Can I say something bad about hope? I know: we're all supposed to be for it. But, hope isn't always a good thing. There's this guy I know named Ted who is on match.com. Ted's 54. On the site, he's 41. He's looking for a woman with a nice personality between 22-30. Ted's between jobs. He's living with his brother in law in the basement in Tempe, Ariz. Ted's likes are pistol fishing, barbecue and Levon Helm's middle period.
Who would deny Ted's right to find love? Only what happens is, when, semi-miraculously, a woman named Arlene responds to Ted's ad, and they go out for barbecue, and it happens that Arlene is actually way into Levon Helm, so that they both end up, in bed a month later, softly singing the lyrics of "Watermelon Time in Georgia" to each other -- it turns out that Ted continues to go on match.com in the interim to see if there's anyone else out there. Anyone better.
Ted's got hope.
In this economy, hope's like anything else. When it comes to love, a savvy consumer can always get an upgrade. But hope isn't an escape clause. It isn't a getaway car. Hope's more like telling the girl you want to marry how great a husband you'll be and then going and being that person. You can shout and sloganeer about hope all you want. But it won't matter. Hope isn't wishful thinking. It's full of requirements.
You can read an excerpt from Jeffrey Eugenides' most recent book, "The Marriage Plot," here.