Love is not a steady progression. Oh, perhaps at the beginning it’s all-consuming, unravelling the mystery and reveling in the bliss, but as the relationship grows it inevitably has its ups and downs. This is not a bad thing. Keeping love alive requires new injections of energy. Without these injections, love lags. Like a yo-yo on a string the disc must always be spinning. A flick of the wrist keeps the yo-yo moving up and down. If you wind the string too tightly on the disc it will not spin, and it won’t go down, lying inert in your hand. If you wind it too loosely it will go down, but it will not travel back up the string, and remain spinning at the bottom, until it stops.
I wanted Emily back in my life and believed that was what she wanted too, despite the evidence: She just needed me to fight for her. I believed it, but was it true? Or was this just ongoing delusion in my fog of grief? My three-week writing mania was not therapy, and certainly not solving the problem.
I wanted her back, but after my anger and petulance, how was that possible now?
Help came from an unexpected quarter: A former neighbour who was also friends with Emily.
In the months following Marlene’s death I had a standing invitation for dinner at the Bianchi residence. I accepted as another vehicle for diversion and distraction. And so began a routine of Italian home cooking, homemade wine, and easy companionship, about every two weeks. I had always been friendly with Dino, but it was Isabella who showed me compassion and helped me through my journey with grief. I found myself there one afternoon, a few weeks after my crisis with Emily; Dino was not yet home from work. When Isabella asked if Emily had been visiting me at my new home in Kanata, I said, no, she hadn’t; I wasn’t seeing her at all. My composure suddenly left me, and I started to cry. I told her the story.
Isabella was not shocked. ‘I knew something was going on between you two! I think you two should be together. You would be very good for each other. Never mind the age difference. She needs a husband and you need a partner, and you now have a shared history because of Marlene.
‘I’m going to fix this.’
A week later Isabella called me; she told me to come to her house Friday afternoon. I arrived at 2:30, anxious and apprehensive. I brought two bottles of rosé – one for Isabella, who doesn’t drink, one for Emily who likely wouldn’t. Emily was waiting for me on the back deck. We made furtive eye contact but there was an awkward space between us. I gave her a letter, in case I never got the chance to say what I needed to say.
I asked her why she had agreed to see me. She said it was for closure. This didn’t sound authentic to me, so I asked her again. ‘Because I wanted to see you!’
She said how much she missed me and at the same time she couldn’t understand why I kept pursuing her: ‘After how I hurt you, why do you still want me? I don’t deserve you. And I think my sister is right, I am not in your league.
‘Why me? Why me?’ she cried.
‘Your sister is wrong Emily. I’ve told you all the reasons why you,’ I said gently. ‘Do you want me to tell you again?’
‘Yes please,’ she said with a smile.
So I gave her the list again:
‘Energy, Positivity, Happy, Infectious, Intelligent, Playful, Assertive, Confident.’
‘Here are a few shallow ones: Cute Bum; Hot, hot, hot!’
(Emily smiled at this.)
‘Wise, Insightful, Eager to please, Mature, Imagination.’
She looked at me, thoughtfully.
‘Rick never tells me things like this. He never gives me compliments. He never takes me to restaurants, or to the movies. Or to the mall. He never gives me wine. We just sit at home and watch movies, until we fall asleep. I clean his house.’
‘Why are you still with him Emily?’
‘I don’t know. I’ve told him I’m not happy.’
‘Yes, but you don’t leave him.’
She was silent at that point.
The next morning Emily called.
‘Meet me at Bayshore. I want to know how we can make this work.’ she said. ‘Bring a notepad.’
We were barely settled in a quiet booth in the restaurant when Emily began to talk. Almost as if in a stream of consciousness, questions poured out: ‘You said you would only ask me to stay with you on weekends, Thursday to Sunday, so I could be with my sister and my nephew during the week. How would that work? You know I don’t drive. I need to take care of my clients. How will I get to my clients from your place in Kanata? I need to see my family. How will we manage things with your children, and grandchildren, and friends? What about Christmas?!’
We talked all afternoon and into the evening. She was animated and excited, alternately sitting on her side of the table and then jumping around to mine to touch my arm, my leg, my face. We rambled and reveled in each other’s presence. I promised her I would support her in anything she wanted to do with her life. I reminded her how much she had to offer, her intelligence and insight, having so much potential. Her future was bright before her.
She smiled: ‘You always have told me that. But it makes me nervous too.’
And with that I sketched out the model of the ‘Seven Levels of Intimacy’ on the notepad and explained to her that the purpose of life was to strive to be the ‘best version of yourself’ you can be, in all four dimensions of being: Physical, Intellectual, Emotional and Spiritual. I told her that personal development is hard but that you don’t do it all on your own; you need others to encourage you, stimulate you, offer help and new insights. Many others can contribute, but in the end, for deep mutual growth, this journey needs the intimacy of a significant other.
‘That’s what I can offer you,’ I said. ‘That’s what I want from you.’
She tore off the page, ‘I’ll try to understand this,’ she said.
I took her home feeling life was full of possibility again.
I asked if I could see her the next day. And as was now the pattern, she was quiet. I knew what that meant.
I struggled through Sunday, visited Marlene to seek her advice, but as usual she was silent. I wrote Emily a long text message but wisely, didn’t send it.
By late evening she phoned; we talked for an hour, but after all that she couldn’t commit to seeing me exclusively. I asked her if she was willing to fight for me as I was fighting for her. She whispered, ‘I don’t think I can.’
Exasperated and feeling impotent I said, ‘in that case, you obviously don’t love me enough; and I can’t live with that.’
There was a long silence. I said, ‘so this can only mean it’s over between us.’
‘Goodbye Emily.’ But I didn’t hang up.
I hung up.
She didn’t say good bye. And she didn’t call back. And I thought, ‘She probably never will’. I immediately began to have regrets.
I was torn between pride and my need for her. The ups and downs of this relationship was wearing on me – how much energy did I have left to keep this yo-yo going? I knew I needed to protect my dignity and sense of self-worth. I also knew she would never love me if I didn’t. Pity is not love.
The Seven Levels Model (adapted from Matthew Kelly, The Seven Levels of Intimacy)