A game of poker gave Julie’s* husband a chance to sleep with another woman – and she felt she had no choice but to go along with it.
I got married at a young age and had my first child at 21, two years after tying the knot. A baby usually marks a new chapter in a couple’s life, but for me, it marked the start of the end of my marriage.
STRANGERS IN THE HOUSE
One day in 2004, my husband Zach* told me that his friend, Lena*, would be staying with us for a while. She was going through a bad divorce and needed temporary shelter for herself, her elderly mother and two young children. Zach sympathised with her predicament and wanted to help her.
I don’t know why I agreed to take Lena in, especially when Zach used to have a major crush on her in school – she was the one who got away, he once told me. Yet, I felt neither jealousy nor suspicion. I just wanted to support Zach’s every decision.
We lived in a small flat – there was only one bedroom for us and our baby daughter – so Lena and her family slept on mattresses on the living room floor. Although our flat felt cramped, I didn’t complain as I believed in good karma – if we helped Lena out, she might return the favour in future.
A DANGEROUS GAME
Lena and I became close friends. We treated each other like sisters, occasionally going on shopping sprees and indulging in girly talk. I even helped to look after her kids when she was at work. About three months after Lena moved in with us, Zach suggested a game of poker after supper, when the rest of the household was asleep.
The game started out harmlessly enough but after a few rounds, he cheekily proposed that the loser carry out a ‘dare’ thought up by the winner. It sounded exciting, so Lena and I played along. We played three more rounds, all of which Zach won, while Lena lost. I’m not sure if they rigged the game to ensure that the ‘dare’ stayed between the two of them. They might have, but I was naive enough not to suspect anything – I just laughed at Lena’s bad luck.
Zach didn’t issue the ‘dares’ immediately. It was quite late and he said he needed time to think up interesting things for Lena to do. “I’ll let you both know once I have something in mind. I will collect the dares in stages,” he teased.
“I don’t know why I agreed to take Lena in, especially when Zach used to have a major crush on her in school – she was the one who got away, he once told me.”
IT STARTED WITH A KISS
Zach came up with his first dare a few weeks later. He wanted Lena to kiss him and asked me if I was comfortable with it. I wasn’t, of course, but he assured me that it would just be a playful kiss and nothing more.
Zach called Lena into our bedroom, closed the door, and told her what she had to do. I felt so uncomfortable watching him snog another woman – as if I was invading their privacy. But I didn’t stop them and they were done after a few minutes.
You would think that after kissing someone else’s husband, Lena would feel sheepish around me. But she acted like nothing had happened. My husband, too, didn’t seem to guilty – he was beaming from ear to ear for days after that kiss. I shrugged off the incident as something that was done as part of the game.
A few days later, Zach told me he wanted to have sex with Lena as her second dare. I was stunned and said no. Zach dropped the issue then but pestered me again over the next few days. He even threw tantrums and accused me of being a bad sport. Tired of his rants and our constant arguments, I gave in. My condition was that it had to be on a weekend afternoon when no one else was at home.
The day came along and Zach got very excited, asking me to wait outside the bedroom as they did the deed. A part of me wondered if my spouse was testing me. Maybe he would just fool around with Lena – a kiss here, a touch there – and not go all the way. Maybe I had nothing to worry about, I thought. To erase any doubts, I peeked through the bedroom window, which faced the common corridor. When I saw their naked bodies, I knew I was wrong.
I found myself torn as to what to do next – a part of me was horrified and didn’t want to watch my husband having sex with another woman, but another part of me couldn’t tear my eyes away. Maybe if I stared hard and long enough, the naked figures would turn out to be figments of my imagination. But that was not to be, so I pulled myself away from the window and waited for them to finish. When Zach and Lena finally emerged from the bedroom, they again behaved as if nothing had happened.
I felt numb – everything was so surreal. But I didn’t confront them as I had allowed the sex to happen. Besides, I didn’t want to anger my husband. I was very insecure back then and since Zach was the sole breadwinner, I depended on him for a lot of things. I was afraid that if I denied him anything, he would walk out on me and our baby.
“The game started out harmlessly enough but after a few rounds, he cheekily proposed that the loser carry out a ‘dare’ thought up by the winner.”
THE LAST STRAW
After their tryst, Zach and Lena became more open about their relationship. They went on dates and even spent nights at hotels, leaving me alone to look after the children. I felt like I was Lena’s maid, yet I did it anyway, thinking that I had no choice.
Looking back, I blame my low self-esteem for making me so acquiescent. I suspected that Lena’s mother knew her daughter was having an affair with my husband, but she either didn’t care or preferred to ignore the matter.
One day, Zach told me that it was time for Lena’s third dare. He asked me to join Lena and him in the bedroom for a threesome, as he’d always fantasised about that sexual experience. I hesitated at first, but desperate to remain in his good books, I agreed.
I regretted my decision immediately. Zach kept comparing my body and sexual know-hows to Lena’s. He kept praising her sexiness and slim, taut body – he said I should lose weight if I wanted him to be as adventurous in bed with me as he was with Lena. He also said that Lena knew how to please a man more than I did, and asked me to ‘learn’ from her.
I felt ashamed and humiliated – how could my husband disrespect me like that? How could I let him get away with such brazenness? I couldn’t wait for the ‘session’ to be over – I just wanted the dares to end so life could go back to normal.
But life didn’t go back to normal. Zach and Lena continued their affair right under my nose – they were even proud of it. I put up with it as long as I could, but a year after Lena moved into our home, I decided to end my three-year marriage to Zach.
“I found myself torn as to what to do next – a part of me was horrified and didn’t want to watch my husband having sex with another woman, but another part of me couldn’t tear my eyes away.”
I had finally woken up to the truth that Zach was an awful husband. I hated the emotional roller coaster ride he had dragged me into – I kept alternating between guilt, depression, love, disgust, eagerness to please him… the list went on. I no longer wanted to accept his philandering ways, although I partly blamed myself for helping to orchestrate the situation.
I don’t think I would have had the courage to walk away if not for my ex-schoolmate Jeff*, who is now my second husband. We had reconnected a few months before I’d asked my husband for a divorce.
I’d told him everything about the affair and how it started, and he gave me a shoulder to cry on. He reminded me that I shouldn’t be living a lie and staying in a loveless marriage, and advised me to do what was right for myself. He encouraged me and never once criticised my looks or my capabilities.
Jeff built up my self-confidence and gave me the strength to finally end it with Zach. Jeff made me see that a man who truly loved me would never hurt me like Zach did. That’s why I married Jeff about two years after my divorce. I fell madly in love with my knight in shining armour – he knew how to treat me right.
To this day, I can’t really explain why I sanctioned Zach’s affair with Lena. My mother is convinced that it was because I was under a spell, some form of black magic that Zach used to turn me into an obedient wife. But I don’t think that was the case.
I think I was just a young, simple-minded girl with no confidence. I had been afraid that Zach would dump me for Lena and I would become a single mum to our baby girl. I had felt that I would rather share him than be left in the dark about his waywardness. If Jeff hadn’t reappeared in my life, I probably would still be living the nightmare.
Thanks to my second husband, my children – my daughter from my previous marriage and the three children Jeff and I had – can grow up in a happy and healthy home, with an honest, trustworthy and loving dad. Thanks to Jeff, I found my independence and the motivation to upgrade my skills, which landed me a steady office job. It was also thanks to him that I managed to pull myself out of that silly stupor I must have been in when I allowed Zach to destroy our marriage. I now understand that my life is what I make of it, and never again will I let others control how it turns out.”
*Names have been changed