Back in April, there was an interesting moment on twitter. A female user challenged women to describe themselves in the way they thought a male writer would portray them.
There were some brilliant tweets. Here are a couple of my favourites:
“Her breasts entered the room before her far less interesting face, decidedly maternal hips and rounded thighs. He found her voice unpleasantly audible.”
” I had big honking teeters, just enormous bosoms, and I thought about them constantly as I walked down the street, using my legs (thick, with big shapely calves), but never not thinking about my enormo honkers,”
It struck a particular chord with me because I’d been looking back through some of the emails I’d kept from 2008 and had been becoming increasingly conscious of how E has been fictionalising me for the benefit of the women he’s been seeing. It also highlighted to me how little I knew the person I’d spent most of my life with. I thought I was in a committed relationship, I thought we were together for life, I assumed he cared about me in the same way I cared about him. But none of that was true. If I’d believed a fiction of my own for all those years, maybe I’d never seen the truth?
Whilst, as a man, he wasn’t quite as obsessed with breasts as the females of twitter suspected (it would be tragic for him if he was, given my lack of assets in that department), the way E portrayed me was every bit as one dimensional and unreal as the quotes above.
Of course, he was also composing a convenient story about the women he was seeing, which was probably no more accurate than the one he’d created about me. Looking back, the way he describes the women he’s had affairs with is remarkably similar. He’s almost always gone for the ‘we’re just together for the sake of the kids’ stereotype regarding me, but he’s applied a similar ‘its love, it feels wonderful’ cliché to them. All of these other women ‘understand him and make him feel wonderful’, all of them ‘say the right thing’, and all of them are ‘true love’ (all of them are also about around 15 years younger than him, look up to him and have no kids).
This is what E wrote about me, and the woman he was seeing at the time, on his post on a public forum in January 2013:
” My wife and I have been together for 21 years. We met at University. We have 4 wonderful children. I guess we are like most relationships of 21 years – the physical side disappeared years ago, we annoy each other regularly, but we are best friends.
So…3 years ago I liked someone and one night after a pub evening we had a kiss. Nothing more.
We are involved professionally and so have kept talking for work purposes and have become friends. Since the kiss, we have worked in different countries – and over the past few months our chats got closer. In December, we were in the same country for the first time in ages. We met up and it was like love at first sight – but delayed for 3 years.
She married 6 months after our “moment” 3 years ago.
December – we met up twice, and were very close. Nothing beyond kissing, but if we had been in a position where it could have gone further, it clearly would have done.
So. I am now posted overseas for a few months and there is no chance of her coming here, or me getting back, so we have half a year to deal with and work out where to go next.
I suppose if we ignore the details, this is the predictable isn’t it? Romantic feelings after years of “drudge” (also known as normal life, and bringing up wonderful kids) – a lovely temptation. But this is not about sex – we haven’t, and that is definitely not the motivation. The motivation is that she makes me feel wonderful, says all the right things at the right time, and when we were together it felt perfect”
Now, leaving for a moment the embarrassingly trite ‘we’re not really a couple actually’ stuff that he uses to show he’s aware of the cliché (in order to prove it doesn’t apply to him), he’s also constructing the same narrative about this woman that he created about K all those years ago. Here’s what he wrote about her to B (the woman who rejected his advances back in 2004):
“she said hi, and what is all this about a new college? We had a coffee…. and within a week there was something happening.
It is, I am afraid, love.
I have never felt this strongly for anyone, and it scares me a little. But there is no doubting it. At 37 I am no fool – this is something big and it is not going away”
Amusingly, despite the fact he writes that he has “never felt happier” and how he feels “incredible”, this doesn’t stop him pursuing his flirtation with B – as, despite being apparently helplessly in love with K, he manfully tries to pull her too, saying “Still think you are gorgeous though”.
Here’s what he wrote about me to B in 2007:
“My home life has been a little “strained” for about five years, but with children – well it has stuck together somehow. But from a personal relationship perspective, it has not been great. I will not go into any details but any pretence of us being a “couple” ended some time ago”
Leaving aside the fact that we were very much still a couple (in the five years he was referring to we’d had three of our children and I’d suffered a fairly traumatic miscarriage, all of which, I felt, had brought us closer), it’s pretty much the same line he was using six years later. Although – if anything – by 2013 things had clearly improved for him, at least he’s now describing us as best friends not as a pair that had given up all pretence at being a couple (someone really needs to have a word with him about how we treat our best friends…).
After Forum Woman, E pretty much stuck with texts to communicate with O and P, so I don’t have many quotes to compare (although I did once get a slightly strange text from him saying “I miss touching you, kissing you, being with you”, which, given that the most recent text I’d sent him was asking what he wanted from Tesco, seemed a little bizarre. Now, of course, I know it was meant for O not me), but I’m guessing he took a similar approach with O and P. Certainly the emails confirming flower deliveries suggest that very similar, rather nauseating, messages were sent to all of them (I personally think that “last night you showed me you loved me in a very special way” was one of his very best lines – not creepy at all…). I’d love to know what the people putting the flowers together every time he placed an order thought, I think he used the same flower delivery company for all of the woman he was seeing in London and he was a pretty regular customer – I’m surprised they didn’t offer him a standard message template, or a discount, or something.
Of course, nobody can ever completely understand another person and I know that, as a female writer, I cannot fully understand the male experience. I also accept that everything about E in this blog is filtered through the lens of his infidelities which means he’s hardly going to get any more of a sympathetic portrayal from me than I did from him. I will forever see what he said as self-serving lies, he may well believe himself to have been endlessly unhappy with me and think that he’s some kind of flawed romantic hero who was genuinely in love all of those times.
The thing is that whilst I never needed to create a consciously unreal version of E (trust me, if I had, he’d have had better breath and he’d have looked a lot like Rufus Sewell), I couldn’t see the truth any more clearly than E could. I sometimes wonder who was the bigger liar – him to me, or me to myself? I guess, it’s a good thing that my eyes are wide open now.