I was 40 and desperately unhappy when I started my extra-marital affair. Three kids, a wedding when we were too young to get married – I already felt like one of those old couples you see in gardening centres, or out for dinner on birthdays, the ones where the conversation has already dried up.
It hurt to see them because I remembered when my husband and I started dating and we used to joke about those silent couples. “That will never be us,” we’d say. “I’d rather be put down than turn out like that.” But suddenly, we were like that. And we hadn’t even noticed that it had happened.
It was after having kids that things started to unravel for us. The pressures of being a stay-at-home mum where before I’d had a busy job in a bank; my husband working away more and more often. He’d never ever been the type to “play away” – on the contrary actually, he was utterly devoted. It was me that was the problem.
I couldn’t come to terms with the busy life I used to have before becoming a mother – going out for cocktails in the city after work, girly weekends away, big glittering events with our corporate clients where I’d get to dress up in skyscraper heels and entertain and flirt – compared to suddenly shoving trainers and tracksuit bottoms on, scruffing my hair back into a messy bun and waiting at the gate on the school run.
I loved being a mum, I lived for all the drawings and special assemblies and sports days and concerts in the local church – but I was also bored. I was bored and frustrated and started finding myself looking at the few dads that did the pick-ups at the end of the day at school and fantasising about them, just to give me some excitement to keep me going.
But I wasn’t about to have an affair so close to home and risk ruining what I had, either. I had to keep it separate. But how?
Then I read about a site online that offered people a way to explore “married dating” called Ashley Madison. It had been involved in a massive data breach. Even though I shuddered at the idea of being “found out” like that, I was excited too.
I hadn’t considered what it might be like to meet someone looking for exactly the same as I was: some excitement to make domestic married life bearable, but one in which neither of us would want to risk the happy lives we had. Our other halves wouldn’t be hurt by it, because they wouldn’t know about it – so it felt like the perfect solution. The kindest solution.
I knew Rob* would be devastated if I left him, but I figured this way, if I met someone online – outside of our social circle of mums and dads and neighbours – I could be happier at home and within myself. Plus, and I know this might sound strange, but I loved Rob. I didn’t want to hurt him. I just couldn’t bear life at home the way it was. I wanted more. And I wanted to give myself something back – I figured I deserved it.
I’d sacrificed my entire life to look after our children. I’d sacrificed my body: carried them inside me for nine months each – almost back to back as we’d had them so closely together – and then given up my career, too. Rob still had roughly the same life he’d always had – plus a wife who now stayed at home all day, making a hot dinner for him in the evening. It felt as though he couldn’t even begin to imagine what I’d been through and what I’d given up. He had it easy. And I admit I resented him for it.
On the nights he’d come home late and drunk after a networking event or drinks with clients I wanted to scream at him for being so selfish. I’d bash things around, hoping he’d wake up so I could have a go at him. Really, I was just jealous. And I didn’t like the person I’d become.
So, I joined an extra-marital dating website – not Ashley Madison, but one very similar – and met Dan*. He was unhappily married, too – two kids and a wife, he said, who made him feel “like he didn’t exist”. He said they didn’t have sex any more and he spent most nights on the sofa. But he couldn’t imagine leaving, because of the children. Dads often end up with fewer custody rights, he reminded me, and he loved his sons.
On my first date with Dan, I was as nervous as the way I used to feel when I was single and in my early twenties. I had butterflies all day and arranged for a babysitter to come to be with the kids way earlier than I needed her to, so I could get ready. And yes, it felt like a bit of a cliché pulling on new silk underwear and expensive perfume (though I hadn’t even assumed Dan and I would do anything other than drink and make awkward conversation) but it was incredibly exciting.
I felt like “me” again – not just “Mum”. If I could bottle that feeling alone and sell it to married women like me, I know I’d make a fortune.
The problem was that Dan and I hit it off – too well. We met in a bar in town and he was everything I’d fantasised about: tall, good-looking, commanding without being controlling. He ordered us champagne and didn’t mention his home life once – and neither did I. We talked about all of the things Rob and I hadn’t talked about in a decade – our gap years from university, time spent abroad. We talked about our actual, individual interests… TV, literature, films. We didn’t talk about our spouses or our kids. It was perfect.
At the end of that first night we kissed, and it was just weeks before he booked a hotel room. We’ve been together ever since, and I’m madly in love with him – but I live every day with a mixture of giddy abandon and crushing sorrow.
It’s both the best and worst decision I’ve ever made. I’m in love with someone who has to be a secret, someone I’ll never be able to walk down the street with, hand in hand, or introduce to my friends. Sometimes, the pressure of the guilt I feel when I’m at a school concert, or at a dinner party with friends Rob and I have known for years makes me crumble. But then I get a message from Dan, and the rush of adrenaline reminds me how it’s all worth it. I could die tomorrow and at least I’ll have had this exquisite feeling.
Being with Dan has made me feel “alive” again, and has allowed me to rediscover the forgotten parts of myself I thought had vanished forever when I became a wife and a mum. But I also know our relationship is a ticking bomb. It can’t last; one day soon something will happen and it’ll implode. We could lose everything. But it still feels worth it. I’m just counting the moments we have together until they’re gone.
At the moment, nobody is getting hurt. Except me – but that’s the sacrifice I’m willing to make.