It’s hard to have sympathy with any woman who sleeps with a married man. But at this family-oriented time of year when their lovers return to their wives and children it can be a cold and lonely Christmas for a mistress. Here one woman, Sarah Symonds, once described as Britain’s most prolific mistress, reveals what it is really like to be the other woman during the festive season…

I call Christmas the cheating season. Office parties, forced family time and plenty of drink all combine to make it the prime time for men to cheat on their wives.

I should know. I’ve stupidly lived as the other woman for 15 years. I’m not proud of it, but at least my experiences can help women learn the clues to find out whether their husbands are cheating.

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I would also strongly suggest women don’t become mistresses in the first place.

It rarely turns out well and the festive season is the worst time to be the other woman because you’re surrounded by images of happy families.

I’ve been ‘clean’ for three years now. I’ve been with no married men since Gordon Ramsay and never will be. I wouldn’t want to be in that situation again.

I take full responsibility for my past. But having affairs is like a drug. You’re always desperate for your next fix of the guy.

You become dysfunctional and your self-esteem plummets. He has this hold over you – is he going to call today? Will he come over?

It can destroy you. I’ve felt so low I’ve been suicidal. That’s why I set up Mistresses Anonymous to support other women like me. And guess when I hear from them most? Yep, you guessed it, right about now.

Christmas is the worst date in a mistress’s calendar.

You don’t want to look at smiling people on adverts. You end up imagining what your lover is doing on Christmas Day and you can’t wait until the New Year because you fool yourself into believing the following year will be ‘your time’.

If you’re in love with a married man you want a life with him. The fact that he’s having Christmas with someone else eats to your core.

The thing is, a married man knows exactly what to say and do to keep his mistress hanging on. He’ll say ‘I don’t want to be at home, I just have to be there for the children’. And ‘I’ll be thinking of you the whole time’. Or ‘After Christmas I’m going to tell my wife I’m leaving’.

Over Christmas, a mistress will generally be alone. She’ll probably be sitting at home, drinking by herself, waiting for his call.

For me, it made me realise how much time I’d wasted and all the promises that had been broken.

You live in hope and denial. You hope he’s going to do what he says, which he never will, and you’re in denial because you dream of what could be, as if you were in love with the idea of it.

Take one guy, who I was with for three years. I was in love with him and thought he was the one. He took his family skiing for Christmas and that was awful for me. One minute he’s telling me about how he’s in this ‘unhappy’ marriage, and yet he’s able to have a happy holiday with his wife.

You try to rationalise it, thinking ‘I’m sure it’ll be hell for him’. But you’re kidding yourself, putting your life on hold while he’s getting on with his. Your being in his life makes it better for him because he’s got a release. What do you have?

Mr X was going to tell his wife about me after Christmas – or so he said. I was at such a low point because he painted a picture of a life he wanted for us. I desperately wanted it, too.

He was the love of my life. I even bought his children DVDs and I told him to say they were from him, which he did.

He was living out of the country at the time, so one year I called him and told him to come and see me. He jumped on a plane and visited the day before Christmas Eve.

I desperately wanted to spend Christmas with him and remember sitting in the bath, sobbing my heart out and pleading with him to stay, but he told me he had to leave and left me there, crying.

I ended up driving to my parents’ house in Wales. He called me on Christmas Day at 4pm and I had mixed emotions. I was glad to hear from him, but I also thought: ‘If you can call me, if you’re thinking about me, why aren’t you with me?’

My advice is don’t have an affair. But if you’re going to, know that he’s using you and use him back – whether it’s for great sex or gifts.

Mistresses should get something nice for Christmas. After all, he’s buying his wife something.

Mr X was wealthy and he’d always try to buy me off. One Christmas Eve he gave me a Cartier bracelet with diamonds in it. He said: ‘Each year we’ll put another diamond on it for the amount of time we’re together.’

Another man phoned to say he had a Christmas present for me, which he was very excited about.

When he turned up he gave me £1,000 in an envelope. It was a sweet gesture, but as we’d just spent a night together his timing made me feel cheap – then he asked me to leave the hotel in disguise so no one would see me. In the end, I used the money to clean a carpet he’d spilled red wine over.

At least he spent some money though. Jeffrey Archer, who was one of the tightest people I’ve ever met, bought me a tin of humbugs for my Christmas present.

Others do better. A woman wrote to me once, telling me her married lover bought his wife a ruby ring and bought her one, too. When the affair came to light she took great pleasure in informing his wife they’d received the same present.

I’ve been in love with two married men over the festive period, which led to several toxic Christmases. Generally, I spend it alone or with my parents.

Christmas is a good time for finding out if your other half is cheating. Remember, if you think something is up, it probably is.

Does he go to bed after you because he doesn’t want the intimacy? Does he take his mobile phone to the toilet because you might check it or perhaps because he’s secretly texting his mistress? Does he have a second phone you don’t have the number for? Look for clues, such as receipts for hotels or presents you know nothing about.

You might even be encouraging him to look elsewhere.

Maybe you turn a blind eye to his affairs because you’re too busy being a mother or have become indifferent towards him. Some women don’t find their husbands attractive any more but have become too used to the money, clothes, house and the cars.

I wasted years being a mistress. But I’ve finally emerged as a much stronger person.

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