It’s so much worse than I thought. On top of what I knew about, there are three other loans. Ten thousand pounds of debt that I didn’t know about. I am finding it hard to breathe right now.
I’ve decided to confront her tonight. I alternate between being enraged at the level of disrespect she has continually shown me about money, sadness at the breach of trust, and complete apathy and disinterest in fixing it. Wanting out. To leave her to clean up this mess without relying on me busting a gut to keep pouring water into a bucket full of holes.
I tell myself to stay calm. Losing my cool will achieve nothing. Yet what will calmly asking for an explanation achieve? More lies? More promises to be broken in a year or two when she decides she fancies maxing out another credit card because she’s feeling unfulfilled or whatever fucking bullshit reason she will have lined up to simultaneously make me feel guilty and pass on taking any accountability for her own behaviour. I’m not interested. This is not what marriage is.
The guilt resulting from my own poor behaviour is always close at hand, ready to remind me that I don’t necessarily occupy a moral high ground. And in terms of being emotionally unfaithful, this is true. I was deeply unsatisfied in my marriage and I went elsewhere, sought out a connection with someone else, in the hope that mere talk would be enough to fill the vacuum where feelings of desire and love and tenderness and intimacy were supposed to be.
However, that is a different topic. My actions, for all their moral decrepitude, don’t have the potential to screw over my family, my children. They don’t risk us being bankrupted and living on welfare. My actions were born of desperation and loneliness, after raising my worries and having them fall on deaf ears. For years.
So while there is a conversation to be had about why I sought love from someone else and the hurt that has caused, it’s a separate topic and should not interfere with her explaining exactly why she thinks that she can continue to max out credit cards and store credit and any other money she can get her hands on that she can’t afford to pay back.
I’m in no position to make threats right now. Maybe in January, when I find out about pay rises and bonus. Maybe then I’ll be in a position to follow through. Right now I just want to understand why she thinks it’s perfectly acceptable to continually treat me like a fucking mug.
In the past she’s been able to trample over my self respect and dignity by claiming that it’s I who is at fault for her spending habits. My fault because I’m so controlling with money. Despite the fact that I give her a huge chunk of money every month and never ask a single question about what she is doing with it. Apparently that’s controlling. I’m not sure if I need to break it down; it seems obvious to me but maybe not. Maybe I need to say “You don’t have a job. I do. So each month I give you money to cover everything you and the kids need. Maybe not everything you want, but everything you need. And a lot of what you want. So given that’s what happens, and given I have never once asked you what you spend that money on, just what about my behaviour is controlling?”
I’m so tired of this. We’ve been here many times before. I won’t be able to believe anything she says. Yet I must try. I need to ask, to hear what she has to say. The difference this time is that any time she uses guilt trip tactics to put the fault on me, I’ll be ready.
In the beginning, debt was just a number. What was important was we were in love. It was us against the world. I happily took on responsibility for the financial mess she had gotten herself into prior to us meeting, knowing that although we might struggle with the loan I got for a few years, at least that would see her debts wiped clean and our future would be debt free. After all, she promised she’d never get into that financial state again. Why wouldn’t I believe her?
Then came mortgage, children, the weight of responsibility. The kind of responsibility that was amplified by never being more than a paycheck away from homelessness. Every penny counted, and I was prompted for the first time to become ambitious. As the sole earner in the household, if I didn’t progress my career, I would be a failure as a husband and father. And that? That was unthinkable. That was all I had.
Within four years I tripled my salary. Today I make six times what I made when I first moved here. Yet still it’s not enough. It will never be enough. I realise that now.
The first betrayal – or, rather, the first that I was aware of – came in 2008. I had sent her to stay with her sister for a week because she was beyond exhausted looking after two young children. I took the week off work to look after the kids.
I wasn’t normally home for the mail being delivered, so it was sheer serendipity that I discovered this particular letter. A red letter. Not the sexy kind, the kind that comes with a stamp in angry bold letters: FINAL WARNING.
