'Like Ant, my husband left me for my best friend...'
As I saw Lisa Armstrong tweet of the agony she felt when she discovered her estranged husband, Ant McPartlin, had begun a relationship with her friend, tears began running down my cheeks.
It’s a pain I know only too well, as a few months ago, I found myself in that exact same situation.
Just as I imagine Lisa would have with Anne-Marie Corbett, the friend and personal assistant to McPartlin with whom he has since become romantically involved, I thought nothing of introducing Maria to my husband and inviting her into our home. We became fast friends, and I did not for one minute suspect that this friend of mine, my confidante, would end up entering into a relationship with my other half. She had been privy to my innermost thoughts and knew the intimacies of our marriage like no other; she knew that a betrayal of this magnitude — not to mention a total lack of regard for the ‘girl code’ that exists between women — would finish me.
Like any married couple, Mark and I had our fair share of ups and downs, magnified, perhaps, by the fact that I had uprooted my entire life from Italy, leaving my family, friends, home and job for a man I had met a year
earlier. I had arrived here, a madly-in-love newlywed, though struggled to fit in to this new country where I knew no one except my spouse. When we moved house, and I met Maria, I was thrilled — she lived next door and was happily married to an investment banker, raising their three children as a stay-at-home mum. She was exactly the woman I wanted to be when I grew up and, missing my sister back home, in her I felt I had found one. She was constantly round at our house, or I was at hers, helping her with the children or just hanging out. She truly felt like a member of the family.
At the start, Mark and I had a wonderful marriage. He was kind, loving and very attentive, and we were both willing to work through any issues that arose. Now I look back, I see that he became distant after the birth of our first child — but at the time I was so busy being a new mother to my little boy that I didn’t realise.
When our second child, a daughter, was born, Mark changed far more noticeably, withdrawing from me more and more. I just put it down to the fact that domesticity dampens most relationships and, busy with the children, I thought that things would pick up again between us. He no longer wanted to have sex, though, and it was when we went through long periods of abstinence that I became quite depressed. I believed it was all my fault, that I had become this mumsy type and was no longer attractive to him.
It was hurtful to admit out loud that my husband didn’t want me, and the only person I felt comfortable saying it to was Maria. She was constantly reassuring me and telling me that I was beautiful — she even used to joke that if she was attracted to women, she would be interested in me.
By this stage, Mark wouldn’t discuss our absent romantic life, and communication between us had broken down. He came home one day two years ago and announced that he wanted out, packed a bag and left.
Maria had moved out of her family home after discovering that her husband was cheating on her. What I didn’t know was that she had taken up with mine — something I only found out when a friend came over for coffee six months ago, and told me that Mark and Maria were seeing one another. She thought I knew, and was shocked to find that I didn’t, as apparently it was all anyone we knew had been talking about. How the breakdown of my marriage had suddenly become “hot gossip” was beyond me.
The betrayal hit hard, and I was in a bad way. I sank into a deep depression, and couldn’t see the wood for the trees. In many ways, losing Maria was worse than my marriage breaking down: it hurt so much that this woman, this person I had treated as a sister, who knew me inside out, would take such a step. Even though we were no longer together, she had known that I was still in love with Mark, and, with hindsight, I wonder if there was something going on there all along. Little exchanges between the two of them that I only ever thought of as friendliness now replay in my mind as much more.
To my mind there was never the slightest sign that the two most significant others in my life were together. In fact, I had no idea Maria was even seeing anyone; she had been so bitter about her marriage breakdown that most of our conversations were about that — including at dinner the week before I found out about her and Mark. I had spent the entire evening consoling her — looking back now, I feel like an idiot.
To add further upset to the mess of my broken marriage, my children, who called my friend Auntie Maria, had to find out that their dad was living with someone who felt like family. My worst fear is that they will get married. I cannot bear to think about it, or the idea of my children calling her mum.
I am in a new relationship now, but find it incredibly difficult to trust people. I also refuse to introduce any of my girlfriends to my new partner for fear of history repeating itself. I got over my marriage breaking down, but I truly do not think I will ever come to terms with Maria’s betrayal.
*As told to Raj Gill. Names have been changed.
Code Red: how can you spot the signals he's having an affair?
Lisa Armstrong has identified the moment she knew Ant McPartlin was having an affair, and who with (his PA, Anne-Marie Corbett): when she spotted pictures of him leaving the marital home with a packed lunch in a Tupperware container. OMG. Of course! No man is going to make his own packed lunch, never mind one packed in an airtight, appropriately-sized Tupperware container.
And no normal underpaid, overworked PA is going to volunteer to make her employer a packed lunch, unless said PA is a lot more personally involved than her contract stipulates.
It, therefore, follows that only a woman in a fever of early love, smitten with the caring warm-fuzzies (and also a desire to demonstrate just how easy she will make his life forever, if he lets her), makes a packed lunch for an able-bodied man.
It won’t be much consolation to her, but Lisa Armstrong has identified a ‘Code Red, Affair In Progress’ that many of us had not considered. The packed lunch is now officially one of those bang-to-rights giveaways, like the unexplained dinner-for-two receipt, or the jewellery box in the coat pocket when there are no birthdays or anniversaries on the horizon, and it makes you want to remind yourself, urgently, what all the others are. Just in case.
Never mind lipstick on the collar, here are the harder to spot signs that He’s playing away.
◊ He’s become shirt-tucked-in man. Who is tucking him in? He’s not tucking himself in, that’s for sure. He just looks a lot more put together generally (oddly since, you’re beginning to realise, he is getting dressed and undressed twice as frequently).
◊ He is “catching up” on Big Little Lies, or similar, in the manner of someone who is expecting to be discussing its merits later.
◊ He’s got a new haircut. Uh-oh. For years he’s been going to Manny over the newsagents and getting the €13 monstering. Now he’s got a serious haircut. This is not necessarily a Code Red, but if it involves a fashionable fringey bit and you find the receipt and it cost more than €50… it’s definitely in Code Red territory.
◊ He’s dyeing it. Either he’s dyeing it, or pathologically trimming the grey muff bits.
◊ Treating his phone like it’s a Tamagotchi, whose survival relies on body heat, and only ever charging his phone next to the bed.
◊ Having a lot of new words in his vocabulary which are a) new, and how does that happen if not by the rub-off principle?, and b) young person words. For example, “chilled” and “problematic” and, whereas he used to say “girls”, now he always says “women”.
◊ He was very happy to watch the whole royal wedding and slightly misty-eyed throughout, and also texting.
◊ He is taking vitamins.
◊ He has bought weights. Not only that (because he has bought weights before), but he is using them, and in front of the mirror.
◊ He has taken up Pilates or kick-boxing or something, which he may well have done, but it’s also two hours of being absolutely not available on the dog and bone (what he now calls it).
◊ It turns out he is familiar with a route through a part of town that to your certain knowledge he has never been to, and he’s whipping down rat-runs without satnav, like a local.
◊ He has been murmuring for years about organising a uni reunion with his uni mates and now he’s done it and it’s in Hamburg, over four nights. No partners. (Not so) funny that.
◊ He seems to know an awful lot about Love Island.