Can you ever cure a man of a wandering eye? Read LUCY CAVENDISH’s salutary story of love and betrayal and you may think forgiveness is for fools
Looking back, I should have known from the minute his hand ‘accidentally’ brushed mine that Ed was a philanderer, both irredeemable and utterly irresistible.
I can still remember the jolt caused by his touch, the electric charge that crackled constantly between us, the sheer heat of being in his presence. 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.’
As intoxicating as my time with Ed was, I have to 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.
When I first met Ed, he was married with four children, and I was about to leave the country to settle in New York with my then partner and small baby son, now 25.
Lucy Cavendish’s salutary story of love and betrayal and you may think forgiveness is for fools
Describing Ed on paper makes him sound like a hunk from a Jilly Cooper novel. Handsome and funny, he worked as a highly-acclaimed stonemason, building fireplaces and sculpting commissioned pieces of work. 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. Romantic but practical, he made me feel like the centre of the world. At ‘friendly’ lunches and dinners, we’d drink and talk until the restaurants had emptied — everyone, apart from us. Ed loved his food and would talk endlessly about how he cooked for his wife and 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.
Then, a few years on, my then partner and I split up. I flew home, bereft, with a two-year-old child — and nowhere to live. I found a cottage on a farm in Oxfordshire, and licked my wounds.
Then, one day, Ed called. He and his wife had also separated, and he had nowhere 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. Cows wandered round outside the door. I once found a badger asleep in the kitchen. There was a stream I could swim in. It was pretty isolated, just me and my son.
Pictured: Jan Leeming who spoke this week about how her former husbands were womanisers
I was lonely. Ed seemed lonely, too — and I think we both knew what the implication of my invitation was. Within hours of him coming in the door we were entwined and, the next day, went on a long walk and professed our love for each other.
When I asked if we were moving too quickly, he looked surprised (I should have queried this at the time because of course we were moving too quickly, but Ed was a man in a hurry). 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. It felt important to know. But he stroked my hair and murmured how much he loved me.
I was so delighted I didn’t pursue the question.
The visit ended up with him moving in. I was utterly in love and used to watch him over the breakfast table, pinching myself at how happy we were.
At first, everything was idyllic. We went for walks, we swam in the stream. He cooked food, I read books. He didn’t have much work but I was beavering away as a journalist, so we existed off my earnings. I was happy to share my money and world with him. He was sweet to my son and everything felt hunky-dory.
What I didn’t know about myself then is that I am incapably driven by romance. As a child, I spent vast amounts of time reading novels and wondering when my prince would come. 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 was of the generation that thought women were all about being ogled and would chat up anything in a skirt. Meanwhile, my mother would be holding the fort at home. No one ever said anything, but I think she put up with quite a lot of bad behaviour.
I’d seen my dad have a wandering eye. He was of the generation that thought women were all about being ogled and would chat up anything in a skirt while my mother held the fort at home
My father would travel a lot, saying he had to go to London on business or spend time abroad working on ‘projects’. I had grown up with this absent-present father so when Ed said he was going to need to be away a bit more at weekends to drum up work and see his children who were living two hours away from us in Devon, it never occurred to me to question anything.
Then, one weekend, he started staying away for longer than the usual Friday-to-Sunday, saying he needed to spend more time with his children and also needed longer to pin down some projects.
He never told me what these projects were and I never asked. I was just happy to have him in my life — and, anyway, I trusted him. Over time, him being away became the norm. 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 decided to take the opportunity and left 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.
When I got back from Spain, I could tell something had changed. Initially, Ed was delighted to see me. 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 evasive when I asked where he would be staying.
When I got back from Spain with my son, I could tell something had changed. Initially, Ed was delighted to see me. He’d cooked a fabulous meal and had opened a lovely bottle of wine
The next day the phone bill came through, showing one number Ed had been calling continuously, with a Devon code. I felt physically sick.
When I called it, a woman picked up. ‘Hi, this is Rosie,’ she said. I slammed the phone down. Who on earth was Rosie?
I called her 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. There was also Diana and Anna . . . on and on it went. I called them all. Some were one-night flings, other relationships felt 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. Should I have spotted the signs?
Of course. 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. He kissed me on the lips all the time.
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. Even after his schooldays had passed, he barely saw his parents and often described to me a very lonely, sad childhood. He just needed help, I thought.
The phone bill came through, showing one number Ed had been calling. I felt physically sick. It wasn’t just Rosie’s number on the bill. There was also Diana and Anna… on and on it went
Sure enough, not long after the Rosie revelations, Ed turned up professing undying love and looking so abject, so sad, so remorseful I took him back. I was still so entranced by him and wanted to heal his hurt, to have him love me and only me. He was like a lost, sad 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 a year or so, in which I kicked him out four or five times for cheating, I came to my senses, realising my endless crying and wailing was not good for me or for my son. I told Ed to leave for good and never heard from him again.
So what would I tell a friend keen on a man with a similarly roving eye today? In short: save yourself the heartbreak.
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.
But as well as his own emotional void, I also think he was just incapable of changing, as is the case with so many people who cannot seem to remain faithful.
I see it all the time in my work as a relationship therapist. Part of it’s down to our desire to constantly experience everything as new, shiny and exciting. Many people also struggle with a full-time commitment to one person for all the years of their life. 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.
When I think about him, it still hurts. 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. Back then, I thought I would never love again. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.
Perhaps some wandering eyes eventually settle down.
No doubt some women will say they have ‘fixed’ a previously philandering man.
But in my experience, if you see the signs, walk away and save yourself the heartbreak.
n Ed’s name has been changed.