One Friday night a few months ago, I sat at a local coffee shop in an attempt to distract myself from the sadness associated with a breakup. My loneliness had encouraged me to accomplish a vast to-do lists that week, and this Friday night was going to be no exception. I sat alone with my laptop, furiously writing paragraphs that will likely never see the light of day. I was zeroed in on working hard and distracting myself. I suppressed the fear of eventually becoming a spinster (good thing I wasn’t in a library) and I continued to work while I drank my herbal tea.
A few days prior to this scene, I had to say goodbye to a relationship I really enjoyed. It was not a long or serious courtship. Regardless, disappointment was doing a number on me. And because I had no reason to believe things would be different, I began to see more and more relational disappointment in my future.
Despite the intense focus on my work, my eye was drawn to a couple who entered the coffee shop. They giggled, their arms pretzeled around each other affectionately. They carried every sign of being completely head-over-heels. After purchasing their drinks, the two lovers found the table in front of mine and sat down. I continued to work until they drew my attention again. Out of nowhere, the couple began to exhibit an extreme, unapologetic public display of affection. I haven’t encountered anything like it since the hallways at my public high school. Sitting with their blended mochas, they were making out right in front of me! I felt myself move from embarrassment to annoyance as I tried my best to avert my eyes. However, the spectacle continued for several minutes and they showed no signs of cooling down. It was then that I began to recognize an emotion I am less than proud to say was brought to the surface. This couple’s behavior was inappropriate and rude, but my internal reaction to this display was far from attractive either.
I began to think, “Am I cynical?”
To be cynical is to prophetically declare disappointment into your future. It’s believing the worst; not just in situations, but cynicism believes the worst in people and their intentions. Cynicism goes beyond negativity and skepticism about love. It takes past disappointment and hurt and projects it into the future.
You know that cynical person? Life has handed her so many obstacles in relationships, employment, or personal goals. Experience has told the cynical person that innocence is foolish. Slowly, the hope she once had has diminished into a cloud of disillusionment. Although cynicism begins as self-protection, it moves beyond that, and the cynical person is conditioned to believe the worst in any given situation. She now looks at the hopes, optimism and love of others as unenlightened, thoughtless and unwise. When seeing a couple in love, she may experience jealousy, but the dominant thought is gloom and doom for that relationship and condescension for the couple’s lack of thoughtfulness.
“Just you wait until the you-know-what hits the fan in your relationship. Because it probably will!”
Unfortunately, while I sat at the coffee shop, I was that cynical person. Thankfully, I stopped long enough to realize what was happening. Disappointment had run away with my hope. And the disappointment was surfacing in the form of irritation towards this romantic relationship, in spite of their indiscretion.
Essentially, disappointments are unfulfilled hopes. Therefore, where there is disappointment there was at one time hope. When disappointments grow greater than the hope we actually possess, cynicism follows.
I had hoped that my marriage would be saved. Even after I discovered my ex-husband’s betrayal, I was hopeful there would be restoration.
However, because that hope was not fulfilled, I was gravely disappointed.
Since my divorce last year, I’ve had good dates and I’ve had disappointing dates. I’ve been optimistic, and I’ve also considered adopting a thousand cats and calling it a day. Post-divorce dating has positioned me to try to love and be loved again. Naturally, caution and wisdom must be present to avoid further damage to my heart. But dating — a notion that leaves me feeling extremely vulnerable — continues to irritate the fear of disappointment. Positioning myself for a romantic relationship is positioning myself for potential disappointment and for heartbreak again. And I don’t know how much more of that I can handle.
Although the relationship that ended was not devastating or heartbreaking, I was disappointed. Yet again, I failed to find love. As I sat at the coffee shop, contemplating these complex emotions surrounded by my busy-work, I began to realize and acknowledge that these cynical thoughts were masking just how disappointed I really was that I haven’t found it yet — that I haven’t found him yet.
I’m not dating because I’m bored or because I’m lonely, I’m dating so I can position myself to find a partner. Because I want to be married again. I do. (No pun intended!) Yet, I am hesitant to admit it, especially in this medium because I am afraid of my motives being judged or misconstrued. Just because I want to be married again does not mean that I’m not a powerful, independent, feminist, Jesus-loving woman, because I am! But admitting this desire to find love again is accepting and declaring hope. And with my disappointments bringing me dangerously close to cynicism, hope is where I must firmly stand.
Simultaneously recognizing disappointment and holding onto hope are taking steps towards healing and away from cynicism.
I am not only hopeful that I will eventually find love, but I hope that my future is bright. By rejecting cynicism, I am keeping my heart tender towards my own future and towards others around me. This is so much easier said than done.
I was looking at this couple with envy disguised as contempt. The disappointment was taking over and I was showing the early signs of cynicism. At that moment, I felt I had a choice. I could choose to allow this cynical facade to mature and harden my heart or I could grab onto hope and encourage it to flourish within my thoughts and behaviors.
Disappointments are real; however, when we allow them to, they can point us to hope.
When we push away our desires in the name of self-protection, we are taking a step towards cynicism. By ignoring disappointment, we are lessening our hope. Right now, I am hoping for what I cannot see and that is a beautiful place to be positioned. I may not live this out perfectly, but I will work to keep my heart tender towards my future and towards the joy of others. If disappointment comes again, I will try my best to get right back up. Although it may take a while, I will keep moving forward. Because, I have hope.
Mandy · November 18, 2018 at 1:00 am
This is so well thought out Ellie. Thanks for your truth-telling!
ellieherringshaw · November 18, 2018 at 4:41 am
Thank you, Mandy!
Barbara Smith · November 18, 2018 at 2:10 am
from another cynic over here: cynicism is also a kind of pride… after all, you know MORE than they do. An automatic assumption that love like that only exists for those who haven’t experienced the pain… yet. A condescension of epic proportion since in reality, we have NO idea what the background of either person is – we don’t know their stories… finding love again after their own pain of loss. The cynic in us assumes that they couldn’t love AGAIN like that if they had ever been in your shoes.
And yet, the person who wants to reclaim their DREAMS of LOVE can say, maybe they did – and found new love again anyway!
ellieherringshaw · November 18, 2018 at 4:41 am
Thank you for your comment, Barbara! Such a good point! We don’t know what anyone else’s story is. In our pain, we often feel like we are alone and clearly no one knows how bad it can be like us (at least that’s the way I felt at times). But Hope can bring us to understanding too. Love that!