Why WOULD an intelligent, middle-aged, middle-class woman be happy being the 'other woman' forever
16:04 GMT, 13 July 2012
Bathed in the candlelit glow of a cosy French bistro, Melanie reflects on another wonderful evening with her partner Alex.
The couple – who have been together for two years – have much in common and often spend their evenings lost in laughter and conversation together. To any outsider they look like a successful, happily married couple.
Yet, at the end of the evening, invariably Alex will discreetly ask the waiter to call for two cabs. For while they are indeed married, they are not betrothed to each other.
Melanie, who's estranged but not divorced from her lawyer husband, will return home to her two young children, and Alex will go back to his wife who, astonishingly, is complicit in this arrangement. She, too, has an extra marital companion
Melanie, who’s estranged but not divorced from her lawyer husband, will return home to her two young children, and Alex will go back to his wife – who, astonishingly, is complicit in this arrangement. She, too, has an extra marital companion.
So how did Melanie, a successful, middle class woman, end up in such a complicated – many would say sordid – love triangle
It’s certainly a situation she never expected to find herself in, not least because she knows the pain adultery can cause after her own husband had affairs.
‘My marriage vows meant everything to me and being the cheated wife was utterly heartbreaking, so the irony that I’m now somebody else’s mistress isn’t lost on me,’ says Melanie, 41, who lives in Berkshire. ‘But it was the failure of my marriage that taught me that sometimes you have to take happiness where you can find it, so long as nobody else gets hurt in the process.
‘It’s so hard to know what to do when there are children involved. Do you stay for their sake The conclusion I came to is that we all need love in our lives and if it comes our way we should embrace it.’
Melanie’s background doesn’t hint at the complex situation she now finds herself in.
According to recent statistics, more than a million British adults have subscribed to extramarital dating websites, with up to 400,000 logging on every week in search of an affair
She had an idyllic upbringing in the Somerset countryside, the daughter of a housewife and a businessman, who were married for 20 years until her mother tragically died. She studied land economics at university in London then qualified as a chartered surveyor before retraining as a nutritionist and establishing a successful clinic in Harley Street – all by the time she was 29.
It was then that she met Paul* on a blind date organised by friends.
‘He was a hotshot corporate lawyer, well educated and charming,’ Melanie recalls. ‘He was enormous fun with a glamorous lifestyle centred round fabulous restaurants and clubs. He swept me off my feet.
‘Dates were spent at the then coveted Caf de Paris where he was a member, and he was famous for his four-hour lunches in the fine dining room at Harvey Nichols.
‘There was always a gift for me – a Hermes scarf or a Cartier watch. Now, I cringe at the superficiality of it all – it was just stuff, it didn’t mean anything as I would later find out.
‘But as a young woman who’d not mixed in such circles before, it was hard not to get sucked in and, anyway, we genuinely clicked. He was the first boyfriend I’d ever seen a future with.’
Melanie and Paul married three years later with a traditional church wedding, a lavish reception for nearly one hundred guests.
Their son was born a year later. They made a joint decision that she would sell her clinic to be a full time mum. But the gloss was already starting to wear off.
‘Paul was so focused on his career that he had little time for family life,’ she adds. ‘As much as I adored our son, I found it hard swapping a successful career for being a full time mum. Meanwhile Paul couldn’t get used to not having me to himself and I was so sleep deprived that I wasn’t interested in sex.
‘Increasingly he’d work late or even all night, sometimes not coming home at all. I tried to accept that it was his job and that in working so hard he was providing us with a wonderful lifestyle – including our beautiful three-bed home in Richmond, Surrey, winter holidays in South Africa and summers spent in France and Italy.’
Still, when Melanie got pregnant with their second child, a daughter, it was not planned.
She says: ‘I got pregnant thanks to a one-off after months of not sleeping together. I wanted to make the marriage work for the sake of our children. ’
Melanie began to have suspicions that Paul was cheating. His Blackberry and laptop were always locked with passwords that she didnt have access to (posed by model)
But during the pregnancy Melanie began to have suspicions that Paul was cheating. He regularly worked 14 hour days and often wouldn’t come home at all. His Blackberry and laptop were always locked with passwords that she didn’t have access to.
In 2006, while still pregnant, her suspicions were confirmed. While away on a business trip, Paul unknowingly caught a button on his mobile phone while it was in his pocket and dialed their home number. Melanie listened in for 15 minutes as he and a woman he was with in a bar planned the love-making they would do later in his hotel room.
Devastated by what she’d heard, Melanie waited until Paul returned to confront him.
‘He wouldn’t deny or admit anything and said I was overreacting,’ she explains. ‘He was a lawyer and talking his way out of things was his forte.’
With no job or money of her own, Melanie felt she had no choice but to stay.
In 2008 Paul landed a job abroad and moved the family there. And that’s when Melanie began to make the leap from cheated wife to mistress.
‘I spent a lot of time on email and Skype talking to friends back in the UK while Paul was out all hours, continuing to use work as a smokescreen for his partying. But even then it never crossed my mind to go and have an affair myself.’
According to recent statistics, more than
a million British adults have subscribed to extramarital dating
websites, with up to 400,000 logging on every week in search of an
That was until an advert for AshleyMadison.com – the largest of the myriad of tawdry websites that connects married people wanting to cheat with 13million users worldwide – popped up alongside her email inbox several times. Curious, she logged on.
And she’s not alone. According to recent statistics, more than a million British adults have subscribed to extramarital dating websites, with up to 400,000 logging on every week in search of an affair.
