Serena Goh* was neither possessive nor suspicious. Believing that all good marriages are built on trust, the 34-year-old ad executive had always respected her husband Damien*’s privacy, which meant he never had to tell her what he was up to.
Serena and Damien met seven years ago at a birthday party for a mutual friend. Before long they were dating steadily, and everyone who knew them thought they were the perfect couple.
“Damien was very sweet to me. He would send me stuffed toys and cards, and walk me to my doorstep whenever he sent me home. He also got along well with my family,” Serena says of her ex-husband, who’s three years younger than her.
“He was witty and full of optimism. He was also very supportive and stood by me when I was having problems with my family. It wasn’t difficult to fall in love with him.”
Damien wasn’t Serena’s first boyfriend; she’d dated her university classmate for a few years before him; Damien also had a girlfriend from his school days.
One year into their courtship, Damien proposed to Serena during a trip to Hong Kong. They were at the top of a mountain when he got down on one knee and popped the question.
“The proposal was very cheesy but it was nothing short of wonderful. We married a year later.”
Their families and friends were sure they would be together forever. “I did too, I don’t remember ever being so happy,” says Serena, adding that Damien also supported her decision to take on an administrative job at a multi-national company after their wedding.
Meanwhile, Damien, a sales manager, continued travelling around the region for work and became friends with his colleague, Jeremy*. Both men got along well and would plan their work trips together. They soon became inseparable, hanging out often, chugging beer and watching soccer together.
Damien was still a good husband then, treating Serena to fancy dinners and movies. They even considered starting a family, but just never got around to it.
Serena first became suspicious of Damien one-and-a-half years into their marriage, when he started sleeping over at Jeremy’s place the night before and after a work trip, citing the long commute home from the airport to their Sembawang home as an excuse. “He wanted to save on taxi fare and Jeremy lived only two MRT stops away from the airport,” says Serena.
He even refused Serena’s offer to pick him up at the airport. “I thought he was trying to save us money. How naive! I had no reason to suspect anything because Jeremy was the nicest guy.”
Serena had only met Jeremy a few times, and found him gentlemanly and kind; he even helped her plan a surprise birthday party for Damien.
Once, when Serena asked Damien why he was spending so much time with Jeremy, he reacted defensively. “He said he couldn’t share his work problems with his other colleagues, and even told me to ‘get off his back’,” Serena says, her eyes filling with tears.
And when she casually enquired about Jeremy’s love life, Damien flew into a rage and asked if she’d been reading his text messages. “I certainly didn’t read his messages. I just wanted to go on a double date,” says Serena incredulously.
“After he’d calmed down, Damien apologised for flaring up, and said he loved me,” she says, adding that he explained that Jeremy was dating someone but would never settle down as he was too big a flirt.
Deciding not to read too much into Damien’s behaviour, Serena attributed the way he was acting to work stress. But towards the end of their marriage, he stayed out a lot more and spent an excessive amount of time at Jeremy’s place, giving the excuse that he was helping Jeremy with an important work project.
Despite Damien’s excuses, Serena found herself questioning her own self-worth. “Was I not attractive enough? Was I losing him to his job and to Jeremy?” says Serena in retrospect.
From that point, things went downhill for the couple.
They argued frequently and Damien would always run to Jeremy. “I kept thinking it was my fault, that I was driving him away with my insecurities. After all, he would have wanted to come home to a loving wife but I was unreasonable and bad-tempered,” adds Serena softly.
One day, Damien surprised Serena with airline tickets to Bali. Serena was thrilled, and relieved that their marriage was finally taking a positive turn. But the weekend before their holiday, Damien said he had a work trip to Bangkok.
Before leaving for work that Friday, Damien made breakfast for Serena; he also sent her a text message upon arriving in Bangkok.