It wasn’t addressed to me but I opened it anyway. My hands shook. Repayments missed. Being referred to bailiffs for collection of the debt. And she hadn’t said a fucking word to me about it.
I confronted her, and there were tears and apologies and excuses. Never mind, I said. It’s done, let’s focus on fixing it. Let’s get it paid off together. So I gave her the money to pay it off, and she promised it would never happen again.
That was strike two, I said. There can’t be a strike three, I said.
Fast forward a few years. Financially we’re doing better. We have a huge amount of debt but thankfully I also have a good salary, and I’m slowly paying the debts off. I’m starting to feel like I can see a light at the end of the tunnel.
One day, she asks me to get something out of her purse. When I’m getting it, I see something else. A credit card. A credit card I didn’t know about. Again I confront her. This time she is not apologetic. She says she just needs some money of her own and she hates having to rely on me for it. I get angry about this, because although I’m the sole breadwinner, I have always transferred her a generous chunk of my salary every month to cover everything she needs for her and the kids, and then some. I have never been controlling about how she spends that money. Never asked to see receipts, or for her to tell me how she accounts for the money. I tell her this one is on her. I’m not giving her extra to pay it off like I’ve done before. She needs to take responsibility. She acknowledges and accepts this; she doesn’t really have a choice.
That was strike three, a few years ago. Yet for all my bluster I stick with her. Hearing more promises to never do it again. Urging, imploring, begging her to recognise that we can’t keep up this trend of taking on more and more debt because although I’ve managed to continually get pay rises to coincide with supporting the increasing levels of debt, those increases are going to plateau, and soon. This time I really think she hears me. We’re a team, working towards a debt free future.
This week though. This week I am being forced to acknowledge that this pattern of behaviour won’t ever change. This week I found out that the credit card she told me was almost paid off is actually a stone’s throw away from its limit. Not only that, she has obtained four figures of credit from PayPal. To top it off, she has a store account for a website where she has accumulated four figures of debt. And that’s just the things I can confirm.
I really thought we were swimming towards the surface here. That it wouldn’t be long until I could breathe properly again. Instead I find myself being pulled ever deeper. This feels like I’m wearing an anchor and it’s just going to keep dragging me deeper as long as it’s attached to me.
What can I do except cut it loose?
“You’re disgusting. You are a horrific husband and poor excuse of a man. You fucking piece of shit. You fucking cunt. Fuck you, you shameful disgusting excuse of a man. I am and forever will be so unbelievably grateful that you are not the father of my children. Fuck you. You can go fuck yourself. You deserve to be miserable because you are unworthy of love.”
These are not the words of a person who loves the person they’re speaking to. Nobody who truly loves someone could speak so cruelly, with such vicious intent, such naked hostility. It perhaps makes more sense to consider that such words could be a manifestation of a person’s personal traumas, but nonetheless it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with. There are limits to what another person can tolerate, even when they’re in love. And such words, they’re not simply blunt honesty shared with good intentions. They’re skilfully wielded weapons used to hurt and provoke.
Love aside, they’re not the words of someone who respects the person their words are directed at. I realise that now. So, I need to protect myself. For the sake of my mental well being. For the sake of maintaining a modicum of integrity. For the sake of carving my own path instead of reacting to other people’s grievances.
It’s ironic, how often she told me that words matter. That the way I say things matters, that I can be cruel even when trying to be kind by the way I say things. That I need to be careful with how I choose my words because they have the power to destroy. Yet she considered it acceptable for herself to speak as viciously as she felt like, and if I found it hurtful or upsetting, or even if I simply disagreed with the assertions being made, that was on me. That shows me to be weak, because I can’t handle “opinions and emotions”.
She continually wanted to know if I’m weak. If I’m a weak man. Yes, I was weak. I was weak for opening myself up. For revealing my private pain. But I’ve learned my lesson. Weakness gets punished. It isn’t going to happen again. Nobody else will get to know my demons and then unleash them on me. Nobody will ever again have that power over me.
