“As a child I was already one of the ‘twelve crafts, thirteen accidents’. I exchanged HAVO for MAVO, and then decided in the first year of MBO to just go to work. When, after years of serving in the hospitality industry, I bumped into Arjen, I was delighted that he preferred what he called a ‘traditional wife’. One that took care of the children at home, and if she felt like it, the household could do a bit of cycling. He had a good job in asset management, there was really no need for income on my part, he said. I moved in with him less than six months after our meeting, three months after that I was pregnant.
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Melvin, our eldest now fifteen, was a crying baby. So it’s not surprising that it didn’t come from working, even if I had wanted to. I took care of it so that Arjen could go to the office rested. Excellent construction, I thought; I had never been ambitious. The crying stopped, baby two presented itself, followed by number three two years later. And so when I was 32 I was sitting with three young children in a huge house and a bed that was usually not slept in by a husband.
Lost out of sight
Arjen worked insane hours and increasingly crawled on the couch in his office. Or in his secretary’s bed, as it turned out – how cliché. We lost each other completely. Not that I went to great lengths to revive our marriage. I enjoyed my life very well: financially everything was generously arranged and I could come and go wherever I wanted. No discussions about upbringing, no one to answer to when I opened a bottle of rosé with a fellow mother three afternoons in a row after school. My bed was spread. And even when I began to suspect that it was not the same bed as my husband’s, it slept extremely comfortably.
But Arjen fell in love with his mistress. His news came like a bolt from the blue. I thought he found our relationship as comfortable as I did. That he liked freedom, especially knowing that the children were well taken care of. It turned out to be different. He wanted more, he said. Words used like ‘unconditional’ and ‘symbiosis’. Every day he wanted to choose each other with complete conviction, and he no longer chose for me but for her.
That hurt, it especially hurt my ego. In fact, all along I saw our marriage more as a business deal. We were a well-oiled company, each with its own, strictly separated tasks. Of course, the lack of affection in our relationship sometimes bothered me. With the care for three children, although little was left of my libido, but I was not made of stone. It would come again, I thought. Because maybe I was never really in love with Arjen, I thought he was attractive – and he liked me. But now he suddenly wanted ‘the big picture’.
I was not angry, but defeated. What now? I never built anything. No career and therefore no significant earning capacity. With Arjen’s income I was entitled to a substantial child and partner alimony, but I had to manage on my own. No more paid holidays or other extras. A fixed monthly amount, in a new house that would never have the luxury of our marital home. Nice and important, you might say, but it was everything on which my life – and that of the children – was based. And on the love between the four of us, of course, but let’s be honest: nobody can eat it, let alone ski.
‘I’ll stay with him for the money’>
I met Ruud through a dating site for people with a relationship. He was married but divorced, he claimed. In an effort to boost my hurt ego, we met up for lunch at a fancy restaurant. He was eleven years older than me, but charming. It clicked immediately. Initially we mainly had contact via Whatsapp. He wanted to settle his divorce first, he said. We had lunch a few more times, kissed a bit in his car, but when six months later there seemed to be no shot in his divorce, a bell started ringing for me.
He couldn’t just leave his wife, he confessed. She had a share in his company, he had a son in need of care; a divorce could have disastrous consequences. Love and sex had long ceased to exist, he said; he wanted me. Wasn’t there a way for both lives to co-exist?
My divorce was now almost completed. I had made an offer for a house for sale, Arjen would continue to live in our house. The costs were too high for me. I had to make a decision. Continuing to buy my house meant continuing on my own and consuming the amount Arjen had paid me to buy me out. It meant looking for a job, not being home every day when the children – now thirteen, ten and eight – left school.
During a dinner in a star restaurant, followed by a hotel stay, Ruud came up with a proposal that I could not – or actually: did not want to – refuse. He owned some real estate, including a spacious house in my town, which I could move into with the kids. It wouldn’t cost me anything, he would even take care of the fixed costs. And my share of the equity on Arjen’s house and me? That was a nice nest egg. There was only one condition: I would remain the second wife as long as his son was still living at home, and his wife had to know nothing about it.
In fact, this construction was not very different from my marriage. I wasn’t completely in love with Ruud, but I enjoyed his attention when he was there. Actually, this was perfect. Free living meant I could stay home full time for the kids. For my own peace of mind I did not accept partner alimony from Arjen. I might not be living together; another man provided for me. I told Arjen that it was a kind of anti-squat construction and that I did administrative work for the owner. He frowned for a moment, but then never paid attention to it again. Whether I ‘rented’ from a corporation or from a private individual – it didn’t matter to him. If only the children were safe.
Of course my choice is not really wise. Although Ruud has neatly arranged a rental contract, he can decide at any time that I have to pay the costs myself. Then I have to move and look for a job. At the same time, I am not concerned that things will go so fast. I am his only love for Ruud.
He sleeps with us one weekend a month, and sometimes a night in between. We often go out for lunch together and at least once a year we go on a luxury holiday as a couple. To the kids, he’s just my boyfriend, not stepfather stuff. And they don’t wonder how in heaven’s name I pay for this spacious house. Arjen does not crow about it either. He is now expecting a child with his girlfriend and has long been happy that the children and I are comfortable with it without him having to contribute to it.
I realize that I have to stand on my own two feet. As soon as the kids are out, I no doubt want more than a man who might put me first in my instincts, but who puts me second in my practice. No matter how well he takes care of me, it doesn’t make me happy in the long run.
Now the advantages still outweigh the disadvantages, but I cannot deny that I swallow, to say the least, when he cannot come for my birthday again. Can’t take care of me when I’m sick in bed. Or go on an exotic holiday with his family with dry eyes. And what if something happens to him? I have no idea how he justifies my existence in the books, but it seems inevitable that the money supply will then shut down. Ruud silences me when I take that risk. “Honey, by then my son will be an adult and I’ll be divorced for a long time,” he soothes. But I’ve been waiting long enough to stop relying on that.
Girlfriends think I’m crazy, even if there are only two who really know how things work. My father – my mother is no longer alive – certainly doesn’t want to know anything about it. “Are you taking care of yourself?” he regularly asks suspiciously. “Three little people depend on you.” At the same time he is partly my reassurance; my brother and I face a considerable inheritance after his death. In an emergency scenario, I can always fall back on my savings account in the meantime.
I have respect for people who, after their divorce, manage all by themselves with the children. And maybe I will fall short by not doing that. But I’m present every day in their lives, except for the two weekends a month they spend with their father.
I’d rather have them look back on a childhood where a lot of money was possible and their mother always took care of them, than come home every afternoon to an abandoned house because their mother had to work and every dime had to be turned three times. Ruud helps me by letting me live for free, I help him by offering him the warmth and sex he lacks in his marriage. As long as we both feel good about it, I see little harm in it; there are relationships based on less. No, I don’t feel guilty towards his wife, doesn’t she also consciously opt for a business marriage?
I don’t know how I see the future. What if Ruud really leaves his wife and wants to live together? Our relationship works well under the current circumstances; living together full-time is a different story. Who knows, life might look very different. Do we both fall in love with someone else or do we decide to move abroad? I am satisfied with my life as it is now, but I was also satisfied with my marriage to Arjen. Life is sometimes full of surprises. ”
This article is in Kek Mama 16-2020.
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