Nine years ago, my ex-husband Brian* and I had moved from Austin, Texas, to stay with my best friend Sarah* and her husband Dan* in their New England farmhouse. Brian had just quit his job and I was pregnant with our first child. We figured we would stay with them until Brian could find a job again, and then we would move out.
The living situation was working out so well. It seemed like a hunky-dory idea, Sarah and Dan, me and Brian—the four of us living happily together, under one roof. After we had our daughter Kim*, Brian convinced me to stay for another two years.
One afternoon, when I was pregnant with our second child, James*, I was upstairs in our bedroom while Kim was napping. I went downstairs to check on the laundry, and when I walked into the room, I saw Brian going down on my best friend. Sarah was sitting on the washing machine with her pants around her ankles, and Brian was going at it.
I later found out that Brian and Sarah had been sleeping with each other for two years, since Kim was born. It was almost laughable afterward when I put together so many obvious signs that I had refused to see for the longest time.
Like one time I remember, when they went to "drop off the trash"—because we were in a rural area of New England and didn't have garbage pickup—and they were gone for two hours. When they finally got back, I was like, "Where were you guys?" They told me that the guy there just talked their ear off for a long time. I was just like, "Oh, that's weird. That was a really long time. Let's go have lunch!"
After I caught them, I didn't move out right away. I wanted to try and convince Brian to end it with Sarah, and I spent months battling with the two of them. He ultimately told me he loved her but if I didn't want him to continue things with her then we would try to work on our marriage. I couldn't do it anymore though. I called my mother and I said, "I need to get out of here," and I left. Sarah and Dan also split up, and Sarah and Brian got married not long after.
Since we got divorced, the kids spend half the week with me and then half the week with Brian. It was awful when I first left because James was only a few months old and I was nursing. I would have to pump my breast milk and Brian and Sarah would be the ones to feed it to him.
It was a rocky road for us when we first separated and it stayed that way for the first few years, unless we were in front of the kids. It wasn't until about a year ago that we started growing closer again and then he told me that he was going to move out of Sarah's house. He told me that part of the reason it wasn't working out between them was because he still had feelings for me, and he could never forgive himself for what had happened. I felt insulted by it because he had been with her for all those years. I didn't say anything; I didn't want to.
After I didn't show any interest, he tried to work things out with Sarah and they went through marriage counseling. Every now and then I would check in and ask him how it was going. After a few months, he told me that it was finally over: He was moving out and filing for divorce. I was internally excited when he told me—I thought we could be friends, but I wasn't thinking about being anything more.
One night, he volunteered to pick me up from the airport when I would be returning from a family trip alone. He picked me up at 2 a.m., greeting me with a hot coffee and doughnut from Dunkin' Donuts. We had a two-hour drive back home, and we were reminiscing about things like when we used to live together and life before we were married. Then when we were arriving home, he said, "I'm a very patient person and I will wait; I just hope at some point, you'll give us another shot because it would be really great."
When we got back to the house, I invited him to sleep in my room. I told him nothing would happen, but we could just cuddle. We kissed and talked. Then in the morning he had to move down to the sofa because the kids knew that he was sleeping over and expected to see him there.
He went to work that day and we chatted online, shocked at what had happened the night before. That's when it all started up again and now we're secretly dating. I've told a few of my friends, and he's come out with me occasionally. One night, we went to dinner and then I took him to the dance studio where I do ballroom dancing. We don't want the kids to know though, so it's like, "I'll meet you at the parking lot around the corner in five minutes!"
For the seven years we've been divorced, it's always been so easy for me to date because I'll go out while the kids are with their dad. Now we need a sitter because he has the kids with him anytime I don't. We sneak around. He'll ask if I want to come over for dinner and I pretend that I am only there out of interest to see the kids. If the kids aren't around, we give each other quick little hugs, but the entire time, we're scoping out to make sure that Kim and James don't see. Whenever he stays over, if he hears a little footstep on the stairs, he will jump out of the bed and hide on the floor. We don't want to traumatize the children by letting them find out Dad was in Mom's bed.
Brian and I have been hooking up for a few weeks now, and we want to give it a few months to see how we feel before we talk to the kids about it. There are a lot of processing and conversations that need to happen, but we don't have a lot of time with the kids not around. We mostly just don't want to get their hopes up.
Recently, Kim asked me to cuddle with her when I was at Brian's apartment and then she invited him to get into the bed with us. She looked as happy as can be for a couple of minutes, and I realized it was the first time in her life that she's ever had the chance to cuddle with both of her parents at the same time. That's also when I realized that even though I felt okay with it, this could be weird for her later if we don't get back together. For now, I want to do what's best for the kids, and I am being careful. But joint cuddle sessions aren't careful.
I hope it works out for Brian and I, and in the best fairy-tale version of my life, we'll end up getting married again. I'm confident he won't cheat again, though I'm only confident because he was thoroughly traumatized from the divorce. I think he learned a lot, and I don't believe he'd choose to do it again, certainly not to me. People grow. I do worry whether I can really "get over it" and move on. I just want to have my family back—the kind of family that I have not been able to put together despite my best efforts in the last few years.
*All names have been changed to protect privacy.