A letter to The Independent’s weekly advice column, The Help Desk, first published 2003.
A Case of a Serial Philanderer
Letter from reader:
I first met my lover 12 years ago. I was 30 and single, he was married. He is the love of my life and also the cause of terrible pain over the years.
Several times I ended our relationship – he wouldn’t leave his wife, despite his promises, and he also had at least two other affairs while he was seeing me. But we have an incredible connection, physically and intellectually, and I feel he is the only person who truly understands me. His marriage did eventually end two years ago.
Cautiously, I started seeing him again and now he says he wants us to move in together. Logically, I realise alarm bells should be ringing. But I want so much finally to be part of his life (I’ve never met his children and some of his friends). I just feel we belong together. No one else I’ve been with has ever come close. My gut tells me things are different this time, but can someone like this ever really change?
Response from Louisa:
Crikey, I have to say this one sounds like a monster. Do I think people like this ever change? No I don’t. This man, with his “at least two” affairs (have you asked him how many? Could you trust him to answer honestly?) sounds like a compulsive philanderer.
The thing about serial cheaters is that they need someone to cheat on. Since his marriage ended, there is a vacancy for a Wronged One in his life, the job description for which really doesn’t bear thinking about. You’re a bit of a romantic – I can tell from the way you describe your affair – and I have a terrible feeling that you would find some kind of fulfilment in this role, having done such sterling work as Deputy Wronged One for all these years.
So yes, alarm bells should be ringing. Let’s strip away, for a moment, the lividly tinted lens of the star-crossed-lovers thing, the hearts and flowers, the “love of my life” stuff – and what you’re asking yourself is whether you should set up home with someone who habitually causes you to suffer, and without whom your life would have been much happier, if a trifle duller. Perhaps what you should more helpfully be asking is what has happened in your life to make you believe that love goes hand in hand with pain.
No one changes all that much, and the complex dynamic between lovers perhaps even less so. So what you’d be signing up for is more of the same, though with a few bonuses: you’d get the legitimacy and ownership you’ve craved while your affair was secret (though he is taking his time about introducing you to his nearest and dearest, isn’t he?). You’d get, perhaps, some sense of payback for having given him the best years of your life. And then there is, of course, your incredible physical and intellectual connection (stop sniggering at the back, please).
There are some people for whom fidelity is not the most important thing. Maybe you are one of them, though with all the suffering you say he’s caused you, I suspect not. This kind of philandering is a form of abuse, and someone so oblivious to your pain does not love you as you think he does.