The other woman. “Home wrecker” if she succeeds, “what did you expect?” if she doesn't. Everyday we are bombarded with stories of these women: former governor Mark Sanford's soulmate, John Edwards' baby momma, and Tiger Woods' menagerie of lovers. While the media will tell us all about these women, it's only ever the scintillating details – the love letters, the text messages, the alleged existence of a sex tape. The fact they are – or once were – party girls, porn stars, strippers.
Credit: Harpagornis ~away~ on Flickr
These are details to make us click links and buy tabloids. Less obvious, perhaps, is that these are details to shape our opinion, to help us conclude that it takes a specific sort of woman to do such a reckless and terrible thing. But people are not one-dimensional. Just as Tiger Woods isn't just a golfer, so too is Rielle Hunter not just a former party girl.
There is a special chemistry to desire, which becomes even more complex when passion becomes love.
"It's a terrible fate to be a mistress if you love," my mother told me once.
I don't recall how we got to the conversation, but I will never forget what she said next: "A mistress will destroy a man's life if he loves her and leaves his family, but that love starts with a fracture, not a victory. Of course, if he doesn't leave, that mistress will be condemned to a life that is only a half-life.”
I'm going to tell you three stories, stripped of the prurient details. On top of that, I am going to tell the stories of women who aren't and never were party girls or strippers or porn stars – not because I think this makes a woman any more susceptible to the situation, but because I want you to look beyond the established conclusions and see that these women are all of us.
THE ACCIDENTAL MISTRESS
It wasn't my fault. It wasn't my fault. I keep telling myself that. It's not making things any easier. I am a sobbing mess, feeling like a complete fool.
I've been seeing someone off and on for several months. He's a single dad, I'm not good with kids, so I was really hesitant about anything serious. He was fun to go to the movies with, and fun to fool around with, and I was content to leave things at that. He was the one that kept bringing up the "Where Do We Stand?" and "Where Is This Relationship Going?" conversations.
This morning, I was mulling over the possibility of introducing him to my family – something I rarely do, unless I'm sure someone will be around long term. That's when his wife called me. His wife?
His wife. Hysterical. Enraged. Convinced I'd given her a venereal disease.
I suggested she direct all her questions to her husband. After I stopped taking her calls, after she filled my voice mail inbox, the e-mails began. A flurry of accusatory, vile missives, mostly involving the words “whore” and “homewrecker.”
I added her to my spam folder and fired off a single note to her husband:
Kindly ask your wife to stop contacting me. While I appreciate her fury, I shouldn't be at the receiving end of it. Also, please die in a fire at your earliest convenience. It takes a special kind of asshole to not only pursue other women, but to convince them there's a future in the relationship. I sincerely hope your wife murders you in the slowest, most deeply painful manner. Should she need help hiding the body, she has my number.
I jumped in the shower, turned the water on full blast, and started sobbing. I'm not sure when I picked up the habit of crying in the shower, but for most of my adult life, that's where I've gone. I can plant my hands on the wall, let hot water beat against the top of my head, and let it out. And it was a lot of wracking, hoarse sobs.
I'm not good at relationships. I'm not beautiful the way my sisters are. I'm about 50 pounds heavier than I'd like to be. I am bipolar, self-involved, sarcastic, my IQ is in the 99th percentile, and I do not suffer fools well. It makes dating a bit of a challenge. But I am human, and like anyone else, I want to have someone to come home to. I'm 32, single, and don't have cats, kids or plants – there's a lot of pent up love and affection I'd like to give to the right person.
That he pretended he could be that person cuts to the core.
Then, my Gmail icon lights up:
FROM: Traitor. Asshole. Bastard. Son of a bitch.
TO: Angry. No, livid. Murderous. On-the-brink-of-insanity murderous.