New analysis has shown that users tend to be middle aged, middle class, university educated parents, and that women outnumber men by three to one.
Eventually after a few glasses of wine and feeling thoroughly fed up, Melanie signed up to the website.
Online she developed friendships with two men, both claiming to be in similarly unhappy marriages. One lived in the USA so they never met in person. The second is Alex*, Melanie’s lover.
‘The more we got to know each other, the more I felt that somebody cared and gave a damn about me,’ she reveals. ‘It was like therapy. At that stage it wasn’t about sex, it was enough to have somebody interested in talking to me.
‘Five months later I flew to the UK on family business so we met for dinner. I cried all the way back to the Caribbean because I’d forgotten how lovely it was to have a man be kind to me.
‘I’d known from the outset that Alex had three children he adored with a wife of 20 years who was distant, he claimed. He told me he’d instigated marriage counseling but it had done nothing to bring them closer. I believed him and I also felt sad for him – he was in a loveless marriage just as I was.
‘After that things heated up between Alex and me, with many emails becoming outrageously flirtatious.
‘It strengthened my resolve that there were men out there who would treat me with the attentiveness I longed for. I later told Paul I wanted a divorce and that I’d met someone with whom I’d like to pursue a relationship.
‘Paul agreed our marriage was over and we were in the process of working out the practicalities of separating when he took a new job in another continent, where he’s been ever since. The children – who were five and two at the time – and I came back to the UK and stayed with my Dad.’
Melanie was free to pursue an affair with Alex and three months later they spent the night together in a hotel (posed by models)
Melanie begins to cry as she reveals: ‘I had absolutely nothing. But if there’s one thing I’ve learnt in the last ten years it’s that you can have all the money in the world but I’d rather be poor and happy.’
Melanie was free to pursue an affair with Alex and three months later they spent the night together in a hotel.
‘It was lovely and romantic but nerve-wracking and scary, and although I shouldn’t have felt guilty I did,’ adds Melanie, who’s currently studying for a degree in medical herbalism alongside her work as an alternative medical practitioner.
‘Our respective marriages might have been over but technically Alex and I were still bound by our vows to our spouses. Being with a married man in a hotel room had never been part of my life plan.’
She balks at being described as a mistress and refers to Alex as a ‘very dear friend’.
‘He’s in his late 40s and very senior in sports marketing. He’s well travelled, well educated, funny, kind and articulate. What he tells me – and I trust him implicitly – is that he and his wife drifted apart and they’ve not shared the same bedroom for years.
‘He got fed up feeling lonely and had worked out that his wife has what she will only refer to as a ‘gentleman friend’. But he absolutely adores his children and wants to be under the same roof as them.’
And so for that aforementioned twist in the tale: A year ago, Alex’s wife ‘had 40 fits’ after finding an email from Melanie on his Blackberry during a family skiing trip.
‘Our respective marriages might have been
over but technically Alex and I were still bound by our vows to our
spouses. Being with a married man in a hotel room had never been part of
my life plan'
Coming clean about their respective ‘friends’, the pair drew up an unusual agreement with the help of a solicitor: though their marriage is over they will stay together in the family home until their youngest child – now 12 – is 18, each of them free to discreetly pursue their respective love interests in the meantime.
Melanie only has Alex’s word about their agreement.
‘We’d already been together for a year at that point anyway so it’s not like it was a stereotypical line trotted out to get me into bed,’ says Melanie, who feels her own conscience is clear. ‘Alex needs love in his life and I need some in mine so we’re good for each other.’
She hesitates before adding: ‘But I did question him repeatedly about their situation because I needed to make sure. If you’ve got a marriage you can save then you should.’
Alex’s wife doesn’t know Melanie’s identity and their children know nothing of the arrangement. Alex has given his consent to her doing this interview but has inevitably asked that details of his identity are scant.
‘We email every day, chat a few times a week, and meet three times a month. The longest time we’ve spent together was a magical three days in Paris in summer 2010.’
After two years together does love come into it
‘There’s a lot of emotion between us,’ Melanie explains. ‘I guess to talk about love would feel like the ultimate betrayal of his wife.’
But Melanie’s an intelligent woman. Can she really see herself waiting six years until Alex’s son turns 18 Her reply seems more revealing.
‘Although I never want to marry again, eventually one day I would love to find a life partner. Early on with Alex I wished things were different, that we could be a proper couple.
‘For now what I have is fine. Yet although I can imagine a future with Alex, I’d be foolish to wait six years for something that might not happen.
‘If I’m honest, part of me would like to meet someone who also has younger children so we could be a big family.’
It’s hard to imagine Melanie’s friends and family encouraging her to continue a relationship with a man who is essentially unavailable. After all, neither can be with the other on birthdays or at Christmas. They can’t bundle their children together to create one big family, and holidays are out of the question.
‘My friends don’t know about him,’ Melanie reveals, nervously. ‘I mean, there’s an awareness that someone exists in the background of my life, but it’s not like we can go to parties together.’
Which begs the question why Melanie has chosen to share such a morally provocative story and how she feels her loved ones will react
‘I hope they won’t judge me. I hope they’ll see that out of two very difficult situations two people have become dear friends and an enormous support to each other.
‘I don’t feel like a mistress. I ended my own marriage. If Alex had very young children and was playing the happy husband at home I wouldn’t have gone there.
‘I didn’t ever imagine being in this situation. My parents had a good marriage and I wish my own had turned out that way.’
*Some names have been changed to protect their identities.