“I need to talk to you,” the text message read. “Are you free?”
As it happened, I was de-robed and just about the get into the shower. It was my seven-year wedding anniversary and I was already running late for a celebratory date with my husband.
A text from my younger brother could wait, I thought. But something about his tone niggled me.
“About to shower,” I replied. “What’s up?”
On the screen, I watched him type words and delete them – over and over again. I waited, steam from the shower filling the room.
“It’s Dad,” came his response. My knees went weak as various horrifying images flooded my mind. I lived thousands of miles away from my parents and brother, and the idea of something happening to one of them while I was absent terrified me. I prepared for the worst.
“He’s been having an affair.”
Strange though it may be to admit it now, those words were an immense relief.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” I tapped. “This is Dad we’re talking about.”
Dad, who woke up before everyone else in the morning to walk the dog and load the dishwasher; who circled cheesy 1970s shows in the TV guide so as not to miss them; who bumbled around in the garden at night with a telescope and wore mismatched socks to work.
Dad, who had spent so much of his life poring over homework, school projects and exam prep with us; who loved board games on Sundays, extra chips with his steak, and who absolutely idolised my mother.
There was no way he was having an affair.
My phone rang. Before my brother could speak, I heard shouting and banging interspersed with my mother’s heart-wrenching crying.
“He’s been having an affair,” my brother said moving away from the commotion. “For years.”
I turned the shower off, wrapped myself in a towel, sat on the bathroom floor and listened.
It had started with the discovery of a single email, he said; intimate and loving from my father to another woman, carelessly left open on our home computer. Further exploration revealed a physical and emotional relationship, which had been going on for years.
“There’s something else,” he said. “We found out that he has been using extramarital affair sex sites. He’s a fully paid member of not just one, but loads of them.”
My surprise quickly turned to fear and disgust.
It had been my brother who’d discovered it. Reeling from the bombshell of the initial affair, he’d picked up Dad’s cellphone, which wasn’t password-protected, only to find message notifications from sites like Marital Affair, Marital Fling and Ashley Madison.
He immediately sent the message streams to the home printer – hundreds of pages filled with flirtations, fantasies and betrayal.
As we sat together, grown-up siblings – me on my bathroom floor thousands of miles away and my brother on the stairs of our family home – we listened to our parents argue while we talked.
If it had been an affair – just one affair with a woman he truly loved – we could almost understand, we agreed. Almost.
But to seek out sordid sexual fantasies with random married women on internet sex sites? It was too much. Had he been safe? Had he put our mother’s health and life at risk? The thought made us sick to our stomachs, and we were full of rage on her behalf. We resented his not ending the marriage before seeking intimacy elsewhere.
Instead, he lied. A lot. Who was this man? Did we know anything about him, really?
Selfishly, my thoughts turned to my own husband of seven years – so loving and sweet and waiting to celebrate our wedding anniversary. If a man I had known and trusted above all others could lie and cheat for years, surely anyone could, my own husband included.
That thought has stayed with me in the year since we discovered Dad’s infidelity, and I find myself quizzing my own thankfully very understanding husband on his whereabouts. I call his office randomly if he says he’s working late and I’m ashamed to say that, once or twice, I have gone through his phone searching for evidence of an affair.
For months after we first found out about Dad, I insisted on using condoms whenever my husband and I had sex, terrified that I could be infected with an STD should he cheat.
My kind, trusting and very mellow brother, too, has admitted to scouring adultery and casual sex websites looking for his partner. We’ve changed; the trust and comfort is gone from our relationships.
Because it’s not just your spouse you’re putting in danger when you join websites like Ashley Madison. It’s your children, too. Whether they’re young or grown, the effects will be long-lasting in both their relationship with you and with others. I promise you that.
Wouldn’t it be better to close that Ashley Madison account? Or better yet, never open one and instead have the courage to speak to your spouse about how you’re feeling, before you do irrevocable damage to your family?
Life is short. Have some decency.