity so that I never have to feel pain or fear if I don’t want to. Unbeknownst to myself, I had spent the last year avoiding discomfort so heavily that I had hugely isolated myself from my friends. I began to notice the effects of this loneliness, and so began the long road of undoing my defenses and trying to be vulnerable again.

One of the things I tried to do was to allow myself to hope again. Despite the fear of the pain of failure, I wanted to let myself feel that giddy excitement that comes from hoping that maybe, just maybe, things will all work out for the best.

I decided to try dating again. It had been such a long time since my last relationship and I felt like I was finally sure of what I wanted and capable of being vulnerable enough to let another person in. I knew that the pandemic was probably the worst time to start dating, but I figured that there was no time like the present. Plus, the zoom dates, masks, and social distancing would probably all have the positive effect of forcing me to take my time and really get to know someone.

After a few conversations and flirtations, I ended up talking to someone on a dating app who I was really interested in. Not only was he 6’5″ (!), but he was also a doctor (!!!). He was handsome, he was smart, and we texted back and forth for a week before making plans to meet up that weekend for a socially distanced date.

I found myself thinking about him at random times throughout the day. I would sit down to meditate in the afternoon and ruminate in my head over the texts we’d sent. I would curl up in bed at the end of the night, hugging my pillow and imagining cuddling him like I did when I was a teenager in high school. Needless to say, my hopes were very much elevated.

I was surprised at how forthright he was, openly discussing his excitement for our date and his desire for something more than just casual. I admired his vulnerability in the way he laid his hope bare for me to see, unashamed and unworried that it would come back to bite him. I wished that I could let myself be that free to hope. But maybe I was getting there.

We made plans to meet Saturday evening after he had finished hanging out with a friend. I texted him that afternoon, telling him to let me know when he was ready to meet and that I would head out. My text showed up as a green SMS message, different from the blue iMessages that had come before.

I waited a couple of hours, trying to find something to distract myself with so I wouldn’t be consumed by pre-date jitters. As it grew later in the evening, I sent him another text. Perhaps he hadn’t gotten my first one?

It showed up green again. That was strange.

All of a sudden my heart sank. I knew it was true as soon as I thought it. Had he blocked my number? A quick Google search verified my fears. My fears were again verified when I checked the dating app we had initially met on and found that our conversation had disappeared entirely.

I could feel my heart pounding in my chest as I closed my computer. I sat there on my couch, staring out into my living room and trying to make myself understand what had happened.

Why had he blocked me? Why hadn’t he said anything? Had there been signs? Had I missed them? Was it me?

Question after question ran through my mind. I pushed them away, only for them to be replaced by one overwhelming thought:

This is what happens when you let yourself hope.

All the work I had done these last few months to try to open myself up and be vulnerable felt like a cruel joke. I felt so completely pathetic. I couldn’t stop my mind from conjuring images with which to torture myself.

Earlier that morning as I talked to my mom on the phone and told her how excited I was for tonight.

Pathetic.

An hour ago as I set aside my outfit for the date, checking my phone to see if he’d texted.

Idiot.

Moments before as I sat on my couch typing the words into Google, “How do you know if someone has blocked you”.

What a fucking loser.

Now, I knew enough about life and about myself to know that this had nothing to do with me. Hell, we hadn’t even met in person yet. A few weeks ago I didn’t even know this man existed. Clearly this was all him, some unknown factor that caused him to treat me so callously.

But I wasn’t mad at him. I was mad at myself. I was mad at myself for not learning my lesson, for getting my stupid hopes up and allowing myself to think that things would ever turn out the way I wanted them to. And the pain I felt in that moment was nothing compared to the fear I had about the pain I would feel over the next few days each time I remembered the humiliation all over again.

After a solid 5 minutes of pity partying, I was ready to take action. As good as I can be at self-pitying and dramatic episodes, I am not the best wallower. I sure as hell wasn’t going to take a drink or turn to the fridge for solace. So I reached out to my best friend, leaning on him for guidance and comfort as I licked my wounds. Then, once I had a good cry, I opened up my laptop, went to WordPress, and started writing.

This blog has been a way for me to process things in my life as I go through them, even when I don’t understand why they’re happening or what they mean. I don’t write because I have the solution, but because I want to find it. Writing is what taught me that I had cut myself off from hope in the first place, and writing is what is going to allow me to hold onto it even when life is painful and humiliating.

Yes, I feel embarrassed. But I’m not embarrassed that I got my hopes up. I don’t want to go back to being that cynical little boy, telling himself that he’ll never be acknowledged, seen, or validated. I want to allow myself to hope that all of the work I do means something. And I want to hope that if I’m vulnerable enough to put myself out there and try for the things I want, then I’ll find the path to the things I need.

-Theodore Dandy

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