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?
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.
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…