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My illicit joy of sext

WOULD I be on the brink of having an affair if it weren't for the little apparatus that I keep in my pocket?

I don't think so. Sure, I've seen The Ice Storm, read John Updike; people cheated on each other before they could slip instant messages -- and pictures -- to one another, but I don't know how they managed. And I know the whole Rebecca Loos-David Beckham alleged sexting thing reeked of sleaze, but that was then and this is now.

My afternoons are not lazy with opportunity, my evenings are not filled with parties that drag on into the kind of flirtation caused by too many drinks. Maybe the mobile phone is the new martini.

Now, the man I want to sleep with and I can both be home, with our children safe in their beds, watching movies on our couches with our spouses snuggled up beside us, while we wait for that vibration signaling new email. It sits there waiting until the spouse gets up to use the bathroom, and we slide out the phone with eager fingers and devour it: pithy, suggestive, tantalising. Then, despite our best intentions to wait to respond, we find a way to sneak off and fire back a perfect retort.

Debauchery

This flirtation might never have occurred without the existence of email, and my smart phone, which makes checking it easy. It is possible to banter coyly on the sidelines of the football field or during a rare adults-only party, but in my circle of good parents there is no soft slide into debauchery.

Drinks are limited to two, drugs are non-existent and marriages are apparently solid. All the sordid impulses get pushed online, where the anonymity of email gives you the courage to write something shocking. And when you add in the convenience of that slim little rectangle, with its near-instant gratification, things can ramp up.

I met the object of my desire when our older children started creche together. Our children sat next to each other and became friends, and at our first gathering, I remember scrambling desperately for a pen to get his number and schedule a play date. My interest was maternal, but emotions began to shift. At a birthday party, I hugged him hello and found myself thinking about sex.

The crush lingered for a while; he seemed content in his marriage. He was an attentive father and whatever I thought I spied in his amused eyes must have been my imagination. But the day he and his family came to my oldest child's birthday party, I felt his eyes on me.

That night I dreamed of standing before him and longing for him to kiss me with an intensity I hadn't felt in years. I found an excuse to email him: a jacket in the living room. Perhaps it was theirs? I wanted him to get back to me.

He emailed promptly. The jacket wasn't his child's. But perhaps I'd like to meet for coffee? Our hands barely grazed each other that day, but online, the notes grew friendlier and, eventually, hungrier, each message a small piece of kindling on the fire. That was less than a month ago, and here we are on this precipice; cheaters in text, if not yet in deed.

There's nothing wrong with my marriage. Nothing, other than the fact that it's 10 years old. My husband is handsome, supportive, loves his children immensely, and sex, on the rare occasions we have it, is great. But most nights he works, and I fall asleep on the couch, and the thrill of the unfamiliar is electric. I thought 10 years of pregnancy, nursing, waking up in the middle of the night, being endlessly patient, managing school parties had turned me into a good person, the kind who didn't do these things. But now that the children are older, I realise maybe it wasn't morality that kept me in check; maybe it was exhaustion.

Now I swing back and forth between hoping our connection will fizzle out, and being terrified of losing the euphoria I feel. I tried to go cold turkey recently spending the day alone in the house with my two-year-old, but I found myself at 4.30pm with a beer in the kitchen firing off a message to him: "Jesus Christ, what have you done to me? I'm having withdrawals!" My finger hesitated before tapping the send key, and immediately I wanted to take it back. But when the phone vibrated on the kitchen counter I nearly wept with relief.

Sleep

I have begun to sleep with the phone on the bedside table at nights, listening, even as I sleep, for the noise of an incoming message. When I hear that sound, it wakes me, and I check it, usually to be disappointed by a mass-message from a toy store. I am constantly hopping back and forth from different mailboxes, ensuring I have deleted everything incriminating. Just one message could unravel the whole illicit conversation.

Now we've pushed it one step further, into dirty pictures territory. The other night, I was sitting on the couch across from my husband and I opened my email. What I saw sent my fingers scrambling for the delete button. Even a grown man is not immune to the temptation of the camera.

Our mobiles can only take us so far. As the stakes get higher, our messages have gotten more pragmatic. I don't know how long we can keep this going, or what happens next. Maybe it's only the beginning. Or maybe we've had all we need.

The author's name has been changed


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