In June 2009, I turned 40. For weeks beforehand, my husband of 17 years’ standing badgered me to organise a party or “at least something” to celebrate the milestone. I steadfastly refused, on the basis that I didn’t feel remotely celebratory.
The thought of being 40 was not in itself the problem. The problem was that I didn’t feel that my existence was something to celebrate. Years of marriage to my husband, which was more like having an overly demanding, rude and selfish houseguest, who’s outstayed his welcome, had left me feeling institutionalised, unattractive and useless. On the basis that many of my relatives have lived to a ripe old age, I had to face the prospect of possibly another 40 years of this existence. I just couldn’t see a way out. I have two wonderful boys. How could I even consider wrecking their childhood?
And where did it all go wrong?
It was not a sudden happening. A series of events had made me realise that my husband was not the person I thought I had married.
The series started when our second child was born. My husband moved to the spare room because he “needed sleep”. Crying babies and toddlers disturbed him. I was left night after night struggling with exhaustion and feeling lost and alone. The man who should have been by my side was, I later discovered, indulging his taste for porn in the spare room. The huge phone bill tipped me off. I would have bet money that he wasn’t into sex lines… How wrong could I be?
There were of course always the great apologies and promises that it wouldn’t happen again. But this is addictive behaviour, which never stops – it just takes another path.
Next came the gambling.
Words are insufficient to describe my horror when, between Christmas and New Year, he came to me in tears to tell me that he had lost thousands of pounds.
At around the same time, my husband fell out with one of our oldest friends. Whilst I felt that my husband had been completely unreasonable, I felt a duty to stand by him, even though it meant I had lost a great friend in the process. It was only later on I discovered the real reason for the falling out. Whilst I had been looking after the children, in the belief that they were going for a few drinks and a curry, my husband had been dragging our friend (at vast expense) to glitzy nightclubs, and ‘putting himself out there’. Having been propositioned by a woman in a nightclub, our friend decided that he’d had enough. To this day I don’t think my husband had an affair. But I will never know for sure.
Still, I struggled on, fighting for my marriage, raising our young boys, and now belt tightening. I justified my burdens with the notion that no marriage is perfect. Everyone has problems and marriage has to be worked at. A few years on, my youngest started school and I felt bereft. I realised that I had managed to keep things going because I had the children and their activities to keep me occupied. I found myself lying in bed one morning, tears welling up in my eyes, and thinking that if I did leave, no one would ever want me and I could die in 40 years time, alone, never having had sex again. In fact, my death could be one of those horror stories you read in the papers, where no one notices you’re missing until the neighbours start to smell something!
A short time later, I started looking for work, something from home, with flexible hours hopefully. A friend’s gardener was new to the business and needed some administrative and advertising help. We scheduled a meeting. He was a former public school boy, with a filthy sense of humour. He made me laugh. And I needed a good laugh.
Suddenly I realised, much to my surprise, that to some men at least, I was still an attractive woman. Indeed, if I left my husband, there was actually a possibility that I could have sex again before I die!
I confided to a friend that I was at my wits’ end. “For God’s sake have an affair, but don’t leave him. Think of the children.” She implored me.
Skulduggery and deceit do not sit well with me, so I provoked a massive row by going out for a drink with the gardener and not coming home until 3am. I just wanted the husband to understand how bad things were.
The husband went through the roof – clearly oblivious to the dramatic irony. He had himself rolled in at 3am, roaring drunk, on countless occasions over the years. And I hadn’t even know where he was or with whom. Having successfully provoked the row, I told him what a misery he was making my life. He seemed genuinely upset. “I’ll change.” He said. “I’ll help around the house more.” He cried. As if housework was what our marriage needed.
Regardless, the promises were empty. In the weeks after, nothing changed. He was fully aware that I was on the verge of leaving him, and he just didn’t fight. The sad thing was, he seemed to feel that I had inflicted a cruel injury on him, rather than accepting that his behaviour over the years had caused the problem. His pride was injured. And whilst he professed to be deeply concerned about the children, he was more concerned about social acceptability. I, the dutiful wife taking care of the two sons, I was his cover, the face he presented to the world whilst he went about his… other affairs.
He had long since fallen out of love – and now, I had too. And with that, I left him. And I felt a terror like no other.
That was two years ago. The terror abated, replaced by the horrors of a contentious divorce. Now, after 20 years, I am dating again. I am learning the rules - which have changed a bit! And I have a new gay best friend – who has helped enlightened me. I mourn for the things that I lost.
I’ve finally gotten laid.