How to Be Hopeful

I like the idea of hope. Of faith. Of belief. But is there an element of danger to some beliefs? To some hope?

I like the idea of hope. Of faith. Of belief. But is there an element of danger to indulging in them?

She would just smile and roll her eyes at me.

My pretty wife.

We’d be standing in the kitchen, or driving in the car, or huddled with friends at a weekend get-together.

“This is the year!” I’d say, referring to my favorite sports team, the Cleveland Browns. I’d be excited because we just got a new team owner, or because we just hired a new coach, or because we just acquired a new quarterback, and by God, these guys would finally get it right.

For the uninitiated, the Cleveland Browns are a professional NFL football team in the United States. And—what’s a good way to put this?—we’re pretty much always terrible even though we (“we,” being the lovable, if not altogether brilliant, fanbase) always convince ourselves we’re getting better.

The Cleveland Browns are actually a statistical anomaly at this point. It borders on mathematical impossibility that we could suck so bad for so long. If we actually TRIED to be horrible, the results over the past 15 years would be virtually identical to what actually happened.

In a league where winning 10-11 games is the standard by which decent teams are measured, the Browns win, on average, five each year.

“I’m telling you! These are the guys that are going to get it done!” I’d say passionately about the newest hires or player acquisitions.

In the early years when she liked me, she’d smile and pat me on the back, humoring me.

“I hope so, babe.”

As the end of days drew near, she stopped pretending.

“I bet they’re going to suck like they always do. The Browns are just bad at football.”

I’d get a little mad at her.

Of course, she was right. Every single time. The Cleveland Browns ARE bad at football.

And it used to upset me. That she didn’t share my optimism. But more so that I’d invest so much time and emotional energy in a team and game that NEVER provided a positive return on investment.

Which raises two questions:

How much does what happened yesterday factor into what will happen tomorrow?

And.

Is some hope—blind, unfounded hope—a dangerous thing?

A No-Fun Game of Limbo

After we lost her father and our marriage crumbled, we lived as roommates for the better part of a year and a half.

I slept in the guest room, the room located directly beneath our upstairs master bedroom, so every night I’d listen to her footsteps while I wallowed in a bunch of self-induced misery.

We were in marital limbo. Which is a pretty horrible place to be.

I think we both wanted to make it work. Because divorce is bad and we had a young son to raise. But in the end, love has to go both ways. My wife felt emotionally abandoned and my transformation from shitty husband to guy fighting hard for the marriage did nothing to ease her pain. Maybe she thought I was faking it. Maybe she thought I couldn’t sustain it. Maybe she thought I was fat and stupid and poor and ugly and worthless and an embarrassment.

I don’t know.

I just know I hoped. I hoped and prayed. I hoped and prayed and talked and listened and read books in an effort to be a better man.

I always try to be hopeful. I always encourage people I talk to, to be hopeful.

But maybe that’s the wrong thing to do.

Maybe false hope is dangerous because she was never taking me back but I just hadn’t figured it out yet, and when I finally did, I broke.

Maybe, sometimes, hope can be bad.

“In reality, hope is the worst of all evils, because it prolongs man’s torments.” Friedrich Nietzsche

The Hope Peddlers

On Thursday, the NFL will begin my favorite sports-related event of the year—the NFL Draft—a three-day event where all 32 NFL teams take turns selecting eligible players from college football to join their teams in hopes of building a championship contender.

I’d like to think I’d like the draft even if the Browns were good every year, but the truth is, I probably only love it as much as I do because the Browns are always terrible, thus giving them the opportunity to pick near the top of the draft each year. (The previous year’s worst team picks first, and the champion picks last in a setup designed to create league-wide parity. And it totally works for all 31 other teams not residing in Cleveland, Ohio.)

So when you’re bad like the Browns, these talented young players represent tangible hope.

When my life fell apart and I realized I was in marital limbo, I stopped caring about things I used to love—all of the hobbies and activities I used to pursue independent of my wife. Things like football and the draft and basketball and poker and video games.

In case you’re wondering what marital limbo is, it’s like someone hit the pause button on your life, except minus the perks of stopping bad things from happening to you. When you’re in marital limbo, you can’t really do anything with your life until you’re no longer in limbo.

You’re stuck.

