A fascinating insight into the low grade drip of unhappiness, compromise and ultimately, frustration, that corodes so many early marriages.
Tony, 43, a civil servant from West Sussex, divorced his wife in 2000 after a 12-year marriage resulting in three children
“I married my college sweetheart Susan when I was 19. We were madly in love. We bought a house and had three lovely children. To the rest of the world, we were the perfect family. But deep down I didn’t feel happy. I felt like life had passed me by.
“By the age of 28 I felt like an old man, saddled with a wife, kids and a mortgage. I was still young, women still flirted with me. People my age were still partying and being carefree. I started to feel that I was missing out.
“Relations between Susan and I were deteriorating. Our sex life was nonexistent and we were having financial worries. I was so low and I longed for female attention. I didn’t have a full-blown affair, but I did go out for drinks with a few women. But when you are down, temptation inevitably leads to infidelity.Just after our ten-year anniversary, Susan found an incriminating text message on my phone and accused me of cheating. I said, ‘I’m not — but this marriage isn’t working’. She was devastated when I told her that I was leaving. It was horrible to watch, but I’ll never regret walking away from that marriage.
“I remember loading the contents of my life into the back of my car, and thinking ‘is this all I amount to?’ I’d left a house, a wife and three children, and now all I had was a half-full car. I suddenly felt very small.
“But I’m not the kind of man to wallow, so for the next six months I went on the rampage: sleeping with a different woman every night. I was thrilled finally to be free of married life and doing what I should have been doing ten years ago.
“In March 1999 I met Gemma. She was much younger than me and made me feel 17 again. We instantly clicked and before I knew it we were living together and she was talking about marriage and kids. I’ll admit that I treated her quite badly. I was the perfect boyfriend at home, but as soon as I walked out the door I was out partying.
“Eventually I agreed to marry her, just to keep her happy. I wasn’t deeply in love with her, but knew that I could easily walk away from it if I wanted to. In my mind, marriage doesn’t need to be forever.
“I got my comeuppance a few months after the wedding when I discovered that one of the women I’d been seeing had given birth to my son. Gemma was six months pregnant herself, and when I told her about my son I have never seen anyone look so devastated. She just kept saying, ‘You’re not leaving me are you?’ That was one of the worst moments of my life.
“Miraculously we stayed together for another three years, but I always knew that she deserved better. In 2005 I moved out because I wanted to give her her dignity. She needed someone to love her unconditionally and I couldn’t do that.
“Having lived through two failed marriages and numerous relationships, I don’t believe in monogamy any more. Marriage just isn’t realistic in this day and age; there are just too many temptations.”
George, 52, a company director from London, divorced his wife in 2007 after an 18-year marriage. They have two children
“When I met Anna at a party 27 years ago I took her phone number and before I knew it we were ‘going out’. We were then quietly absorbed into each other’s social circles. There weren’t fireworks or gut-wrenching decisions — but rather an evolutionary progression to togetherness.
“I didn’t have any burning desire to get down on one knee but when she got pregnant a year and a half into the relationship, it was a case of, ‘well, I suppose we should get married’. I did think this was the right thing to do. Our wedding day wasn’t the best day of my life but nor was it the worst. I would describe myself as ‘unmoved’.
“For the first few years of marriage we were too preoccupied with taking care of a young family to have any particular concerns about our relationship. We were just carried along on the gathering force of life. It was only as the kids got a bit older that I started to feel the faint stirrings of dissatisfaction. I was thinking ‘this is all fine, but is this person the love of my life?’. We had the convenience of a shared history together and commitment. But we had no desire, no passion and there was no feeling of choice. Increasingly, I thought these things were important.
“I gradually realised that I was spending my life doing things I didn’t want to do: dull dinner parties, family obligations, PTA meetings and neighbourhood barbecues.
I felt stifled and constrained by a life I hadn’t chosen. So I developed an alter ego: at home I played the role of the dutiful husband and father but the real me was somebody else entirely.
“Without realising it, I started to look for the elusive thing that was missing from my marriage — which led inevitably to an affair. It was the horrible clichéd relationship with a work colleague but it served a purpose. She highlighted everything that was missing from my marriage.
“When I finally left in 2007 there was an element of sadness but, if I am honest, I was relieved that the marriage was over. Anna desperately wanted to give it another go but I knew that that would be a terrible mistake. You can’t maintain a relationship just to avoid hurting people.
