She noticed him as they were preparing to board their flight from Seattle to Honolulu. He was older — fifty-six — and extremely handsome. Impeccably groomed and stylishly dressed, he was married for the third time and the father of three daughters. She was a housewife in her early thirties with two sons ages two and four, en route to a reunion with friends. And she was delighted when she entered the aircraft and learned that her seat was next to his.
Carlos and Megan got to know each other during the flight, and exchanged telephone numbers. But upon landing in Hawaii, each had obligations so they went their separate ways. It wasn’t until two months later that Megan decided she would dial the number Carlos had written on the scrap of paper she had been loathe to discard — just out of curiosity.
They met for a meal, talked, and agreed that they would not become involved. But the mutual attraction was strong and they decided to indulge their desires by engaging in a single tryst before again going their separate ways.
That first awkward encounter in a Ramada Inn in Portland, Oregon was the beginning of a five-and-a-half-year adulteress affair that only ended when Carlos succumbed to cardiac amyloidosis a few months after being diagnosed with the condition. Even though Megan had shared the most intimate moments of her life with Carlos, she was not his wife. And she did not get to say good-bye to him, attend his funeral service, or even retain mementos or photographs of him. She researched the disease once his doctors settled on a diagnosis, convinced him to travel to a clinic in Arizona staffed by experienced physicians who could offer him his best chance at survival, provided him with lists of foods he should and should not eat, communicated with members of a support group who provided guidance, and stayed in telephone contact with Carlos as much as possible during his final months. When she knew his death was imminent, she rushed to Arizona, hoping to see him one last time and say her good-byes. It was not to be. His wife, mother, and daughters gathered at his bedside, while she sat on a barstool alone sipping scotch. The next day she returned home to her husband and children. About mourning him, she observes that the process was “very different as his mistress than it would have been as his wife. I had to get on with my life as if he had never been, as if I my heart hadn’t been shattered.”
What drove Megan van Eyck to be drawn into and remain in an extramarital relationship for so many years? How did she and Carlos succeed in keeping their affair a secret until after his death? What did she learn from her experiences? Looking back, would she do it all again?
Author Megan van Eyck notes at the outset that her marriage was already in severe trouble when she met Carlos. Her husband, Willem, was emotionally unavailable and the couple had not been intimate in a long time. She believed that they would never be physically or emotionally close again, and were only remaining together for the sake of their two young sons. Indeed, Willem threatened van Eyck that if she attempted to leave him, he would return to his native Netherlands with the boys and prevent her from ever seeing them again. So she writes that on that fateful day when she found herself chatting with the older, sophisticated, and well-traveled Carlos, “I did not care that I felt unloved and alone. I knew I would endure it for my children.” She was determined that her children would know a far different childhood than the one she had endured.
Willem was not the first man with whom van Eyck had been in an abusive relationship. She describes previous dalliances in which she tolerated demeaning and belittling behavior because she lacked self-esteem and allowed herself to be used sexually before being disregarded. Sex became a way to feel some sense of closeness, at least for a little while. As a child, she was abandoned on more than one occasion by her much-married, playboy father. After her parents’ divorce, her mother suffered a psychotic break with reality that left van Eyck to fend for herself from an early age, living in a filthy home that should have been condemned where she often went for days without a decent meal or bath.
Memoirs of a Widowed Mistress is more than a story about adultery, it is a story about love, passion, loss, self-discovery and ultimate redemption.
Loneliness, vulnerability, and a desire to be loved even though she did not believe she was worthy of love drove van Eyck into a relationship with Carlos. She contends that she only came to understand how much love actually mattered to her because Carlos showed her “how alone [she] felt with [her] husband.” Memoirs of a Widowed Mistress is promoted as “a cautionary tale about the causal relationship between marital emotional neglect and questionable choices. It is a warning for the spouse who wants to dismiss an affair as just sex or for any woman who thinks love is enough to keep a man that isn’t really hers.” Indeed, the central thesis of van Eyck’s story is that men and women fall into and out of love, the health of a marriage ebbs and flows over time, and adultery, while undeniably wrong, is quite often about much more than sexual gratification and excitement. It can be about companionship, emotional safety and security, and personal fulfillment. In fact, van Eyck insists that her own infidelity made her a better woman.
She tells her story through a straight-forward chronology of her relationship with Carlos, interrupted periodically by flashbacks to her childhood and a description of some of the relationships in which she was involved as a young woman before she married Willem. Although she and Carlos vow that they are not going to become emotionally entangled, with each successive clandestine meeting, that’s exactly what happens. The book contains graphic descriptions of their sexual encounters, with van Eyck detailing how she would see her husband off to work and her children off to school before retreating to her closet — where she hid an ever-growing collection of lingerie, concealed in a suitcase in the back of her closet — to prepare for her meetings with Carlos. She lied to Willem about her whereabouts, spinning elaborate tales about college friends inviting her to join them in various locales for reunions, even convincing him that they provided her with frequent flier miles when, in fact, Carlos was of course paying for her transportation. The more time they spent together, the more van Eyck longed for a permanent, lasting relationship with Carlos with whom she fell deeply in love. Carlos, however, steadfastly maintained that he would not leave his third wife for van Eyck because if he did so, he would disappoint not only his daughters, but his mother.
