Why do happily married women cheat? Why did I do it?

The more I thought about the kind of hot, bewildering insanity that encompassed me when I became embroiled with X, the more I could not understand it. Even as the months progressed and I moved further away from it, I was obsessed with what I had done and what I had become during its unfolding – a version of me that no one recognised.

I had bullishly insisted at the time that I was finally revealing the true version of me, but I knew in my heart that this was not the case. To settle into a true version of me would have felt calming and I’d have felt inner peace, not the deep terrifying wrongness that gripped me when I was alone and waiting for X.

I came to all my realisations slowly during that time, like a drunk person. It was a strange and horrible sensation, a feeling of being taken over, but at the time I mistook it for the kind of love I had never felt before. It is, apparently, an easy mistake to make.

Even as I heard myself say it and even as I almost believed it to be true, I was embarrassed by the basic cliche of that statement. And I wasn’t so far gone as to not see its incongruity.

If true love had picked now to visit, why had it done so in favour of a man who had already cheated on his wife and family, who lied to me in obvious ways, who could be cold and distant on a whim, who made me feel idiotic for asking for the most basic reassurance? A hilariously vain man, obsessed with his hair and figure, who feigned an intelligent interest in things that I was passionate about but could not sustain that pretence for long enough even to finish a conversation? Love would surely not pick such a person to narrow its gaze upon. Surely not.

I would tell myself this but my brain would pipe up with the mantra “well, you see something no one else sees”, and I would repeat this back to anyone who asked me about it, wincing as I heard the words I’d derided over the years when I’d heard them from friends as they ricocheted between wildly unsuitable men. I did not, in the final analysis, believe what I was saying.

And yet, the madness, the compulsion, they were real. They were the strongest feelings I had felt in a very long time and as such, they were addictive. They were like being in someone else’s head, or a book or a film. And as I moved further past the mania of having an affair, I became preoccupied with the version of me that I had been when I was in it.

I recalled with shame how often I had brushed off my friends when they talked of the torture of their love affairs – I would roll my eyes and urge them to apply some basic logic and ditch whatever unimpressive arsehole was currently telling them obvious lies. I had had no real compassion, and now I had felt what they had felt, I realised how utterly powerless they had been to it and I was embarrassed.

All around me, now, I saw and spoke to women in the same boat that I had been in. Intelligent, sparky, independent, wonderful women, crying over WhatsApp threads and desperately picking over the hidden meanings between the lines of brusquely dismissive emails.

“It’s different for us,” was everyone’s refrain. “He’s got this issue, or that one, to sort out, but we’re going to be happy. He’s said we’re special.”

That fucking word, special. There is a Reverend and the Makers song, “He Said He Loved Me”, which mockingly repeats it, along with the line “He said he loved me, he said he needs me/He doesn’t love me, he doesn’t need me”. It’s a song about teenage relationships but it summed up so acutely the way every woman I knew or read about seemed to feel about a particular type of man in a particular type of relationship.

The universal application of those particular types of feelings, the particular words that elicit them, the particular life stage in which women become vulnerable to them. It fascinated and horrified me.

This is what I came eventually to think, from my own experience and from talking endlessly with my friends about theirs: That there are times in a woman’s life when we are more vulnerable, when our hearts are closer to the surface, our emotions more easily accessed.

Perhaps we have just had a big birthday, or realised in some other way that we are no longer young, or our children have left home or our marriage is no longer recognisable as the strong flourishing structure that once sustained us.

Perhaps we have remembered an event from our teens or twenties that has brought home to us how far we are from that sense of adventure we once thought we would always have.

Perhaps our hormones are beginning to drag us in directions that we forgot they had the power to choose.

But something has changed and with it, without really noticing, we also change.

And I think there is something in that change which in turn makes us susceptible to a certain type of approach, a banter, a charm, that would have left us cold and dismissive in an earlier, more logical, calmer time.

That there can be something newly and irresistibly seductive in being told that we are special, that we are different, that we are someone’s rescuer; in being told that we are in some way superior to their spouse or partner or the other people they are entangled with; that we could be responsible for creating an entirely different, other, happier life for that person, for ourselves.

That the doomed sensation of time running out, of missed opportunities, can inspire a uncharacteristic arrogance in us that makes us believe the kind of obvious hype that we would previously have jeered at.

And then that sensation is what keeps us there because at the heart of it all, in the background of everything, we start to wonder: will this be the last chance? Have I ever felt like this before? Is this the last time I will feel a love like this?

I think that it’s a perfect and a very sad storm and I think that it can happen to anyone. I wish I hadn’t judged it.

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