(Yes, Mondays are improved by a Hobson’s choice for breakfast.)
This was a moral dilemma faced by author Rachel Hancox, which she wrote about in the Daily Mail. And a subject on which I’ve been asked to comment by BBC Surrey radio this morning — so send the talking points, CN!
Rachel’s acquaintance Jane has advanced cancer. And an asshole for a husband.
Little did I know I would soon find out something so devastating that it would make her heartbreaking situation even worse.
I’d only ever met Jane’s husband John a few times, at school events. He was tall, wiry, good-looking with long, curling hair, very dark eyes and a way of fixing his gaze on you, even when you were only exchanging a word or two. It was definitely him in the garden centre cafe, fixing that intense look on the mother of a child in another class at our school. She was a recent divorcee with shiny blonde hair who we’d all believed had run off with her yoga teacher.
Yes, the Other Woman is a cliche in Lululemon.
Maybe there was nothing to it, I told myself. I could imagine John needed support. I even felt guilty for thinking he could be flirting with another woman while his wife was so ill. I walked, out of the cafe and back to the bedding plants.
But then I spotted them again — in a clinch among the climbing roses. There was no mistaking what was going on now.
For a few moments I stood rooted to the spot, too shocked and dismayed to move. Perhaps I should have called out? Perhaps I should have walked on towards them until they spotted me? But I was a coward. I dumped my basket and rushed back to my car.
I did my best to avoid Jane at school for the next few weeks. I was waiting for the news to break, as surely I couldn’t be the only one who knew what was going on?
Oh probably not, Rachel. And that’s the shitty thing — Rachel never should’ve been put in this position. This is what affairs do — they enlist unwitting co-conspirators. And very few people have the guts to refuse that role.
I hated having this dire secret weighing on me, but I was terrified of doing the wrong thing and it felt better to pretend I didn’t know. It wasn’t mere cowardice nor was it just the strange shame of being the person — perhaps the only person — who knew what was going on. It was also that I really, really didn’t know what to do.
In the end, Jane dies before Rachel can decide what to do. John basks in the glow of loving, supportive husband.
And I would’ve accepted this unsatisfying post-modern ending, except Rachel ends the piece with a call for understanding about what people will do under duress — like cheat on their wife who is dying of cancer.
I wonder whether we can forgive adultery in some circumstances — if it doesn’t harm the other party and even, arguably, has some benefits for them.
And whether any of us can judge what other people do under unimaginable stress.
What people do under unimaginable stress is the stuff of character. And not fucking around on your dying wife isn’t a very high bar. John is not being asked to resist the invasion of Ukraine.
I could forgive Rachel for not telling. I can see not wanting to destabilize a woman’s health or inflict such knowledge at such a vulnerable time. But I do not understand how she can give John a pass. Unless it’s to protect her own moral discomfort.
it doesn’t harm the other party and even, arguably, has some benefits for them.
May it happen to you, Rachel.