The next day, while having lunch with her girlfriends, Serena received a text message from a mutual friend that sent chills down her spine: “Hey, I saw Damien and Jeremy yesterday at the mall but I was in a rush and didn’t say hello to them. Tell Damien he still owes me lunch! Let’s all meet up soon.”
Serena immediately sent a text message to Damien to ask how he was. Her heart sank when he said he was enjoying Bangkok and would bring back a souvenir for her.
Perplexed and bewildered, but determined to get some answers, Serena rushed home and turned on Damien’s laptop. With apprehension, she accessed his e-mail account, expecting to find some suspicious e-mails, but most of those from Jeremy were work related.
“I felt guilty for invading Damien’s privacy and blamed my prying on paranoia and an overactive imagination,” says Serena.
Then she chanced upon a folder titled Important Documents. Clicking it open, Serena discovered her husband’s biggest secret, which instantly propelled her into a world of hurt and pain. Inside were e-mails between Jeremy and Damien about their illicit affair, dating back six months! Apparently, the pair had taken many trips together on the pretext of work and shared a very intimate relationship.
“I didn’t know what to feel. Some e-mails were quite detailed and graphic. I feared for my health and took a HIV test right away.
“Damien had been having sex with me the whole time he’d been intimate with Jeremy. I finally understood why he couldn’t perform while making love to me. I thought I wasn’t satisfying him but it turns out he had other things on his mind. To think I kept blaming myself,” says Serena bitterly.
Serena waited calmly for Damien to return on Sunday. Throughout dinner that evening, he talked excitedly about the “funny incidents” that happened during his work trip. “I let him go on because I didn’t know how to broach the subject. It’s not every day you tell your husband, ‘Honey, I know you’re gay’,” Serena adds.
However, Damien noticed that his wife was unusually quiet and asked if she was okay. “I then asked him, ‘You didn’t really go to Bangkok, did you?’” recalls Serena. He looked panicstricken, but quickly regained his composure and said that he did.
I told him our mutual friend saw him and Jeremy in town the same day he was supposed to have been in Bangkok. He gave some lame excuse about planning a surprise for me.
“I felt profound sadness as I watched my husband lie straight to my face. It wasn’t the cheating per se that tore me apart, but the fact that my whole marriage was a complete lie.”
Serena then confronted Damien about the e-mails from Jeremy, but didn’t give him a chance to defend himself. “I placed my wedding band on the table, grabbed the overnight bag I’d packed and walked out. Damien didn’t give chase, I think he knew it was over too.”
After leaving the house, she walked aimlessly for four hours: “I needed space to think. I was heartbroken, but resolute about my decision.”
Damien called and sent her text messages later that night. “He said that he understood if I never wanted anything more to do with him and that he’d arrange for divorce proceedings if I called for it. I sent him the papers; I also got my HIV test results back, which showed I was in the clear. Thank God for that.” The divorce went through without a hitch.
“After everything, he sent me a long e-mail to apologise for his behaviour. He told me he had an inkling of his tendencies for a long time but that he really did love me. It was only after meeting Jeremy that he realised just how strong this inclination was.”
Serena explains that Damien was from a conservative family, so he couldn’t even admit to himself that he was attracted to men. He also told her that he wouldn’t try to salvage the marriage because that would be unfair to her.
It’s been two years since her divorce but Serena hasn’t really shared this chapter of her life with many people.
“My family knows what happened and they’ve been amazingly supportive. Some friends know, but most don’t. This is my personal shame to bear,” she says.
But Serena adds that it helps to know what happened wasn’t her fault. “Work keeps me busy and I think less of the affair now with each passing day,” she says with a smile.
Serena is now dating someone, but admits she’s still quite cynical and distrusting. “It’s difficult to get into another relationship. I’m glad he is understanding and patient even if he doesn’t know the details of my past.
“I guess I never expected something like this to happen to me. Nothing can ever prepare you enough for something like this.
“This interview is a sort of closure for me. The fact that I can now talk about it shows that I’ve moved on.”