E believes he is an honourable man.
He really does.
In the meantime, the rest of us are still struggling to reconcile the person we thought E was, with the person that the evidence is beginning to prove he actually is.
There was the E I thought I was with for 25 years. There was the E who had affair after affair for (at least) ten years. There is the Dad that my kids thought they had. There is the Son and Brother his family thought they knew. There is the E that I have to deal with post break-up. Then, in complete contrast to all of those E’s, there is the way E sees himself and presents himself to the women he has affairs with.
It’s not just me struggling to get a sense of exactly who I spent so many years with, nor am I the one making the biggest adjustment. A couple of weeks ago E’s parents came to visit, and Oldest Daughter and I were talking with them about how Youngest Daughter is coping post GCSE results. I didn’t want to say too much about E, so I carefully glossed over a few things that had made her so unhappy this year, but then E’s Mum asked me directly what had happened. I had to tell her and my Father in Law, not just about Youngest Daughter’s overdose attempt, but that what had prompted it was the fact that E had got married without telling her. I will never forget the look on their faces. They looked devastated. He hadn’t told them he was married either. It was strange; for me and Oldest Daughter it was all old news, but to them it was fresh, it was newly shocking. They were newly hurt. Since he’d left (and left it to his sister to break the news to them), they’d had to adjust their concept of who their son was, but this news meant they had to alter it again.
One major thing I’ve had to face up to in the last 20 months is that E is an exceptionally good liar (he lied to me for years and I believed him, and whilst I may be many things, I’m not stupid). Financially, he might be a bloody nightmare, but it took me years to recognise that it was actually a problem. He can spin a very attractive yarn about himself and his circumstances. For most of his adult life E lived on the principle of ‘jam tomorrow’: “I’ll get in debt today and I’ll buy this now because I want it – but it’s ok because next year I’ll be a millionaire.” For most of those years he was willingly aided and abetted by me. I absolutely believed that he would make the money he said he’d make. I didn’t ask too many questions about how much debt he had. This was partly because, rather like now, when he’s made it almost impossible to speak to him, I just ‘couldn’t’ ask, but also, if I’m honest, it’s because I wanted to believe him – I wanted to think we’d have lots of money and not have to worry in the future. He was earning good money, there was no reason to think this wouldn’t happen. I was happy to speculate to accumulate, secure in the knowledge that one day it would all pay off. I agreed to remortgage after remortgage to pay off debts and ‘start again’. Each time we remortgaged I honestly believed that it was a fresh start and that that *this time* there would be more debt, and that we’d be ok. It was only when we were unable to leave Singapore because he hadn’t paid his taxes, that I began to really see how horribly damaging his attitude to money was.
I sometimes wonder if that’s the position that P is in now? E is in massive debt (again). He’s probably blamed me and the money he has to pay me and told her that once he’s ‘sorted everything out’ they’ll have plenty of money, that they’ll be fine. I wonder if she really believes him, or if, like me, she wants to, or needs to?
The things is, that, as well as being a talented liar, E is exceptionally good at painting himself as the honorable man constrained by his commitments to his family, but torn by the deep love he feels for this (latest) woman that he truly loves. Look at this reply to someone who commented on his (disingenuous, given that he’d already had at least one by time he wrote it) Forum Post re whether he should have an affair or not:
“No idea how this will work out. But one thought I had recently sums it up – the other woman likes me for who I am. Someone who is loyal and does not leave. If I were to do the unthinkable, I would cease to be the man she has fallen in love with.
And I would cease to be the man I am proud to be.”
It’s kind of breath-taking isn’t it? This is a man, who is writing the day after leaving England having spent Christmas with me and his children. It’s posted quite literally hours after an emotional goodbye to all of us. This is a man who has lied again and again and flirted with student after student, and yet he is sincerely portraying himself as deeply honourable. This is exactly how he talked about himself (in his emails to B, his Croatian friend) when he was seeing K. I’m guessing nothing changed and it’s the way he described himself to O and P when he began the affairs with them.
It’s not the fact that he lied and had affairs that I don’t understand. I completely get the excitement (and ego flattery) that they must have generated. He was a middle aged man with four kids, a hefty mortgage and all the boring stuff that middle age inevitable provides. Whilst he had loads of unconditional love and support at home, nobody there (apart from, possibly, Youngest Son) worshiped the ground he walked on. We all laughed at but tolerated his foibles and expected him to tolerate but laugh at ours. He certainly didn’t get flattered or admired on a regular basis at home. I think E was also finding it hard to face up to the fact that he wasn’t ‘young’ anymore. Whilst I was wryly joking about the impact middle age was having on my face (oh the lines) and how hard it was to stay slim, when my metabolism was gradually slowing from mad hare (when I could eat what I wanted and not gain an ounce) to lame tortoise (I now look at a slice of bread and gain 10lbs), E was increasing uncomfortable even mentioning his receding hairline (which the kids gleefully brought up whenever they got the chance). Whilst E and I rarely argued, we were under immense pressure because of the hours he worked and the debt he was in. The reality of life post Singapore together with the weight of his debts was crushing for both of us. I completely get the escapism that the affairs he had offered. The attention from and flattery of younger women must have been brilliant.
I understand all of that. Of course it was fantasy. Of course it was an escape. Affairs don’t happen in a vacuum and maybe things with me and E were just ‘wrong’ and should have ended years ago? Maybe I was just really stupid and blind and didn’t notice what I should have spotted years before? I’ve considered all of that over and over again. What I just can’t comprehend, however, is how he can reconcile the image he has of himself as honourable with the contempt that he’s treated me with since he’s left?
Maybe he’s managed to contextualise his refusal to speak to me and the fact that he got married without telling anyone somehow? Perhaps he’s somehow managed to squeeze a justification for that into his story about himself as a decent man? Maybe he genuinely believes his own fairy tale about himself? Whatever he’s said, I’m sure P believes him. The stakes are high for her – she actually married him – it must be vital to her to believe him. Like me, believing him about the money for all those years, there must be a strong element of wanting and needing to believe him.
In some ways, I colluded in my own deception (I desperately wanted everything to be ok, I really wanted to believe him), maybe P is too? Maybe, as time goes by she’ll gradually see him differently? Maybe, terrifyingly, she sees him for exactly what he is, but still loves him? Whatever, the answer, whoever he is, he’s (mostly) her problem now. I wish her luck.