I have always tried to be a kind person. However, I have lived my adult life in a way many people would disapprove of. During the last 11 years I have been a mistress of five married men. One had a long string of previous affairs. One was a friend for whom I had much tenderness and who told me he would rather have had me. One was a three-year relationship that caused deep feelings and deep distress. I do not regret these or the other adventures. I have not been the initiator of the affairs; the men have pursued me. Apart from one, I would not have wanted to live with these men. I do not know any of the five wives, and I am discreet. When people discuss adultery, the cheater and the other woman are often spoken of harshly as deceivers and egoists. I have never felt like either, and have never felt guilty. Is it possible the rest of the world that has a limited emotional imagination and cannot see that such affairs are meetings between two people who don’t want to hurt innocent partners, but who choose to explore their intimacy and chemistry in secret? Or have I somehow become morally crippled since I can so easily do something most people would chastise me for?
—The Other Woman
Give the rest of the world more credit. Most people’s emotional imagination is able to grasp that affairs are precisely about delivering the kick of clandestine intimacy and chemistry. That they exist in a nether world of pure sex, without all the domestic thrill kills of bills, groceries, kids, and mortgages. Of course it’s silly to say there’s only one way to live and everyone should settle down to a monogamous relationship. (I don’t have to tell you, since your lovers are all people who vowed to do just that and then found it lacking.) But you sound proud of your furtive life—you’ll never be the deluded wife who doesn’t know that the real secret to her devoted marriage is that her husband has a girlfriend. Sure, you can say you were never the initiator. But at least acknowledge how much you enjoy the pursuit, how well-versed you are in sending signals you’re available. You’ve ruminated here about your choices, so I suggest you examine why you so easily have slipped into the role of other woman. Maybe you are afraid of being in a sustained, open relationship. Maybe you’ve become addicted to the narcotic of the illicit. Maybe you like the safety of knowing the affair is bound to end. Imagine that you are writing to me five years from now, and you’ve concluded affair No. 7, or 8. Perhaps in that time you will have started seeing these interludes as not so much tender and deep but tawdry and dishonorable. There are women who spend their whole lives as the other woman—until perhaps they realize that while men are still pursuing, they’re no longer pursuing them. If this is not a place you want to end up, take a long break from this role. Decide not to exchange those glances, or stop at just one drink, and see how it feels to create a different kind of life.
1. Shockingly, I actually think Prudie is mostly right here. There’s something strange going on when you have FIVE relationships with married men. That isn’t a “It just happened that I met the right person and he was married and oh crap” situation. The common thread here is you.
2. Sorry lady, but you are morally bankrupt. Being involved with a married person (with the usual caveats — married person doesn’t have an open relationship, etc) doesn’t make you a bad person, but you are surely doing a bad thing. You are doing a thing that would be very very hurtful to another human being if they found out about it. And yes, the blame lies with the piece of shit who’s doing the cheating, but the person doing the sexing with the cheating piece of shit (CPOS from here forward, to borrow Dan Savage’s lingo) is at the very least partaking in something extremely shitty. And when you partake in something extremely shitty that is extremely hurtful to an innocent party, you should feel bad. Even if doing the shitty thing feels good. If you show zero remorse for being involved in something that hurts someone else, you have a problem.
3. Just because the people doing the cheating don’t want to hurt their partners doesn’t mean that they aren’t hurting their partners. Romantic and sexual (and many other) relationships are built on trust. Breaking that trust is a major violation. Being party to that violation is not good.
4. You aren’t the person in the “monogamous” relationship, so no, it’s not your responsibility to make sure that all men everywhere don’t cheat. The person doing the cheating is the one who is violating the relationship trust and is the one to blame. And there are really poisonous cultural narratives about “the other woman” that blame women for men’s affairs while giving CPOS men a pass (of course women cheat too, pretty much as often as men, but the cultural conversation there is very different). However, that doesn’t mean that we need to give women who knowingly sleep with married men a pass. Are they temptresses who lure men away from marriage? No. Are the “other women” to blame for the affair? No. Are they still doing something morally wrong that deserves a bit of condemnation? Yes. (And for the record, I have been close with people on all sides of these triangles — so again I’ll emphasize that this isn’t to say that people who do X are terrible human beings, but rather, people do all sorts of morally wrong things and this is one of them. The “other woman” is probably not actually a bad person. But she’s still doing a bad thing, even if it’s not as bad as the bad thing that the CPOS is doing).
5. Is this all that complicated?