In my case, I wanted to be married to my wife. I wanted to be with her and my son forever. I hadn’t always acted like that earlier in the marriage, and those choices had finally caught up to me. But she didn’t know whether she wanted to be married to me anymore. I no longer felt safe to her. She was no longer attracted to me. My mere presence seemed to make her uncomfortable.

Marital limbo is when you wake up every morning sad and go to bed every night sad waiting for your partner to decide your fate. Like a deliberating jury.

Will she snap out of it? Will she love me again? Can we be happy together? Will she at least try?

You’ve got two choices: Give up. Or maintain hope.

Even though I missed the pleasant distraction my favorite football team once provided me, I didn’t miss the misery they caused by losing all the time. The advantage to not giving a shit is that they couldn’t hurt me anymore.

I think that’s how my wife probably felt after building the wall between us.

I felt that relief too, after it all came apart. A part of me wanted to die after she left. I completely lost myself when I eventually learned she was in a new relationship—so happy while I was so miserable. But it did finally dawn on me:

At least I’m not in limbo anymore. At least someone else isn’t dictating my happiness or controlling my future.

A little different than the kind of hope I had been feeling.

But it was hope nonetheless.

To be continued…

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44 thoughts on “How to Be Hopeful

  1. Limbo is not a good place to be :(

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  2. joyofcoffee says:

    I’m in marital limbo. Can’t decide whether or not to just call a time out or end the game. Either way no one wins. Thanks for your posts.

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    • Matt says:

      Ugh.

      I’m so sorry. There’s only one way to win. And it takes a lot of love, forgiveness and healing from more than one person.

      And it’s so hard. Which is why so many of us don’t make it.

      But I hope you do.

      I don’t use the word “hope” thoughtlessly there. It is the thing I care most about. Couples staying together when the alternative seems so wasteful.

      Thoughts and prayers for all involved.

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  3. April says:

    I hope your Browns have a better season. I have patiently waited for 38 years for a Super Bowl victory. If it can happen to the Seahawks, it can happen to the Browns–but I’d rather see the Seahawks win another.

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    • Matt says:

      April, I think you’re probably going to see at least one or two more. The Seahawks are young and amazing. :)

      I am happy for you. Because that’s an awesome story.

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  4. When my soon to be ex finally agreed to sign the papers, three weeks ago he said something terrible to me.

    “I would have fought a war for you, this was your choice.”

    No, no it wasn’t. I was past the blame game. No, he wouldn’t fight a war for me. For two years, since the last time he walked out for 6 months and I stupidly allowed him back in, I had been begging him to go to marriage counseling. He would bang on his chest and say no, if we can’t fix this ourselves it isn’t worth it. Then one week after I begged again, he left again. Guess he thought I would wait another six months for this vacation to end.

    I didn’t, I wouldn’t. I was tired.

    My answer? “No, you wouldn’t fight a war for me. You wouldn’t fight a battle even for me or for our marriage. Your pride was far too important to you. You didn’t want to hear you might be wrong. This, all of this the first time and this time, all of this misery it is your choice. We both contributed to the problems, share equally in the breakdown but only you left and you own it.”

    Hope? I held on to it for 15 years, the entire length of our marriage, until the day I came home to an empty house. Now? At 56 years old, I am feeling pretty damned hopeless.

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  5. Robin says:

    Someone once told me that it takes a much stronger person to let go than it does to hold on. I didn’t understand that until I was in “limbo” as you call it for 10 of the 15 years I was married. I loved him – but after 6 years and one child he told me he loved me, but wasn’t in love with me. But he stayed; and after the year and a half it’s taken to get out of the marriage I can tell you that I honestly wish he hadn’t.

    Because staying was worse than a death sentence; it gave me hope. But what did that hope accomplish? Not much. I threw myself into being the best wife and the best mother I could be to our son and it didn’t mean a thing. I handled everything and he allowed it without giving much in return. Somewhere along the way – like you – I lost myself. All those things that were important to me were abandoned in favor of keeping the marriage. A marriage that ended in the end anyway.

    Please don’t think I’m bitter. What it has taught me though, is that hope is okay to have until your are sacrificing yourself in the name of it. Then you need to look long and hard and realize that letting go, taking your life back, and moving on is the kindest thing you can do for yourself. It’s taken me a long time to realize that I deserve better. Did I make mistakes? Sure – but I stayed and fought until there was no longer a reason to. Now what I hope for is different, and hopefully in the future better :)

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    • Matt says:

      My experience is MUCH more abbreviated that yours. And I agree with your final analysis very much. But in the end? I will never regret fighting to the bitter end to be there for my wife and son.

