“I love you so much.” Those whispered words make everything better – and when my soul mate and husband died, five years ago, I truly believed I would never hear them again.
And then, nearly four years later, a miracle happened. A wonderful man eased my grieving, healed my hurt and made me love again. Best of all, he loved me, too. I felt happy, safe and cherished. The fact he had known my husband – and they had got on well and understood each other – made it seem all the more right.
“We were careful. Neither of us wanted any trouble. We drove for miles to go for walks and lunches where neither of us would be recognised.”Credit:iStock
I will never forget the moment we both realised we were on the brink of transitioning from casual acquaintances to lovers. The long-forgotten tingling premonition surrounding that first kiss. The sensation of arms winding lover-like around bodies leaning together. The recognition that something joyfully familiar was about to be welcomed back.
And so I went from caressing an oh-so-familiar body, loved and worshipped for more than three decades, to another, unfamiliar in its contours, but equally passionate, gentle and loving.
I expected to feel fresh grief. Or a sense of something foreign. I felt neither. Only fulfilled. And happy. Happier than I had been for a long time.
But there was guilt, too. Not because I felt I was betraying my late husband – although there was an element of that. But because I knew that the man who had awakened my heart, body and soul was married. And in the space of a few hours, I had turned from someone who had always heartily condemned any kind of infidelity, into someone who was having an affair with a married man.
As the months went by, I often had occasion to reflect on my good fortune in having found not one but two great loves in my life. Gradually, the world became a better place, full of smiles and laughter and warmth. Why would I give this up? It was as if I had been awoken from a deep sleep.
We had known each other for some time, so I knew that his was a marriage in name only and his life revolved around his work. I know that is a cliché, but I believed him. I’d known him as a friend for some months and he had mentioned that he and his wife lived very separately – that they never ate together, or went out, or touched, or talked.
I just believed him. Everything he said was calm and measured and rang true. He said that eventually he and his wife would have to have a conversation about how the marriage had long run its course. And so, on the grounds that I had never met his wife and she was oblivious to my existence, I allowed myself to fall in love – and even to justify my decision.
“He loves me and I love him,” I told a friend. “His kids are grown up It’s time for him to have a life, too.”
She, as so many would, condemned my actions, making me realise how easy it is to judge others from one’s own perspective. And just how complicated life can be.
“I’d never have an affair with the partner of someone I knew,” I said, feeling the need to defend myself.
She pointed out that the injured party is injured, no matter what. And I had to agree, triggering a bout of self-loathing that lasted until the evening, when it dissolved in the tender embrace of the man I now loved.
As the weeks and months went by, I often had occasion to reflect on my good fortune in having found not one but two great loves in my life. Gradually, the world became a better place, full of smiles and laughter and warmth. Why would I give this up?
It was as if I had been awoken from a deep sleep. My lover laughed when I said this. “Like the princess you are,” he said, hugging me. We were careful. Neither of us wanted any trouble. We drove for miles to go for walks and lunches where neither of us would be recognised. I cherished those times when we could walk hand in hand, sit at a table and laugh together – just like a proper couple.
Lockdown added another layer of subterfuge to the proceedings.
Our concerns for each other and our families prevented any physical contact. But when each period lifted, we found ourselves spending every spare second together. It was intense. And then, perhaps because we were getting to know each other properly, I realised that I loved this man enough to let him go. I’d had enough of being the other woman. We both deserved better.
I ended our love affair late last year. I am still not entirely sure what the catalyst was. Perhaps, in the end, it was simply due to a deeply embedded sense of moral outrage. A feeling that I was a bad human being. In the extremely unlikely event that our affair had been discovered, I would probably have been condemned as a predatory harlot who cares nothing for the sisterhood.
Or maybe I was just tired of the secrecy. Of not being able to introduce him to my family and friends. Whatever the reason, the result is the same – two people now deprived of the kind of love that rarely makes an appearance. A love that makes you feel as if you’ve come home.
The breakup was predictably messy and hurtful. We both said things we didn’t mean. Neither of us has been in touch, but we both know that each is thinking about the other. Because you can’t just switch love off. Especially love of the kind of intensity this man and I shared.
For most of the time we were together, I was happy with our casual arrangement. But as time went on and it was clear that we were both tumbling head over heels in love, we had touched upon the possibility of one day having more.
A real life together. A home. Whether or not that would have ever happened, who knows?
If I’m honest, now that this wonderful, warm man is no longer in my life – telling me I’m gorgeous,making me feel safe and loved – I regret my decision to end things between us, even though societal values tell me it was the right one. It’s as if, for a while, life was complete again – and the loveless gap that appeared when my husband died has reappeared, only this time it’s more of a yawning chasm.
I haven’t yet had the strength to delete my ex-lover’s contact details and some days I have to fight with myself not to simply dial his number and try to resurrect what we had. That hasn’t happened – but, hand on heart, I can’t swear that neither of us will cave in.
Because I confess I have a fantasy that involves a fairy-tale ending. Yes, marriage and all. And a big part of me hopes desperately that the fantasy may yet become a reality. I still don’t know exactly what I wanted from a relationship that most of us would simply call an affair, but I do know what I have lost: the love and companionship of someone who made me laugh and made me feel adored and beautiful – and happy.
Stella Magazine, The Sunday Telegraph (UK)
This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale August 15. To read more from Sunday Life, visit The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
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