When you live in a village, gossip spreads like a forest fire. So when I began an affair, it wasn’t long before word of my infidelity got around.
Within weeks, friends were confronting me and accusing me — with justification — of being selfish, stupid and immoral.
There was one person, however, who was oblivious to my antics. They say a spouse is always the last to know when they are being betrayed: Dominic, my then husband of 13 years, was unaware of my duplicity.
He had not realised that when I claimed to be having supper with friends, I was slipping off for illicit trysts with Steve, a fellow parent at my twin daughters’ Surrey prep school.
He did not know the truth until someone confronted him with it. He was told by the one person in the world I’d expected would carry my secret to her grave: my mother.
I still remember every detail of the afternoon in May 2009 when I discovered Mum had not only betrayed my deepest confidence in the most cavalier and thoughtless way, but had also thrown my marriage into turmoil.
I’d been to a business conference, so my mobile had been switched off all morning. When I turned on my phone at lunch, I had scores of missed calls and texts.
‘Your mother has told Dominic. He knows everything,’ was the first one I read, sent by a friend. The shock and alarm I felt were surpassed by an even more potent emotion: I detested Mum for her treachery.
I was not only enraged, but perplexed: it was not as if Mum and I had ever been at odds. On the contrary, she had always been my confidante and closest friend.
We lived a stone’s throw from each other in a prosperous Home Counties village. I even worked for her business, supplying equipment for tree surgeons.
She was a wonderful granny to my twins. And since her marriage to my father ended when I was six — she had an affair, so history was repeating itself — she had showered me with love and kindness. But in that instant, I believed she was the devil incarnate.
As I scrolled through my messages, my fury intensified. Everyone was telling me that Mum had let the cat out of the bag.
But there was no text from my mother. No message of regret or explanation. Not a word to explain why she had chosen to throw a hand grenade into my life.
With trepidation, I rang Dominic. He was boiling with rage. ‘Your mother has told me everything!’ he shouted.
‘I don’t love you any more,’ I snapped. Then he wanted to know every shameful detail.
But the searing irony was that my three-month affair with Steve was waning. He’d met someone younger, unencumbered by a husband and children, and had decided to discard me for her.
So I’d been outed as an adulteress by my mother just as my affair with someone I thought I loved — a man with whom I was irrationally and hopelessly besotted — was ending.
Before you dismiss me as immoral and shameless, let me explain how we’d got to this point.
I’d fallen in love with Dominic when I was 16 and he was 23. He’d been my first and only lover until Steve.
As a teenager, I’d pursued Dominic. Looking back, I wonder if I did so because he was indifferent to me.
I’d had an affluent upbringing and a private girls’ school education. My parents had high aspirations for me. But Dominic, who was clever and good-looking, drifted in and out of jobs.
When Mum dispatched me, aged 17, to Monaco to work as an au pair, perhaps she hoped I’d get him out of my system.
It was the first sign of her intervention in my romantic life. She never approved of Dominic, which only made me more stubbornly intent on being with him.
When I returned to England, I was desperate to set up home with him, and we moved into a flat, later progressing to our own cottage.
We married in July 1996, after ten years together. It was a lavish wedding and we combined our reception with Mum’s 50th birthday party. Today, I can see that may have been somewhat claustrophobic. Even as I walked up the aisle, I had qualms about marrying Dominic. He and I had become more like brother and sister than lovers.
Indeed, on the first night of our honeymoon in Singapore, he sloped off without me to a party. It set the tone for our married life. And our sex life was disappointing.
However, I wanted children, and when our twins arrived in 2002, I hoped they might revive our marriage. But on the day they were born, Dominic, who was not exactly burdened by a sense of paternal responsibility, walked out of his job, claiming it was too pressured.
I was furious. But then Mum intervened to help us. She created a role for Dominic in a company she had bought. I was supremely grateful.
Despite having twins, I still worked for Mum in her sales and administration department. Frankly, I begrudged the fact Dominic was not emotionally supportive or a good provider.
Then in June 2008, at a school sports day, my eyes locked with Steve’s. It was common knowledge his marriage had broken down. At 37, he was the same age as me. We started to chat. He was presentable, public school-educated and great fun. In contrast, Dominic seemed dour and dull.
I offered to help with his house move and gave him my number. For six months, we had an ‘emotional affair’: we chatted every day on the phone for hours. I shared confidences with him about my failing marriage; we talked about our children; we laughed and cried together.
Steve was in touch with his emotions in a way Dominic never was. He seemed caring while my husband was both needy and remote. It was inevitable that our relationship would become sexual. In January 2009, we slept together for the first time. We met for a drink, he invited me in for coffee and we quickly ended up in bed.
