he first time we had sex was like something out of a film. I arrived wearing nothing but a trench coat and lingerie – yes, I know it’s a cliché, but bear with me. Ben* showed up looking more handsome than I remembered, bearing a bouquet of tulips and a pearl necklace that he’d bought for me as a gift. We didn’t kiss in the lobby, it felt too public. But the second we got into the lift up to our room, our bodies were pressed up against one another, which is exactly how they stayed for the next four hours.
The hotel room he’d booked for us was perfect. Clean, rose-scented, and prepped with a bottle of expensive champagne by the bed. But most importantly, it was nestled in the depths of east London – far away from where I live with my young daughter – and my husband of 10 years.
It was towards the end of the first lockdown that I read about websites that were dedicated to facilitating adulterous relationships between married people. I was shocked something like that existed – infidelity was never something I’d even really thought about, let alone considered partaking in. But as the lockdown raged on and I found myself feeling increasingly lonely in my marriage, I decided to sign up. Just to see what was out there.
It took a week of browsing and conversations with strangers about household chores before I found Ben, a 41-year-old who, like me, said he was unhappily married, and looking for something else.
We hit it off right away, and soon discovered we had similarly niche interests (my husband has never understood my love of hiking, resulting in many solo trips) and shared experiences when it came to our dwindling marriages. Ben has been married for 15 years. He had been dating his now-wife for a short time when she became pregnant. Due to family pressures and religious beliefs, they decided to get married, but he says they were never in love. They still aren’t.
I could relate. While I adore my daughter and will forever be grateful to my husband for giving me her, our relationship has never been the thing of great love stories. He’s a wonderful father and a kind man, but he doesn’t look at me the same way he used to. Our lives have become governed by scheduling and childcare, leaving little time for ourselves and any semblance of romance. I can’t remember the last time we had sex; I could walk past him naked and I don’t think he’d even notice. We also argue. A lot, and, unsurprisingly, with increasing frequency during the pandemic.
My husband was furloughed meaning he was at home full-time for the first time in years. I, meanwhile, was isolated from friends and family, and found myself growing increasingly frustrated with his lethargy and overall lack of effort with me and our marriage. It’s so stereotypical, but as lockdown went on, we both slowly slipped into our traditional gender roles: me cleaning and cooking 24/7; him playing video games and ignoring me. I also became the primary childcarer, taking complete charge of homeschooling despite the fact that I was still working full-time, which has built a growing wall of resentment between us.
With Ben, it’s completely different. We talk for hours, we appreciate one another, and we tell each other how wonderful we think the other is on a daily basis. It’s like a honeymoon, only without all of the baggage. We try to meet once a week, though sometimes we have to go a little longer depending on his work schedule, as that dictates when he’s able to book a hotel room.
The sex is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Rather than the ritualistic breed of intimacy that can occur within marital relationships, this is spontaneous, energetic, frantic. I can’t remember the last time I felt desired like this. It’s the sexiest thing I’ve ever experienced.
But it’s not just the actual affair that’s kept me sane during this year of unrelenting turmoil. I’ve noticed that even when I’m not with Ben, I’m more playful when I speak to friends, more fun and positive. At work, I’ve become more confident, and I no longer get stressed out by minor details. My husband has no idea, I’m sure of that. A part of me wishes he’d notice, even if nothing else just to validate my existence in our home. But we’re too far gone.
When once we might’ve been in tune with one another’s thoughts and feelings, now we’re almost like strangers to one another; strangers who argue about whose turn it is to unload the dishwasher, and sleep with what feels like miles between them in the same bed.
I’ve only told one friend about the affair. She can tell how happy it’s made me, and often tries to encourage me to leave my husband for Ben. But I can’t do that. Not just because Ben has no intention of leaving his wife (the outrage and perceived betrayal by his family would be too much to bear), but because I have no intention of splitting up my daughter’s family home.
My parents divorced when I was young, and I’d never want to put my own child through the pain that caused me. Besides all that, when normality resumes and I go back to working in an office, I don’t even know if I’d have the time to have an affair. Nor would Ben, I suspect. For now, I’m just enjoying what we have and trying not to think too hard about the future. Right now, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. I don’t want to think of much else beyond that, not right now.
*some details have been changed for the sake of anonymity. The website that the couple met on was Illicit Encounters.