DATE: Wed, Fed 03, 2010, 21:47
SUBJECT: Tous les dangers
It’s not that I don’t believe that you’ll tie my intestines to my ankles. It’s not that I don’t realize that I am proving myself to be the selfish, stupid bastard you said I am. It’s that I can’t stand lying awake, knowing I’ve made you hate me. I saw you across a room, shooting darts, and laughing. I couldn’t hear you, over the noise, but the way you toss your head back, the way your shoulders rise and fall - I had to hear that laugh. I walked across a crowded bar and introduced myself because I wanted to hear your laugh. And I did, and I wanted to hear more of it.
I lied to you because I fell in love with your laugh.
I howl in frustration.
FROM: Livid. Murderous. On-the-brink-of-insanity murderous.
TO: Traitor. Asshole. Bastard. Son of a bitch.
DATE: Wed, Fed 03, 2010, 22:40
SUBJECT: (No Subject)
So, this is all my fault? Because of my dangerously seductive laugh, you betrayed your wife, hurt your children, and broke my heart? Good thing I haven’t been in a good mood for the last few days. Who knows how many broken homes I might have left in my wake? If you need me, I’ll be strapping the first of many layers of duct tape across my mouth in a sure-to-be vain effort to stem the escalating divorce rate.
Grow up. You cheated on your wife because you wanted to. You lied to me, because it’s unlikely I would have fucked you had I known you were already spoken for. And you got caught because you don’t password-protect your laptop. In short, this entire fucking mess is due solely to your own stupidity.
And if you’re lying awake at night, don’t ask me to feel sorry for you. You aren’t the only one losing sleep.
Rage like this is impossible to articulate.
My phone chirps at me.
“I did fall in love with your laugh,” he tells me via text.
“That's the cliche you go with?” I respond. “Why not my fucking smile, asshole?”
I can't win this, can I?
“There are no winners at all in this. Die in a fire.”
Somewhere, the story changes. Rage cannot exist well in the face of love. Love may not conquer all, but it conquers rage. Love with its hope and promise can cut through rage like a spear through a rice screen.
I know. It happened to me a few days later.
“I can't live without you,” he said to me over the phone. He'd called from a different number. “I will leave her. I'll do anything you ask.”
“No.” I replied. “Don't leave her because you're afraid you'll lose me. Don't break up your marriage, uproot your children, and change your life because you're afraid you'll lose me. Leave her because you're unhappy. Leave her because she's unhappy. Leave me out of it.”
“I can't leave you out of it. I am dying without you.”
“I'm hanging up now.”
You don't leave your marriage because you have a better offer somewhere else. You leave because the relationship doesn't make you happy.
He got married because his wife threatened to leave him if he didn't. He had kids because she threatened to leave him. He buckles under pressure from others and lets them direct his life.
I was the one thing in his life that was his. I don't make any demands on him. Of course he doesn't want me to go. And since I won't tell him what to do, he's reflexively offering me anything he can think of to make me stay.
But I want to be more to him than an act of rebellion.
Then, a text.
“I'm in your parking lot.”
“No you aren't,” I respond.
“I drove three hours in this snow storm, and I am in your parking lot.”
He is in the lot. The car is still running, and I get into the passenger seat. He's staring out the window.
“She dragged me to counseling,” he tells me. “They both agree that if I'm going to fix the damage I've done, I'll have to cut off all contact with you. My wife wants all my passwords, my phone, my credit card bills. She says she can't trust me at all.”
“She can't, you know. You're in my parking lot.”
“I don't want to fix it,” he says. “I don't want to be married to her. I didn't ever want to marry her. I just didn't want things to change.”
He turns to finally look at me.
“I want you to trust me,” he says.
“Is this because you don't want things to change?” I ask.
“I want everything to change,” he says. “I want you to meet my children, and my friends. I want to meet your family. I want to take you home with me, where you belong.”
It's what I want to hear. I take him up to my apartment.