Words don’t often fail me. I can usually get something down on the page. This is one of those days where each keystroke is an effort, each line something slow and pondered.
You see, I lost my lover. The most wonderful person I’ve ever known. Our end was kind and gentle and loving and heartbreaking. There was no lashing out, only two people who desperately want the best for one another and knowing that right now, that what is best means not being together.
I’ve taken everything from her except the last vestiges of her pride. I’m thoroughly ashamed of myself for that. In the end she had to beg me to let her go because if I asked her to stay she’d be unable to resist, despite herself. And ultimately that would break her.
Her mental strength is phenomenal. She has endured things that would have broken other people twice over, and still she smiles. That beautiful, heartbreaking smile.
In spite of my desire for her, my love for her, my yearning to utterly consume her, mind and body, I knew it had to be done. I’ve danced around it long enough, but the fact is I am having an emotional affair that would definitely be physical were it not for the ocean between us. Yet at the same time I’ve told myself – and my lover, for hard as it may be to believe, she has encouraged me more than anyone, even friends and family, to try for the sake of my children – that I will live in the present moment and try to make my marriage work.
I don’t really need to elaborate on the ludicrous contradiction of this situation, but just to be clear: if she’s in my life, I can’t make an honest attempt at making my marriage work. Likewise, I have no right to expect her to simply hang around for me while I do that. What options does that leave her? Either she waits for me to say “yes I want to be with you” or “no I can’t because I think I can get my marriage working”, or she walks away with some dignity intact and lives her life unencumbered by such a selfish conceit. It’s a no-brainer.
Yet: I know how much it hurts her to go, just as I’m agonised to let her go. We must accept that this is a necessary thing. To live honestly and with as much integrity as we can muster. To make decisions for the right reasons.
And here’s the thing. It still doesn’t feel like our story is done. This person who crashed into my life from nowhere and suddenly became the missing piece of me, the piece I never even realised had been missing from my life until it appeared and fit so perfectly into place – she and I can endure this, and worse. This? This is easy compared to what she’s been though. She knows I will always love her. She knows that there is more to us than good sex or conversation or having superficial things in common; this is about an intrinsic understanding of one another’s innermost needs, and being absolutely committed to helping to satisfy them. Not because we feel we must, but because we want to, willingly, without feeling emotionally coerced.
For now, we simply have to accept that someone like that exists out there, and having acknowledged that, honour that someone by keeping focused on the reality we find ourselves in, and doing the best we can with our situations. In doing that we can look to the future – whatever it may hold – with a clear conscience, instead of being burdened by the guilt of secrets and lies.
We can do this. We will do this. We will honour one another by doing what we promised. Let the chips fall where they may.
There is a moment when every man is at his most honest. When his defences are down and he can do nothing but succumb to his true thoughts and feelings. In this moment, gone are the thoughts and fantasies of what propelled him to erupt in ecstasy mere seconds ago (unless, of course, he’s actually with the object of these thoughts and fantasies). In this moment, he thinks about what he truly wants, how his needs can truly be met, well beyond the pale of ephemeral sexual satisfaction, his mind unclouded by biological urges.
I refer of course to the moment just after orgasm, when, spent and satiated, a man lies back and allows his mind to drift to the places it truly wants to go. When truths he can normally suppress come floating to the surface and he’s both powerless to prevent it and disinterested in doing so.
It’s a perfect time for him to acknowledge who he truly loves.
My wife is trying very hard. In every way, she’s trying to be the wife I didn’t have for many years. At first that angered me, made me resentful for the fact that it took me telling her I was leaving before she was willing to do this. I’m not angry anymore. I can see how much effort she is putting in and I’m torn between feeling incredibly appreciative of what she’s doing and desperately sad because I think it’s too late. Things that should be touching me deeply are recognised and acknowledged but there is a vacuum where my feelings should be.
