Looking back, I should have known from the minute his hand ‘accidentally’ brushed mine that Ed was a philanderer, both irredeemable and utterly irresistible.
The electric spark that cracked between us and his touch as well as the feeling of heat, I still recall the instant jolt. And more than two decades on I still kick myself for not realising sooner that Ed was a man who couldn’t, and wouldn’t, stop his eye roving.
I thought of Ed this week, as I read ex-newsreader Jan Leeming’s interview in the Daily Mail in which she declared that she had known many womanisers and had concluded that you can never tame a ladies’ man.
Five-times married Jan knows more than most about the subject, and said: ‘I get so angry when it’s, “What’s this harridan done that no man stays with her”? Every single one of my men has been a womaniser — every single one — and you can’t keep a man if he has wandering eyes.’
Although my experience with Ed was intoxicating, I can’t help but agree. As I now know, thanks to the wisdom gained both through my own life and through my work as a therapist, I don’t believe you can find happiness with a man whose eyes are ceaselessly on the romantic horizon, whose head turns at the merest swish of skirt.
Ed had already been married to four children and was moving to New York. My partner at that time was a small-sized baby boy, so I was about ready to go.
Lucy Cavendish shares her heartbreaking story of love, betrayal, and it may seem like forgiveness is just for fools
On paper, Ed sounds like the hunk in a Jilly Cooper book. He was charming and funny and worked as a stonemason. When I was with him he’d tell me all about his work and I listened, rapt, as he’d use his hands to show me the shape of the things he was working on. He was romantic and practical. I felt like the center of the universe. At ‘friendly’ lunches and dinners, we’d drink and talk until the restaurants had emptied — everyone, apart from us. Ed loved food. He would often talk about the meals he made for his wife and his extended family.
I admit that I’d look at him longingly even in those early days, imagining us together — but we were both with other people and I was moving across the Atlantic, so the relationship never progressed further than a flirtatious friendship.
After a while, I was separated from my former partner. I flew home, bereft, with a two-year-old child — and nowhere to live. I found refuge on an Oxfordshire farm and was relieved.
Ed called one day. The couple had already separated. He had no place to go.
‘Why don’t you come to visit me?’ I asked rapidly. My cottage wasn’t palatial, but there was a certain romance about it. The door was open to cows who wandered around the area. Once, I saw a badger in the kitchen. A stream was nearby that I could swim in. I was the only one there, and so it was very isolated.
Jan Leeming spoke about the womaniser behavior of her husbands during this week’s conference
My loneliness was a constant. Ed seemed lonely, too — and I think we both knew what the implication of my invitation was. We were soon entwined within hours of each other’s entry. The next day we went for a long walk together and declared our love.
He looked shocked when I asked him if we were going too fast. He told me he’d always loved me. He’d thought of me continually.
Yet when I asked where he’d been living since he got divorced, he was evasive. ‘Here and there,’ he said. ‘Have you been with anyone else since your marriage broke up?’ I asked him. Knowing this was vital. He stroked my hair, and murmured that he loved me.
I was so delighted I didn’t pursue the question.
He moved in after the visit. He was completely in my life and I watched him from the dining room, praising how happy we were.
Everything seemed idyllic at first. We took walks and swam in the streams. He made food and I read books. He didn’t have much work but I was beavering away as a journalist, so we existed off my earnings. He was happy for me to share my world and money with me. Everything felt so good and he was very sweet with my son.
What I didn’t know about myself then is that I am incapably driven by romance. When I was a kid, I used to spend a lot of time on the internet reading romance novels and waiting for my prince. I don’t think I had any idea of healthy boundaries — something I am trying to cure myself of now.
And I’d seen my dad have a wandering eye. He believed that women are all about being looked at and would talk to anyone wearing a short skirt. My mother was the one at home. My mother tolerated some very bad behavior, though no one has ever spoken any of it.
I’d seen my dad have a wandering eye. My father was part of a generation who believed women should be ogled. He would talk up any skirt, while my mother kept the fort at the house.
My father would travel a lot, saying he had to go to London on business or spend time abroad working on ‘projects’. Because I grew up with an absent father, Ed told me that he would need to be out more weekends to make ends meet and to see his children.
One weekend, he decided to go away longer than usual from Friday to Sunday. He felt he had to spend more quality time with his kids and be able to complete some projects.
I didn’t ask him about these projects and he never revealed them to me. I was just happy to have him in my life — and, anyway, I trusted him. He was away more often over time. He’d started spending longer in Devon.
