What happens after you have an affair?

Edie* had a three month affair behind her husband's back

‘I’m not the kind of girl who has affairs. I used to believe that people were uncomplicated; life is that clean-cut. You were the good wife or the mistress, nothing existed in between. Will* and I had been together for ten years when it happened. We’ve always been mad about each other – the lovable pissheads who met at university. He works for an NGO; I make us banana bread on Saturdays; we volunteer at a homeless shelter and grow our own veg.

Where do lies and covertly bought lingerie fit into that picture?

It’s been two years since my affair with Rob* ended, but he lingered. Even when we moved house (Will’s idea – a ‘fresh start’), he came with us – the unacknowledged presence over our morning coffee and lying between us in bed each night.

Why did I do it? I’m still figuring that out.

I was flattered by the attentions of an older man, had no career to speak of, was uneasy at entering my thirties and all the expectations that brings, I was horny… Does it really matter, though?

You can tell yourself anything to justify what you want. It doesn’t change the outcome. Nothing can prepare you for the fallout of an affair.

After the harsh words and hot tears subside, there’s a moment where you look at the person you love, at the resignation in their eyes, and realise that even if they’ve forgiven you, they’ll always be a little bit damaged. And that guilt will haunt you. At first, I didn’t feel remorseful when I was with Rob; I was too caught up in the immediacy of it all. In the weeks and months that followed, regret was always accompanied by longing. I craved it all: the tickle of Rob’s beard, his smell – it wasn’t sophisticated (Lynx and tobacco), but it was different. And after spending a third of your life with the same person, novelty is a hard drug to kick. It took a long time, but I now know it wasn’t Rob I was missing, it was that feeling of being utterly in the moment. No stressing about my next move professionally or the right time to have a baby – just being.

Will knew I wasn’t over the affair and tried to understand, to give me space to disentangle, but there were nights when I could hear him crying himself to sleep and it was the most crushing thing in the world. Last year, he had a bad spell of mental illness. He’s been suffering from depression for years, but this time he was crippled by anxiety, too. He assures me it’s all chemical, and I nod and kid myself that I’m not responsible for the devastation.

Things have been better lately. I quit my job to go freelance six months ago and that physical distance from Rob has massively improved my relationship with Will, although trust will always be an issue. In the early days, he used to check my emails when he thought I was asleep. I don’t blame him – loss of privacy is a small price to pay for what I did. I hope he’s stopped now, but I’ll never ask. My career has taken off. Will is so proud.

Me? My success feels tainted – dirty and undeserved. I’ve somehow profited from hurting the person I love most in the world.

A friend recently asked whether we had closure. I used to believe in the concept – that if you intellectualise something enough, read a few self-help books, go on a Spartan retreat and do some chanting, you’ll have exorcised your demons and can move on. But no amount of affirmations or rituals will neatly process your emotions. You’re not over something until you’re over it. The wounds caused by an affair never fully heal, they simply became part of an ongoing shared narrative.

I no longer believe in absolutes. Even good wives can cause pain. I’m not the kind of girl who has affairs, but I did. Because, like life, I’m complicated.

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