The Hope-Filled Romantic

Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Life in the Third Degree.

I’m a hopeful romantic, especially about this man—this Treat—and this night.

Working Through Grief

Hope is the one thing that has gotten me through so many dark times—the thing I held onto steadfastly and unrealistically when I knew a relationship would never improve and I let the illusion seduce me into staying in misery—and yet, how is it I’ve just now noticed how often I’ve been discouraged from having hope?

“Don’t get your hopes up,” my mother often told me when I was growing up. And she would know. Her hopes were consistently dashed over the decades.

It must have been hard watching me get excited over a new boyfriend or a new project or a new anything, only to see my disappointment when the newness wore thin and life failed me. After all, she squelched her own dreams for the good of everyone else and then lived vicariously through her long-awaited daughter, projecting her deepest wants and fears onto me. And at the same time she lived through me, she tried to keep a tight rein on life so it wouldn’t hurt me. What better way to ensure a deficit of pain for me than to encourage me not to get my hopes up?

In my own life, I did get my hopes up, again and again, only to be disappointed every time. The things I wanted most seemed to be the things I could never have. There was a time when my ex and I talked frequently about the day we could afford for me to quit my job with the Department of Defense so I could stay home with the girls and write full-time. Somehow, the dream was always out there in the future by about two years. Sometimes more, but never any less.

Then I ran into a former co-worker in an airport, and he asked about my hopes and dreams—something so rare in my life that his question caught my breath and held it. Most men in my life avoided the subject of “Lorna’s dreams” or were oblivious to my need to plan and discuss the possibilities for the future. But here was a man who was genuinely interested in how my life was turning out, so I enthusiastically told him how in about two years, we would be financially able enough for me to concentrate on my writing career and I could quit the long and stressful hours of what I didn’t like to do in order to stay home and work for long and stressful hours at something I did like to do.

My former co-worker gave me a solid four-furrow frown. “But Lorna, you’ve been saying that ever since I met you, and that’s been at least 12 years ago.”

I hadn’t realized until then how long I’d been living off of hopes for a dream that wasn’t destined to happen. Not with my ex, at least. The promise of writing full-time was always out there in the future by two years, always a carrot dangling there to entice me to endure 100-hour work-weeks and chest pains. But the baseline kept moving. No matter how much time passed, the dream was always two years away, minimum.

It wasn’t until I gave up the dream, let the hope of the dream’s fruition fade away, that I lost myself. I thought I had to choose between my husband and my dreams, and I chose to do whatever was necessary to make my marriage work, including giving up who I am and trying to be the person he wanted me to be. It was the wrong choice, and in the end, I gave up not only my hopes for the future I wanted as a writer but my hopes for a future with my husband. I spent three months on anti-depressants and sleeping pills, trying to numb the pain of being a hope-less romantic.

But on this night, when I have a first date with a new man, I want to be a hopeful romantic. If I dare.

“Are you excited?” my daughter quizzes me.

She needn’t ask. It’s obvious by the smile that keeps creeping across my face that I am indeed excited about breaking bread with this man. He’s a musician with a passionate mind, a caring heart, and a knack for making me laugh.

“Yes, I’m excited,” I tell my daughter, “but….”

But what? I explain how busy he is and how likely it is that he’ll have to back out at the last minute because of an emergency related to his day job. It’s happened before, not once but twice. I fully expect a phone call at the last minute or perhaps no phone call at all because he’s too busy.

“I don’t want to get my hopes up,” I say at last.

I’ve been disappointed before, and every new disappointment calls forth the ghosts of old disappointments, old hurts. What makes me think this man will be any different? Or that this promise that we’ll get together for a few hours will be any different from other times?

“Get your hopes up!” my daughter fusses.

It takes me by surprise. She’s not supposed to be this smart, but then, she’s young and not yet jaded. Friends my own age would be telling me to take it slowly and don’t get my hopes up, but my daughter has all the exuberance of youth and an open heart.

What if I get my hopes up and it’s just an ordinary, run-of-the-mill date and I return home ho-hum? Will I be disappointed? she wants to know. Will it still be okay?

But what if I get my hopes up and it’s everything I dreamed? A fabulous first date that lives up to every possible expectation? Then wouldn’t I be disappointed for going into it with low expectations? Why not raise my hopes and enjoy the possibilities?

And so I await the knock at my door with hopes flying high and bright….

…And return home amidst the cold rain of February, but happy and content and I can hardly wait to see this man again. This night, this man has shared enough of his soul with me over drinks and dinner that he appeals to me on all chakra levels, and I cannot not be filled with hope that our friendship will deepen.