New Delhi: Jilly has a great relationship with her two grown-up daughters - their friends consider her a fun, sexy mum. The girls often borrow their mother`s enviable collection of rainbow-coloured three-ply cashmere. Jilly was always a fantastic dancer and at 54 she continues to be. "My youngest daughter got a bit cross with me at her 21st because I was dancing a little too much with one of her male friends. She came over and said, `Enough! That`s my mum!`"
Their father has worked hard for the lifestyle the family continues to enjoy, but he is, says Jilly, typically English and remote. Their home has that new carpet and beeswax smell of wall-to wall-comfort, and then there`s the second home in the Alps that holds many shared memories for the family. And a few other memories aside for Jilly, who has, on discreet occasions, taken her lovers to the family`s holiday home. "That was a mistake. The lovers` ghosts are everywhere when you go back with the family."
We discuss the rules of keeping a male mistress, more precisely, a "mister", in her SUV during shopping expedition in a smart provincial town. It starts snowing, the engine runs, the heated seats warm the rear of her expensive jeans. She`s tall, dark and good-looking, as much through gym sweat and impeccable grooming as genetic good fortune. She`s friendly, sweet almost, and buzzing with positive energy.
When she talks about a series of intensely physical and largely unemotional relationships with men, she makes it sound demure and ladylike. Even when she is saying something like, "My lovers have to be good-looking and fit. You know, intelligent and fun to be with, and very good at oral sex."
Jilly has echoes of Vera Farmiga`s character, Alex, in the new George Clooney film Up In The Air. The sexually assured executive aces the similarly no-stringsplease Clooney character with the line: "Just think of me as you, but with a vagina." When he falls in love with her, it is only to discover she is married with kids. Farmiga says she loved the Alex character because, "when a female character is so demanding and sexually unapologetic, she usually lacks some dignity. It was cool to see someone who was completely self-possessed, had class, had depth and yet was operating in a very masculine way".
Jilly does not see herself as acting in a very masculine way - rather, as creating the best possible situation to preserve her happiness as an individual, and as part of a well-enough-functioning family unit.
"I have a comfortable life, I have a kind husband and lovely children. Why would I hurt them? My husband`s a difficult man, but I am happy. We share our long-standing in jokes and rows, we are great friends. Every other word bar love describes our marriage."
Sex with her husband is both rare and unexciting, but she remained completely faithful to him until, quite unexpectedly, she had an affair with a slightly younger widower she plays golf with. "It was liberating, but it was also dangerous. Very consciously, I knew this was good for me. Not long after calling time on the affair I started looking online. I love men, I love their company, yet as a stay-at-home mother you find your only social life is with your kids or girlfriends. But much as I do enjoy getting the odd lovely text from a man, really the only reason I do this is for the sex.
"In choosing a man I am measured and calm. What I want are peccadilloes, not a full-blown affair. You need to find someone you can get to know and feel comfortable with, because things get better when you know someone. I met a lot of men, some just weren`t experienced enough - I never wanted to be a Mrs Robinson figure. Others thought they could handle a married woman, but they`d start feeling guilt, worry and fear of my husband`s shotgun. It`s a delicate balance. You need the chemistry, but you have to watch it - if the chemistry is too good then you will feel like you are falling in love. When the sex gets very intense it tends to seed emotional ties."
This avoidance of too much emotion seems a key rule in the decorous affair. As one man I know says, "I love a dalliance with an older married woman because they have more to lose than me. We are also wise enough not to get too attached."
So does Jilly ever feel guilty? "Initially I felt very bad about deceiving my family. I find all the subterfuge awful. Then I thought, sod it, you`ve been an unselfish devoted mother and corporate wife for years. Now I think it does me good, makes me a more pleasant person the rest of the time. If I had a decent sexual relationship with my husband, I wouldn`t do this."
In the 10 years since she started her extramarital affairs, she has told only one friend, a fellow adulteress, and they provided each other with alibis. Other alibi opportunities come in the form of having genuine hobbies. "You can`t just suddenly make up a new time-consuming passion though, that`s going to look suspicious."
Mostly, though, she sees her lovers not too frequently, less than once a week, and when her husband is away. She has also found that younger men are the best option. "They have no interest in emotional ties, they are safe, and they are far more likely to consider a woman`s orgasm as important. And they have hair."
The field of infidelity is a wide one and includes anything from paying for sex to full-blown, head-over-heels , second-life lovers. In Jilly there is a calculated, masculine steel we do not generally associate with feminine love. But there is also a strict and respectful gentleness and respect for preserving the integrity of her love for her family, her husband, and, indeed, herself. In her we see the masculine laws of the mistress redrawn in a more tender feminine way. Hard to judge her.