Dear Mary: I'm heartbroken now my affair with a secret lover 30 years my junior is over
Q: I am a married man with a grown-up family and still living at home.
My wife and I are unofficially separated but we're on reasonably good terms. When I was about 50 years old, I made a monumental mistake - I started an affair with a girl almost 30 years my junior. She was quite a shy, reserved person and displayed a maturity beyond her years. She didn't socialise with her work colleagues which I thought was unusual, but seemed to like talking to me as we came from similar backgrounds.
Over the years in my job I had many opportunities to take advantage of vulnerable women and start affairs, but I always prided myself on being professional - that is until I met this girl.
I knew her through my work and as she worked close to where I worked we would often bump into each other and have a chat. This went on for about 18 months before we became involved. I never had an intention of starting an affair but somehow she seemed to look up to me, perhaps as a father figure. We enjoyed each other's company and did many things together. She liked doing things for me and she amazed me with her knowledge about everything. I obviously was flattered that such a young girl was paying me so much attention. I believe that I was her first serious relationship.
Many people would accuse us of having a sleazy sexual affair. That was not the case. We were the best of friends and she seemed to fill a void in my life. To me our friendship was the most important aspect of the affair.
Anyway, about two years ago, she met up with a person about her own age who was also an old school friend. The break up was traumatic for me. She promised to keep in touch by phone but unfortunately this failed to materialise. I was heartbroken and am still trying to come to terms with it. Perhaps she felt that a clean break was best but it would have been nice just to keep in touch. I understand that she wanted much more security than I could give her.
However, 23 years is a long time to have known someone and then to lose all contact with such a good friend. I think I may have experienced something that I had never experienced before - that magic four-letter word. As a result of the affair, I lost friends and some family members. Finally, I'm not looking for pity, I made a mistake and I'm not too proud of myself. Initially, in my naivety, I thought that no one would get hurt but that was not the case.
A: I accept that you are not looking for pity but this is quite a sad letter. You must now be somewhere in your 70s looking back on your life and asking 'what if?' I'm sure you loved this girl and no doubt she loved you but you will also have loved your wife (although perhaps not with the same intensity) and indeed your children. We love lots of people in our lives in all sorts of different ways, so it's not really true that you experienced love for the first time with her.
When we lose somebody we love, we go through a period of grieving which is what is happening right now to you. In some ways it is actually easier to cope with the pain of loss through death, particularly if the person that died had lived a long life. We then have all the rituals of a funeral service and the comfort of friends to help us cope.
However, when there is an ending of a relationship, particularly one that - for at least some of the time - had to be a hidden one, then there are no rituals to help people through. In the counselling room whenever a couple with a story similar to yours came to me, it was always difficult for the wife - who after all was the wronged person - to accept that the husband was grieving the loss of his affair.
You must have felt very alone when the relationship ended, and you will probably continue to feel like that for quite some time. There is also the knowledge that she is now with somebody else which is difficult for you because you miss what you had together.
The only comfort I can give you is that in time things will get easier, but of course the whole experience has changed your life.
I'm sure your letter will have given many people food for thought.
You can contact Mary O’Conor anonymously by visiting www.dearmary.ie or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or write c/o 27-32 Talbot St, Dublin 1.
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