In the early hours of that morning, I floated home. For the first time in decades I felt alive.
My affair consumed me. I became adept at deception. I lied to Dominic that I was seeing friends. If he was suspicious, he did not let on.
My female friends were much more shrewd. They knew precisely what I was up to. ‘Your behaviour is outrageous!’ scolded one friend.
I was indignant. I told her I’d fallen in love with Steve and she countered that he was a serial adulterer. But infatuation made a fool of me. I was convinced my future was with him.
And this is when I confessed to my mother. We sat in her garden one afternoon and I admitted everything. I said my marriage was as good as over and that I’d never felt so happy.
Mum did not judge me. She knew I was miserable with Dominic and asked if I loved Steve. I insisted that I did.
Then she said: ‘You can’t go on deceiving Dominic if you’re certain Steve is the one. You’ll have to tell Dominic the truth.’ But I could not bear to think of the row that would ensue if I confessed.
In the event, of course, it was Mum who broke the news. I marched into her office in a rage. ‘You’ve told him!’ I shrieked. ‘I had no choice,’ she said. ‘He came in to see me and was so upset. He suspected you. The whole village knew. I had to put him out of his misery.’
Mum was indignant. She said she couldn’t understand my fury, that she was merely obeying a motherly instinct.
But I believed she should have directed her maternal instincts towards me rather than her son-in-law.
She insisted there had been ‘too much poison and deception’ and ‘the boil needed to be lanced’.
Though her marriage had ended because of her infidelity, I don’t believe she was trying to end mine because I’d been unfaithful. It was typical of her high-handedness. She was always prone to opening her mouth before engaging her brain. But this time she’d over-stepped the mark.
She says she had no desire for vengeance and I don’t think she was acting out of malice. But the impact of her betrayal was devastating.
She could have told me Dominic had got wind of my infidelity and urged me to tell him the truth. But that’s not her way — and to this day, she says she would do it again.
Such was my rage that I resigned from my job working for her. (I now run my own company selling safety equipment). I was so hurt I ceased all communication with her for a year. Mum did not attempt to contact me either. She had been a doting grandmother, yet she did not see my children for three months.
Then she started inviting Dominic and our daughters to her house without me. She said it was the only way she could maintain contact with them.
I saw it as further evidence of her cruelty and insensitivity, but she refused to see my point.
Meanwhile, my marriage limped on miserably. Dominic’s trust in me was destroyed. And Mum kept upping the stakes: on Easter Sunday she invited him and the girls for lunch.
I was still too angry to confront her, so I seethed silently. And so our cold war continued.
Mum maintains she felt as hurt as I did. She says she never stopped loving me and believed any attempt to see me would be fruitless, so kept a judicious distance. I suppose we were both stubborn.
Steve had sent me an abrupt and cruel email telling me our affair was over. It was months before I realised that all my friends were right: he was not worth grieving over.
By April 2010, Dominic and I had become resigned to the inevitable and we split up. Ironically, it was this separation that heralded the rapprochement with Mum.
A couple of weeks after we parted, I needed a babysitter, and it was this that precipitated my ice-breaking call to her. The girls did not want anyone except Granny to look after them. It was the first time we’d spoken for a year.
The conversation was polite, but banal. There was no recrimination on either side; neither was there any reference to our estrangement. Mum agreed to babysit, and when she arrived, she threw her arms round me and said: ‘I’m here for you, my darling.’ I wept in her arms.
Since that day, three years ago, we have built bridges. I know now Mum was not being cruel when she told Dominic about my affair.
I know, too, she paid a price for that — some of my friends crossed the road to avoid her.
We had been close, so she was deeply hurt by our estrangement. But I believe we were too close. We don’t live in each other’s pockets any more.
It’s only recently, though, that we’ve been able to speak about what happened, but only in oblique terms.
When I told her I was going to write this article, she was sanguine, saying: ‘I acted out of compassion for Dominic. I didn’t have any desire for vengeance. I just told the truth.
‘I didn’t imagine I’d become persona non grata, the lowest of the low. I can’t describe how horrible it was to be estranged from you, who I love so much, but I didn’t try to contact you because I knew it would be fruitless. I knew you’d come back to me in your own time.’
And, indeed, I have forgiven Mum. But our previously affectionate relationship has changed. I am much more guarded with her and there is still an unresolved tension between us. Her disloyalty is the elephant in the room.
Both of us are afraid that if we discuss her betrayal it would lead to an almighty flare-up. So we dance around the subject.
I know I can’t blame my mother for the failure of my marriage. It was ailing anyway. She just precipitated its end.
Seven months ago, I began seeing James, 49, who runs his own building company. My life is happier now. And I have Mum to thank for that.