Winnie Salamon’s friend broke free from the mother/wife daily grind. But was it worth the price?
I’ve never dreamed of wedded bliss and happy families. My parents’ relationship was so dysfunctional, I assumed that those freakish couples with well-adjusted children who appeared to actually love each other were lying.
When my dad had an affair with a “crazy” lady from his work, the entire small country town in which we lived knew about it. People talked and I felt so, so embarrassed.
From then on I ignored the complicated nature of my parents coupling and decided that infidelity was the worst thing you could do to a person. I remembered my dad’s lover, all leopard print and hot pink lipstick, showing up at my house when I was 12 years old and home sick from school. It made me feel so alienated from my family, from my parents’ secret double life.
At 37, I have been monogamous for 20 years. I love my husband and the children we’ve had together. Our house is calm and loving. It never ceases to amaze me that it is possible to really live like this.
So when my friend J told me she was leaving her husband I didn’t expect to feel so upset. Of course it is sad when a relationship breaks down, but it happens all the time. When she told me there was someone else, confirming what I already expected, I wasn’t mad or judgmental. Relationships are complicated, after all, and I know now that most people don’t cheat if things are going great. I didn’t think cheating on her husband was the worst thing she could do.
To tell you the truth, I was a little jealous.
I met J through our daughters, who go to school together. Like my husband and me, she fell in love with her husband as a teenager. Like us, they have two children: a girl and a boy. We are connected not just by the joy that comes with raising children, but also with the relentless daily grind of making healthy snacks and picking crap off the floor and washing clothes and loading the dishwasher. Again and again and again.
And now all of a sudden my friend has broken free.
Last week, I sat on the steps of a school building with another friend, waiting for our kids to finish their after-school Mandarin lesson. We were moaning about how tired we are all the time when J walked toward us.
“I should have an affair if it makes me look like that!” my friend said, somewhat bitterly.
J has always been a beautiful woman, but with her red lipstick and new haircut she looked glamorous and sexy and not like somebody’s mother. It was almost like she walked differently. She seemed so, well, happy. And buoyant. And in love.
A response I am ashamed to admit for so many reasons. No matter how awesome she looks, J’s life is no picnic. Great sex and the glamour of new love do not cancel out the guilt of breaking up her family, the fear of scarring her children, and betraying the man she loved for so long. And, not to mention, the logistical nightmare of figuring out finances when a family breaks down.
When J’s former husband was due to come over to my house to drop off his daughter, I asked my husband if I should say anything. “Just act like everything is normal,” my husband said. “He’s humiliated enough as it is.”
So that’s what we did. Chatting about the computer games our kids play, the fact that Home Alone is actually a good film. How unexpected! “I wonder how Macaulay Culkin is doing these days,” I said. “What a relief our kids aren’t A-list child stars.”
If you didn’t know, you’d never suspect J’s ex to be a man whose wife had just left him.
But later, when I dropped J’s daughter home and the ex and I were alone I could tell. The growing pot belly, the defeat in his voice. And of course, the fact that he began to talk about what a shit year he’d been having. It must be exhausting to wake up every day, to work and kids and life, and try to pretend you’re fine even when you’re not.
So I’m not jealous of J anymore. She still looks amazing and her new love is more devoted than ever. But the price she’s paid is high. And whether it’s worth it? I don’t think anyone can say for sure.
Winnie Salamon is an author and journalist. She has a PhD about the plight of reality TV contestants and lectures in media studies at the University of Melbourne.