27 January will always be a weird day for me. I was reminded of it this year by a Facebook Memories thing, which showed a picture I shared on 27 January 2016 of the time I was doing some laundry, ran out of blue Bold so mixed in some pink Bold like a real rebel. It amused me, so I shared it. It was also the day I caught my wife having an affair.
I shared this on Twitter, and had a lot of wonderful people offering genuinely appreciated support and best wishes. I also had a lot of people asking me what actually happened that day, and asking how I caught them. A year or two ago I’d have felt strange about sharing it, but now more time has come to pass it’s taken on a hazy, unreal quality that has stripped some of the pain, anger, shock and hurt from it. It’s too long a tale for a handful of Twitter posts, so I thought I’d share it here in all its glory so I can simply link to it in future.
Before I start, though, I’ve been accused in the past of making jokes about it and minimising the emotional impact of events, as if I’m still coping with them and not over them at all. That’s both right and wrong at the same time in a way that only those who have been through it themselves will ever truly understand.
I am over it and have coped with it, but I will never truly heal. Such traumatic events leave a scar, one so deep that to believe it’ll heal smoothly is unrealistic. I am healed insofar as I am no longer crippled by what happened, but it will always be there in the background, waiting to spring out and hit me at the most unexpected of moments. So, with that caveat, here’s my tale.
To set the scene a little, things were perfect. Okay, not perfect exactly, but things were better than many people’s setup and promised to get better all the time. I’d met who I knew was the love of my life at 17, we’d got together shortly after I turned 18 and were living together by 20. At 23 we had our first child (after my ex “accidentally” forgot to take her pill for six weeks and didn’t tell me), followed two years later by our eldest son. Two years after that we tied the knot with a lovely ceremony and party at the Barbican, with our youngest daughter following two years after that and our final child completing things two and a half years later.
We were happy. Yes, some times were tough, but we never really argued, had enough money to cover the bills and enough love to cover the cracks. We were very different people at our cores; I being a person always looking to travel, to make interesting things happen and to make my mark on the world, while she wanted nothing more than to raise our kids, enjoy her part-time job at Dorothy Perkins and occasionally go to a restaurant as a family. There was, on paper at least, no way we should work as a couple, yet I couldn’t even begin to picture life without her. She was my world.
I’d spent years trying to persuade her to get a full-time job when the kids were all old enough for school or nursery, as she was far more educated than I and I believed she had the potential to go as far in her career as she wanted to go if she only started one. So when I found a suitable job at our local council for her and she agreed to look at it I was chuffed. It was an area and a sector I knew well, so I gave her as much support and coaching as I could, including arranging for friends who already did that job elsewhere to talk her through the role and give her insider tips. She aced the interview and found herself working full-time for the first time in almost a decade.
Both of us working full-time and bringing up kids was a challenge, but one I knew we could make work. She was forced to be in the office every day whereas I was able to negotiate more flexible arrangements, so I gave up my office life and worked from home as much as I could. I picked up all the chores that she now no longer had time or energy to do, and did as much as I could to take on the greater part of the parental mental load. Financially it cost us money as the childcare costs far outstripped her income, but I saw this as a short term thing for a few years until she worked her way up a little.
It was tough sometimes. As well as a full-time job and these added daddy duties, I also volunteered as a coach for my son’s football team. I was vice-chair of governors at two of my kid’s schools, and also volunteered as a local councillor. I admit I did also go and see Spurs play as much as I could, which was probably my biggest extravagance. As a couple, we saw each other weekends, evenings and mornings, but as we had such different tastes when it came to events, music and even tv we often didn’t do the same things at the same time. Looking back, this is where things began to go wrong.
Towards the end of 2016 I started to notice that she was becoming a lot more distant. All evening she would be glued to her phone messaging, to the point that even the kids were noticing it and asking her to be in the room with us rather than off in a different world. She carried on messaging, though, and withdrew from the family more and more. She’d increasingly make reference to one colleague in particular, though not for a second did I have any concerns.
You see, the colleague she referred to was an apprentice in her team. I’d not met him, but she’d shown me his picture and, without trying to be mean or bitter, he was not what you’d call a looker. He looked a lot like a thin Quasimodo, and he lived at home with his parents. He’d never had a girlfriend (nor done anything that you do with girls as a teenager), and was into computer games and zombie shows. Plus, you know, he was 19 and my wife (who I trusted with my life) was 35. And a mother of four. And married.
However, he kept coming up in conversations. She kept being on her phone. She became less available for chats through the day, and was often late home. Sometimes she’d tell me about work drinks, and only later reveal that only the two of them had turned up. Classic stuff now that I reflect on it, but I trusted her. Totally. Utterly. Completely. She would never cheat on me, and certainly not with what I considered to be a child.
Fast forward to January 2017. A new job for me had resulted in a tiring few months; we’d bought a new car (first time I’d ever bought a brand new motor), settled into slightly different working environments and I was on my first ever international work trip (Austin, Texas, in case you’re interested). She told me she was inviting him round while I was away for an evening to play computer games and watch a movie, and something just didn’t feel right. I couldn’t place my finger on it, but my hackles were raised.
When returned to the UK I decided to take her out for a date night. My mum was staying with us as she’d been helping look after the kids for a few days while my ex was at work (though my mum hadn’t been there when Quasimodo visited), so I took my ex out for food, drinks, bowling and arcade games. At the end of the evening, as we enjoyed a final drink, I leaned forward to her.