      I hope you can find solace in doing the hard, courageous thing. You may have suffered more for it in the end. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t the right thing.

      Thank you so much for writing this.

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  6. mewhoami says:

    I think that everyone must have hope. Hope in something. That’s what gives its the motivation to move forward, to go on for another day. Hope is needful. Plus, without it, no one would ever try anything. Everyone would be quitters. Having our hopes crushed every now and then, is much better than never trying anything at all. Life is all about risks. Without those risks, we wouldn’t live.

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  7. Vince says:

    The limbo was by far the hardest part for me. All those months of hope, not knowing if my marriage would really end , only to find the hope was for nothing. As hard as it was when she left it didn’t compair to the torture of hope and uncertainty.

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  8. nights7 says:

    Your questions about hope remind me of the definition of insanity that’s attributed to Albert Einstein: trying the same thing over & over and expecting different results.
    If you have hope that a situation where nothing changes will be different, you are going to be let down. Your hope will be useless maybe even dangerous.
    As long as there are changes some hope could be warranted. For example, the Browns have a chance to be better every year. They get a first round draft pick, new coaches, new management, etc. Things change, things could get better. Hope.

    And limbo, limbo sucks. But it wouldn’t exist (at least marital limbo wouldn’t) if there wasn’t some shred of hope.
    The past three summers have been spent in various stages and themes of limbo for me. I’m looking forward to a real, live enjoyable summer this year.
    Just the thought of it makes me a little giddy.

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  9. C.C. says:

    One of my favorite quotes, that also relates to these ideas of hope and of living in marital limbo, is: “All the art of living lives in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on”–Havelock Ellis

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  10. jeff says:

    Man, matt, our stories are so similar, only I am a diehard doesn’t-know-any-better LIONS fan. She shared my optimism too for awhile, then laugh when I would once again get so mad every Sunday.
    She hasn’t shown me the new guy yet, still says there isn’t one, but won’t let me out of limbo either. Why? Before I thought maybe there was hope. Now I just think she’s afraid of what’s out there beyond what she can see.
    What’s funny is, even now, I still think I would take her back, if she just said the words. After the infidelity, all the angry words, all the endless nights wondering who shes with, how fucked up is that? Am I sick or what? She told me the other day that she ALMOST texted and asked me if I could still love her the way she needed to be loved. So then I spend the next few days trying to show her that I can. What do I get? Kicked in the balls again.
    The only hope I have is for this all to be over as quickly and painlessly as possible. Just trying to find reasons to keep going. I know my son is the reason. But sometimes its hard to even feel that he needs me that much. If I can mess up another persons life this bad after 20 years, why would I want that for my son, the most important and precious thing there is?
    I have shared many of your religious beliefs as well, and I know hope is a very important aspect of life. But I can only endure so much. Thanks for allowing me to vent

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    • Matt says:

      You can always vent here. That’s all any of this is really. A place to speak your mind. I wish I knew what to say. I’m fully aware that there are a million people like me out there. People who hurt and are frustrated and don’t know what to do (and have a football team that does little to provide pleasant escape) but it really hits hard when a real-life human being weighs in and reminds me. You always feel like the only one even when you know you can’t be.

      There’s no shame in loving your wife after (did you say 20 years?).

      I’ve been alive 35 years. I’ve only loved (the real gritty kind–not just the crushy feelings) one girl.

      What are you gonna do? Especially when they’d your children’s mom?

      I know what I’m going to do. Whatever combination of the best-possible thing and whatever I want is.

      I’m not going to let the world or other people tell me how to think and feel.

      However, it sure seems like the world and trustworthy people get it most of the time, and are worth listening to.

      Good luck, Jeff. Good thing are coming.

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  11. Like many others here, you are singing my life with your words. Limbo is the perfect description. ….for 3 years of our 4 year marriage, we couldn’t buy a place, think about kids or adopt a pet. Hell, even buying a sofa felt like a big leap and was devoid of all the excitement I would have normally felt. My husband too told me fairly early on that while he cared about me, he wasn’t in love with me. He crushed me with those words, again and again. But he couldn’t bring himself to walk away, giving me a thread of hope to clutch at desperately.
    Now, a few months away from our divorce being finalized, I too feel free, like I can finally get on with things. And now, the big day can’t come soon enough.

