‘I don’t want the kids to know about us,’ Eadmund explained, ‘they’re already upset and unsure about how Mum having a boyfriend affects their family and their world. I can’t spring something else on them.’
I wasn’t a parent but my instinct was that it was absolutely right to put the kids’ happiness first. I believed in it as passionately as a religious devotee. Of course, if that was what was best for them, we would have to keep our relationship secret from them. Their family was changing fast. Of course we should introduce it gradually.
It didn’t seem such a big thing, keeping it under wraps for the sake of the kids, but I hadn’t appreciated how one secret in one area of your life spreads. We couldn’t be affectionate in public in case someone saw. We couldn’t be affectionate at work because it was unprofessional and also because everyone at work also knew his kids. I couldn’t openly talk about our relationship at work because although everyone knew, in order to keep the secret for the kids sake, it had to remain unspoken as to exactly what was going on. I could spend time getting to know his kids at his house and, in theory, this was time that I was spending with him, but we had to behave in a way that would just make them think we were friends.
There was already a lot of secret keeping in my life as it was. My friends and family didn’t know we were in an open relationship. They didn’t know I’d hurt a good friend over a man. I hadn’t told them how much I was struggling to hold it together. They didn’t know about solitary binge drinking or panic attacks or the cutting. I don’t for one minute think I am a good enough actress to have convinced them that everything was perfect all the time but that’s not really the issue. The thing about keeping a secret is how it makes you feel, the insecurity and shame, not whether you’ve actually convinced anyone.
Although in theory we were only keeping our relationship from the kids, we ended up not admitting publically to most of the people we interacted with. There wasn’t an area in my life that wasn’t complicated. I couldn’t talk to people at work, I was keeping secrets from my friends and family. I needed the reassurance of physical contact but I had to keep my hands firmly by my sides when his family were there.
Basically, I imploded.
I was a millstone around Eadmund’s neck. The situation wasn’t easy for him either: balancing his time, trying to be there for everyone who needed him, knowing he was failing. Cloe’s nervously intense boyfriend was rocking the boat at home and upsetting the kids with the addictive nature of his attraction to her. Eadmund couldn’t keep the kids happy and now he couldn’t keep me happy either. He started to look for a way out. There was a winter of obsessive computer game playing by way of withdrawing from the family and from me and then following that a bombshell on his return from a buying trip to Ireland.
‘While I was away, I had a short affair with a cheesemaker I met.’
I crumpled. As usual with me, the first emotion was shock, the by now familiar sense of the blood draining from my head as I ran through the usual questions. Who was she? When had they met? When did they sleep together? This was followed by hopelessness, anger and rejection so visceral it was like a white hot knife tearing through my torso. Through it all he was kind, gentle, patient. He apologised for not having told me before it happened but he didn’t feel any guilt. We didn’t have any hold on each other after all. We were free. Hours later, with no tears left and anger spent, I reached out to pull him to me.
‘I didn’t think you’d want me to touch you.’
I couldn’t talk. I don’t think I replied. I needed contact, a tangible reminder that he loved me.
The following day, watching tv with his children and sitting on the sofa, he put his arms around me. In public, without shame, he made the first move to acknowledging to them that he loved me. That night, for the first time, I slept in his bed with him. The secret was out.