The wedding finger is now the first part of a woman’s body I look at. For nine years I was madly in love with a married woman.
And for a very long time she was in love with me.
We met at a party in West London in 2004. Lauren was tall (5 ft 9 in) with shoulder-length blonde hair.
She was wearing a crisp white cotton blouse, black boots and a long charcoal skirt.
I found her instantly enchanting. She really made me laugh and I liked the hint of mischief in her hazel eyes.
She worked in television and, at 40, was two years older than me. We exchanged business cards.
When I noticed her wedding ring I thought what a shame only one of us was single. Maybe things could have been different in another life?
It was Lauren who contacted me first. I was surprised but thrilled when I saw her name flash onto my screen. In a subsequent flirty email she boldly suggested that I cook her a meal at my Wimbledon flat some time. My heart missed a beat. Did she really mean what I thought she meant?
When we met for a drink, we seemed to have so much in common: a love of puns, Scrabble and Waitrose chilli sardines.
I loved the way she carried herself. She was stylish but confident enough to be self-deprecating.
‘I like candlelit restaurants. They make me look younger,’ she joked early on.
But I was reluctant to get involved. She was married and people could get hurt — not least her eight-year-old son, Jake. By the third time we met, however, I simply found her too alluring to resist. From our first kiss we were a couple.
It became physical very quickly. We made each other feel special, and it was as though I’d been waiting for someone like her all my life. What I found irresistible was the way she came across as prim and proper, but also delightfully naughty at the same time.
I loved the shy, almost disbelieving smile when I paid her compliments. Had no one told her how attractive she was before? I adored how she smelled and the look she had when her seriousness descended into playfulness
In cafes, she always spooned the froth off the top of my cappuccinos. I would pretend to be annoyed, but secretly loved it.
At night, I cherished it when she fell asleep with her head on my chest, and the way she laughed gently in her sleep.
We began to meet once a week whenever she was in London. She worked from home, researching for TV producers, and we met when her meetings finished in town.
Her family home was in rural Hertfordshire, but she kept a flat in North London, which her parents had bought for her before she was married.
She stayed in the flat when she was working late in London or on days out during the school holidays with her son. She and her husband never stayed there at the same time.
‘I can barely stand to be in the same room as him,’ she told me. It made me feel special. Guilty.
There were times, looking at her in the evening with a wine glass in her hand, or in the morning, waking up together, when I felt like the luckiest man alive.
During the snatched moments we spent together, life just felt so right. So right that I sometimes forgot she was married.
But her wedding ring troubled me. It was all I could feel when we held hands and a constant reminder that she went home to another man.
I finally came clean: ‘It’s your wedding ring, sweetie.’
‘What about it?’
‘It’s all I can feel sometimes. Would you mind taking it off when I see you?’
‘Of course,’ she laughed.
Her ring came off surprisingly easily. If only leaving her husband could be as simple.
After a few months, Lauren started to send me the sweetest cards and letters. Each card became the bookmark for the novel I was reading. Over those nine years she must have posted me several hundred.
Even now, I am sometimes brought up short when I discover one in an old book. My cards to her were delivered in person. They remained in her London flat, secreted away in a bundle in a bedside drawer.
I consoled myself that at least she hadn’t thrown them away. But I soon found I couldn’t just call or email her when I wanted to. For fear of being found out, she signed off her emails with the instructions ‘No reply’ or ‘You may respond’. It sounds imperious. In retrospect, it was.
Spontaneity is the first casualty of infidelity. On sunny days, I couldn’t ring out of the blue and suggest a picnic. Our dates were planned weeks in advance.
On the mornings we woke up together, Lauren always phoned her son to wish him a good day at school. She asked me to switch off my own phone in case it rang when she was talking to him.
Early on, I asked her if she still slept with her husband Greg.
‘Are you kidding?’ she replied. ‘I’m a married woman. Married people don’t sleep together.’
Music to my ears. I didn’t want to share Lauren, even with her husband of 12 years. But I did want to go public, meet her parents, her friends, her son. Instead I was propelled into a world of secrecy.
I became a scribble in her Mulberry diary. She would write down my initials on the evenings we were due to meet.
‘Not exactly the Enigma code, is it?’ I told her. Some nights she would insist that we sat in the darkest corners of bars or restaurants and I’d wonder whether her husband was also in town.
Usually, as the evening went on she would relax. The lone diner on the next table was no longer a private investigator. Even so, when it was her turn to pay, she would do so in cash so as not to leave a paper trail.
As the months passed she let me have a set of keys to her flat and allowed me to leave a spare shirt in the wardrobe.
Sometimes it was almost as if she wanted to be found out. At least that would save the difficult conversation I believed she would initiate with her husband one day.