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  12. girlseule says:

    Limbo is the worst place to be, even though it’s horrible, sometimes it’s good when all hope is gone so you can start to move on.

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  13. I see what you did there :)

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  14. Nephila says:

    I had a boyfriend once, we were both in our early 20s, who said “the best is over, and all we have to look forward to is middle age, old age and death, hopefully in that order”.

    I didn’t marry him. I didn’t feel he had enough passion for me or for life. And yet now I look back he was right. I had all this hope that love would conquer difference. Love doesn’t conquer anything. Infatuation maybe, but that won’t last.

    But sometimes things just have to endured. Marriage. Divorce. Limbo. Even things that are supposed to be good, can suck.

    In terms of fighting I think it takes more than being the good guy. It takes strategy and game playing. Which sucks. Paul wants to stay married but if I had thrown him out on d-day I don’t think that would be true. Or if I’d not thrown him out on d-day 2. It’s a game of strategy and that is a sad reflection on humanity. We get played and we have to learn how to play others.

    Hope, what is that? Stupidity? Or escapism? I vote for the latter. We all need some.

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  15. Jules says:

    I held onto hope for so long.
    I wonder if there are more of us “hopefuls” or more of the “no-fuls” out there…
    It is so painful to be an optimist and one that is full of hope.
    That’s who I am; I can’t change that.
    I wonder if/when a new relationship happens in my life if I will still be a “hopeful” or turn into a “no-ful.”

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  16. […] I was kicking around two questions in the first post: […]

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  17. All I understood was “FOOTBALL” – and boy oh boy… It’s hard being a Cowboys fan, but this year – this is our year! Well, I have to wait and see how the draft goes. I’m not sure, there is a lot of talk about Johnny Football… not sure if I’m happy with that or not. But hey, FOOTBALL!!!

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  18. Chris says:

    Oh god, there are two Browns posts (I see them in reverse via the reader). Okay now out of morbid curiosity I’ll have to read them both….once the kids are in bed. And I have beer.

    My father-in-law tried to talk me up about the Browns draft. I told him it was irrelevant and I knew nothing of it.

    Matt, you should raise bees instead.

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    • Matt says:

      They’re not really about football! I just had to weave it in because I’m super-nerdy about the draft.

      Your father-in-law is a living saint and I hope you love him and give him lots of free honey and bee-sting cream.

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  19. Years of cheering for Cleveland sports teams definitely leave their mark. (Brownies, you are the biggest losers…again.) We fans have an outsized sense of blind faith that bleeds into other aspects of life, but on the upside I always think we are so much more grateful than the average person whenever the stars inexplicably line up and things go right… or we move to a new city, with better teams.

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    • Matt says:

      Ha. That’s very funny. :)

      I may end up moving one day when my son is all grown up. But I don’t think I’ll be able to give up on my downtrodden sports allegiances.

      Than you for reading. The Browns are a constant exercise in choosing positiveness and hope when there are seemingly no reasons to do so.

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  20. I am with you there, I pay for the ridiculously expensive baseball package on cable every year, just to keep track of the Indians. Hoping for the elusive Giants vs. Indians World Series to happen before I qualify for a senior citizen ticket to the game. See there’s that hope thing again…

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  21. Wordsgood says:

    Limbo. Yes, I can certainly relate to that. In just about every aspect of my life. I hope to one day stop living in it. I’ve about had it trying to please everyone, only to be told – after I stop being useful – what a loser and cow I am.

    Blogging is my first step. I haven’t yet been able to use it as openly as I planned. Nothing physical is stopping me. Just anger, definitely a large dollop of bitterness, and plain old fear. But I’ll keep trying. And your blog, in particular, is helping me in ways you could never have imagined, Matt. I’m quite sure from reading the comments, that is true for a lot of your blogging friends.

    Hugs.

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    • Matt says:

      You fill me with courage when you say things like that. And I hope in some small way, I can do the same for you once in a while.

      I’m so sorry you’re angry. And scared. And maybe sad, too.

      It really bothers me that there is so much pain and brokenness out there. I want so badly to help somehow.

      Thank you for saying I do.

      Like

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