We went to stay with a friend. A friend of H-to-be’s, of course. I was a bit between friends at the time, having had some problems with identity and self-esteem over the previous few years. One of the first benefits I felt of dating H-to-be was that I gained a set of ready-made friends.
He had a lovely characterful house, which we looked round; we caught up on his news and had a delicious home-cooked meal. Then we sat down with a bottle of wine and chatted. It was cosy; I was happy – I felt a part of things. I didn’t contribute to the conversation much, but I was often like that and preferred it that way. I suppose I’d been quite isolated: I certainly remember that I felt uncomfortable with most people. This evening, I felt comfortable: I could watch how other people lived their normal lives, without feeling voyeuristic. Perhaps I could learn a thing or two about people that might help me work my way back to having friendships of my own.
How does that make me sound? A bit angsty, or even very strange?! I was only in my early 20s, and had had only two solid friendships since I was 12. I was definitely not in a good place for a relationship, as you may well have deduced yourself.
Anyway, the conversation turned, as conversations do. H-to-be was asked about his ex-girlfriend, and he spoke at length about splitting up with her and specifically how great it was to have a “goodbye shag”. He recommended it to us as a great thing to do if we ever got the chance. She was always great at sex, anyway – he’d told me that.
But, it having been a long-distance relationship, by the time he’d broken it off with her, he’d already been going out with me: although I only discovered that after the event. And we had decided, right at the beginning, that we weren’t going to have sex until marriage, because we both felt (or so I believed) that having slept with our previous partners hadn’t been the right thing to do.
And now here I was, being told what a great shag he’d had while I was back in the UK never dreaming he’d be anything but faithful. I found it hard to take and stomped off to bed soon after. He did come in to see what was wrong, but couldn’t see my problem. Sure, the timeline had got a bit knotted, but effectively he’d been finishing off something that had ended before he got together with me. It’s just that he hadn’t been able to do it at the right time. But it was good fun, he didn’t seem to want to stop saying. It meant nothing, but it was good fun. Hey, it was just sex.
That was one of the two times I can remember getting close to ending the relationship. In the car going back home the next day, I just wanted to be on my own, not trapped there sitting next to him. He was sorry, he said, if he’d upsetted me: he wasn’t sure why I was upset, but he didn’t want to be the person who’d upset me. And then he encouraged me to move on now: that was over, let’s put it behind us. So I gave myself a mental shake, pulled myself together, put the incident to the back of my mind and moved on to other things.
I felt like I’d lost my moment to split up with him. And I felt that if I split up with him after that car ride, or the next day, it’d be unreasonable of me. Unforgiving.
In fact, I buried the incident in my mind so well that I forgot all about it. In a very confused few months a year ago, when I tried to think about what was wrong with my marriage, but found my mind slipping over the surface of my memories, unable to reach down into them and pull any up to look at, an incident like this would suddenly surface and I’d feel physically jolted. Oh yes, that! How could I have forgotten that?!
How did I forget it? Partly, it was an attempt at forgiveness: moving on, not being bitter. I suppose it would have been a healthier form of forgiveness to accept the past rather than try to bury it. Partly, too, it was confusion. I felt hurt by what happened that evening, but H-to-be told me that that was my problem and that there had been nothing wrong in what he did. He told me that a lot, and whenever he did, I tried to believe him, because he seemed a lot more clued up about life than I was.
Even now, I’m not sure whether I was making a fuss about not much. But now, I am looking at the incident square on, not running away from it. And I am listening to my feelings about it: I felt hurt. That’s enough for me now. Maybe other people wouldn’t let something like that bother them. But I am who I am.
I am who I am. I’m almost welling up just writing that. For years, “I” was being eroded, reshaped into “H’s wife and the mother of his children.”
But inside, a tiny seed of me was still there. And now it’s growing back.