It isn't easy, being the mistress. No matter the circumstances of your meeting, you are always in the wrong. You're a sad, sad woman, who can't get a man of her own. You're a sadist that gets off on destroying lives and families. You're a whore that seduces good, happily married men away from their proper wives, with things like blow jobs and sex with the lights on. If you can't turn away from him, pack him up, and send him home to his wife, you are the reprobate. I don't know how to do that. I don't know how to turn off my feelings for him and walk away.
Will he leave her? I don't know. Probably not. It takes courage to leave.
Will I stay? I don't know. It takes courage to lead a half-life.
THE DEVOTED MISTRESS
I knew he was married. I thought it might work. I didn't have time for a boyfriend. I never intended for us to become essential to one another. That's the thing – you always think you have some say in the matter. You don't. Your heart does whatever it likes.
We were careful – as careful as two people can be when they're in love, which is to say we were a bit reckless – even so, we managed to keep things off the radar. He was an excellent father and his routine as a husband had become such that his wife didn't have occasion to notice anything was different.
One day he told me he was leaving his wife. I didn't believe it, because you're not supposed to believe it. You're not supposed to want something like that. You get used to the idea of the way things are. There were many times I wished that he could be with me when he couldn't – Christmas, Thanksgiving, nights when I wished he would be in my bed holding me. But you get used to that, too. It was enough to have him in my life, to know he loved me.
Some people say this is no way to live, that this is a lonely life. I might have been alone a lot of the time, but I was never lonely.
He wasn't lying to me when he said he was leaving his wife. He did. When she asked if there was someone else, he didn't respond. I don't know how she found me. My life became a blur at that point – a blur of phone calls and letters. I moved in with a friend. I was terrified of being in my house alone.
The truth is that it doesn't matter that a marriage is a soul-sucking prison for you – I've been married, I know – or that you haven't spoken sincerely in years. Once you realize he's leaving because of someone else, you will fight tooth and nail, not necessarily because you love him, but because, by God, you're not going to let some barely post-adolescent stick-figure with no soul have the man that you married.
I got that part. I dealt with it as best as I knew how. When he told me that she wanted to have one last trip with him and their daughters as a family, I told him it was a good idea.
I didn't realize that she would be waiting for him there without their children, and I could have never foretold that they would have gotten into a car crash fighting about me or that he would become paralyzed from the waist down.
I went to see him everyday at the hospital. His wife turned me away every time. But for five years I went until he told me that if I didn't stop, she would keep their children from visiting.
I never stopped loving him. You can move on, you know, but you never stop loving.
THE ONE WHO BECAME THE WIFE
We had both been working at the same university but never noticed each other for a decade. He was married, and we resisted the attraction for three months. It was awful, but at the same time, it made for some really strong bonding and friendship. Eventually, it happened. It had to happen. There was no way it couldn't happen.
It was a bad idea, and I knew it. But it felt so right. Meanwhile, his marriage was not doing well and he was constantly going back and forth on whether he would leave or not. One moment he was leaving and the next he wad trying to work things out. I was like that Fiona Apple song – how does it go? “So be it, I'm your crowbar, if that's what I am so far, until you get out of this mess and I will pretend that I don't know of your sins until you are ready to confess. And you can use my skin to bury secrets in and I will settle you down and at my own suggestion, I will ask no questions while I do my thing in the background...” Like that.
Finally, it happened. She moved out. It never happens like in the movies, where he leaves his wife and finally you can be together. He left her, but he and I were breaking up and getting back together every other day, like we couldn't accept the fact we were in the clear. This went on for three months. Finally, I had an emotional breakdown.
I thought I was going out of my mind – it's very unlike me to not be calm and collected. I went to the doctor to see what was wrong with me, and that's when I found out I was pregnant.
So his marriage had just ended and there he was - pregnant – with a woman who already had two children. His wife found out, of course. From her estimation, it wasn't only that I was younger, but we were moving really fast. I mean, we were having a baby already. She slept with his brother out of spite, and the whole of that year was full of fighting between them over divorce settlements, selling the house, car accidents and general familial drama. It was a mess.