Then, out of the blue, I was offered a free two weeks in a friend’s finca in Spain helping run a writing retreat. I took the chance and went with my son. Ed promised he’d come out for a week but, just before I left, announced he couldn’t, claiming he needed to stay home to work.
After I returned from Spain I felt something was different. Ed had been delighted to welcome me back in the beginning. He’d cooked a fabulous meal and had opened a lovely bottle of wine.
However, the next day he said he had to go back to Devon for work —and wasn’t sure when he would return. Even then, I refused to acknowledge the truth: that Ed’s actions were not of a man devoted to his partner. He was very vague when I asked him where he’d be staying.
My son and I returned from Spain together, but I noticed a shift in my life. Ed initially was thrilled to meet me. He’d cooked a fabulous meal and had opened a lovely bottle of wine
Next day, the bill showed that Ed was calling on a regular basis, and had a Devon number. It made me feel physically sick.
A woman answered the phone when I called. ‘Hi, this is Rosie,’ she said. I dropped the phone. Rosie, who on Earth was that?
She called me back. It emerged she and Ed had been seeing each other for about the same time I’d been seeing him. Even worse, she didn’t know who I was.
It didn’t end there. It wasn’t just Rosie’s number on the telephone bill. Diana and Anna were there as well. . . On and on it went. All of them I called. Some of them were casual relationships, while others became more serious. Of course, I look back and wonder why I hadn’t spotted it.
But I was so obsessed with him I just wouldn’t let myself see reality. Would I have seen the signs?
Yes. There was plenty of evidence that he was an unapologetic ladies’ man.
For starters, I think if I’d given him enough encouragement back when we first met, he’d have happily embarked on an affair with me while he was still married. I wanted to think he was a man of morals, that we shared the same values — but his hand would often brush mine. I was constantly kissed by him.
I blamed it all on him desperately hunting for unconditional love — but, as soon as he found that love, I reasoned, he destroyed it. Like my father he’d been sent to boarding school at a very young age as his parents lived abroad. He never saw his family again after he graduated from high school. My thoughts were that he needed my help.
A phone bill showed Ed as the number calling. It made me feel physically sick. It wasn’t just Rosie’s number on the bill. Diana and Anna were also on the bill.
Ed returned to me not too long after Rosie revealed his undying affection. He was so captivating to me that I wanted to make amends and have him only love me. He looked like a lonely, unhappy puppy.
But his philandering didn’t stop. On one memorable occasion, I found a sweet, loving note from ‘Clare’ that he was using as a book mark.
Every time I chucked him out, he’d come back looking hurt and wounded, telling me we were meant to be together. And I would fall for it, believing his ‘hurt’ could be solved by me.
Two decades on, it’s more than apparent that Ed was just a liar, a very accomplished one. But back then, aged 30, I wanted to play happy families but couldn’t comprehend I was trying to do it with a man who simply wasn’t equipped for that. After around a year of kicking him out for cheating four-five times, I finally came to terms with my feelings and realized my crying and wailing were not the best for me nor my son. Ed left me and I never saw him again.
How would you advise a friend who has a similar roving eye to today’s man? Save yourself the pain.
I’ve thought long and hard about Ed since we split and, after a lot of therapy myself, realise there are things I needed to take responsibility for — not least wilfully ignoring the signs and being so fixated on our romantic ‘love story’ that I refused to see what was in front of me, as well as letting him come back so many times. I didn’t have any sense that I was worth more than the scraps he was offering me.
Ed wasn’t a bad man in many ways, although I do understand people might think I’m being too forgiving. He just had a huge gaping hole inside him that my love just couldn’t fill. Indeed, no love — not even that of his many adoring women — could fill it.
He was not only unable to fill his emotional gap, but he also seemed incapable of change. This is often the case for so many who can’t seem to be faithful.
As a relationship therapist, I often see this in my practice. Part of it’s down to our desire to constantly experience everything as new, shiny and exciting. It is not easy for many people to make a commitment full-time to one person over the course of their entire lives. And sometimes it’s about getting an ego-boost and wanting to feel attractive and interesting yourself, not to mention that some people think they have the right to take their affection anywhere and everywhere, despite the damage it may do.
Even if I had talked this through with Ed, though, I don’t think it would have helped. I don’t think he had the capacity to commit to anyone.
It still hurts when I think of him. I will never forget hearing Rosie’s voice, and the pain in her voice, too, as I explained that I also thought Ed was my boyfriend. At the time, I believed I wouldn’t love anyone again. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.
Perhaps some wandering eyes find their feet.
No doubt some women will say they have ‘fixed’ a previously philandering man.
However, I have found that if you can see the signs and walk away, it will save your heartbreak.
n Ed’s name has been changed.