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I can’t even recall now when and where it all started to go wrong. Can’t remember how I got to be one of those people, one of those men whom I’ve somehow always looked down on. ‘They’re pathetic,’ I remember saying. ‘Not real men at all.’ And yet here I am, just as pathetic. Just as unreal.
I’ve been with S. for over ten years now, can’t remember exactly but it’s somewhere near that. She is everything a man could possibly want. Bright, intelligent, beautiful without having to try too hard, fun to be with and always there for me. Most of my friends thought I’d fallen on my feet, and I must admit I got a thrill watching their envious gazes on my wedding day. She was just 21, me in my early thirties. ‘You two are made for each other,’ our friends and family always say. For years, this phrase fit me snugly, but all of a sudden, for no particular reason, it has started to grate on me. I keep thinking: ‘Who am I?’ This isn’t an existential, philosophical question. It’s more a straightforward enquiry, because I honestly didn’t know. My marriage, our relationship, has taken over my definition of myself. I am her husband, possibly (in the eyes of all our broody friends and relatives) the father of her forthcoming children, her provider, her other half. The epitaph is probably already written and paid for.
Suddenly, for no particular reason, it isn’t enough for me anymore.
Our lives have become a routine, a constant loop from one week to the next. Work on Monday, dinner out after work on Thursday night, shopping on Friday, sex on Saturday (if we haven’t got anything better to do, like have friends over for the weekend), papers and croissants on Sunday, just waiting for the next Monday to roll in like a predictable tide. I’m 42. I should probably just settle down and wait for the kids; this is all preparation for the routine to end all routines. Your life, your sleep, your bed no longer your own. S. really wants that. I really want that, on some level. Perhaps for me it is just intellectual. In theory it seems like the perfect thing to do. It’s certainly what everyone expects of us, especially after eight years. Maybe that’s the very reason I am pulling against it, like a child straining away from the reins.
If I think about it hard enough, that might also be the reason I am embarking on this strange, adulterous journey: because it is the last thing people expect of me. It is totally out of my character and my flawless routine.
We met at work. How else does anyone meet these days, when life is so busy and work seems to be eating away happily at one’s leisure time? D. is quite simply the last person I would ever expect to go for, and again, maybe that is why all of this is happening. She is brash, outspoken and quite frankly has the tendency to rub people up the wrong way (no pun intended). She wears too much make-up, looks practically orange some days, and her taste in clothes is expensive but not classy. We were working on a project together, got talking. Coffee breaks turned into lunches out. When the project was just starting, I even mentioned her to S. over dinner and we laughed. D. was something new for us to talk about. Lately, it had all become saving up for our new kitchen, choosing the right tiles. Should we go on holiday this year or just save the money and do something out of this world next year? But then again, what if a child comes along by then, maybe we should do the holiday this year after all?
But eventually, the tables turned and it was D. and I over dinner discussing my life, her life, my partner, her ex and her son. Something in me softened towards her. The brashness was a cover for something softer, more vulnerable than she wanted to show. Her shrewdness in the world of business had obviously not translated into her personal life, where she had, by her own admission, ‘messed up big time.’ Always gone for unavailable men who had let her down, left her to pick up the pieces. That should have been a red flag for me, but instead it gave me some sort of validation. Pathetic? Yes, I suppose so. But I felt something shift in my life and I couldn’t control the feeling of excitement.
I ask D. to have dinner with me. Not on company expenses. Not on company time. Just her and me, our own money, our own time, our own selves. She says yes. I haven’t quite expected it, and go home that evening feeling guilty as well as excited. S. had got home late too, lots of deadlines at work to meet and understaffed. We get a take-away and eat in front of the TV. I feel relieved not to have to put on an act and talk about our future again, as we seem to do every night of the week. We never seem to talk about our here and now, as if it’s somehow inferior to how we’re going to be soon, this time next year, with another mouth to feed and something to talk about 24/7. We watch soaps and I realise then that I am probably going to start an affair with D. It just seems obvious, like I don’t even have a choice. Ridiculous, I know. People always have a choice about how they behave in certain situations. And in situations like this, there IS a right and a wrong way to behave. What I am choosing to do is the wrong way. I feel inferior, I feel guilty, I feel cheap. But the decision has already been made. I can’t go round it, over or under it. I have to go through it.
‘Tomorrow I’ll surprise S. by buying her that handbag she liked when we went shopping last Friday lunchtime,’ I think to myself. ‘Then I’ll put it in my car, call her and tell her I’ve got to work late. Can’t be helped, loads of people are off sick. Just got to put in the time now, but I’ll book some days of in lieu when the weather’s better. Treat you to a long weekend somewhere. You choose.’ And then I’ll take D. out for dinner and lie to my wife.