By Bunmi Sofola
Mention the words ‘bottom power’ and what comes to mind is the picture of a ruthless ambitious woman, ready to sleep her way to the top. And it doesn’t matter who with. Amanda, now in her 40s, was not born poor, so had no excuse all those years for falling for Sam, a man well above her reach. When the odd couple went out on their rare outings together, no one would have guessed what type of relationship they had “To the outside world as we walked hand-in-hand into a restaurant, we’d have looked the absolute picture of a couple in love”, Mandy said.
“Yet the tawdry truth was somewhat different. This man was not my boyfriend. He was very much married and sadly, much as I would have wanted it more than anything else in the world, I wasn’t his wife. More than that, this man was my boss. Someone with contact and experience in the world of communications in which I was desperate to gain a foothold and climb.
Memories of that relationship in my early 20s flooded back when a woman recently alleged that her own ‘part-time’ affair with a married man had allowed her to launch a successful career as the affair had allowed her to feel loved – but also gave her time to concentrate on her business without the demands of being a housewife. According to her, her lover, whom she married years later, would disappear home each evening which gave her time to pour all of her efforts into her work as she did not have to worry about cooking a meal each night or look after children. Well, my own six-year affair paid similar dividends for me.
“But as my colleagues concentrated on finding husbands and starting families, I was free to network or catch up on projects while my lover was with his wife. My career went from strength to strength. Within six years, I went from a junior executive to assistant manager in the telecommunications company I worked with. And yes, for a while, I was like the cat who got the cream. Here I was, an attractive ambitious young lady with a secret head start on my colleagues. This handsome, powerful man had chosen me over all of them. What’s more, the fact that he could only see me when family commitments allowed, meant I could focus any extra energies on work. Sadly, I was too young to understand one universal truth – success or money can never make a woman as happy as love.
“And while the woman in the interview said she went on to marry her lover, my own experience is far more common – my lover did not make an honest woman of me. Instead, he stole the best years of my life and, quite possibly, my chance to have children of my own. Yes, he enabled me to enjoy some significant career success. But at what price? Looking back at that time 20-odd years on, I feel ashamed that I ever begged a man to leave his wife. Of course it was to no avail, and, according to him, he never believed in having a second ‘wife’. This meant that, while my university friends were marrying and settling down with available and loving men, I was left with the scraps of an unsatisfying ‘relationship’ – if our irregular liaisons deserve that name.
“I met the man I eventually married at 36, and while I love him, it is bitter sweet to consider that had I met and fallen in love with someone who was available during those years I was playing second fiddle, perhaps I might have married earlier and become a mother too. Now aged 45 with several rounds of failed IVF treatment here and abroad behind me, I accept I will never have a child of my own. But I often curse my own. But I often curse my ambitious younger self for the situation in which I now find myself.
“And for any women considering having an affair to get on in the workplace, I would tell her some home truths. When you’re having an affair with a married man, there are countless moments where you feel utterly worthless and ask yourself: ‘What the heck am I doing?’ The sleazy afternoon sex in hotel rooms, the lies you tell to your family about why your boyfriend can’t come to stay for the weekend, the frankly implausible – not to mention insulting – excuses he invents to explain who you are if he bumps into someone he knows when you’re out together.
“Our affair started when I was a naive 24-year-old girl new to working life in Lagos. It finished when I was a 30-year-old. And instead of being left with a box full of romantic mementoes, all I took away was a deep distrust of men, which took me a decade to recover from. But who thinks such profound thoughts when they’ve just graduated from the university and are so eager to slam their stilettoed heel onto the first runny of their career ladder? I know I certainly didn’t. And far from having a reputation as philanderer, Sam treated me kindly, taking me under his wing.
“After work while colleagues eagerly head to fun places, I always find an excuse to hang around the office, helping him out, chatting on our own together. A few times we’d had a couple of quickies in his office. I can’t really recall the moment I realised I had developed intense feelings for him. I was dazzled by his worldliness. He was ten years older and clearly a charmer. He knew what he was doing in life, where he was going and wasn’t immature like so many of my male friends. In the office, he kept our flirtations – because that’s what they were by now – in check. Yet it was at home I talked about him non-stop. My flatmate never guessed he was a married man.
“Did I think about his wife? Of course. But I was arguably too young and lacking in the wisdom and integrity that comes with putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. I didn’t even ponder about the hurt it would cause her if she found out. My rationale was that if her husband was cheating on her, that had nothing to do with me. But as time went on, I knew what I was doing was wrong. During the third year of our relationship, I took stock. I was good at my job – I’d been promoted to assistant manager and thanks to my lover, I was damn good at my job. When it came to relationship however, I was stuck at the back of the class, utterly clueless how to move it forward.
“With his muscle, he got me a better job at a rival company. He was still very much married and working with woman just like myself – young, attractive and very ambitious. Was I jealous? Of course. And silly enough to ask him to make our relationship public. He made it crystal clear he didn’t want to leave his wife. It was then I decided to end the affair. He was hardly devastated – just terrified at what I might reveal. I left the relationship older, wiser but very much alone…”