Sandra*, 48, lived exactly the life she had wanted: a nice old apartment, a generous husband, two well-preserved children. Then she came.
It was Katrin’s daughter’s graduation party. A picnic on the riverbank, bottled beer, plus the familiar togetherness of our clique. My husband David left at some point, and the new high school graduates moved on to a club. I was one of the last guests, as so often. Just like Katrin, my longtime neighbor and friend. We sat on the grass, a little apart, shared a last drink, feeling exhilarated and melancholic at the same time.
Suddenly she looked at me strangely. “I think you’re great for a long time,” she said quietly. I acted like I didn’t know what she was talking about. “I want to kiss you,” she said, “just once.” Then she leaned towards me. A moment like in the cinema. When I think back to that first kiss today, it was harmless, almost sisterly. And at the same time like a curtain that is pulled aside and behind which something completely unexpected awaits.
Up to that evening my life had been rather conventional. I met David in my mid-20s, got pregnant quickly, we had our daughter Nina and our son Finn in quick succession and finally moved into our own house. The fact that I also found women attractive played no role in my everyday life – before David there had been two or three party smooches, nothing serious. Even when I got to know Katrin better in a mothers’ group, it didn’t spark. I had noticed that she was into women and found it very exciting, but not anymore.
I was content with my life
My marriage had its ups and downs, sex had become rare and unsatisfactory, I lacked attention. Again: Which long-term relationship was already perfect? I heard similar things from my friends. And I finally had many reasons to stay with David. He was a loving father, I felt secure, and: He had a better-paying job, ensured a certain standard of living, gave me freedom. That I ultimately lied to myself, that all of this might make me satisfied but not happy – I only understood that in the days after that graduation party, when I pulled my smartphone out of my pocket every five minutes to see whether Katrin had written.
I felt like I had been standing at the front of a diving board for days and weeks, not knowing what was in the pool below me
She had. And the coming weeks and months were heaven and hell at the same time. Step by step I gave up my resistance and she her reluctance. Soon we were lovers, in words and in deeds. We met in the mornings when the kids were at school, we rented hotel rooms – the classic ingredients of an affair. Constantly the bittersweet excitement of doing something forbidden – she was also in a relationship at the time, albeit not a permanent one.
Sometimes I wanted to elope with her, sometimes I implored her not to touch our arrangement, mainly because of my children. A breakup is bad enough – but how would you, your friends, our clique, react if two women came out as a couple? Would we make ourselves the laughing stock of half the town? I could hardly sleep, had dark daydreams in which Nina and Finn blocked my cell phone number and broke contact with me. Followed by visions in which we all lived together in a blissful hippie commune. I felt as if I had been standing at the front of a diving board for days and weeks without knowing what was in the pool below me: warm water, cold water – or none at all.
He acted as if he hadn’t noticed
David didn’t seem to suspect anything. “Have you lost weight?” That was his only question. By then I had already lost ten kilos because I couldn’t eat anything anymore, out of infatuation and out of desperation. “If I break up with my girlfriend, could I have you?” Katrin asked me. No, I claimed, even though everything inside me was screaming “Jaaaaaa”. David once watched us greet each other at a friend’s birthday party and suddenly I thought: now he’s noticed, the way we look at each other, touch each other, hug each other! I felt panic and relief at the same time, thought, now he’s going to make a scene and make the decision for me. Instead, he pretended not to notice. I think he wanted to keep our life together at all costs. He may have loved that more than he loved me as a person.
Today I lead a more self-determined life
Eventually he did help me get things done, albeit unintentionally. “Who actually knows about you and Katrin?” he asked casually one evening when we were cleaning up the kitchen. I didn’t even deny it, but vehemently countered: “Oh, so you’re only interested in what the neighbors think?” Suddenly Finn was standing in the doorway, all pale, looking back and forth between me and David. In that moment I knew: there is no turning back. It was like David finally pushed me off that damn diving board.
“Okay,” I said, “the four of us need to talk. First thing in the morning.” I didn’t sleep a wink that night, bought rolls for everyone the next morning and thought: This is the last time we’ll have breakfast together. It was like standing next to me, like watching another person. Then they all sat in their pajamas lined up on the sofa, only I was dressed. Everyone cried. And I was suddenly very calm and clear. What would have been the alternative – to do without heroically, to repress and thus hurt not only me and Katrin, but everyone involved? Nina, then 17, finally got to the point: “Mom, you should be happy too.” Finally David put in a DVD, the four of us lay on the sofa and watched a few episodes of “Breaking Bad”. Actually completely absurd. But it seems we all needed that last family moment.
It’s been a year and a half now. It was far from a walk, but I haven’t regretted a single day of it. Katrin and I live together in her apartment, more modest but self-determined. Our daughters are out of the house, Finn commutes between David and me. It’s not that I think my past life was a mistake. Or would be a completely different person today. But I’ve changed: I’m prouder, more self-confident, and less dependent.
*Names changed by editors