“I just want you to know,” I said, “that I love you, I’m in love with you and that I still really, really fancy you. I know it’s been 18 years, but I want to make sure you know that.”.
Her reply? “I’m really unhappy and think our marriage is in trouble.”
I’ve never felt what I felt at that moment. I couldn’t speak. I was confused. Hurt. Shocked. Pained. Dazed. Surprised. I didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t prepared.
Over the next few days I tried to unpick things with her. It turned out that she was feeling like we didn’t spend enough time together so were growing apart. I didn’t recognise that, but it didn’t matter whether or not I did. Without hesitation I tendered my resignation from all school governor boards, as a local councillor and never coached another football session. I loved the volunteering work I’d been doing, but knew that nothing I was doing or would ever do would be more important than my marriage. Without that, I wouldn’t work as a person.
It didn’t seem to help. She was still always on her phone, didn’t really want to talk to me to fix things and didn’t want to engage in conversations. I tried to talk. I tried to write. She conceded to reading what I wrote, but never answered any questions or came up with any solutions. I was lost and didn’t know what to do. And still, his name kept coming up in conversations.
After a week I confronted her. I asked her what was going on. I pointed out all the things I’d noticed about her and him; the talking, the time together, the constant messaging. I said that I thought she was in the midst of what I’d learned was called an emotional affair, even if it wasn’t a physical one, and that I wanted to do all I could to bring us back together. She wouldn’t show me her phone to prove there was nothing going on. She needed to think about everything, and wanted to take some time to do so.
The birthday of one of her other work friends was coming up, and they’d planned a Friday night out as a team. Her friend had said that she could stay over at her house, which was in a village a few miles away, so my ex was going to take Friday night and most of Saturday to reflect on things and decide what she wanted from the future.
I gave her my wedding ring; a small band of platinum that had not left my hand since the moment she put it on so many years before. I asked her to think things through, come home on Saturday and put it back on my finger. We could then move forward together and build a new phase of our lives.
It was Friday evening. I’d done the washing and mixed the Bolds. The kids went to bed after watching Rush Hour. My ex went to the pub. I knew she was there as some of her colleagues were tagging her in photos. Still, something felt wrong.
It got to 11.00pm. Her party ended. I knew it had ended as some of her work colleagues were posting “What a lovely evening, so glad everyone came out!” messages and tagging her in them. Still, something felt wrong.
I couldn’t shake it. I needed to do something. I was being eaten up by doubt, by fear, by anger, by suspicion. I tried to work out what to do, and remembered something I’d seen on tv just two days earlier. In an episode of Modern Family the mum uses Find My Phone to track down her daughter. I realised we had a family itunes account, and I could find her phone.
So I did. I felt terrible, I felt guilty, but I had to know, as something felt wrong
I saw a little blue dot appear on a map. It was moving from the pub she’d been to, along a main road. “Fine.” I thought, “Her friend lives a few miles away, so they’re probably just getting a bus.” The thought made sense and I cursed myself for being so distrusting.
Still, something felt wrong.
45 minutes later I looked again. The dot hadn’t moved. “Fine” I thought. “They’ve probably just found another pub to go to. Don’t know of any pubs there though…” I opened Google Maps. Had a look around. Noticed something. My stomach dropped.
Something was wrong.
I called her.
“Hi! Hope you had a nice evening! Just wondered how you were as it’s cold and I don’t want you falling in a river or something.”
“Yeah, was a lovely night! We just got back to my friend’s house and are deciding whether or not to have another drink.”
“Oh. Okay. So, can you just explain something to me then? I just want to clear something up. Please, please answer me honestly. If you’re at your friend’s house right now, how come your phone is at a Premier Inn in Maidstone?”
The phone went dead.
My heart broke.
She wouldn’t answer my calls. I got my dad to come round to sit with the kids and went to the hotel, but of course they wouldn’t let me in or even confirm that she was there. I stood outside, screaming for her, but of course she wouldn’t answer. I eventually gave up and started to drive home. She rang. She confessed. She told me they hadn’t slept together at the point I’d called her. They had since then. I nearly crashed as I couldn’t see through the tears, and ended up curled up in a foetal ball in my front garden trying to breathe.
My life had ended.
Over the next few days I got the truth. They’d been having an affair for three months. It’d started with conversations and chats, which led to a kiss at a bus stop, and progressed to far more than that in stairwells at work, store cupboards and filing rooms. And my own home, though they’d not slept together there. No, his cherry was popped in a grotty Premier Inn whilst my heart broke in the lobby. I’m sure they look back on that day with pride.
So, there you have it. The rest is history. Does it still hurt when I remember it? Yes. Does it hurt less every day that passes, every week, every month, every year? Also yes. The pain will never disappear, but it lessens all the time.
Could I have caught them sooner? In hindsight perhaps I could have, but I had complete, utter trust and faith in her. She would never do anything to hurt me; we were going to grow old together, see our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren grow and eventually find ourselves dancing at our golden wedding anniversary.
Or not, as the case may be.
People are different. Everyone is different. Just because she did this to me does not mean that every other woman I love will be able to or will do this to me. However, I will never be as naive again. I will never believe someone completely when they tell me that nothing is going on between them and the person they are messaging all evening, every evening. I will never willfully ignore so many signs in the belief that they’d never cheat on me. And I’ll never end up spending less time with my partner than they want.
I’ve learned what those signs are, how conversations can be hidden through private FB messages, Kik, WhatsApp and others. I’ve learned all this and more. I’ll never have the wool pulled over my eyes ever again.