When my sister and I were little we used to make perfume out of rose petals. We’d carefully pick the petals and mix them with cold water in plastic teacups. In my head, we’d made a beautiful thing, although in actuality, our perfume was just muddy water with slimy bits of rose petal gloomily sinking to the bottom of the cup. I’m not 100% sure my sister cared too much, she was two at the time, and I suspect she was more into mashing up the rose petals and digging in the garden than in what the digging and mashing was producing, but she was enthusiastic enough and (mostly) did what I told her to do, which, frankly, was very gratifying to four year old me. Although, ever the realist, she also quite liked mud (it was, in fact, a major part of her diet in her early years), so whilst, unlike me, she could probably see exactly what we’d produced, she probably quite like the finished product just as much as I did.
The realisation that our rose petals hadn’t quite produced a rival fragrance to Coty’s L’Aimant (my Mum’s choice of perfume in the 70s) came years later and I now look back on our creation with a fond smile. However, whilst I like to think I’ve outgrown creating such childish illusions of perfection in my head, I do sometimes wonder if I’m still creating idealised version of things and not completely comprehending the real nature of them. As I consider what’s happened with E, I’m increasingly being forced to explore the notion that E’s affairs and lies weren’t just a ‘bad part’ of him that developed over the years, but that, in fact, they were him, that he was like that from the beginning. Maybe he never was the decent person that I thought he was?
Given the nature, and the sheer timespan, of E’s deceptions it might surprise you to learn that I’m usually not a bad judge of character. I can be fairly sparky and dismissive if I see bigotry or intolerance, but I usually tend to assume the best of people and I’m a great believer in giving people the benefit of the doubt. Whilst this has sometimes meant that I’ve been disappointed or hurt by someone, I’ve rarely been surprised by anyone.
However, in E’s case, I have to face the possibility that I was wrong from day one. With the benefit of hindsight, I can track lie after lie after lie throughout our whole life together. Before he even met me dishonesty had tripped him up. In the early days of our relationship, he told me that he lost the girlfriend before me because he’d lied to her. He also recounted a tale of huge embarrassment from his schooldays which involved him and and a mate doing some minor pilfering and getting into trouble when they were caught putting the stuff they’d nicked back. I’m not suggesting any character failings based on this tale – I know many a respectable 50-something who’ll admit with a grin to sneakily nicking from the pic ‘n’ mix when they were kids – but, with hindsight, I do wonder how much of the tale was true (was he actually caught “putting stuff back?”), and how much had been twisted to show him in a good light?
One thing I realised after discovering the first affair, was that he really needed to talk (boast) about what he was doing, but, as I was pretty much the only person outside of work that he talked to, he had to disguise who he was talking about. The stories that he told me during the years I know for certain he was having affairs, all stories that later transpired to be about the women he was seeing, make me wonder about the other things that he told me earlier in our relationship. For example, years before even Oldest Daughter was born he told me about a fellow student who ‘fancied him’ when they were on a residential course – was there more to it? Or, when I was pregnant with Oldest Son, he told me about how one of his students was ‘obsessed’ with him and kept calling him – was he seeing her and now worried she might call him when I was there?. Years ago he also told me about a married friend who’d had a one night stand with someone and she’d subsequently had a baby. That one in particular now haunts me, was it him? Supporting her and the baby would also explain the level of debt he ran up every year.
One of the first things close friends have said to me when hearing about the split, is “well, we all knew he was arrogant”. Did they? Why didn’t I see it? Obviously, I could see how he could come across as arrogant, but because I knew him better than most people (or thought I did), I’d always put this down to other things – such as his being a bit clueless in company sometimes, or people misunderstanding him – and dismiss it. Whilst I certainly didn’t shy away from telling him if I thought he appeared to be pompous or arrogant (much to his increasing annoyance), I never thought that arrogance was something that defined him. And yet, and yet… I vividly remember how he struck me as arrogant and a bit boastful the first time I met him, but because he was friends with friends of mine I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe my first impression was 100% correct?
What about Singapore? I now know he was seeing someone in the UK on either side of our two-year stay there and that he started seeing O during the year he was there on his own. I originally thought that the reason he’d stayed on alone was because he hadn’t paid his taxes and his company refused to bail him out. Staying on was a way to give him a year to clear the taxes comfortably. The kids and I went home because we couldn’t afford to support all six of us out there. And yet, and yet… he had agreed a personal loan to cover his taxes, he hadn’t signed a new contract, nothing had been officially agreed, he could have come back to the UK, so why did he stay? The fact is that, once the suggestion that he stayed on for an extra year was made, he never seriously considered returning to the UK with us. Then there was the picture of him in the famous Marina Bay Sands Hotel swimming pool on his last day in Singapore. I asked who had taken it, and got told a story about someone staying at the hotel lending him their wristband and letting him in for a swim in the morning. Of course, it’s far more likely that he was just there with O and that she took the picture.
The other thing about Singapore that I now question again and again is the effect it had on my professional reputation. In order to enable us to live out there, E’s Company was paying me a salary. E organised everything and told me that this was a working from home, very much part-time job, primarily to allow us to live there. I spent those two years gradually proofreading my way through an entire suite of accountancy textbooks. However, when the shit hit the fan about E’s tax situation and the cost of us moving back to the UK (his Company wouldn’t pay the removal costs – at the time I was angry with them, but now I wonder exactly what E had arranged with them in the first place), questions were raised by his Company about my ‘productivity levels’. This reminded me of an exchange E had told me about when we first moved out there and the woman he was working for had told him that I was expected to be office based and working full time. He’d dismissed it all as a misunderstanding, and put it down to this woman’s ‘ignorance’ – but what if that was what he’d agreed to? What if that was what they were expecting? What if E’s Company now think I was unprofessional and workshy? Obviously, with four young kids, and living 7,000 miles away from home, I would never have committed to working on that basis, but I realise now, I had no idea what E had committed me to in my absence.
Similarly, for the whole two years we lived in Singapore, I was told story after story about his unreasonable boss… But now I wonder, what if he was the nightmare to work with and she was perfectly reasonable? At the time, I accepted his version of events without question – just like P is probably doing right now – but now I think about it, it’s amazing how many of the bosses and colleagues who disagreed with E were described as ‘unreasonable’ or ‘difficult’.
The thing is that for years I could see E’s faults clearly, but I forgave them because I had a fair few faults of my own and I didn’t think his faults constituted the greater part of him, but maybe, just maybe, they did? Perhaps I was so keen to justify my commitment to him that I created a version of him that simply ignored the facts? As I look back on our past, and as I deal with his behaviour post-split, I’m being forced to radically revise my understanding of him.
Recently (on this blog’s Facebook page), a friend suggested that E might be telling P that I’d turned his family and kids against him, and that could be why he’d told no-one about the marriage. Even back in January 2017 I would have dismissed that as impossible, but now, almost eighteen months on, the more I look at the evidence, the more I see how easily he can lie if the truth becomes inconvenient, the more what would have seemed impossible to me just months ago, now seems a reasonable explanation.
Until now, I have dismissed E’s lies as self-serving and sometimes almost comical, but what if there is more to them than that? I was clearly very wrong about him – he definitely wasn’t the decent person I thought he was – maybe he is capable of exactly the sort of cynical and manipulative lie that I would have previously thought was impossible?
I’ve spent a lot of time in this blog talking about how E created a fantastically flawed, almost fictional, version of me to justify his affairs, but maybe I’d done something similar – and created a less muddy, very much improved, version of him that ignored who he really was? Maybe the person I thought I knew, was someone I’d constructed and was in fact no more real than the version of me he narrated to his girlfriends?