Girl Talk: My Fiancé’s Terrible Secret

We met on Myspace. He emailed me the day after my birthday, introducing himself and complimenting my smile; I was charmed. I also happened to be single, alone and slightly adrift in a foreign country so our correspondence needed no fanning to burst into something heated and volatile. Three weeks later, I was on board a train from London to Manchester, England to meet him. By that point, even if he’d turned out to have a flesh-eating disease or a penchant for hardcore porn, I probably still would have been smitten.

I thought it was adorable and manly he had a child. I sympathized with him for the difficulty of his situation—he painted his ex as a little crazy, said he’d essentially been left to raise the child on his own.

But he didn’t. He was just as charming in person—a little short, but so was I—and what he lacked in brawn and physical stature he made up for in kindness, intelligence and wit. And there was his exquisitely handsome face, beneath all the stubble. Our first night together was a whirlwind of discussing our favorite authors and plays and films. He held my hand as we navigated the city, braving the wind and drizzle en route to a succession of Manchester’s pubs and lounges. After many drinks and tactile flirting, we finally kissed at the edge of the dance floor in a gay club.

He demurred when I invited him back to my hotel room that night. He had an early day, he said. I was shocked, disappointed—but also deeply impressed. He was a gentleman. This was how it was supposed to happen—he was treating me with respect, moving slowly. I knew it was early days, but still, I could not help thinking this felt like the real deal.

I returned to London, the amorous tone of our texts and emails ratcheted up exponentially; by the time I moved to Manchester barely two months later, we were already proclaiming one another as soul mates. The studio I rented on a month-to-month basis was three miles down the road from where he lived. The day I arrived—on a Thursday—I remember thinking it was a bit odd when he said he couldn’t meet up until Saturday. It also occurred to me that in the whole time I’d known him, he’d never once answered the phone when I called.

Granted, on countless occasions he’d alluded to the fact his life at that time was a little “complicated.” But he also assured me he’d explain everything—and that I was the best thing to happen to him in a very long time. I felt the same—and I did not want to pry, so I waited. While he knew everything about me, I knew very little about him—aside from the fact he had a brother, his mother was dead, he wrote short fiction and was a vegetarian who subsisted on crumpets, red wine and instant coffee. I couldn’t tell if he had a job, I had no clue if he’d gone to university—I didn’t even know where he was originally from—let alone anything about his romantic history.

On our first Saturday together, we drank so much I blacked out most of the night—but he stayed over my place and the morning after was as blissful as I ever could have hoped. The following Monday, he sent me an email and revealed all—or so I thought. He explained that he lived with an ex, and that they had a child—but that they hadn’t been “together” for years, and she even had another boyfriend. He said he was planning to move out, but for the time being, they tolerated each other under the same roof for the sake of their little one. He said he would understand if I was put off and no longer wanted to be “friends.”

Quite the contrary—I thought he was a saint.

I thought it was adorable and manly he had a child. I sympathized with him for the difficulty of his situation—he painted his ex as a little crazy, said he’d essentially been left to raise the child on his own.

His ex worked full time and spent her nights with her beau. So that explained why he always seemed to be at home and didn’t work—he was a stay-at-home dad!

Our relationship progressed; now I did not question why he only came over on Saturday nights—this was the night his child went to Grandma’s. Saturday nights were ours, and we made the most of them. I cooked for him, we watched movies, spent hours in bed, talked late into the night, and drank … a lot. We rarely went out or saw anyone—it seemed he only had one or two friends he spent any time with anyway, and I had all but shut out my family in the States and my friends back in London, save for the occasional phone call.

As the months passed, so did the time I had left to remain legally in the UK. Because we loved each other, and looked down on marriage—and relished the idea of flouting the law—we decided to get married so I could stay in the country.

“I’d do that for you, baby,” he’d said to me, as I nestled at his side.

And though it began as a plan of convenience, we fantasized about our future together— I would get a job right away, rent us a place so he could move out of his ex’s. Maybe one day we would go live in Cornwall for a bit—and open our own bookstore café!

The immediate plan was not cheap. I spent every last dime of what I earned and had saved; there was the flight to New York to get the fiancée visa, the cost of the visa itself, and of course, the cost of registering and booking the ceremony at City Hall.

Then, with less than a week to go before we were to wed, he showed up on my doorstep at 2 a.m., battered and bruised.

“What happened? Did you get in a fight?” I asked concerned.

“She threw me out,” he explained.

“Who—your ex?”

“She found out about us,” he admitted.

“But … I thought she already knew…”

“Well, she did, but she broke up with her boyfriend. I think she wants to get back together. Can I stay with you?” he pleaded.

I let him in, and then asked him the question that had been weighing on my mind for months.

“Honey … Where do you sleep? I mean, you have your own room, right? You and your ex—do you two share a bed?”

More than the pause, the stricken look on his face confirmed my worst fears.

“Well, most of the time she’s at her boyfriend’s,” he’d stuttered. “Or a lot of times I just fall asleep on the couch…”

“She’s not your ex, is she? This whole time you were just cheating on her with me—that’s why she beat you up. Oh my God,” I said stunned.

In retrospect, the red flags were obvious. But going into it, I didn’t expect to be deceived to such a degree—plus he was so charming, so attractive. And I do think he loved me—or thought he did, as much as I thought I loved him. And maybe he did want to marry me—or at least longed for a future that saw us together. He never revealed much and I never asked, and that suited both of us. From the beginning I was afraid to pry because I didn’t want to lose him. Everything he shared with me was what I wanted to hear, and that was enough. Not to mention all the drinking we did. It fueled my denial, blinded me to what should have been obvious.

Only when he admitted he was still sharing a bed with his ex was I able to see clearly. I felt like I was in that film “An Education,” except instead of being a naïve young schoolgirl, I was in my thirties and a world-weary traveler. Confronted with the truth at last, I was able to do what I should have done months ago—hit the road.

Nina-Marie Gardner’s debut novel Sherry & Narcotics comes out in May. Visit her at ninamariegardner.com.

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