Her story: He left me for an underwear model
Worse, she was just twenty-three years old, whereas I was over thirty-five with two small kids. How miserable can it get? When I met him he was a hotshot ad exec and we hit it off right away. He asked me to marry him six months later, and our first son was born the next year. I left my agency job for a while, then started freelancing from home.
When he told me he was leaving me, the boys were four and six. I was shell-shocked for months, and then I just felt defeated. I had been blissfully unaware that there was anything wrong. He had planned it all and had already taken a flat in central London, where he promptly shacked up with the new girlfriend. He had a new life within two weeks. It all happened so fast, and before I knew it we had formalised the sep-aration and agreed on alternate weekends with the boys.
He was excessively generous – anything to get rid of me. Every second Friday, I would drop off my babies at his flat. To say it was tough would be an understatement. Most nights, he and his girlfriend got a babysitter and went out. I cried all weekend. I cried until the boys came home. Slowly I got used to them leaving me. I pulled myself together and started dating again. A lot of it was to experiment, a lot was to hurt him. But I ended up having a whole bunch of fun.
Eighteen months later, the girlfriend dumped him. He was back on the city singles’ scene, dating and partying. But I noticed as things started to change. He began to come round for dinner every Friday. I would drop off the boys at his place and they would spend time together, instead of him always going out. He started turning up at their sports games and school events.
Then I realised he’d started wooing me. I couldn’t believe it, and I observed it with caution. The courting was gentle and considerate. He missed me, not just the boys. We would sit and talk for hours. One night we had sex, and he ran a mile the following week. Then he came back again. All my friends told me to give him the boot. I wanted to play hard to get, to make him work for me, to make him pay. But I loved him. He was my best friend. I also wanted to have a family with him, and I didn’t want to raise my kids alone. And there are only so many younger guys you can sleep with before it just gets meaningless. He moved back in three years after he left. Our youngest son left home last year, when he turned seven-teen. We have now been married for twenty-one years. Some days we hate each other’s guts. Some-times we don’t talk for weeks. Some days we are the best of friends. It never gets easier to live with someone, but that’s the journey.
An affair doesn’t necessarily mean it is over. If cheating has become a pattern in a relationship, then there are problems, but con-fused, mid-life-crisis-style wandering is sometimes part of the journey.
Her story: I married a dropout
I had a list when I chose my husband, and Mike ticked all the boxes that were important to me. Lover? Yes. Soulmate? Yes. Sense of humour? Oh, yes. My list wasn’t very long, and it wasn’t very practical. I never rated money as a priority. I remember saying to him that I would love him even if we lived in a one-roomed flat in Bedlam. It’s strange, then, to think that it was money that came between us.
When our son came along, a one-roomed flat was exactly where we ended up. It felt like Bedlam, wherever that is. I hated it. Mike had a teaching post that paid next to nothing. We scraped by. Four years later, we had the twins. One was sick and I needed to care for her. We moved to a townhouse that we could barely afford on Mike’s salary. I couldn’t work, and I cried for a year after the twins were born. Eventually, I was hospitalised with glandular fever from exhaustion. I hated my life and I was having regular anxiety attacks. We couldn’t afford help, so I was stuck alone at home with three tiny kids. We had sex twice in four years after the twins were born. Then the kids went to school and my life got a bit better. But Mike’s job stayed the same and he was passed over for promotion time and time again.
I burnt inside with resentment. Our lives were hard and he just couldn’t bring in enough money. Finally, I was able to take on a morning job and we got a bigger space. Mike was such a great dad. All he wanted to do was stay at home and look after the kids. But I lost respect for him at some point, and he knew it. It made him shrivel inside and get smaller and smaller. He was just waiting for me to leave him. But how could I? What kind of life would we have on my half-day salary?
Eventually, I asked my gran for help. She bought a house and put it in my name. I thought his pride would take a knock, but Mike was thrilled. By then, I had had enough. I told him he wasn’t coming with us, and we moved out. I took a full-day job and got an afternoon nanny to help with the kids. Mike was crushed. He lost his job and ended up working at a tyre shop. I had a great big house and a good job. I dated a few men, but with three kids and full-time employment, I had little time for romance.
Mike helped out a lot with the kids. Often he would stay for supper, and he sometimes slept over when I was out of town. I would call him during one of my frequent anxiety attacks and he’d talk me through it. One night I came back after a party and crawled into bed with him. We slept together and it was magic. It wasn’t spanking-new, heart-stopping magic. It was old, emotional, deep magic. The next morning he looked into my eyes and told me he was never going to be a million-aire. He asked me if I could forgive him for that.
But I felt I couldn’t settle for less than my dreams, so I said no. For eight months, I dated another man, who flew me to Paris and Prague and romanced me. But it wasn’t as romantic as it had always sounded. He didn’t make me laugh like Mike did. He couldn’t calm me down when my world started spinning. Four years after we separated, I asked Mike out on a date. We didn’t tell the kids for ages, not wanting to get their hopes up until we were sure. When he moved back in, the family felt complete.
Going inwards and looking at our own life becomes easier to do when we take the focus off the other person and stop trying to change them. We can only change our own thoughts and perceptions.
Her story: I helped the relationship by helping myself
We lived six floors up in an apartment on Harrow Road, and I needed air. As I gazed out towards Harrow Road from between our new dressing-table mirror and the remodelled blue velvet curtains that had once belonged to my mother, tears cascaded down my cheeks and onto the stark parquet flooring. I felt shock and deep shame; how could I feel such disappointment so soon after the perfect marriage and now the birth of our beautiful, healthy baby boy?
I had married young. I believed that the natural consequence of falling in love, marriage and leaving home to start a family would be the pleasure of real connection. I had been led to believe ‘bliss on a silver platter’ followed marriage to The One, and that on arrival of the first child, this ‘bliss’ would be amplified.
It didn’t turn out that way. My husband was consumed with his high-profile career and I was alone most of the time, particularly around the birth of our son.
Yet, I survived the shock, embarrassment, emptiness and loneliness of early marriage and all the many deprivations, hurts and angers that come with raising a family with a society man.
How? Well, I found like-minded women at lectures and workshops – those who, like myself, had come to believe we could find a way to happiness and fulfilment through our own endeavours. I chose to transform my expectations of marriage and focused on finding friends and celebrating good times.
Together, we rose above romantic or unrealistic expectations, learnt to manage our lives and families with integrity and to take time for our-selves. I now have grandchildren and special hobbies, and my husband and I celebrate our anniversaries in exotic places.
Going into a marriage with a set picture of what it will be like is a recipe for disaster. Relationships are unknown territories; that’s what makes them so exciting.