What It Feels Like To Be The Other Woman

Natalie Portman in critically acclaimed 2009 film The Other Woman

Like Lindsay Cross mentioned on Friday, Esquire recently published an article (if something that reads like the un-edited ramblings of a first-year Bard creative writing student can rightly be called an article) about why it’s totally okay to fuck other people’s husbands. Furthermore, it will make you sexy and cool and save you from becoming a boring, shrewish old wife-person who gets cheated on with sexpots like you. Because those are the only two things a straight lady can be. (She didn’t mention what lesbians are like, but I’m assuming she thinks they mate for life, and that gay dudes are incapable of monogamy.)

Leaving aside for a moment the ridiculousness of lines like “I think a great deal about the evanescence of sexuality,” I’m here to tell you that I have been the other woman, and it is nothing short of a very, very, very bad scene for anyone who’s not a complete and utter asshole. I do not think this because of some sexual morality whereby it’s a woman’s responsibility to keep other women’s spouses from straying. I think this because it is, at base, a shitty thing for one person to knowingly do to another. And I would know!

I first became the other woman when I started dating a friend of mine who had made it known that his love for me was burning him up inside. I wasn’t that attracted to him, but I was at an abysmally bad place in my love life and was starting to think in insane terms like “settling soulmates.” (Seriously, about 99% of any “bad crazy” I’ve ever been guilty of has been the direct result of my intense desire for a mate. Not proud.) Just to give you an idea of the kind of place I was in, of the dudes I’d liked and tried to date recently, one had dumped me over email after two months for someone else, one had date-raped me, and one had fucking died. (This was obviously horrible for reasons totally unrelated to me or my dumb problems.) Also, I’d just been fired from my first job. The first of several. There was crying, a strange sleep schedule, and a good deal of irresponsible alcohol and drug use. It was dark times in Peck Town.

Dude had straight up lied to me about having a girlfriend when we had first become friends, and I had taken his words at face value. I was never really happy with him, but I convinced myself I was extravagantly in love, because I wanted to be so very badly. By the time I stumbled across some stuff online that led me to ask if he was, in fact, cheating on his girlfriend with me, I’d grown dependent on him for most (all) of my emotional needs, like a shitty therapist you pay in sex.

When I confronted him about it, he waffled around, first saying they had an open relationship (false!), then telling me he was going to break up with her soon, but that it was “complicated.” It would be “mean” to break up with her. (As opposed to simply cheating on her?) He just needed me to give him some time, or could I not live with complications? I’ve wished a hundred million times that I could go back to that initial day in the park and tell him to go fuck himself, but I was weak and messed up in the head.

Guess what? Being the other woman sucks! I was physically sick with guilt the whole time, and also with anxiety that she’d find out. (She did, way later.) I like to think I’m generally a pretty good person (do unto others, etc.), and this managed to change the way I thought about myself. I’d look in the mirror and be like, “welp, guess I’m a bad person after all. Time to try to hide that fact with lipstick and go have a weird date with this manipulative monster of a dude now!” [tagbox tag="cheating"]

Because here’s the thing: this is not a nice thing to knowingly do to another person, or to yourself. It’s actually a really awful thing. And no amount of turgid prose is going to change that. I’m not sure how anyone with any conscience or morals at all can feel good about being the other woman to the point that they brag about it in Esquire. I didn’t even let this guy hang out with my friends.

A few months later, the giant ball of dread I’d been carrying around in my stomach grew to be larger than the fucked-up-ness/bad-place-in-lifeness/however-i-justified-it-ness that was causing me to stay in the situation, and I found the strength to end it. The worst decision I’d ever made was over, hooray! Except, not really. You can’t take that kind of shit back. I now have a human person walking around in the world who has been horribly hurt by my actions (and his, of course, but mine, too) and will only ever know me at my worst. Of course, I realize now that if it hadn’t been me, it would have been someone else (and after I left, it was), but I still feel awful for the role I played in it. Think of it this way: if someone you encountered on the street asked you to help beat up another person, would you shrug like “well, if not me, he’ll get somebody else,” or would you, at the very least, try to convince him not to?

If it sounds like I’m being too hard on my younger self, I don’t think I am. It’s probably the worst thing I’ve ever done. But as it’s receded into the past, I’ve stopped feeling so bad for/about myself, because that was what led to it in the first place: low self-esteem.

