I am in self-isolation with my husband but I still sneak out to see my boyfriend.
As I close the front door I sing out hello to my husband, Alex*.
We have been on lockdown for three weeks, ever since the government announced that those with underlying health issues should stay at home.
Alex can’t go out and I’m not supposed to either – but I do, because I have another home with another partner.
I’m not an ogre or a sinister character from a psychological thriller. My life is more complicated than I had envisaged it could be and it has almost unravelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Alex and I have been married for nearly two decades, and most of that time I have been his carer – he became chronically ill five years into our marriage. When he was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease, I went from being a wife with a loving relationship to a carer with zero sex life.
Anyone who has a spouse with a long-term illness knows that they can become a supporting role in their life with their other half playing the star. For 10 years, our lives revolved around Alex’s condition alongside his good days and the bad ones. What I wanted to do on holiday or at the weekend always played second fiddle to his needs.
The Alex I married was still in there somewhere, but now I live with a selfish and needy husband. Starting a family was out of the question too, because I couldn’t face the idea of looking after him and our children as well.
I work as a carer in a local nursing home and five years ago while at work I met Phil*. His mum was one of my residents and I found myself looking forward to his visits.
One day he surprised me with a bunch of flowers. Before long, we arranged a perfectly innocent lunch date. Up to this point, our relationship was entirely platonic, yet I knew I had feelings for him.
Over lunch I explained my home set-up and Phil understood completely and over the following months I began to see him on a regular basis. With Phil I could just be me, while at home with Alex I would ask ‘how are you?’ each morning and brace myself for the long drawn-out answer.
Phil loved me as a woman and didn’t rely on me as a carer. I am comparing and I recognise it is unfair to judge Alex this way. We went through counselling 10 years ago but the unresolved issues of no sex and our relationship imbalance haven’t shifted.
“I have wrestled with the guilt of leading a double life, but I can’t leave Alex on his own and I refuse to give up the world I have created with Phil”
Alex and I have several buy-to-let apartments and when one vacated I impetuously asked Phil to move in, knowing we would be able to spend time together there, too. While we decorated the flat together, I began to crave the intimacy Phil and I had during the day and wanted to stay over.
So I told Alex I had taken on a couple of night shifts each week in the care home. He readily agreed, assuming I’d have more time to spend with him in the day. That was four years ago and I have run two households ever since.
Throughout that time I have wrestled with the guilt of leading a double life, but I can’t leave Alex on his own and I refuse to give up the world I have created with Phil.
Until a month ago, I had come to an uneasy truce with myself – then the coronavirus pandemic arrived. At first I didn’t have any clue how it would impact my personal situation. I followed what was happening across Europe and realised with mounting horror that there was a very real risk of lockdown being imposed on us, too.
I burst into tears one evening when I was with Phil. He understood why. I wouldn’t be able to see him until the virus was under control.
Alex mentioned it first; he was worried about his health and what I could bring home from work. His illness means that he has to self-isolate for three months and it impacts me as well. My bosses accepted it because they knew my situation at home.
But after two weeks, I cracked and instead of having our shopping delivered I’ve told Alex I’ll do it. In reality, Phil has done it for me and we then get to spend an afternoon together. We have lunch, make love and keep some semblance of normality for us.
I don’t feel guilty. This is my true life and real love, but I can’t leave Alex.
I am as careful as I can be when I return home. I practice all of the advice, leave the shopping outside and painstakingly wipe down each item.
I don’t feel guilty about the risk of carrying the virus into our home. I only see Phil and I’m not exposed to anyone else who could be a silent carrier. Besides, I also walk our dog every day and while I practice social distancing I am still outside.
Alex is extremely grateful about the changes I’ve made to our life to keep him safe. The guilt tears me up inside; ‘if only you knew’, I think.
I have no doubt that people will judge me, but I’m making the best of a bad situation. I’m sure I’m not the only one either.