‘Women who cheat’. A Google search produces a wealth of articles claiming to explain why women two-time. Some cite boredom, others a bad or non-existent sex life; most, however, tend to put female infidelity down to loneliness. There must be a lot of lonely women out there, since research suggests that female infidelity is on the rise. But isn’t blaming females’ ‘unfulfilled emotional needs’ just a bit cliche?
Speaking from personal experience, I say yes. I would go as far as arguing that men and women cheat for exactly the same reason, and it has little to do with sex or loneliness and everything to do with ego.
When I married my first proper boyfriend James at the tender age of 22, I was the happiest girl alive. If you’d told me then that seven years and two children later we would be on the brink of divorce, I would have been devastated.
I had always presumed that if my marriage got into trouble, it would be because my husband would leave me for someone else. It never occurred to me that I might be the one to be unfaithful.
His name was Ricky, and this part is cliched: he was my boss. Ten years older than me, good looking if you like the floppy haired, pointy shoe’d kind of look. Confident, witty and charming, you could have bet good money that he was the cool kid that all the girls had fancied at school .
So picture the scene: I had impressed at interview and somehow managed to blag a job I was completely under-qualified for. Having spent the best part of two years as a stay-at-home mum, living in baggy clothes with messy hair and no makeup, I had also lost all sense of a professional identity. My self esteem, which had never been particularly high anyway, was fragile.
My crush on Ricky started the moment I met him. Save for a bit of flirtatious banter on his part I would never have suspected he would be interested in me, until one evening when it was just the two of us working late at the office, he made a move and we ended up kissing. Over the course of a few months, our ‘flirtation’ progressed into a full blown affair. At the time I thought I was in love with him, but in hindsight, I was in love with the idea that someone I perceived to be out of my league found me attractive.
And what of my marriage? Well, I would be lying if I said it was in a perfect state when the affair started, but then – whose marriage is? As time went on our relationship began to deteriorate, in part due to other factors, such as the stress of learning that our son was autistic. But by that point, I already had thoughts of someone else filling my head. Ultimately, I was not driven to cheat through unhappiness or loneliness in my marriage, and I don’t believe Ricky was either. The primary motivator for both of us was the ego boost we gave each other.
He might have been a teen heart throb once, but Ricky’s wife of fifteen years had stopped viewing him that way, and he was the type of man that needed to be looked up to. He seemed to have a constant need to be flanked by his gang of ‘mates’, who, I couldn’t help but notice, were all a little less good-looking and successful than he was. At work, it was widely accepted that he was second in command to his business partner Dom, whose more dominant character simply commanded more respect from the staff. That didn’t sit well with him at all, I could tell: this was a man who was being emasculated in all areas of his life. He needed me to prop up his self-esteem, just as I needed him to do the same. Our respective home and sex lives were secondary factors.
People have since asked me if I felt guilty, and I wish I could say that I did. But the fact is I was too intoxicated by Ricky’s attention to care. Bizarrely, in my head I managed to twist his sexual attraction towards me into some sort of professional accolade, so the affair served to boost my confidence in my job role, too. The knowledge that I was sleeping with the boss gave me an undeserved sense of superiority, which he artfully encouraged by feeding me titbits of confidential information, ensuring my continued adoration.
After the affair came out, My husband and I separated for six months and he began divorce proceedings whilst I embarked upon life as a single mother. It might seem odd, but I couldn’t bring myself to beg for forgiveness. After all, I reasoned, how much could I really love James if I was prepared to cheat?
It was not until I had to face Christmas on my own that it really hit me what I had done. Luckily for me, my husband broke down and admitted he didn’t want to divorce me but believing I no longer wanted him, he didn’t think he had any other choice. We decided to give things another go, and when I think now just how close came to throwing my life away in pursuit of hollow flattery, it makes me shudder.
There is a reason why affairs rarely result in successful relationships: they are built on foundations which are ultimately self-serving. Once that initial thrill wears off, most tend to lose their appeal. That said, they are a fact of life, something that is likely to affect most of us at some point. In my mind, there is no such thing as an ‘insecure person’ – only people that, for various reasons, experience periods of insecurity in their lives, and this is when they become more vulnerable to temptation. I am glad that I have realised this in hindsight, with my marriage still intact, and I am thankful every day that my husband was able to accept this weakness on my part, and to forgive and forget.
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