Hugh Francis is not the only man in his girlfriend's life
never wanted only a half-share in Pamela, and at first she tried to offer herself to me as a whole. Mark was a boyfriend of convenience, and she was no longer really going out with him, she said. Her father discouraged the relationship with him and Pamela, although 25 years old, admitted that she was a "Daddy's girl".

Pamela's father lived alone, two miles from her, and was disabled, so she would see him several times a week to shop and cook and be his companion. This meant that she could not help continuing to see Mark, who lived in the same block of council flats as her father, and helped him too.

Unlike Mark, I lived 23 miles from Pamela. I had a demanding job, and had started a course in the evenings. I had no car. Pamela and I could only meet so often. But every time we spoke on the phone, she said that she loved me, and paused for me to return the compliment.

At first I shied from it, so Pamelasaid it was pointless seeing me, and she would stick with Mark. I then forced myself to say that I loved her and she relented. The more I repeated the magic words over the months, the truer they rang.

But Pamela was still sleeping with Mark, and at intimate moments with me she occasionally made the mistake of calling me by his name. I coped because she otherwise gave me her undivided attention.

I could not help asking Pamela if she still loved Mark, and she said yes, but in a different way from me. Mark was a male version of her while I was the opposite, she surmised. If she was to leave him, she wasn't sure I would stay with her.

Although I've never seen Mark, I feel I know him because we have pledged ourselves to the same woman. I hear of his tender touch, his penchant for lager, and his drug habit. He hangs out in pubs and clubs while I read and study. He is 29, I am 37.

Mark is just a boy but I am a man, Pamela has said. She spends alternate weekends with me The spectre of Mark gives an added thrill to our liaisons. Other weekends, she reverts to her separate life. She boozes with Mark and his "mates", watching videos and listening to music. She rows with Mark incessantly but admits that she finds him more of a "stud" than me. I am the one that Pamela's father wants her to marry. Given her father's views, I worry that Pamela wants me only for materialistic reasons, and once tested the water by reducing my spending on her. It led to a row and, to make up, she gave me a boxed pen, irresistibly engraved in gold: "For Hugh, love Pam". I melted and it became my magnificent obsession to make Pamela want to give up Mark.

Occasionally I have given Pamela an ultimatum - either Mark or me - and she warns me not to push her. If I demand a trial separation, she calls my bluff until we both back down. If I talk too much about Mark, she changes the subject.

My friends think I am crazy to put up with all this. Steve, who introduced us, now tries to prise us apart. "She may always be unfaithful," he urges. A female friend rang to warn that Pamela has a loose reputation, but that made me feel more attracted to her.

With Pamela I now have a deal which has shaped and defines our love. She accommodates my unsociable lifestyle and my extremely limited experience, a combination unacceptable to other girls. In return, I accept her involvement with Mark. As our relationship has developed, I have understood how he offers her what I cannot.

There are a host of more mundane reasons why I love Pamela; like that she drives 23 miles to see me, at the drop of a hat. She helps me with practical tasks I find impossible, such as putting together MFI furniture. In return, she wants me to make her more cultured.

Occasionally, she gets wound up, because Mark tries to stop her seeing me. "You're just after a cheap f---," he once shouted after her, and she cried like a baby. Another time, she cancelled our date because Mark threatened to follow her.

She has mused whether to introduce me to Mark but the decision is always against. He hits her sometimes, she confided, and she is relieved that I never do. By hanging on to Mark, Pamela is applying a subtle coercion. Without the competition, I would not have pursued her as intensely. Unlike Mark, I have money and my own property, advantages which Pamela has invited me to exploit.

I have started to refurnish my home with Pamela in mind. Responding in kind, Pamela has started to buy sophisticated evening wear. "It is for your benefit, not Mark's," she insists. Most recently, we have discussed marriage, and have named our prospective children.

If I didn't live so far from Pamela, or wasn't so scared of losing my job that I work extra hard at it, leaving less time for a relationship, maybe the last year would have been different. If, like Mark, I spent endless hours socialising, perhaps she would have ditched him for me, but more likely she would never have been attracted to me at all.

Pamela says that she will get rid of Mark in the near future to commit herself to me. It is, I think, what she and her father had planned from the start. But she will always have a weakness for Mark, or others of his kind, and that is the price I pay for her love.

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