It’s a fair question. This is my answer.

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Recently, I wrote a story about the awful summer several years ago when I had an extramarital affair, and it was discovered, and I effectively ripped my life and my blameless family to pieces.

I decided to be perfectly honest, as honest as my vocabulary would allow, and the words flowed out of my fingers as I remembered all the horror and bitterness of that awful time. Writing it felt almost like therapy. I finished and read it over before submitting it and I thought: yes. …


The first 20 years are the hardest

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When I married my husband, I was twenty-two years old and I told everyone around me that the wedding day itself did not matter. “It’s being married that’s important,” I would say, airily, with a worldly-wise air that makes me shrink now with amused embarrassment when I recall it. “It’s the commitment that matters to me, not a party.”

I believed what I was saying and I put my money where my mouth was. We had a small winter wedding, with the least expensive white-gold rings from a cheap department store and a dress I made myself from a length of slippery blue sateen that I found in a shop near my office. We had no honeymoon. …


But now, sometimes, I wish I’d kept them

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When I was seventeen I drove to France with my boyfriend for what we optimistically called a holiday. I was pregnant with his baby, and still reeling from the discovery. The trip was designed to take my mind off my confused fears about the pregnancy.

It was a miserable trip in a lot of ways. I had no money and although my boyfriend had plenty, he did not like to share it. I was exquisitely uncomfortable in my skin. None of my clothes fit me properly, already; I felt lumpen and unattractive in my baggy jeans. …


Well, what’s the point? They only exist for female pleasure, after all

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I was reading The Guardian this weekend when I discovered an article highlighting what I believe to be a pretty appalling, if grimly unsurprising fact. Namely that not until 1998 — barely twenty years ago — was any real scientific examination made of the clitoris.

Isn’t that…well, kind of mind-bendingly mad? We all know that general research into sex, sexuality and sexual anatomy goes back way further than that. Even in Victorian times, doctors stimulated women’s clitorises to induce “fits” (orgasms) as a treatment for “hysteria”.

Alfred C Kinsey’s 1953 book Sexual Behavior in the Human Female was hugely popular and went into great detail about clitoral orgasms and their measurable stages. And also in the 1950s, William Masters and Virginia Johnson began their lifelong research into the human sexual response which, again, went against Freudian beliefs and highlighted the clitoris as the true hub of female pleasure. …


But I loved what she did to my face

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“You can take that thing off,” said my new beauty therapist, gesturing to my face mask as she led me to the towel-draped bed. “I can’t give you a facial through a piece of cloth!”

She had a point. Slightly embarrassed, I peeled it off. “Hey, but I bet bookings have gone right up with all the “maskne” everyone’s getting these days, though,” I said conversationally, settling myself under the cosy blanket with my face and shoulders poking out.

“Yeah,” she conceded. She added a clear plastic visor to her own masked face and unpacked her kit from the steriliser. “That is a problem, everyone’s getting all these under-mask clusters of spots and pimples. It’s because of all that carbon dioxide, pumping back into your skin with the steam from your breath. …


But is it love? Or is it self-sabotage?

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We all know what being “in love” is all about. It makes the world go round, after all. There are lots of songs telling us so. It involves floating on a happy cloud, unable to focus on anything, wanting spontaneously to break into dance or song. Nothing matters but the lover and the love. There are hearts and flowers and candlelit dinners. There are endless, breathless phone calls about nothing that meander late into the night. (“No, you hang up!”).

It is glorious and it really is addictive. I’ve just spent a parodic paragraph almost mocking it, but most of us have been there at least once in our lives. I certainly have. When I first met my husband we spent so long cooing to each other on our mobile phones (what were we even saying for that long every night?) that his phone bill went into three figures and he very nearly ended up short on rent. …


And can I really call myself a feminist at the same time?

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When I was about 28 years old, more than a decade ago, I had a memorable conversation with one of my friends. We were roughly the same age. We both had a clutch of small children; mine at the time were aged ten, six, and two. Life for both of us was full and frantic.

My friend explained to me that every day, in the late afternoon after giving her children their dinner, she would put them straight in the bath and then change them into their pajamas. “And I get into pajamas, too!” she said. …


Can’t think clearly? That’s exactly what they want

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When I was living alone for the summer in which I left my husband (after my messy, all-consuming, entirely regrettable affair), I remained in touch — at first — with my extramarital lover.

This is how that went.

On the night that our affair was discovered, he held my hands tightly and he said to me, looking into my eyes, “Listen to me. This is the horrendous bit. This bit is going to be awful. But we have to stay strong. We win, at the end of this. We WIN. We get each other.”

I sat in front of him, broken, and I thought — yes. Yes, you are probably right. This is the point where things are broken to make stronger, better new things. I have read about this sort of process. Through the fire of adversity, or something like that, we will forge an unbreakable loving bond. Or something like that. I fell asleep that night still crying but feeling some kind of resolve. …


I’m the right age for one apparently, so where is it?

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I’m at the basic, cliched point of life where it’s appropriate for me as a woman to try to find myself. I turned forty this year, and there’s a reason that particular birthday is a well known cultural milestone.

Everyone knows that somewhere between her mid-thirties and mid-forties an interesting woman will assess her life, decide if it’s working out to her satisfaction, and give it a huge dramatic overhaul if it isn’t. Look at Thelma and Louise. Look at Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love. There’s subconscious pressure on us, is what I’m saying.

These cultural messages admittedly do not come from nowhere. Women do feel more lost in midlife than in their younger years. I absolutely do. My nest’s emptying — the children who once clung to me and needed me for everything now come and go as they please, filling the house intermittently with their voices and presence and mess but not actually needing me for very much anymore. …


There’s a definite theme, now I’ve bothered to write them down

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It’s January, which means there are a plethora of articles in all the magazines and newspapers I see around me, all waffling on about how as women we can turn into new and better versions of ourselves. (This year’s slant, of course, is how we can do that in a pandemic-friendly way without actually joining a gym or going anywhere).

Please don’t misunderstand me. I love reading these articles. From the very first lilac-colored “Tips and Tricks!” square in my Just-17 magazine circa 1995 — explaining, among other things, how to make a cleansing face mask with just a handful of oatmeal and a drop of olive oil, but not explaining how to make it actually stay on one’s face for more than 3 seconds — I’ve basically taken whatever I find written on those flimsy pastel pages as self-improving gospel. …

About

Em Unravelling

Lover of words, books, hiking, nature and big skies. Running is my favourite thing (after the words & the books). As feisty as I need to be. theunravelling.net

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