On hope and 'acting like it'
I have a bike. I like to call it my stealth bike because it is not a mountain bike, and does not make the tell-tale clickety noise that mountain bikes make. Coasting on that bike in near perfect silence feels like flying.
When I was in school I rode my bike everywhere, to work, to classes, to church, on dates– everywhere. There was one particular spot on north campus, a quiet spot, with low traffic and a bike path well away from the street. Huge trees standing next to stately red brick buildings filtered the light over that stretch of the bike path. It had a downhill grade so I could coast and give myself over to my thoughts. On that path I had two life changing internal conversations with myself, both on the subject of hope.
In spring I was dating a young man who was hard working, ambitious, well-known, and likely to succeed to anything he put his mind to. The thing was, he was very busy. He often told me how much he loved me, how much he longed to spend time with me, and how ‘once the semester is over’ we could hang out all the time. One day, as I coasted under the budding spring leaves I found myself hoping that my boyfriend had called and left a message for me. Or that he had sent an email. Or that if he hadn’t already that he would later in the day. I imagine my brow furrowed as I reprimanded myself. “You know he’s busy. Hoping for stuff like that is just going to lead to disappointment.” And I was right, he rarely if ever called or sent messages, and when I did let myself hope I was disappointed. I reminded myself that it wasn’t his fault. He had an insane course load, and had bitten off far more than he could chew.
I kept telling myself it was just until the summer. But the summer came, and he wasn’t so busy anymore. And he still never sought out my company. In the weeks leading up to the end of our relationship I alternated back and forth between scolding myself for expecting more from my boyfriend, (after all, hadn’t he told me how much he loved me?) and anger at his failure to live up to his promises. When school started I saw that he was again, too busy for me, and always would be.
In October I was dating a different young man that I had known for several months. He too, was hard-working, ambitious and very busy. This time as I coasted under the yellowing leaves the thought occurred to me that maybe he had called and left a message for me. Or an email. Or that if he hadn’t already, he would later in the day. At once I remembered my earlier discussion with myself- remembered telling myself how foolish it was to hope for things like that. I laughed out loud as I realized how foolish I really was. If I hadn’t talked myself out of those hopes then I would have seen far earlier that, despite what he said, my former boyfriend didn’t love me, because he didn’t act like it. This young man made me so happy precisely because he made it safe for me to hope for all those silly little things that I had convinced I couldn’t expect from any man.
Later, after the young man had asked me to marry him, he said “I love you” to me for the first time. I pulled a Han Solo and said “I know.” And I did know that he loved me because he acted like it. He sought out my company. He asked me for my opinions. He smiled when I entered a room.
Far too often women are told they are too picky, and men’s lack of interest in relationships is brushed off as just how men are. We speak jokingly, almost fondly, of women ‘catching’ a man and dragging him kicking and screaming to the altar. We remind ourselves that men are only interested in women for the sex.
And so some women talk themselves out of expecting their boyfriends to act as if he likes her. She’ll bend over backwards to maintain a relationship by herself. She’ll set her hopes as high as a man who doesn’t mind her hanging around. And some men will find themselves carried by inertia into marriages with women they don’t especially like and no one will question whether or not it was a good idea.
It isn’t foolish to hope. It is foolish not to. And if someone says that they love you, they should act like it.