Yesterday, I spent the day with an old friend I hadn’t seen for a while. We were catching up on what’s been happening in her life and it came as a bit of a shock to learn she was in the process of moving in with a man who had left his wife for her. She had been reluctant to tell me about it, fearing I’d judge her. My first instinct was to tell her she was making a big mistake, but after hearing her version of events I ended up feeling more anger than concern. It transpired that she was being harassed by her friends, family and her boyfriend’s and his wife’s family as well. Her new partner on the other hand, was only experiencing a fraction of the unpleasantness that she was having to endure on a daily basis. Even while I was with her, she was getting text messages from his wife’s sister calling her every name under the sun. While a lot of that was understandable under the circumstances, what I couldn’t understand was why she was being singled out. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.
I’ve always been intrigued by the image that immediately springs to mind when anyone mentions ‘the other woman.’ It’s one of a comedy, almost cartoonish vampy woman, dressed in sexy clothes, with long red talons and designer shoes, blow dried immaculate hair and a scarlet pout. It’s an image made popular by film, television and to some extent, novels. Though you will always find people to fit any stereotype, it rarely represents the norm. Interestingly, the husband’s part in the infidelity is almost dismissed with a ‘boys will be boys’ or a ‘men are a slave to their urges, they’re not built to be faithful,’ attitude in the mainstream media. Clearly this is bullshit, since women have adapted over the years to have careers as well as families, whereas men are portayed as simple beings who are still driven by the same primal urges they had centuries ago. If I was a man, I would find the suggestion that I have failed to evolve, incredibly insulting. Almost as insulting as women ought to find the portrayal of the sly other woman, luring another woman’s husband away. My friend couldn’t be further from this description. Though she’s extremely pretty, I’d say she’s more sweet than overtly sexy. Someone you’d instantly warm to, as opposed to want to fuck. That may sound crude, but no more so than that fictional image. Up until I’d discussed it with her yesterday, it hadn’t even occurred to me that we hardly ever talk about ‘the other man.’ There is no caricature image of him. Apparently men don’t ‘entice’ women away from their partners.
I’ve never been in a relationship with a married man, but from what I’ve seen, the stereotype is far from accurate. Though we live in slightly more enlightened times, more often than not, it is men who make the first move. I work for a big organisation and I see affairs around me all the time. Many of them are between two people who aren’t in love, but just indulging in a bit of ‘excitement’ because they can. I’ve had married men try it on with me and I’ve always made it clear I wasn’t interested. Though I’m still undecided as to how I feel about getting married myself, I do find it extraordinary how little their marriage means to some of the people I know. That’s not to say I don’t understand that sometimes, people fall in love and it can change their lives.
I may never have had an affair with a married man, but I did fall in love with someone who was in a relationship once. For the purpose of this blog, I’ll call him K. We met at work when I was much younger and being the same age, we hit it off immediately. I knew he was in a relationship from the very beginning. No excuses. We worked closely together and often went out after work and without even realising it, I fell for him. I didn’t realise he felt the same way until one day, out of the blue, he kissed me. Subconsciously, I knew I’d wanted him to do that for months and felt incredibly guilty. I didn’t speak to him for a few days, but we still had to work together. He insisted he wanted to be with me, but as weeks went by and he kept dithering, I found I couldn’t take it and handed in my notice at work. Thankfully, they offered to move me to a different branch if I’d reconsider, so I did and got on with my life. It wasn’t easy, but I could never have put pressure on him to leave his girlfriend. In fact, I don’t think I could have been content even if he had left his girlfriend for me. He had to do it because he wasn’t happy, not because someone else came along.
I had kept in touch with my friends at the previous branch and after declining a few invitations to their work nights out, I was eventually bombarded with texts and calls until I agreed to go along. It was almost 9 months since I’d left at this stage. He was there of course and soon we fell into our teasing banter that had always been our way and we parted as friends. Then a few weeks later, he told me he’d left his girlfriend. Nothing to do with me. By this stage, I knew I had been the cause of arguments between them. Though I’d only met her once, at my leaving do (as awkward as you can imagine) she could tell something was wrong from the way he spoke about me. She was convinced I was the cause of their breakup, but I was in denial. I told myself I hadn’t done anything wrong. To this day, I can’t work out if I was to blame or not. I never initiated any texts, I never asked him to leave her, I never called him and apart from that one kiss, I’d never gone near him again. Perhaps I shouldn’t have kept in touch with him, but leaving work had taken everything out of me and I just wasn’t that strong.
