I was having dinner Saturday night with a woman I don’t know very well when a wave of despair hit me.
It was out of the blue. I had no idea where it came from. All I knew is that it felt like a sudden blast of pure despair — about myself, about the world, about the future, about being loved. About everything. It felt as though someone had flipped a switch inside me.
Suddenly, hope was gone. In the dark emptiness where it had been, there was a dark monster which I call depression.
Nothing outward changed. I was still smiling and pleasant with my dinner companion. She had no idea anything was going on. But after I dropped her off later in the evening, I drove home in silence and surrounded by a darkness which felt heavy and oppressive.
Why does hope disappear?
Just as Jesus cried when he felt abandoned on the cross, I feel like crying out at such times, “Why have you forsaken me?”
Years ago, a psychologist told me that I was the most resilient person she had ever met. I had spent months sharing with her horrific stories from my past and exploring all the ways that it had led me to a place in life where I was very unhappy.
But I was focused on change for the future, not on continuing to live in the damage from my past. I was absolutely convinced that my future was bright. I described to her the future I believed was waiting for me — with a loving wife and happy family, with a successful and fulfilling career, with all the things I needed.
She told me this was unusual in her experience. She said most people who had gone through the experiences which had shaped me had low expectations and feared they would never have what they needed. They were often terrified that they would never find the love they were looking for.
I can’t tell you why I was different. All I know is that I had hope. Actually, it’s more powerful than that. It was certainty. It was faith.
I didn’t know who was going to love me, but I knew she was waiting for me. I knew she was going to choose me. I knew we would have children and have a happy family. I saw things I would do for fulfillment and success in the world. I knew I would find my place.
That hope and faith changed everything for me. I don’t know where it came from, but I held tightly to it.
In the last few years, it seems as though I have had more moments when that hope and faith have abandoned me. I fear that I will never win the love of a woman who I can love and want to take care of. I often have doubts that I can be good enough for the sort of woman I want. I know I can attract someone, but I feel despair about the notion of accepting some compromise just to have a companion.
Is there anything worse than being attached to someone you don’t really love? I can’t imagine living that way — but I feel despair at the possibility of growing old one day on my own. That feels like an existential threat to my soul.
When I was at dinner, my companion had been talking to me about cheating in romantic relationships. She had admitted — without either pride or guilt — that she had cheated on every man she had ever been with. She said the flings had never meant anything. She had just let herself have a string of one-night stands because she needed to feel wanted. She didn’t want this to continue, but she called herself a cheater.
I can’t be certain, but I have a feeling that something about her confession pushed me into despair.
I have a view of the world as it ought to be. I see a world where people are honest with each other, where people do what’s right, where things make sense and where you can trust people when they tell you they love you. It’s a picture of a world in which people share my values and where we all strive to be what we’re supposed to be — not where people are perfect, but where people work hard to do the right things and then then to fix their errors and atone for their sins when they inevitably happen.
But my dinner date was a lovely and charming manifestation of a different kind of world. Being reminded that her world and her values might be the norm — rather than the world and values for which I have hope — did something to me.
It made me feel horribly alone. It made me fear that my hope and faith in my future have been misplaced.
It made me feel — once again — like an alien who is living among creatures who will never understand me or love me or share my values. And I think that’s why I drove home in dark despair.