Of course, I should have given her an ultimatum to leave him — but I was scared I’d lose her.
So we drifted on, enjoying the moments with each other and avoiding the big husband-shaped elephant in the room.
Her birthday cards ended with ‘Wait for me’ and Christmas cards each year expressed a variation on the same theme: ‘Can we please make this the last year we spend apart?’ read one.
As a travel writer, I was working abroad a great deal. Maybe I was dating a married woman because unconsciously it fitted in with my chaotic lifestyle, even though I longed for intimacy at the same time.
What kept me together emotionally was knowing she was waiting in the wings. I was prepared to compromise. I would wait until her son finished school if that was what she wanted. I would give up on having children of my own if it meant being with her.
In Lauren I had a semi-partner whom I thought about constantly, even if I couldn’t be with her all the time.
I thought about how many women had been in my position, waiting for a man to leave his wife. As the lover you get the edited highlights of a marriage: the laughter, the smiles, the sex. A relationship with none of the boring bits.
But what we lacked was emotional closeness — that lovely sense of wasting time together and the accompanying feeling of certainty. I’d had this real intimacy in previous relationships, now I desperately wanted it with Lauren.
Deep down I knew I deserved more. But I feared I would never find the same chemistry with anyone else.
I met women at parties and through work who were single and attractive. But despite numerous opportunities I was faithful to Lauren. Ironically, my loyalty lay with a woman who was not loyal.
Looking back, the relationship left me feeling deeply frustrated and my self-esteem took a hit.
Lauren was forever saying goodbye. The joyous nights out were tainted by the fact that she would soon be on a train back to her family.
I would be left alone at King’s Cross station cafe, my heart suspended in mid-air, knowing that we were a week, sometimes ten days, away from seeing each other again. I came to really hate that cafe.
The hardest goodbyes were after the occasional weekends we went away — the more time we had spent together, the larger the hole I felt inside. I stared enviously at entwined couples on the Sunday night train going home.
During school holidays I barely heard from Lauren. Texts were sporadic; our daily emails became a weekly catch-up.
One afternoon during the Easter holidays, Lauren unexpectedly phoned me. She was visiting a museum in London with Jake.
‘I just wanted to hear your voice,’ she said. I was touched, her neglect instantly forgiven.
Halfway through our phone chat, I heard a young boy’s voice in the background.
‘Is that Daddy?’ Jake asked.
There was an awkward pause.
‘No, it’s not Daddy.’ She whispered a hurried goodbye and the line went dead.
Despite how much I loved her, I was tempted to end our relationship there and then. It took her young son to pierce a bubble we had built around ourselves and I suddenly felt dreadful.
It was a relationship based on shared selfishness. The lack of respect for her husband was something I had chosen to ignore and by doing so I had become an integral part of the deceit.
In the eyes of outsiders and the law, our love was fraudulent — non-existent, even. Nothing bound us together. If Lauren had died, heaven forbid, I would have been the first to care, but the last to know.
This dreadful realization dawned on me as I watched mourners at my father’s funeral.
Her husband might one day get to deliver the eulogy at Lauren’s funeral. Not me. I would be the stranger sobbing at the back of the church — if I had been notified at all.
And then, in the summer of 2013, the day I had secretly dreaded finally arrived.
I knew it was over as soon as I received her card — on it was written just my name, not ‘Darling’.
‘We have great chemistry, but I need more than you can give me,’ Lauren wrote, advising me to find someone younger and have children of my own.
I was stunned, shocked at her coldness after so long together. The card had a picture of two hearts wrapped in what looked like barbed wire — wholly significant, I’m sure — and a far cry from the romantic images of the past.
But it was the final words that incensed me: she had met some-one else.
I nearly passed out. It was as if our love affair had never existed. ‘We’ had been erased from history. A decade of passion and hope reduced to rubble. She needed more? That was a bit rich! I’d wanted more for ten years.
I never heard from Lauren again. We have no mutual friends, so I can’t even ask them for updates on her life. Perhaps not surprisingly for an accomplished adulteress, she is not big on social media.
I am curious about her, of course, but it’s wiser not to keep in touch with someone you loved so much.
It has been nearly three years now and it has taken me a long time to recover. I am writing a book about our affair and the process has been healing.
Finally, at 49, I feel happy again, even though my heart still flutters slightly when one of her cards falls out of a book. But I’m out of the shadows and dating again.
And I’ve made myself a promise: in my next relationship, I want Sunday nights and Monday mornings together, and all the boring minutiae of daily life that couples take for granted. All the stuff I now realise I never had.
- Two months after Lauren ended our affair, I tracked down an email address for her husband and tentatively sent a message to see if it was really him. To my amazement, he replied. That’s when I told him everything. I never heard back.