Wendy Plump talks to about her controversial memoir of infidelity
Plump has experienced life as both the cheater and the cheatee; the scorned wife and the other woman. In 18 years of marriage she conducted four affairs, three early on before she had children. Her husband Bill, in turn, betrayed her with several women.
Their marriage collapsed in 2005 when Wendy discovered that Bill had fathered a child with his mistress of 10 years – a woman who lived with her baby just a mile away from their family home in Pennsylvania.
Now in a beautifully crafted memoir, Plump recounts the whirlpool of infidelity that sucked her away from her marriage vows, plunging her into a world of deceit, duplicity and betrayal – a misery only mitigated by the embrace and passion of each successive lover.
Written with extraordinary authenticity, Plump's book is not meant as atonement for her infidelity. She does not condone adultery or seek forgiveness from the reader. She instead paints a searing account of the highs and lows of having an affair, laying out in stark reality what it really feels like to cheat – that heady rush of initial infatuation; the thrill and urgency of tumbling into bed with someone new; the pain of lying next to your spouse while longing to be in the arms of your lover; the wearying toll and drudgery of spinning lie after lie.
"An affair is not fun. It is like a bad habit," Plump writes in Vow: A Memoir of Marriage (And other Affairs). "It is like addiction. You do it all on the sly, and you steal from your own cupboards to cover the cost."
Plump also writes about the pain of discovery – the shock wave that blows your life apart when you realise that the spouse that you loved and trusted has been sleeping around. "I have visited both poles of infidelity," she says of her unique double perspective, "and found the terra not so very incognita at either end."
Plump began her first affair in 1988 with the brother of a friend's fiancé, a man with a come-hither smile and rugged good looks. Despite being in love with her husband, Plump could not resist the lure of this beautiful man, and so one night, drunk on vodka and infused with want, she found herself rolling around in a grassy field with this Errol Flynn lookalike named Tommy.
With Bill away on frequent business trips, Plump slipped easily into the complicated rhythms of a full-on affair. In between deadlines for her newspaper job and trips to the supermarket, she slipped away for afternoon trysts in Tommy's bachelor pad. She calculated the time it would take before Bill came home, showered in haste to remove his scent, and told lies about her day over dinner with her husband.
The passion with Tommy was electric, Plump says, and the lure magnetic, but after months of duplicity and lying, a sense of misery prevailed.
"Affairs take a toll," she told the Irish Independent. "It is almost as if the whole day becomes how to accommodate your adultery. It is exhausting."
Plump wanted to stop – and needed to stop – but didn't know how. And so, one afternoon, she simply came clean.
"I don't regret revealing [the affair with Tommy] because I really did love my husband and I recognised my behaviour as ruinous and wrong and I wanted to stop," Plump said. "But I think I also was hoping that revealing this to him would somehow awaken our passion all over again and bring us closer."
Bill, understandably, was furious. He vented and screamed and hid out in his room in a silent fury. Over the course of several hollow-eyed months he finally came around, but the seed of mistrust was already sown. He never again spoke of Wendy's affairs but in due course would begin his own, ultimately leading to his secret family and the demise of the couple's marriage.
Two years after Tommy, Plump would meet Steven, a brawny green-eyed fisherman with a wife and kids of his own. Less than a year later, in the spring of 1991, came Terry. The affairs were "half miserable, half bliss".
"What I wanted most," Plump writes, "was the drug and energy of passion, of new intimacy.
"I didn't have affairs because I was miserable or because my husband was mistreating me," she told the Irish Independent. "I had affairs because I loved the rush of it. I did still love my husband but I missed the passion."
In 1994, Plump uncovered her husband's first affair – a tryst with an exotic dancer named Ann. But despite her own anger and shock, Plump was able to understand why her husband might have strayed, which in turn, helped her forgive him.
"It is a terrible shock to find out that your spouse has cheated on you," she said. "The difference is that I was so quick to forgive him. That's the difference that my affairs made – that I was able to understand the behaviour, the motivation."
But when a friend came to her house one morning in January 2005 to tell her that Bill had fathered a son with his longtime girlfriend, the strain was too much. It was, she writes, "one of those affairs that shock the whole pond and changes all the life forms in it."
Despite her own infidelity, Plump had never wanted to end her marriage – "I may have strayed," she writes. "I would never have left."
But in the aftermath of discovering Bill's double life, she felt she had no choice. The couple divorced, Bill moved across town to be with his mistress, and Wendy and her two boys lost their savings and their home.
But Plump still maintains that affairs are one of the few disasters in our lives that can be gotten over, with a lot of time, kindness and an honest effort at forgiveness. "You can forgive infidelity and get past it," she said. "Divorce is so much worse than infidelity. I have been through both at this point and the loss from divorce, particularly on your children, is far worse."
Now, eight years on from the dissolution of her marriage, Plump is in a happy monogamous relationship with an old high school friend named Zane. She sees her book, not as an advice guide, but as a source of comfort – "a hand across the divide" – to anybody affected by an affair.
"It is a very lonely place to be having an affair," she said. "You are so wrong and you know it. And if you are on the other side, it is also a tremendously lonely place to be because the person who you've invested all your love and energy in has just betrayed you horribly."
Looking back, Plump is rueful about the years of yearning and regret and the realisation that so much precious time was lost to infidelity. "Of all the things there are to do on the planet," she writes, "my husband and I picked one hell of a pastime."