When I received a late-night call from my lover inviting me to his home, I was already tucked up in bed. Giddy with excitement, I slipped into my best silk underwear, got into my car and made the quarter-of-an-hour journey to his house.
I’d been seeing Tim for four years, but his shift work as a doctor meant that it was rare that we’d get to spend the night together.
When I pulled into the drive of his pretty three-bedroom detached cottage, the door opened and my 53-year-old tall, dark and handsome boyfriend greeted me with open arms.
Calmly, I sat down and tried to make polite conversation while they finished a bottle of wine. I tried not to react when the young woman, Lucy, brushed her hand up and down his arm.
Why didn’t I react? The honest truth is that as a woman in my late 50s, I no longer feel I can.
Desperate not to be alone, I have to accept a relationship on any terms offered to me. At my age, the brutal truth is that I feel I can’t afford to be choosy. It’s sad, but true.
At 2am, Lucy announced she was tired, and I watched, flabbergasted, as she walked up the stairs. I looked at Tim, my heart breaking into a million little pieces.
He urged me to go upstairs, too, casually adding: ‘We’ll go upstairs, we’ll go to bed and we’ll invite her to join us.’
This was too much, so, managing to control my tears, I haltingly explained that I, a then 55-year-old woman, wasn’t available for such tawdry threesomes and left with a heavy heart.
Two years on, we’re still together. For six years now I have been in the most significant, loving relationship of my life with Tim. We’re a couple, but in order for us to exist as such, I must allow him to sleep with whoever he likes whenever he likes.
You may wonder why I, a successful career woman (I was a sales executive for most of my life) who owns a detached, mortgage-free £250,000 cottage, would put up with such disgusting behaviour from a man who claims to love me. But the truth is today, at 57, my chances of finding anyone else are so remote that I’ve no choice but to accept it.
After all, as I revealed in the Mail five months ago, I was a virgin until I was 51: even though I was married twice before I met Tim, both my husbands had refused to have sex with me.
Then, two years into our relationship, Tim made it crystal clear to me that fidelity was out of the question. Since we’ve been seeing each other, to my knowledge, he has slept with three other women.
I was a shy girl who grew up in Bovey Tracey, a sleepy Devon village. My mother drummed the mantra ‘nice girls don’t’ into me. So while boys were interested, I shunned them until I was 18, when I was invited out by a local chap who worked in the village where we lived.
We married at 20 — too young, I can see with the benefit of hindsight — and our marriage was over by the time I was 25.
I met my second husband, Carol, a shopkeeper, in Tiverton, Devon, when I was 25 and he was 47. It was 1982 and, at 22 years my senior, he was suave and sophisticated.
We moved in together after five years and eventually married in 1995. I was on the road for my sales job throughout the week, and had many offers of extra-martial affairs, but I wasn’t ever tempted.
Carol was ill with heart problems throughout our completely sexless marriage, and in 2002 we moved near to Bordeaux, hoping country living and the more relaxed French pace of life would help him.
But he was never really well and our marriage was never a huge success. In June 2005, when he was 70, he suffered a stroke. He left hospital after a three-week stay to recuperate at our home. The doctor assigned to look after him for the following two years of his rehabilitation was Tim.
When I first opened our front door to Tim, I thought: ‘Goodness, you’re gorgeous.’ But I tried to resist his flirtations, reminding myself that he was in our home to nurse my husband back to health.
Nonetheless, he was easily the best-looking man in our village. I would speak to him several times a week, seeking information about my husband’s care.
As the months passed, I began to look forward to our conversations; they became the highlight of my week. I loved spending time with someone my age, even if he was just in our home to take Carol’s blood pressure. We enjoyed the same music, we liked the same films and we had the same sense of humour, too.
At first, nothing happened between us, He was in the process of splitting up from his wife but I was still firmly married.
Then, Carol’s health improved, and we invited Tim to a meal at our house. He stayed late and, since he’d had too much to drink, I offered to drive him home. Before he got out of my car he kissed me and said: ‘You know I love you, Maria-Louise.’
Flattered, and somewhat flustered, I put his declaration out of my mind, assuming it was the wine talking. Yet when I saw him the following week, he asked if I remembered what he’d said.
Of course I did. My longing for him was by that point almost overwhelming, but while there were many faults in my marriage, I wasn’t going to let infidelity become another one. I was determined to look after Carol in his twilight years.
Then, six months later, in February 2008, Carol — completely out of the blue — told me he was leaving me, explaining that he wanted to live out his days close to his two daughters in Cornwall. I felt sadness tinged with relief.