But despite all the bad stuff that went along with it, being the other woman taught me an important lesson: even nice people like you and me are not perfect, and we can find ourselves doing things that do not jive with their own ethics, given the right (i.e. wrong) circumstances. If, God forbid, I’m ever in that situation again, I’ll know what to look out for. I’ll control my destructive impulses. And maybe I’ll even spring for a real therapist.

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    • ddd

      This could not have come at a better time. I just found out yesterday that the guy I’d been dating for about a month has had a serious girlfriend for almost two years. How did I find out? He had the nerve to check his Facebook account on my laptop, after spending the night, and forgot to log out. I saw that he was in a relationship with this woman and thought, “Hm, well, maybe they just broke up and didn’t change the status yet?” Photos and wall posts told a different story. So, I went to her page, where she had her phone number listed, and called her. Not only were they in a relationship, but they were planning to move in together next weekend, and she’s been paying some of his bills. She was out of town this weekend and he texted her FROM MY BED that he loved her and couldn’t wait for her flight to get in. She told me all kinds of things that made me realize that 90% of what he’d told me was a lie. And obviously, she was devastated, but to her credit, she was kind and thanked me for telling her.

      I still feel disgusting, disgusted, horrified, and stupid. The guy works in a restaurant with crazy hours and had been telling me that he wanted to sleep at his apartment as much as possible until he moves so he could wake up in the morning and start packing right away; so, he only slept over a few times. When I realized there were nights when he’d come over, stay for an hour or two to have sex with me, and then go right back to his girlfriend, I wanted to throw up. The whole situation makes me want to throw up.

      Some of my friends shared their wise, awesome opinions that it wasn’t my place to call this spineless twit’s girlfriend; I think it became my place the second this guy decided to bring another vagina — MY vagina — into their relationship. So, if you’ve never been this position, FUCK YOU if you judge the way those of us who have been in this position handle it. Jamie’s right; being the other woman sucks, and you really can’t know what you would do unless it happens to you.

    • A

      @ddd You’re situation isn’t the same, you didnt know about the other woman and ended the relationship as soon as you found out. That means you ticked the “did the right thing” box.

      Jamie, on the other hand, is writing about women who know they are the other woman and continue the affair. That’s the worst a person can do and even though Jamie admits she is aware she was the worst person ever, she still did it. You don’t get brownie points for acknowledging you’re a douche.

      • ddd

        But some people thought that I DIDN’T do the right thing — that I should have just stopped seeing him and left the girlfriend out of it. Looking back, I probably should have gotten in touch with him before contacting the girlfriend, and I might have shared too many details with her that she really didn’t want to hear. Honestly, I was shocked and trying to make sense of the situation myself while answering some of her questions. I’m also considering contacting the guy one more time to ask if he has anything to say to me, for closure — surely a move that will be frowned upon by some. My point is that this is a shitty thing to go through and, whether you stay in the relationship or end the relationship but not before telling the affected girlfriend details of your sex life that will probably give her nightmares, there will always be something to judge.

      • Ashley Cardiff

        Yeah, but Jamie appears to have learned from her mistakes. And you do get points for that.

      • Jamie Peck

        Everyone I talked to told me it was none of my business and that I should walk away and not fuck with their relationship any more than I already had, so that’s what I did. Also, he had me convinced at the time that if I told her she was going to kill herself, and that it would be ALL MY FAULT.

      • ddd

        You see, Jamie, I cannot BELIEVE that people would say it’s none of your business. It became your business when this guy decided to include you in his life alongside this other woman. I couldn’t believe it when people told me it was none of my business, either — DO NOT tell me that him going from my bed to his girlfriend’s bed and back to mine is not my business! But you made what you thought was the best choice for your situation, and I did the same! That’s really all anyone can do.

    • Siylii

      I have to agree with A. I’ve been “the other woman” in a smaller way, as in I was a nice friend and he had a bitchy girlfriend who cheated on him and he realized he liked me better. Still, I told the girlfriend right away when he kissed me (note that I didn’t fuck him for any period of time). It’s the only thing to do.

      Shame is way under-valued by too many people. Own up to what is wrong and stop making excuses. Help protect other women from their cheating “men” and stop making it so easy for those “men” to be dogs.

    • Taylor

      Woooo. I was in a nasty situation where I was the other woman, until the wife found out and was forced to accept it, and I was his gf and his wife knew about me. I was brainwashed and in a real crazy place in my head, so I just went along with it. Man, I look back and just have all this guilt and weird feelings and regret and YUCK.

