Yeah the truth is after a string of particularly…uninspiring….prompts, suddenly the flood gates open up for ‘cake’. Go figure.
So aside from reflections on the natures of cooking vs baking, ‘cake’ immediately brought me back to a video game I used to play with my brother. There hasn’t really been an opportunity to divulge too much of the extent of my interests, but I am definitely a big video gamer. One of the games I used to play was Portal, a simple to grasp yet intricate to master 3D platforming game with a very adult sense of humor.
During the game your character is constantly encouraged to continue to progress by the promise of a cake by GlaDOS, the game’s snarky passive-aggressive antagonist. Spoiler alert: it is through eventual progression in the game that you come to realize that ‘the cake is a lie’, meaning that the reward does not exist and there is really no hope of escape or completion.
GlaDOS is not the friendly AI assistance you thought, everyone is dead, and all hope is lost. Wonderful.
This is supposed to be a disappointing thing. You’re supposed to feel betrayed and lost and in fact nowadays within the online and gaming community, the phrase ‘the cake is a lie’ is often used to express feelings of frustration when promised rewards turn out to be false or nonexistent.
But…I don’t see it as such. I mean I did, but recently with the things that have happened and with this opportunity to reflect, I realize that…I didn’t want the cake. I knew the cake was a lie.
If we start off with the assumption that the cake is a lie even before finding out it is, aren’t we more prepared for the ending? The best case scenario is that we are proven wrong, the cake is real, and we get to have it and eat it too. The worst case scenario is that we are right. So…shouldn’t we want to believe the cake is a lie?
I think the nature of optimism vs. pessimism is really what we should be talking about. We are bound by our expectations and our greatest frustrations and obstacles arise when our expectations are not met. From the day we are born we are constantly promised things to remain optimistic and hopefully, inspired. We are told in school to do well because we can expect to get into a good college which promises a good career with good pay. We are told, here at least, that the ‘American Dream’ is to own your own land and build your own success and that if we do this we are good Americans and can be happy. But because of the nature of my blog, let’s focus specifically on optimism vs. pessimism in relationships. Here is my thesis: in relationships, a certain measure of pessimism is healthy and indeed necessary for happy, lasting unions because it prepares us more realistically both when single in the search of a partner and when joined up with someone and dealing with their shortcomings.
We are constantly bombarded with movies and literature and song and images of ‘perfect love’ and ‘perfect relationships’. But when we grow up on a diet of sticky saccharine sweet romantic comedies and catchy pop songs we are ill-prepared for the bitterness of reality. And even then, reality isn’t that bad, it’s just that compared to what we are fed, it certainly falls short of expectations and depictions.
Growing up I read Romeo and Juliet and The Princess Bride. I watched You’ve Got Mail and Sleepless in Seattle. I listened to Lionel Richie and Bryan Adams. And though they are very period-specific examples, we all know that the themes and promises are timeless.
We are conditioned to be optimistic that we will find our soulmate in the world who will intrinsically and immediately understand everything that motivates and encourages us and pleases us and it will come naturally and easily to them. We are promised, in so many of what we consume throughout our years, that a happy relationship is free of the turmoil and misunderstanding that we see in our failed relationships and the failed relationships of those around us. We can expect that following the natural progression of the ‘cute meeting story’ and then the ‘complicated love-interest obstacle’ climaxing with the ‘misunderstanding that must be resolved’ we end up with the boy or girl of our dreams and that the hardest part is to find them and the rest is well…’happily ever after’.
We would like to say that pessimism and negativity is poison to the otherwise happy recipe of the relationship but actually it is our own optimism and unrealistic expectation that could inevitably lead to our demise. It is because of our optimism that when we have a rough day at work and come home and our partner is not immediately attentive and receptive and does not immediately understand what it is that bothers us that we feel betrayed and disappointed and thus even more frustrated. The promise that we have been chasing is that we should never have to explain ourselves to our soulmates. That the person we are meant to be with should be perfectly aligned with our interests and hopes and expectations and that it should be a matter of fitting perfectly instantaneously and permanently.
But if we look at the objective reality of the world, we see that optimism could lead us blindly down the least constructive path. We have to understand that there are more than 6 billion people in the world. And that the max extent of the amount of people we can meet within a certain timeframe in our lives that would be conducive to family making and a future is only a fraction of a fraction of a percentage of that amount. We must also understand that our own desires and interests can change and shift over time. That we are not static points in space and that we are also learning and developing and therefore capable and in fact prone to inconsistency. So if we are constantly over-optimistic and unrealistic in our expectation and our belief in the reward, the ‘cake’ per se, we can become increasingly frustrated and downtrodden when every opportunity that arises seems to not fit our mold.
But if instead we choose to approach the world with just a bit of healthy pessimism, we are free of the burden of perfection and expectation and instead can enjoy the pleasures and surprises of life and relationships. If we learn to expect that our partners will come with certain flaws and shortcomings, when we eventually discover them they are not as big a deal as before and we find the uncanny ability to calmly analyze and decide if it is in fact the worst thing ever or something that, it turns out, we can live with because we are able to see the larger picture now. If we are capable of viewing relationships and love with just a tiny bit of pessimism then each and every time we find a similar interest, similar hobby, or find we share the same values and hopes, it is the proverbial ‘icing on the cake’. We can enjoy more and be disappointed less if we understand that optimism and expectation can actually be the enemy of love.
I know this may sound unappetizing and it may seem like a surprise to come from a professed ‘bleeding heart romantic’, but believe me I have found that a spoonful of pessimism can certainly help the medicine go down. I think many of my past relationships were marred by unrealistic expectations on both ends. The media fills us with promises and we make promises to each other that often times we don’t really know if we can fulfill. And when we do that we hurt ourselves more than help the relationship. I’ve learned to want to love someone without having to idealize them. I’ve learned to still want to be in a relationship without wanting it to be perfect and ‘falling out of love’ with the idea.
It’s okay that the cake is a lie. It’s okay that the union of two people can never be as perfect as the wedding cake is on that special day. After all, what is that cake made of. The beautiful, smooth, perfect covering is fondant. Basically edible Play-Doh. It is artificially pounded and stretched and molded and plastered onto the cake. The two happy blissful idyllic people on top are stiff and plastic dolls. It’s okay to expect that the person we are with will be imperfect because once we realize that, we understand that having troubles and problems is not a unique situation to us. Personally, I’ll take my cake with a little bit of salt from now on.