Welcome to our series, The Divorce Diaries. In our past instalments over the last year we’ve covered everything from the effect of lockdown on divorces to whether they’re contagious and have now spoken to dozens of women – including one whose husband announced he was leaving her to have an open relationship with a 19-year-old and another who was quite literally ghosted by her own husband.
If you have a topic you’d like to discuss, share your thoughts, experience or advice about, drop a line to [email protected] with ‘Divorce’ in the subject line. All stories that are published will win a Dermalogica BioLumin-C Moisturiser, valued at $119!
This week we talk to Mary* who had only ever been in one relationship…. until she discovered that her husband was in love with their new neighbour.
As long as Mary can remember, Mark has always been a part of her life.
She can’t remember when they met – whether it was during her first days at primary school (he started two months before her), or maybe it was beforehand, considering they lived on the same street.
There were photos of him at her fifth, sixth and seventh birthday parties, before she decided that ‘boys were gross’ and spent the next years actively trying to avoid him. That changed again when she was a teenager and at 16, he was back on her birthday guest list – this time as her official boyfriend.
“Mark is literally the only guy I’ve ever dated,” says Mary. “I have no idea what it’s like to be with anyone else.”
Of course, at 16, her family, friends – and Mary herself – expected that Mark would just be her first boyfriend of many. But instead, their relationship lasted – surviving going to universities in different parts of the country, doing an OE together, moving in at 24 and getting married at 26, the same year they bought a house together. They then welcomed two children together – their first when they were 28 and a second just 18 months later, arriving just before Mark’s 30th birthday.
Mark was all Mary knew, and she assumed they’d be together for her lifetime.
But then, one day, in an instant everything seemed to change.
The grumpy old couple who had lived next door for decades, decided to sell up and Mark and Mary fantasized about who might buy it – maybe it would be a young family who would invite them over to the pool that sat there, unused.
She got her hopes up when she saw glimpses of them moving in – they looked to be around the same age as them and definitely had a dog and children in tow. Mary figured she’d give them a few days to settle in and then they’d go over and introduce themselves.
Instead, she’ll never be able to forget that moment they first met.
It was a Saturday and Mary was in the middle of dinner when the doorbell rang. Her hands full, she called out to Mark to answer it. She soon heard a woman’s voice apologizing, but also sounding quite frantic. Next thing, Mark popped his head around the corner of the kitchen and told her it was their new neighbour and he was heading over to help – they’d sprung a leak and she couldn’t find the watermains to turn off.
But, something felt weird – Mark’s face looked odd. “Umm, how do you put it. I dunno, it’s like when you know someone that well, you know their face, right? And he looked kind of dumbstruck? Or like he’d seen a ghost, but, a good ghost?? I don’t know.”
Mary looked out the window to see her new neighbour walking back up the driveway, with a small child on her hip, its arms clinging around her neck and her husband trailing behind.
From that moment, everything in their relationship changed.
When Mark got home, he could barely look her in the eye properly.
“He wouldn’t really go into much detail about them,” she says, “I was like, ‘oh cool, so are we gonna get to use their pool now that you saved the day? I was kinda joking, but he was quite serious and goes, ‘oh we can’t go inviting ourselves over!’ It was weird… his tone was weird.”
But, she did ascertain that the couple next door were around their age – about five years older and had a two year old daughter.
Worryingly, over the next few weeks and months Mary noticed a lot of changes in Mark. He started buying new clothes and decided he was going to run a marathon, so was suddenly out running or at the gym a lot. He seemed to be around a lot less.
Plus, he was harder to pin down about the future – they always had something in the calendar to look forward to, whether it was a weekend away, a night in a hotel just the two of them or a longer family holiday booked far in the future. Now, they had nothing booked in and Mark kept saying he had to check his dates, or it was too difficult to manage with two such small children (their youngest wasn’t yet a year old).
But then, a week after they had a small party at home for their daughter’s first birthday (which they invited the neighbours to), Mark sent Mary a message saying he needed to talk to her about something important when he got home from work and his mother would watch the children.
“Pah,” says Mary. “When you get a message like that, you’ve either won Lotto, or you’re about to get dumped.”
She suspected it was far more likely to be the latter – especially after what had been happening the last three months.
“I called my best friend and my sister and told them,” she says. “I said I reckoned he was having an affair with the neighbour and they both laughed.”
Maybe it was bad news, they reasoned, but maybe it was something they could work through and come out even stronger as a couple.
Instead, Mark came in, very distant and cold, got a glass of water from the kitchen and sat down on a stool by the counter. Mary can’t remember his words anymore, and, truth be told, she didn’t hear much except for roaring sound of blood pounding in her ears.
Mark was sorry, apparently, but their marriage was over. He was in love with someone else, and yes, it was their neighbour. But he also wanted her to know what a good guy he was, because they hadn’t done anything about acting on their love yet – he wanted to do the right thing and tell her first.
“It was so f****d up,” sighs Mary. “It was like, what, do you want me to say thanks??”
Then, he got up – Mary thinks he said something along the lines of that he’d give her time to process it – went to his car, AND DROVE NEXT DOOR.
Mary was actually laughing when she called her sister to please come over immediately. “Like, that can’t be real,” she says. “Who does that? It was so weird that it didn’t feel like real life.”
Mary can’t remember her sister coming over or what happened that night, or her mother-in-law bringing over the kids – or most of the next few months, to be honest.
But what she does know is that when Mark text her that day he announced he was leaving, it was only really because her neighbour’s husband found out about what was going on, left his wife and let her know that Mark had the rest of the day to tell Mary, before he told her himself.
Thankfully, Mary’s family and friends rallied around her – they helped with food and childcare while she navigated returning to work after her maternity leave, whilst also going through a divorce. They packed up her things and helped her move – and dealt with Mark in selling the family home. They even drove her to sessions with a therapist and looked after the kids while she first concentrated on surviving, then worked on rebuilding her life.
It’s now four years on since Mark and Mary split and she’s now pretty much fully recovered from the ordeal. It took years before she didn’t think about him living at that neighbour’s house, playing with their kids in the pool without wanting to scream. But now, it just makes her roll her eyes and she can now see lots of things that weren’t actually so wonderful about their relationship.
“We got together so young, I didn’t know any better,” she says. “I thought that’s just what a relationship was like.”
And, meanwhile, something very curious has happened in her life.
She moved about 25 minutes away, to a house very nearby her sister’s. Three days a week, she finishes work early and picks up her kids and her sister’s daughter from school and walks home with them, where her niece stays until her sister picks her up just before dinner.
One day, her niece asked if he could have a friend over to play after school – and she agreed. The next week, she walked her two kids, her niece and a lovely blonde headed girl home where they baked together until her father came to pick her up.
It took Mary a moment to work out where she recognized this handsome man from, but she could barely believe it when the penny dropped. It was her old neighbour.
“I know, I know, it sounds insane,” she says. The two had never been in touch after the affair, but she’d often thought about reaching out to him – knowing he was likely going through the exact same emotions.
“He ended up staying for dinner and we caught up, like, maybe a week later without the kids to have a chat.”
One thing led to another, and, six months later, they wound up moving in together.
“Everyone we know thought we were insane,” she says. But once they met him, and saw them together, they totally understood.
“It’s very weird sometimes, negotiating things with our exes – who are the same couple! But it kind of works. It’s easier on the kids, I think. They might find it harder when they’re older and understand it all a bit better, but it works for them now.”
“We’re never gonna go on holiday or be Gwyneth Paltrow about it, but it’s working. It’s a bit weird knowing what to say when someone asks us how we met though!”
* Names have been changed