I never thought I was the type of woman who would have an affair. Nor did I think affairs could be a positive thing. But when I found myself in a loveless marriage, all of that changed.
It had been months, if not more than a year, since my husband and I had had sex. He was on yet another work trip when Jake*, the landscaper, showed up. I can still remember the first day he arrived. I was wearing leggings, had no make-up on, and had my two-year-old daughter on my hip when he walked in the door.
"G'day," he said, flashing a warm smile. I was immediately struck by his kind blue eyes. He was everything my husband wasn't: tatts from head to toe, dirt all over his hands, tanned and toned.
For about three years, I had felt the love deteriorating in my relationship. My husband wouldn't look at me when we spoke and he had been rejecting me in the bedroom since we conceived our daughter. This had all been eating away at me, but I loved him. Leaving had never entered my mind.
When Jake arrived, I was tired, a shell of myself. But as he worked on our garden day after day, I started to take every opportunity I could to talk to him. Soon enough we were flirting. It felt good. All week Jake made me laugh and I felt like a young girl with a silly crush, fantasising about him when I got into bed at night.
When the garden was finished, my fantasy could have finished. Jake was married with children but something inside me wanted to know if there was anything there. Was I desirable?
After he left for the last time, I worked up the courage to call him. "What would you have done if I'd kissed you?" I asked. I could sense his shock, and my own heart was pumping out of my chest. We arranged to meet at my local beach for a late-night walk. I told my husband I was meeting a girlfriend but he was too busy, his head in his laptop, to even notice.
I'll never forget that night, the moon shining bright on us and the sound of the waves crashing. He cupped my face as he kissed my lips gently. Adrenalin rushed through my body and I felt vulnerable but safe. There was an unspoken realisation that this would change everything, although we were both acting as though it wouldn't.
We were both clear that we didn't want to leave our families, but we slowly started to confide in each other about our deep feelings of unhappiness.
At first, I was adamant about him not coming to my house, so we would meet in the middle of the day and sit in my car at the beach, chatting, listening to music and making out like teenagers. I felt no guilt. I would spend the evenings with my husband, realising that his emotional distance didn't hurt me any more.
After a few weeks we couldn't contain the sexual tension any longer, so I booked a hotel. The magnetic pull was unstoppable that night. We were totally in sync, naked, baring all – both physically and mentally. When Jake touched my body he was in awe, and he kissed me like I was the most beautiful woman in the world.
Over the following months, we loosened the reins. Jake was coming over every day my house was empty.
We started doing things together like a couple: having coffee at my local cafe; making out in the water at the beach. Jake became my secret new best friend and I felt truly loved for the first time in years. But I found myself looking in the mirror, wondering who I was and what my life had become.
Life at home became even more dysfunctional. I stopped trying to make it work and it was like my husband was relieved. One night, I pulled him away from his laptop to discuss things. His words "I don't love you any more" would have hit me harder six months earlier but I was surprisingly okay with them. I had Jake. It gave me the courage to say, "You should go. I deserve somebody who loves me."
Jake and I ended things shortly after my husband left. Although Jake was a massive support to me, I think seeing the mess and distress of what a separation looks like made him decide to try to make his marriage work. I respected him for it. It was hard to deal with two breakups at once, especially with one being a secret. But I had faith I would be okay.
Unfortunately, our secret eventually got out. Jake's wife questioned his phone bills, which showed long calls between us. I had a gut-wrenching call from her, interrogating me.
I hated the fact this had hurt her and I did feel guilty. But I can honestly say that I don't regret it. It gave me the strength to get out of my toxic marriage and to move on.
I know my worth now and I also know I don't want to be anybody's secret. I won't settle for anything less in future and I have Jake to thank for that. I'd love to see his sparkling blue eyes one more time.
Affairs are obviously wrong and hurtful, but sometimes they serve a purpose. In my case, Jake was a catalyst for change I'll never regret.
* Name has been changed.
This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale February 17.