Eyes forward: rebuilding life after an affair
Posted On April 20, 2020
Nothing changed dramatically in me after I sent that calm ending message to X. When I woke up the next morning, I was not full of serene hope and self possession. I felt anxious and nervy and broken.
But something had subtly altered, all the same. I had proof of this, real proof, which I latched on to: over the next few days my smartwatch showed me that my resting heart rate was lowering, day by day, now that it was no longer forced out of rhythm by the spikes of anxiety when I spoke to X, or of pointless hope when I saw his text messages.
I began to remember little things that I had enjoyed about being alive. I suddenly found that I could read more than a paragraph in one go, and I could concentrate on more than ten minutes of a film.
I still felt draped in suffocating sadness all the time and my eyes when I met them in the mirror were still sunken and dark, but I no longer looked feverish or mad. I just looked like what I was: a woman in her mid-30s who had made an awful lot of very bad decisions and been very very stupid.
My husband could see the changes in me. He knew that I had ended things with X, and he told me that he could see I was serious, that things really were over, and now, he said, he was in turmoil.
He loved me, he said, of course he did. He had loved me for as long as he had known me, and of course he wanted me. But he could not, would never, get past what I had done – all the selfish and corrosive damage I had wrought over the summer.
Again and again, we had the same conversation, circling back to its inevitable bleak conclusion where I would beg for another chance and he would refuse. It was pointless and tragic.
After the worst of these arguments – when my younger children saw us fighting, and the fear in their eyes filled me with shame – I gave up and backed off, defeated. He is not a man who makes decisions lightly, and I knew I had lost him.
We quickly learned to interact with a new, brittle politeness, and we kept to safe topics.
Meanwhile, he continued to go on dates with the new woman. She thought he was wonderful. She could not believe she had found him after a string of bad men who had been cruel to her. She could not believe her luck and she told him so, constantly. She was guileless, a good person, and she had not done him any wrong. In all of those ways, she had already beaten me.
When my husband dropped my daughter at my house and headed out – handsome in clothes we had bought together, wearing aftershave I had chosen – to meet her for dinner, or for a walk, or to go to the cinema, or for drinks, I wanted to die.
But he did not rub my nose in any of it, not ever. If I wanted to talk to him about anything he would wait and talk to me, patiently, not checking his watch – he never showed me that he was putting someone else first, but of course then he would leave, because it was not me that he wanted to spend his free time with. He would drive off, and I would sit in my rented house which would never be my home and I would feel, again, like I wanted to die.
I knew that I had to get a grip. Stop feeling this ridiculous infantile self-pity and sort myself out, bounce back. I knew that I deserved every bit of how I felt.
Everyone had already been kinder to me than I deserved – particularly my family, to whom I’d made myself unrecognisable. And at the heart of everything, I slowly realised that what I wanted, more than anything, was for my husband to be happy. I did. I really really did.
It was just going to take a very, very fucking long time for me to fully accept that he would be happier without me.