“I didn’t overreact to my newfound freedom by going out and buying a bachelor pad with chrome furniture — but I did gradually redraw my life to live the way I wanted to. I see my children regularly but I don’t spend every weekend at the garden centre, doing DIY or at dull social events. Life is too precious.
“I often wonder how many people stay in relationships through choice, and how many stay through fear, obligation and the desire for security? I know there are a lot of people who are willing to compromise — but that’s not good enough for me. I have enjoyed meeting new people and going out on the occasional date. I still believe in love and I’m holding out for the real thing.”
I’m glad she left me when she did. My life is better than ever
Peter, 30, a chartered accountant, separated from his wife after six months and divorced this year. They have no children“My marriage was a case of too much too young. When this gorgeous Irish girl came up to me in 2005 and asked: ‘Are you here to take me home?’ I said: ‘No, but I wish I was’ — and that was that. Six weeks later I proposed to Gemma . We hardly knew each other but I was madly in love and that’s all that mattered.
“We moved to Northern Ireland, bought a house and the relationship became all about choosing carpets, fighting about the laundry and whose turn it was to cook. By the time we got married in 2007, it seemed like the logical thing to do. All I wanted to do was make her happy but marriage was a lot tougher than I ever expected.
“The other side of the woman I was first attracted to was that she was controlling, spiteful, vain, lazy and shouted at me constantly to ‘make dinner’ and ‘do my washing’. She was always out with her mates while I worked six days a week for my accountancy qualifications.
“One Saturday night she went out clubbing and didn’t come home until 10am the next day. I don’t know if she cheated on me, but when I got home and found her sleeping off her hangover in bed, I was so furious that I called her mum to come and collect her. At that moment I had never hated anyone so much in my whole life. We tried to patch things up, but a couple of weeks later Gemma said: ‘I can’t do this any more. I’m leaving.’ I begged her to stay — God knows why. It felt like my life was crashing down around my ears and I was desperate to cling on to something.
“All I could think was: ‘What were people going to say? How would my parents react?’ Over the next few months I went through some very dark times. Until one day it finally dawned on me: I was free. Once I got over the shock of separation, it was like going back in a time machine to my early twenties. I could go out when I wanted, and I didn’t have to do the dishes. Gemma was a vegetarian, so I was finally able to cook steaks and roast chickens.
“I’ve settled in Northern Ireland now, got a new job, a new girlfriend . When I consider how happy I am now, I’m eternally grateful that Gemma left me when she did. Divorce was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
I feel like a teenager. Finally living the life I was always meant to have.
Jamie, 31, an Army recruitment officer from Kent, divorced in 2011 after a nine-year marriage. The couple had three children
“During the first years of marriage to Rebecca, I was stationed away from home. I dedicated myself to the Army; Rebecca dedicated herself to the children. We lived fairly separate lives. At work I’d say how much I missed my wife, but I was keeping my real feelings buried. I had always been attracted to men.
“I enjoyed the companionship of marriage. Our sex life was OK — we had three children together. In restaurants, though, I started to look at other happy couples and get this jealous knot in my stomach. Even worse was seeing an attractive man and feeling that there was nothing I could do about it. I longed for that all-consuming love and happiness that everyone talks about.
“As the years went on it became increasingly difficult to lie to myself — particularly after we got the internet at home. I started experimenting with gay porn and chat rooms. Eventually I was unfaithful to Rebecca: twice with men and once with a woman. I justified my infidelities by telling myself that I needed to ‘make myself happy for the children’ but I was sick and tired of masking my emotions.
“In 2007 I finally plucked up the courage to say: ‘This isn’t working. I want a divorce.’ There were tears and remonstrations, but then we got into an argument via text messages. She said: ‘I want this marriage to work’ and in the heat of the moment I replied, ‘It can’t, because I’m gay’.
“I moved out of the family home and threw myself into work, to escape my feelings of guilt. I started coming out to family, friends and colleagues.
As a soldier, I was expecting violence, bullying, retribution, but instead people shook my hand.
“At first I hated being alone and found it hard to adjust to everyday domestic responsibilities of laundry and housework — and it took me a while to get my life back on track.
“Now I feel an overwhelming sense of freedom . I’ve been with my boyfriend for the past two years and we’re very happy together. My children fully understand that Daddy has a boyfriend, and they get along well with him. I feel like a teenager sometimes, finally living the life I was always meant to have. I don’t regret meeting my ex-wife because we have three beautiful children, but I do regret not being true to myself sooner.”
The stories were recounted to Sarah Harris and published in The Times on October 15 2011 12:01AM