We’d been together since I was 25. Now, after 24 years of devoting my life to caring for him I was a 51-year-old woman facing the prospect of a lonely, single life. I admit that I also felt a renewed sense of freedom.
Less than a month after Carol left, Tim invited me to dinner at his home. The atmosphere between us was electric, we shared a bottle of champagne, and in under an hour we were making love on his sofa.
It was the best night of my life. I told him how much I loved him, and that I’d never felt like this before.
During that long, sex-fuelled evening, I had high hopes for our future together.
Indeed when I asked him ‘Why me?’ he held my face in the palm of his hands and whispered that I was not only beautiful but that I was an honest, faithful, perhaps naïve, but trustworthy woman. I melted: I could hear the tinkle of wedding bells and already picture us hand-in-hand, growing old together.
Was there a fly in the ointment? Of course — isn’t there always?
Six months after we first made love in March 2008, I discovered that he’d had sex with someone else. A mutual friend of ours, who hadn’t realised we were a couple, casually confided to me that Tim had indulged in a steamy fling with a woman — ironically, another sales representative — who had been passing through the area.
When I returned home that evening, I burst into tears. I didn’t know what to do. Create a scene? I knew I’d lose him. Challenge him? I wasn’t in a position of power to lay down the law. Have him followed? What would that achieve? As a woman over 50, I just didn’t feel I could make a fuss.
By now, I was menopausal and staring down my sixth decade. At 48, he was a handsome man in his prime. I genuinely believed if I pulled him up over his behaviour he’d dump me.
So I held my tongue. Then, in January 2009, almost a year after we began seeing each other, I pressed him about ‘our’ future. His divorce was under way, as was mine, the paperwork being processed was just a formality. We were free to be together, so surely that would put an end to his wandering eye?
So I raised the subject of fidelity and how important it was to me. Oh, how I wish I hadn’t.
According to Tim, he had the ‘right’ to have sex with who he liked. Hiding my shock, I explained that, for me, sex is the closest two people can possibly be, and that making love was an expression of my feelings for him. He merely replied it was better for me that I knew this was how it was going to be. Defeated, I said I’d accept it, as long as he was discreet. What other choice did I have?
After that conversation in 2009, life was, on the surface, wonderful. We’d enjoy long nights together, cooking wonderful meals and listening to jazz. If he slept with other women, well, at my time in life, what could I do but turn a blind eye?
Of course, that’s not to say it was easy. There were those moments when we were making love when I’d compare myself unfavourably with the other women he was inevitably seducing at the same time.
But I forced my anxieties to the back of my mind and quietly started to make plans for our future. With my divorce finally through in 2010, I sold the marital home and hired an architect to build a family home for us. Tim has two children by his ex-wife, a 20-year-old daughter and a 14-year-old son, and I wanted them to be a part of our future, too.
That night when he tried to make me sleep with him and another woman, however, threatened to destroy everything.
It forced me to take stock of the stark realities of my partner’s infidelity. I took an STD and HIV test, a sobering, not to mention humiliating, ordeal to put yourself through at 55.
For months I tried not to call him, but after a while I just couldn’t help myself, but he wouldn’t take my calls and refused to see me.
The showdown came in February last year at his home. I told him I loved him and pleaded that I wanted him to reconsider his attitude towards fidelity.
He replied that it was out of the question: sex, according to Tim, is akin to browsing at the supermarket: one week he might fancy a rump steak, the next roast chicken. The choice was his to make.
In floods of tears, I walked out. While continuing to oversee the house I’d planned for our future, I’d cry myself to sleep. I was lonely and acutely aware that as each day slipped by I was getting closer to 60.
Friends tried to pull me out of my gloom, reassuring me I was better off without him, that there were plenty of other men for an attractive woman such as myself. But the truth is that there aren’t.
This January, I turned 57. I was desperately lonely and in May I couldn’t take it any more. I called and begged him to take me back.
While friends are genuinely concerned that I’ve resumed our relationship, I’ve simply forced myself to accept that Tim will sow his oats when and with whom he wants to.
Today he’s 55 and I reassure myself he can’t go on doing it for ever. Granted, he’s handsome now, but sooner or later, women won’t want to sleep with him any more.
Things are back to normal between us and we’re a proper couple now, albeit one harbouring a rather tawdry secret.
I cherish having someone to hold my hand and tell me he loves me. What he does when he’s not with me I would rather not know.
Instead, I focus on our future: sitting on the terrace of our new home that I built for us, growing old together. After all — what other choice do I have?