“Love is like quicksilver in the hand. Leave the fingers open and it stays. Clutch it and it darts away.” —Dorothy Parker
A few years ago, my close friend, whom I’ll call Dave, met a nice woman, whom I’ll call Kathy. At the time, Dave was in his early fifties and divorced, whereas Kathy, at thirty-five, had never been married. Both Dave and Kathy shared an appreciation for the arts, so their early courtship included nights at the ballet, opera, and art-house films. Dave also attended events where Kathy, a concert violinist, played with her chamber music ensemble.
At first, things seemed to be going well, yet Kathy couldn’t help noticing that whenever she wanted to discuss their budding relationship, Dave was too busy or otherwise distracted. A couple of months later, after they returned from a trip to the Caribbean, Kathy left her suitcase at Dave’s apartment, saying she’d take it another day. Instead, she returned with more suitcases and began staying over every night. Suddenly, without any discussion, Dave realized she had moved in.
By now, you have surmised that Dave isn’t exactly the communicative type. A nice guy, he didn’t want to insult Kathy by asking her to leave. Instead, he began to ignore her, saying he was busy or had to prepare for one of his many business trips. Despite that, she stayed, cooking dinners and cleaning up after him. He would leave thinking she’d be gone when he returned, but she was still there waiting when he returned.
Frustrated, Kathy called his close friend, Meg. Dave had told Kathy early on that Meg knew him best. After explaining the situation, Kathy said, “I don’t know what to do. I love Dave, and I think he cares for me, but he won’t discuss anything about our relationship. I think he likes that I cook and clean, and yet he never says a word about it.”
Meg thought a minute. “Well, he must have said something when you both decided to live together.”
Kathy hesitated. “There was no real decision. It just sort of happened.”
“Then you have to find a way to talk with him. Otherwise, I suggest you go back to your apartment. You haven’t given it up, have you?”
“No. You mean I should move out?” She sounded surprised.
“Yes, Kathy. Dave doesn’t like to be cornered. He prefers being alone. You might try going back to your place and see what happens. Give him a chance to pursue you as he did before. I’m sure he’ll call, and then you’ll have the opportunity to talk. Maybe you moved in too soon.”
Nearly a year passed when Kathy called Meg and said she was moving back home. She admitted that she and Dave hadn’t had sex since the week she’d moved in, and after hearing him on the phone, she now suspected he was going out with other women. She had stayed on with the hope that things would change, but finally realizing that was unlikely to happen, she packed her bags, took her violin, and left. Soon after, she left New York to join a chamber music group in Chicago.
Who knows why Kathy waited so long. Maybe it was optimism or, more likely, a stubborn sense that Dave was “the one,” and that she could change him, though that rarely happens. Her desire to cohabitate and her unrelenting decision to force her will upon him without discussion set her up for disappointment. Dave’s choice to ignore an untenable situation rather than discuss it openly further aggravated the conflict. As both held on to their illusion that the other would somehow come around, their story became a sad and cautionary tale of the damaging affects of unrealistic and unexpressed expectations in relationships.