She says she is going to make me fall in love with her again. The thing is, nobody can make anybody do anything. I’m trying to be open to that possibility, but when I lay there catching my breath, the endorphins rushing through me and my heart rate returning to normal, when the daytime filter drops away and I let myself acknowledge what I really want, who I really love, it is not her.
Regardless, that is neither here nor there. Thinking about what I want is jumping the gun. Needs must be my focus. Not just mine. As much as I need to understand my own needs, I also need to consider those of the people closest to me, and whether or not I’m truly the person who can help to meet them. Currently, I’m functioning as a good husband and father, outwardly doing all the right things. Still, that vacuum where my feelings should be persists. I wonder if I can trick myself into having the feelings she wants me to have for her again. Then I remind myself that that’s exactly how we got here in the first place. No. Not again.
For my children, there is no need for trickery. I’m their father and I will do whatever I must to meet their needs. It’s everything beyond them that I must consider.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the notion that my relationship with my wife was never really given an option to fail. The stakes were simply too high, right from the start. Holiday romance. Long distance relationship. Moving countries to be together. Moving in together immediately. At no point along that time line was there ever the option to say hold up, I need some time and space to figure out if this is the right thing for me. If this is really a person who helps meet my needs.
To have done that would have left the other person alone and isolated in a place they knew nobody. First her. Then me, when I moved.
Outside of a single month (June 1999), I haven’t been single since I was 18 years old. I’ve spent my entire adult life in relationships. I don’t actually know what life is like standing on my own two feet. True, I moved out of home as soon as I could, and have worked continuously since I was 15, but I’ve always had some kind of partner along the way. A crutch, maybe? Did I think I couldn’t do life on my own? I’m not sure. Maybe. Probably.
I know I can now. As to whether or not I should, again, I don’t know. Right now it’s one day at a time. Maintain positivity in my outlook. Address negativity with composure and patience and without compromising my integrity. (Well, no more than I have already.) That all has to come from in me. I can’t lay responsibility for my behaviour on anyone but me. The rest, working things out, will come.
Just ten more minutes. I’ll give it ten more, in case she appears. And if ten minutes happens to pass without her appearing, what’s another ten? It would be worth it for a chance to talk to her. And so it goes on.
I always thought that if things ended, they would end with our respect for one another intact, and a fondness, a soft spot when we thought of one another. I didn’t think it would end like this, with poisonous words not even spoken in anger, but with calculated intent.
Not a man. Must grow up. Adolescent, narcissistic, pathetic and childlike. Lacking joy and happiness and light. A black cloud of misery, guilt, resentment, anger and shame encompassing everything I touch.
These are the things she says, among many others. There was a time when she wanted to know things – the things I shared that ultimately ruined us. When she came to me, soft-voiced and gentle in the early hours and asked me to tell her what was going on, and instead of telling her no, instead of just keeping it to myself, I opened my fool mouth.
I should have known better. She just wanted to know that I was hers, and she was mine, and fuck everyone else. Safe in our bubble.
Of course, bubbles burst. It’s not possible to maintain the kind of suspended animation we existed in when it was us and only us. Reality has a way of seeping in.
Ten more minutes have passed. There’s no sign of her. Of course, it’s Saturday night, and deep down I wasn’t expecting her to be around. She messaged me today to correct what I wrote in the previous chapter. To confirm that I am, in fact, definitely a selfish cunt. A selfish, selfish cunt, to be precise. And to throw a few fuck you’s my way. Not out of anger. To speak the truth.
I never had a chance to get to know her properly. Now, I have to let her go. This woman I am in love with. The first thing on my mind each morning, and the last thing each night. Because she’s right. I couldn’t provide the things I wanted to give her. The happiness. The safety, security and sunshine. Maybe early on, for a while. Before we got into the excessive detail of my life, and the lack of detail of hers. The reality we’re in.
Reality has once again taken over, and it’s pretty much the only place to be. The only show in town. Bubbles are only ever temporary.