Even after they broke up, it was months before we finally got together. I had to be sure he had thought about it. I needed to know that he wouldn’t go back to her if I wasn’t interested. I had to know he’d done it for the right reasons. I’ll never forget the day he told her about us. I could hear her screaming and crying down the phone. It should have been the happiest day of my life, but I didn’t think I was capable of building a life on someone else’s misery. I tried to walk away to give them privacy to talk it through, but K pulled me to him while I sobbed into his shirt. She wanted to speak to me and after I’d got home and calmed myself a little, I answered her call. I listened for hours as she accused me of having planned it all along, of having stolen her boyfriend, of being a whore, a tart, a slut, everything you can possibly imagine and more. I didn’t argue with her, I knew she was hurting and this might go some way towards easing her pain a little. I apologised countless times and told her I’d never meant for it to happen. I’d done everything I could to end it. Of course she wasn’t really listening. Name calling turned to threats. I was told to watch my back, she knew where I lived and she knew people who would make me sorry. K had told me her dad had links to gangs and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little scared, but I put it down to her being in pain and let it go.
The calls and texts continued for days. I knew K was still talking to her. I didn’t mind. I didn’t want her to do anything stupid and if he could make it easier for her, than I was okay with that. What I didn’t understand, was why he wasn’t getting any of the abuse I was getting. While I had tried my best to do the right thing, to move away, to break contact with him, to not let things progress beyond a kiss when he was with her, he had been more than willing for us to go further. I understood her hurt and her anger and I knew I deserved it, but surely he did too. She continued to interfere, at one point even saying she thought she was pregnant. Eventually, it got so bad, I stopped speaking to her, but I’d still read her texts and listen to her voicemails and feel terrible. There was something else too. It worried me that K didn’t appear to feel as guilty as I did. It also bothered me that I was getting the abuse while they appeared to be having fairly normal conversations.
K and I were together for nearly 3 years. It was a stormy relationship and I found it hard to trust him, something that had never been an issue in previous relationships. We would have frequent rows. I knew deep down it had everything to do with my guilt and his lack of it. In the end, it was a huge contributing factor to the end of our relationship. I couldn’t be with someone whose relationship meant so little to him. He had been with his girlfriend for a long time and they’d even discussed moving in together. I couldn’t understand how she could be in the state she was in and he could be so calm about it all. I knew a part of me also resented him for letting me take all the blame. I hadn’t set out to ensnare him or trap him in any way. I would even then, have walked away if he had still had feelings for her. I hadn’t forced his hand at any point, nor had I given him an ultimatum. Yet I got all the blame.
I don’t believe you can ‘steal’ someone away. If someone was to cheat on me, I would hold them responsible, not the other woman. My partner is the person who made a commitment to me, who was supposed to be loyal to me. Unless she was a friend or family, the other woman would owe me nothing. I could hate her, but I couldn’t hold her responsible. To this day, I don’t understand why women get more than their share of the blame. Why women blame other women. Is it somehow easier because that way, you don’t have to address the problems in your own relationship? I don’t understand this image of the scarlet woman. While I agree that nobody has an affair if they have a happy relationship, I also think it’s the biggest cop out. No relationship is perfect. In a marriage especially, you have to work at it and work bloody hard. To use your problems as an excuse, seems like the coward’s way out to me. I’ve yet to see a man walk out of a marriage for anything other than to be with someone else. I don’t mean to generalise and I’m sure it’s not always the case, but it certainly has been in my experience. I’ve seen women leave to protect their kids, because they need to be by themselves for a while, because they felt it wasn’t working, or because they met someone else, but with men it’s always been for that reason. Yet it’s always ‘the other woman’ who is the hate figure. Why is that?