The entire beginning of what should have been our chance to start out right was spent dealing with every possible external variable you can imagine.
Fantasy has a terrible time moving into reality, I'll tell you that much.
I am accustomed to being wanted every moment of every day with passionate and painful longing because that's how it was for us at first. I'm still seeking that and still want to be the adoring, doe-eyed ingenue he once knew, but we're caught up in diapers and bills.
I feel cheated beyond what I can explain. I sold myself short and settled for the little that he gave me because, in the beginning, I wasn't allowed to ask for more, and later, he didn't have any to give. Yes, he's still recovering from the end of a difficult relationships, but I always gave him all of me. I gave him every ounce of what I had because there was a time that I truly believed he and I were something unique and special.
But not in a very long time have I felt that original bond between us. Verbalizing my distance and disconnect with him never seems to convey the long-term state in which I am constantly living. For a while, I tried repeatedly to stay bonded to him emotionally, but now, I don't even want to share anything about myself with him. Once, he was interested and amused by me, but now I suppose the novelty has worn off.
Yes, I have him. But it's not about me. Yes, he chooses to be here, but that's not about me, either. These things are both clear.
My heart still aches for this man. Even though he's in the same home now, he's as inaccessible as when he was married. The horrifying truth is that I never really had him, and I certainly don't have him now.
Children don't magically bond people together. Neither does a kiss, a recycled term of endearment or a good fuck now and then.
Our world feels fake to me, a construct we built to get ourselves to accept our circumstances and justify our choices. I try to cast out a net into our future, trying to troll for something that will get me through the next day and the next day but the thought of losing him is nothing compared the fear of feeling miserable and worthless with him, and I often despair.
I don't know what will happen. I know it isn't working. But I also know that now that we've come to a generally stable point, the house and family will continue to function and things will be accomplished while we choose to be a team. We very well could do that – forever.
But that's not enough for me, as a woman. And in my heart, I know this.
You could say these women chose their situations, that they made their beds and must now lie in them. You could say a lot of things. Or you could see that people are multi-dimensional and difficult to categorize, that love isn't something within our control, that it can come and go, or hit you and never go away. Like the Facebook cliché goes: it's complicated.
That's what I wanted to put forth by sharing the conversations I had with these women. It's not just sex and the sort of gory details that feed this vulture culture. Look beyond. Dare to be made uncomfortable by the complexity of a situation and understand that unless you're standing where they're standing, you'll never truly understand their reasons.
AV Flox is the editor of Sex and the 405 -- what your newspaper would look like if it had a sex section.
How To Be The Other Woman by The Frisky: “First of all, look at yourself in the mirror and say this as many times as you need to: "I am not a bad person." If you tell people about your affair, you'll get called every name in the book by your guy's wife or girlfriend, her friends, and possibly by him. The hardest part of this whole situation won't be the heartbreak but the judgment that others cast upon you.”
If You Are The “Other Woman,” Read This! by Sarah Elizabeth Malinak: “When a married man has an affair with you, he is in no position to profess his love for you to anyone outside the relationship because it puts him and his reputation at risk. He is in no position to provide for you either. Even if he buys you expensive gifts or sets you up in an apartment, you have no legal claim on this man. When he changes his mind about you or if he dies, you get nothing and you have no recourse to use your romantic tie to him to get anything.”
I was “The Other Woman”, by Jessica: “I know how everyone feels about the ‘other woman’ in any situation and I understand why people feel that way about her. I mean, no one wants to be or deserves to be cheated on. But I think it’s important to hear both sides of the story. The other woman isn’t always some cold-hearted bitch out to steal someone’s man. Sometimes she’s just a girl who has gotten herself in way over her head. Sometimes she’s not proud of what she did. Sometimes she gets hurt, too.”