Addicted to the internet? It could be all in your genes 31 Aug Soon, I was spending hours in the parallel universe of cyberspace, often through wonderfully wide-awake nights, uninhibited in a way I never could be in reality. I told no one, immersed and isolated in my secret life. I met all sorts of people, from all over the world, older and younger, and each seemingly as desperate for a true connection as I. And for a while at least, it all felt harmless and innocent, and fun.
I got to know — or as much as possible online — a couple of regular men, with whom I conducted tentative conversations that were thoughtful and sweet, and that only developed into something more suggestive after much respective vetting and, on my part, several glasses of red wine.
The excitement, I'll admit, was incomparable. I felt thrillingly alive. I was, of course, behaving dysfunctionally. I realise that now. In moments of fleeting clarity, I wanted to understand what was happening to me.
Who had I become? Was it just my marriage problems, or was there something deeper causing me to behave that way? Should I be blaming my mother, or my — mostly absent — father for feeling that something was eternally missing? Psychologists seem to think so. I was born to a woman that didn't much want children, and who fell foul to postnatal depression a good couple of decades before the term was even coined.
My father leaving didn't help, and for the first six months of my life I was placed with a notional "auntie", a family friend who became my surrogate mother throughout my childhood. That initial separation, I later learned, all but ensured I would never be able to successfully bond with her. I'm in my mids now, and our relationship remains every bit as complicated today.
As I have come to learn, most of those who grow up in a dysfunctional relationship are condemned to seek them out forevermore. But we can't blame our parents forever. In adulthood, I had become a rather complicated girlfriend, each relationship beginning well, but then growing fractured and ending badly. I am bound to say, though, that I wasn't solely culpable. The boyfriends were complicated themselves. I ended up marrying one of these complicated boyfriends. He was by far the best of the bunch, a kind and generous man, but someone who could also be selfish and unfeeling.
We had agreed, early on in our relationship, that we wouldn't have children. I was convinced I wouldn't make a very good mother and didn't want my son or daughter, in 40 years time, to dread calling me, fearful I'd berate them for some emotional crime or other. A childfree marriage seemed to suit my husband. And life, at first, was good.
Several friends, however, were convinced that our lack of children created a vacuum. I'm not sure I entirely agree with that, but it is true that when we bought our first house together, we somehow conspired to buy a wreck that required a lot of our attention and focus.
And for 12 long, frequently torturous months we painstakingly made it liveable and lovable. And then it was finished: My husband worked hard at his job and, to alleviate its accompanying pressures, developed his obsession with horseracing, gambling and drinking. He was out most nights, and many weekends.
I had a husband, a home, yet I was missing something, intangible but palpable. This made me sad, depressed. So I looked elsewhere. I didn't want an affair, nothing grubby, nothing seedy. I still loved my husband, but I wanted adventure, excitement, a reminder I was still alive.
So I went online, and found a whole new world. I began chatting to men online in private chat forums, concealing any obvious indentifiers of who I was but talking about my life, problems and thoughts. I became addicted to the attention and craved contact with the men I thought I had come to know. These conversations quickly developed into cyber-sex, each message becoming more adventurous and racy and allowing me to live out fantasies I would never contemplate doing in the real world.
I had never felt more desired in my life. My husband and I became strangers, our lives by now distinct entities. I realised I needed to stop. But I found out it wasn't as easy as I had first thought. It felt like stopping smoking. I quit decisively at first, then slipped up, then quit again, craving some kind of patch.
I told myself that what I was doing was essentially harmless. When the time was right for both of us, we would work through our problems and come back to one another. In the meantime, I had nothing to lose. I shed my regulars and concentrated on just one, a man younger than me by almost two decades.
And it was harmless, until I fell in too deep and wanted more than his messages. And so our long-nurtured virtual affair became real. He was young and beautiful and I couldn't believe that he wanted me. From the very first meeting, the guilt racked through me. We would meet in hotels, have sex — mindblowing sex - and then the realisation that what I was doing was irrevocably wrong would set in. Taking my online affair offline was my big mistake, a transgression too far.
What drew me to the online world was the maintenance of fantasy. Bringing it to life brought only complications, albeit occasionally exquisite ones. After a couple of months I had to end it — and it was after I had made this decision that my husband found out. He discovered messages on my phone and so I sat him down and poured the whole sorry tale out to him, feeling I was stamping on his heart with every word.
I spent a lonely Christmas at my mother's house with nothing to do but wonder how I had got myself into this situation. I couldn't do it alone. I started therapy, and learned just how dysfunctional my life had been, and so little wonder I kept making new problems for myself. I began writing everything down, to help make sense of it, first for myself, then for others. It's taken me a good while to fully come to terms with what I've done, to understand how easily I fell into the previously unknown world that I would regrettably come to prefer to the real one.
Luckily, after only a short time apart, my husband came back to me, willing to try to put us back together and realising, in all this, he had had a part to play too. Some people can handle guilt well, and can happily juggle more than one life. I failed — the guilt was profound — and so began the painful but necessary process of erasing one and focusing solely on the other, the one that had come first.
Mercifully, the kind and complicated man I was married to focused too. I'd always heard that you have to work at a marriage. I was fortunate enough to get another chance to do so, and I'm working at it now. Call or visit Telegraph Books.