Should I tell his wife about our affair?
Published 11/09/2016 | 02:30
I read Bridget Jones's Diary in late August 1997. I'd just turned 27. In early September, I started dating a guy who, a week later in his Notting Hill pad, tried hard to take all my clothes - and quite small pants - off.
In November, he invited me to Paris. In December, he dumped me. I spent Christmas on a camp bed in my aunt and uncle's box room downing vodka. How very "Bridget".
It's a story that, as I turn 46, I feel I could be looking back on - almost fondly - as part of growing up. Except it isn't. Turns out there wasn't anything progressive about it, even less something to think fondly about, because there was way too much more of the same to come. Not just for me, but for very many now middle-aged women who'll see real tragedy, hardly comedy, in Bridget.
In the new Bridget film, we find her in her 40s and, improbably, expecting her first baby. I am also now in my 40s, but single, childless and lonely after beginning an affair with a married man.
We'd had a relationship in the late 90s, when he was unattached. He ditched me, and I was crushed when, a couple of months later, I spotted him in a pub deep in conversation with a blonde, and realised that I'd been replaced.
Some 10 years later, in 2009, I bumped into him in the street; the blonde was now his wife and mother of his three children. He offered me his number. I didn't use it for 18 months, but one night, in the midst of another painful break-up, I texted him. We met for a drink. He said he'd never forgotten me. He leaned across the pub table and kissed me, setting my heart thumping.
The next day, we had a long talk on the phone. He told me the evening had not been a "one-off", but he wasn't leaving his family, so I would be his secret. I said that was fine. Suddenly, I was up to my neck in an affair.
It continued, sporadically, for four years, his family none the wiser. It was always snatched time together: an hour at my flat before he got the last train home, an afternoon while his wife was away with the kids.
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I was often staggered by his indiscretion - we once had a phone conversation where she was in earshot and I could hear her talking. I sometimes wondered if she knew and was turning a blind eye. When I suggested this, he laughed grimly and said that if she ever found out, he'd lose everything.
I learnt that he loved his wife, but was terrified of her. He is self-employed and they are reliant on her income; she is driven, highly competent and conscious of appearances. I suppose I care less about such things and tapped into some other side to him.
He described his need for me as "visceral". "I can't get you out of my system," he'd say. I found it agonising. When I was with him, I felt special, desirable, high on attention - but as soon as he left, going home after we'd finished in bed, more like a cheap tart.
All the while, he was a devoted father and husband, taking his wife away for anniversary weekends. I was astonished at his ability to cheat on her, with no apparent pangs of conscience, but clearly, "monogamy" of his type still gives certain key benefits - kids, nice home, regular partner - to all but the third party.
He told me he didn't want to "ruin my life" with our affair. It's a bit late for that, I thought. You and your like already have. I'm well over 40; I may never have my own family and my life is dominated by the many harsh personal and practical realities of remaining single.
I've long been exploited by men I was desperate to please. This behaviour has its origins in my childhood. Psychologically, I was made vulnerable by the joshing and boisterous behaviours of my imposing older brothers and father. My mother did not protect me as I needed. I developed a pattern of insecure attachment, in my case placing high emphasis on external show for validation. I call this my "performing seal" persona.
Culturally, the sexual permissiveness of the 1960s - made possible by the Pill - is a major cause of my situation. Before then, the danger of unwanted pregnancy had ensured a woman withheld sex from a man until she got him to commit.
By the time I reached adulthood, men could get sexual intercourse with unprecedented ease, and women provided it freely. For some, this has turned out well, but "performing seals" get the wrong sort of male attention: erotic interest without love, responsibility or sanction.
I never got loving commitment as an equal bargain and was casually dismissed when I asked for it. Like Bridget, I did not attract "Steady Eddies". As I moved through my thirties, I was angry, traumatised and no longer confident about pursuing relationships with men. What's more, the "single, sane and sober" men - my contemporaneous tribe - increasingly were not around. For decades, there haven't been enough degree-educated men for degree-educated women like me.
Gradually, I saw less of my married man. In his arrogance,he assumed I'd always play along and keep quiet. But I began to ask myself, what if I didn't?
One day, we had an argument and I told him I felt like telling his wife what was going on. He went berserk, and started turning up at my flat uninvited and making threatening phone calls. So was it all right for him to hurt me in various ways, but not the other way around? I was amazed he thought this power imbalance just.
We did not speak again for a long time, but then he started calling again last summer. We got talking, and this led to more casual sex.
My dilemma is whether to shop this man to his wife. The prospect of writing her a letter - simple, time and date facts, nothing nasty or rude - is much alive in my mind.
This isn't because I want him for myself, but to call him to moral account for how his past actions contributed to ruining my life.
I am all too aware of the harm I could cause my lover's children and the distress his wife would suffer. You may also be thinking that I should be examining my own moral standing for being party to adultery. As the daughter of a vicar, I have some background in taking social and personal morality seriously.
I have adopted as a creed JB Priestley's 1945 play An Inspector Calls, which tells of a day of reckoning for one powerful family, the Birlings. They all have variously known a vulnerable young woman, Eva Smith, that day dead by suicide. The Inspector's purpose is to show the Birling family the cumulative effects of their individual behaviours in Eva's life. Individually, collectively, the Birlings' actions are responsible for deepening Eva's vulnerability to the point of hopelessness.
In an era of strong women, it's not fashionable to admit that, like Eva Smith - and, yes, dear Bridget - I am now very vulnerable. By revealing my affair, I want to express my rage at this man and get some atonement for all the suffering I have endured, and continue to endure, by being a tool for the pleasure of men in an inequitable world.
The married man is the last in a long line of men who have left me high and dry. Why should he have his cake and eat it, too?