real life

'I reconnected with a man I had an affair with 20 years ago. I wonder if it was worth all the pain.'

We found illicit passion 20 years ago, and we've now reconnected. How can we accept the pain we caused our families?

Twenty years ago, I was a fresh-faced, expat returning to full-time work after my youngest child turned three. Life was exciting, living in Asia with my new husband and the wonderful social life that came with it. My husband loved a good party, and while I often joined him for dinner parties with friends, I could never sustain the all-night drinking sessions that often lasted until well into the next day. 

Although I had worked part-time throughout both my pregnancies, I was excited about the prospect of rebooting my career again after my mothering hiatus. And that's when I met Mike. Mike was in the early stages of his career like me, and, also like me, he was the parent of two young children that he had cared for while his wife followed her executive dream. We came from other sides of the globe, and while our backgrounds couldn’t have been more diverse, something drew us together and we quickly became firm friends.

It wasn't until we had started the round of annual leaving parties, including his own, that I realised just how much I would miss him. One sentence at the bar, "I'm attracted to you" led to a two-week stint of pushing the fidelity boundaries as far as we could.

After he left Beijing, the guilt set in. Things with my husband had been rocky for years. His constant abandonment of me and the children had taken its toll on our marriage, and this, coupled with my own self-deprecation, led us to return to Australia.

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Mike emailed me, telling me he missed me, but I ignored his requests for contact, and eventually, after a rather brutal email telling him to stop communicating, he did.


Life ticked by. My marriage improved for the first years of our return. My husband stopped drinking and we worked hard to build a home for our girls. But gradually, his behaviour returned to his old ways; everyone became more important than us, the bottle and a night out won every time. 

At 52 I had been working full-time and running the household single-handedly for the last 20 years.

And then I had long-service leave. An overseas trip with my mum gave me hope for a happier future. I swore that when I returned our family dynamic would change. I would try to cut down my hours, I would encourage my husband to again seek some help. Surely, we could fix this. 

It was Father's Day. Halfway through the lunch, my husband left to play golf with his friends, ignoring my pleas and the look of surprise on my extended family's faces. That was the moment I knew it was over.

A few weeks later a message arrived. It was from Mike. He had seen the photos of my trip online and wondered how I was doing. This time I replied. In those few brief messages, he told me he was divorced and had never stopped thinking about me. The day I decided to phone him is forever etched in my memory. 

He was on the plane before I knew it. And after 18 years, we reunited at the airport with no expectations beyond seeing each other in the flesh once again. Cool, calm and collected was our motto.

We fell into each other's arms and as I put my heart to his chest, I knew that I had finally found true love. But the pain we have caused others has been insufferable. I wonder now, as I sit here alone, while my husband and adult children enjoy the home I spent years building, if I could have changed my fate. Like Anna Karenina, my heart was a child, and just like her, I wonder if dying for love is the ultimate sacrifice. 

Feature Image: Canva.