For her part, van Eyck stood ready to leave Willem if only Carlos would say the word. She details how she contemplated issuing him an ultimatum . . . but could never bring herself to do so, despite the fact that Carlos would only offer her the chance to be his “second wife” by suggesting that they make a formal, but not legally binding commitment to each other. She would never have left him because being his mistress was better than not being with him at all. Ironically, it was not until Carlos became critically ill that van Eyck conceded she would not abandon Willem in order to be with Carlos, acknowledging that to break up her family — especially at that point in time, when Carlos was facing an uncertain future — would not be fair to her children.
While van Eyck does not attempt to convince readers that her behavior is morally justifiable, she also offers no apologies for some of her actions. Some parts of her story are extremely difficult to read because they are shocking and, candidly, infuriating. For instance, Carlos regularly comes to the home she shares with Willem and her children, spending long hours in the bed where she sleeps with her husband. Describing those repeated instances, she does not explain until the book’s mid-point that their home was isolated and there was no possibility of neighbors observing Carlos’s comings and goings.
Eventually, they become emboldened enough to spend time at Carlos’s house, as well. However, because he lives in a more traditional neighborhood, they meet in the parking lot of a store. There, van Eyck gets into the back seat of Carlos’s car where she hunches down until Carlos has pulled into the home’s garage. Sadly, van Eyck was so hungry for attention and lacking self-respect that she was willing to hunker down in the backseat of his vehicle, sneaking into his home like a thief in the night. By the first occasion upon which she enters the home where Carlos lives with his wife, van Eyck has come to feel quite possessive of Carlos and entitled to be intimate with him in his marital bed. She actually relishes the times that she spends in the exact same spot where Emma, Carlos’s wife, sleeps with him each night. While van Eyck’s narrative is obviously designed to demonstrate the depth and extent of her involvement with Carlos by that point, and her concomitant desire to be much more to him than just the woman with whom he enjoys sexual encounters, the intrusion into each parties’ home makes their affair seem even more tawdry and selfish than it might otherwise have come across to readers. Both she and Carlos failed to respect their spouses or marriages enough to conduct their relationship away from their respective homes, unspeakably violating their spouses’ privacy and dignity. Although van Eyck wants her readers to understand and appreciate “the humanity of the mistress,” her vivid descriptions of that type of behavior jeopardize reader empathy. She does, however, deserve credit for her willingness to tell her story in a brutally, unflinchingly honest manner. The inclusion of such salacious details assist the reader to understand the obsessive, out-of-control character of van Eyck’s relationship with Carlos and the desperate nature of infidelity.
Ultimately, it is through the love she shares over the years with Carlos and the aftermath of his death that van Eyck is finally able to achieve peace with regard to her traumatic childhood, resultant mental disability (it was during the affair that she realized she was struggling with bipolar disorder), and her own choices.
As both a child and adult, I had struggled to understand my mother’s rejection of life: her abandonment of hygiene and the despair that directed her life. . . . I finally understood how Mom had gotten to the point in her life where simply living was a burden, where living for things that gave you nothing of what you needed seemed pointless. I understood, and I forgave. I was finally able to let it go. I was finally able to accept myself, and know that none of t had anything to do with me.
Carlos’s gift had been the twofold benefaction of the things I had sought my whole life, things I had been unable to give myself: forgiveness of my mother and self-acceptance. I happiness would be my inheritance. He would be with me always, just as he promised.
I thought my unique story might shed insight on the nature and motivations of infidelity. I also hoped to humanize the mistress; to show that she is a woman who may be more like someone’s sister or best friend rather than the stereotypical bed-crawling temptress.~ Author Megan van Eyck
Had I read Memoirs of a Widowed Mistress a couple of decades ago, I would have had a very different reaction to the story than today. Having been married for many years and raised two sons, I understand that most of the issues married couples face, viewed honestly, can be seen as awash in myriad shades of grey. Few of us exist or function exclusively within zones of black or white. No one is completely right or totally wrong . . . and marriages are entities that operate in accordance with unique understandings, guidelines, and dynamics. Hurts and resentments can linger, fester, and communication breaks down, causing partners to do and say things they never believed, on their wedding day, that they would ever be capable of. “Many cheaters are simply waiting to feel that their spouses love them, to rekindle what once was. My story is a testament to that notion,” van Eyck says.
In my opinion, Memoirs of a Widowed Mistress is a compelling, brave, and fascinating story of how van Eyck managed to survive her self-destructive, reckless quest for self-acceptance and self-worth and, in the process, save her own marriage as the result of what she learned from a relationship that, by all standards of morality or “right and wrong,” should never have come into existence.
It would be easy to sit in judgment of van Eyck, but to do so would miss the point of Memoirs of a Widowed Mistress entirely.
In the end, I learned that love is not what I had once thought it to be; that it isn’t all about me. I no longer want to be rescued or saved. I no longer believe that I will ride off into the proverbial sunset with a man who will complete and define me. I no longer feel so entitled to my own happy ending that I am willing to be the villain in someone else’s fairy tale. I now know what love is.
That van Eyck emerged from her relationship with Carlos a better woman — an empowered person — is cause for celebration. The means by which she did so is less important than is the fact that through the experiences she details in the book, her life and marriage are now on track. She and Willem, who did not learn of the affair until mid-2010 when he stumbled upon a draft chapter of the book, are working through the issues that drove them apart. Their children are healthy and well-adjusted, and van Eyck has courageously told a story that will undoubtedly help readers better understand and exhibit compassion about a very difficult, emotionally-laden topic.
Click here to read author Megan van Eyck’s Guest Post, Readers React to Memoirs of a Widowed Mistress.