Suddenly, I was cheating on my husband

Oh, yeah, no. Of COURSE it wasn’t harmless. Of COURSE I wasn’t making a fun new friend. Of COURSE, X and I were going to have an affair. It was so pathetically obvious, it now seems, to everyone but me. Certainly it was obvious to him – he knew it was going to happen.

And after the excruciating joke of that first dinner party, with his confused wife and my genial but baffled husband doing their best to keep up with a stream of obviously deeply-involved in-jokes from X and me, even I started gradually to become aware that my level of interest in X was bordering on unwholesome and wrong.

I knew obscurely that even as it stood, our friendship was a threat to the life I had, that HE was a threat to the life I had. I did know that, on some level. I could not, however, make myself care. Not then.

In my whole life, I had never even looked at another man outside of a relationship I was in. Not during the years I spent with my eldest daughter’s father, even though he was so cruel to me and what I felt for him was in the end not love but fear. Not at any point during my marriage.

I had male friends, but not close ones; we had plenty of couples as friends, but always when socialising we tended to pair off neatly by gender, with no messy blurred lines, no suspicious looks or meaningful hugs.

If I gave it any consideration at all I thought that marital cheats were all of a lazy, selfish type, a type far beneath me, a shortsighted unthinking type unable to see that the potential thrill of an illicit encounter can never be worth the pain it risks causing to others, or the knowledge of its own tawdriness. I was entirely dismissive of adultery as a concept. I gave it zero headspace. It was nothing to do with me. And yet. And yet.

The texts were what did it, in the end. Fatal, that apparently inevitable move from discrete weekday emails in my office inbox to the intrusive thrill of the little green box swooping onto a phone screen – in the evening, in the early morning, at weekends. Such a teenage and basic cliche.

The texts were well-written paragraphs of apparently intelligent discourse, threaded with intent. It was like a game, the back-and-forth, and I was so good at it. He was so good at it. I was addicted. I was arrogant.

I told myself that words on an iPhone screen didn’t matter, couldn’t matter, when I still fell asleep holding my husband’s hand and woke up and made us both breakfast and snuggled in his lap while we read the papers. The texts were just a game, a hobby really, it was the sort of thing everyone did probably, it was fine. It was fine.

There is one Sunday morning that I remember very clearly. I had been running. The sun was shining through the glass roof of my kitchen and I basked like a cat in its warmth, reading the shiny coloured parts of the newspaper as I always do, drinking coffee as I always do, my husband opposite me, as always. Music playing, as always.

I looked at my watch and I saw that it was almost lunch time; a whole morning had passed in the time it had taken us both to get up lazily, go for a run, have a shower, make a complicated breakfast involving avocado and eggs. The rest of the day was ours and we had no plans. It should have been perfect.

I looked at my watch, then, and it occurred to me that I had not heard from X that day. I remembered that I had sent a text the day before and he had not, as yet, replied. For the first time, I felt a curl of disappointed pique inside me, and the thought occurred to me that if he did not send me a text that day then the day would not, in fact, be perfect.

I think that that was when I knew. Fatal.

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