Natasha Green’s affair began as a thrilling distraction from her ailing marriage. But as the months past, she realized she couldn’t have both…
Words by Natasha Green
At last I had cracked it. By the end of my tempestuous heartbroken twenties, I’d finally found a kind, clever, funny man with a successful career and interesting friends, who loved me very much, and would be a good father to our children. I’d grown out of my silly infatuations with emotionally unavailable men and had chosen someone sensible and mature to be my life partner.
That was over a decade ago. And for most of those years, I would no more have deliberately jeopardized my marriage than have stepped out in front of a bus. I was not ‘in love’ with Hugh, this is something I had acknowledged to myself from the start. But I loved him, and I was committed to him and to our marriage. Time passed in a blur of domestic, social and professional activity. While he worked, I put my career on hold to be a stay-at-home mum to our children. We functioned well as a couple; we worked hard in our respective domains, we entertained, we organized family holidays with other couples and their children, and we had sex, although not as frequently as my husband would have liked.
Then my husband decided to take voluntary redundancy in order to write a book – but somehow the first chapter never materialized. By now, I’d gone back to work, but I knew that my salary alone wouldn’t be enough to keep us, and my husband seemed in denial both about our financial situation and about himself. He had promised and failed so many times to lose weight, get fit, write his book proposal, tidy his study (actually our living room), start growing vegetables and teach our son to ride his bike that, in the end, I simply stopped taking him seriously.
What I’d once told myself was a forgivable tendency to procrastinate now seemed infantile, delusional and, frankly, dishonest. It didn’t help that his congenital untidiness meant a rising of books, papers and unopened letters that spread out of his study and around the house, leaving me feeling as though I was drowning in someone else’s chaos.
Then there was the drinking. Sometimes I would wake up in the night and go downstairs to find him still slumped over the kitchen table, television blaring, another empty bottle of wine in front of him.
In the months and years to come, when I tried to locate the core of connection and intimacy in my marriage that told me ‘Here is where you belong,’ I found a sort of shocking emptiness. The physical pain when your partner is away, the safeness when you’re in his arms, the animal part of you that just wants him to take you, the holding hands as you walk along the street, the kisses for no reason, the looking into each other’s eyes as your bodies connect; without these things, a marriage, it seems to me, is simply a more or less adequate childcare arrangement.
Not that I knew any of this when I began my affair, which felt like the stupidest, richest and most exciting thing I’d ever done in my life. I’d known Aiden, a former work colleague, for three years when we met for a drink one night and ended up making out in the street at one in the morning. When I woke up the next day, I was consumed not by guilt but by the desire to see him again. I texted him, and his return message sent a jolt of electricity directly to my groin. At our next meeting it became obvious to both of us that sex was a simple inevitably, and we agreed to cut short our dangerous liaison.
A month went by. I seriously considered voluntary work as a way of re-channeling my libidinous energies. But I couldn’t get Aiden out of my head and, in the end, I contacted him again. We met one late summer night at a wine bar on the Embankment in London and, as darkness fell, he kissed me. I uttered the fateful words, ‘I love you.’ It was only our third date and, mortified, I took them back right away, but looking back I see that they were, and remain, fundamentally true.
Over the course of the next year we saw each other perhaps once every ten days and exchanged hundreds of chatty, erotic, loved-up and miserable emails and texts. My exciting new job gave me plenty of alibis; on the evenings I saw Aidan I would be ‘attending a work function’ or ‘meeting a PR,’ although I would also use ‘dates with friends’ as an excuse. The rest of the time I divided, like any other working mother, between office, home and early morning visits to the gym – my children, then ten and six, were often taken to school and picked up by their stay-at-home dad. I vividly remember Aiden saying: ‘There can be no happy ending to this.’ By then we were deeply, irrevocably, in love, but I, too, could see no way out. How could I possibly leave my husband? I already foresaw his utter devastation. Then there were the children. When would divorce be bearable for them? When they were both safely dispatched to University? As I made these mental calculations, I couldn’t help but weep.
On the one hand, discovery was a catastrophe I shut my mind to. On the other, some part of me must have longed for it to be over; how else to explain the fact that I left my Blackberry, the same model as my husband’s, open at a damningly incriminating email? His subsequent fury and anguish were horrible to witness. I knew I had to give up Aiden and try to make a go of it with Hugh – for the sake of the children if nothing else – but if he’d told me then and there that he wanted a divorce, I would have felt intensely relieved.
As the child of a ‘broken home,’ I know that divorce was a survivable catastrophe, and I felt confident that we could both continue to be effective, loving parents. Yet perhaps the long hard path we trod over the subsequent months was necessary for both of us, to work through the rage, pain and final acceptance that our marriage was over. We called each other the worst names imaginable, we had sex in a desperate attempt to reconnect, and we talked and talked, until nothing I said could adequately explain my behaviour to my husband.
There were times when I feared for my safety, times when I loathed him and times when I was filled with pity and remorse, but as the months passed and our marriage counseling failed to fix us, there was also a slow, sure, sad recognition that I no longer loved my husband enough to stay married to him.
Four long, anguished months after I’d said goodbye to my lover, promising I would never see him again, my husband did an extraordinary thing. He contacted Aidan and told him that we were over, and that he, Aidan, was ‘welcome to me.’ That weekend was one of the most momentous of my life. I’d gone to stay in my mother’s empty flat for a couple of nights for some respite, and I remember walking alone through Regent’s Park and up Primrose Hill. Some of my intense wretchedness lifted; my instincts told me my marriage was over, but I also realised that I would survive with or without Aidan. It was a critical realisation that allowed me to keep faith with my decision. Then on the Monday, I got an email from Aidan describing Hugh’s phone call and suggesting we meet. The man I’d said goodbye to, I thought forever, was back in my life, and I was never going to let him go again.
My divorce was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and, four years on, I’m deeply sorry for the hurt I caused my ex. I worry, too, about the impact our separation had and will continue to have on my children. But I couldn’t have stayed married to my husband to make him happy, and I don’t regret my affair. How could I? It bought me Aidan. Some might call our relationship unconventional; we live in separate houses close to each other in London but spend oodles of time together as a couple and with my children. It’s an arrangement that suits us down to the ground, giving Aidan the space and solitude he needs, and me time to focus entirely on my children. In the end, I make no apologies for choosing life, love and survival over unhappiness and self-denial. Ultimately, it is what we all must do.