    • gloria

      I always thought that any woman who sees a married man is stupid. Making do with crumbs off the table and being used. If a guy cannot sort out his marriage and get a divorce if it is not working, there is something wrong with him anyway. Then I was at a very low point, extremely lonely, no family or friends, suicidal with it all, and met a man I thought was a friend and who would help me – a priest. He convinced me that he had fallen madly in love with me and would leave his wife to be with me openly and properly. When I told people they said wow. You are lucky. He must love you so much. This guy even made long trips to meet my family and persuade them that he was genuine and asked for my hand in marriage. As time went on he always had excuses for needing more time to sort out thing and leave. I then found out he had lied about lots of things and had never intended to. I know he and his wife did not have sex and he was hardly ever at home, but somehow he could not bring himself to end that and lied about it constantly. He was also very bad with money and seemed to have the attitude that what is his is his and what is mine is his too. He had been bankrupt twice and had nothing, I had saved hard. So I ended things with him.
      I then found out that a few years before he had worked at another church where he had been in trouble for stealing a lot of money.

    • Sabs

      Thanks for sharing a personal story! I have never found myself in this situation (that I know of), but have had someone extremely close to me be in the role of ‘the other woman.’ And yes, I will have to agree with you, there isn’t anything fun about it. They were tortured, are tortured, and will continue to be tortured probably for years to come (even though the relationship ended over 2 years ago). Again, thanks for sharing.

    • Bambi

      I recently got out of being the other woman. It fucked me up. Probably the hardest thing to describe to someone who has never been in it. Mine started with…. Swingers. He ended up telling his wife he was in love with me…. and then dun duh duh went back to her. Its so much more complicated then that but thats all that other people see. Marriage for one now days is not sacred at all. It is a joke in my opinion. Unless you can vouche with a secretless guilt free one.. spare me. becasue guess what ladys when you werent looking your husband eyefucked me and im sure if had the chance would let me blow him..my guy if i allowed would have fucked me in their bed when she wasnt home and dnow theey are both sleeping in that same bed ?????? but hunny lets try to make it work blah blah…. the one thing i knew in the beginning was he would never leave her, married people are comfortable and its security. most would rather ask for forgivness and be miserable than happy with the other woman. but hey to each their own.

      • pkj

        [quote]the one thing i knew in the beginning was he would never leave her, married people are comfortable and its security. most would rather ask for forgivness and be miserable than happy with the other woman. but hey to each their own.[/quote]

        You haven’t crossed over into the realization that he didn’t leave her because of comfort. He’s just not that into the “other woman.”

    • 3000

      Love you for writing this, Jamie. Have kind of been ‘the other woman’ a couple of times myself – and you’re right, it really does suck.

      First time was just a one-time thing, but it really messed with my head all the same. I’d had drunken sex with a male friend of mine who I knew had a girlfriend, and who I knew had been in love with me for years, without any better excuse for my behavior than “I was in a dark place” and “I was shitfaced”… it was a shitty thing to do to them both, as I basically took advantage of his feelings for me AND potentially messed up his relationship AND probably ruined men for his gf forever (that is, if she ever found out. I have no clue, as I never met her and never spoke to the guy again after that night, but I wish for her sake that she never did find out). Bitch points earned by yours truly! It’s years ago now, but I still think about it a lot. And feel terrible about it.
      The second time was unknowingly. I’d been friends-with-benefits (well, not so much the ‘friend’ part, which is probably why I didn’t catch on at first) with this guy for quite a few months before he decided to let me know that he was in a serious relationship – with a girl who was still in high school. Wiser from the previous experience, sympathetic towards the poor young girl in question, and furious with this massive DOUCHE of a guy, I immediately broke off our little ‘arrangement’. And as much as I felt like I’d earned at least one gold star for doing that, I still felt like I’d been the other woman again… not to mention an idiot for letting it go on for as long as it did. In hindsight, the guy was clearly not worthy of having sex with me (or any other woman, for that matter).

      Being the other woman is anything BUT cool. It’s a terrible thing to do to another person, as well to yourself. Unless you’re a complete bastard, the guilt will stick with you, no matter how long the relationship lasted… even with my short flings, sometimes I fear the universe might up and bite me on the ass for it – that maybe my lovely, faithful, trustworthy fiancee one day will cheat on me, kind of a Karmic payback for me ‘helping’ somebody else cheat. ‘Cause that’s how deep and dysfunctional the guilt of being the other woman goes, people!

      - H

      PS! I just read that Esquire article, and I wholeheartedly agree with Jamie’s description of it. One paragraph was particularly lolzworthy: “If you have not cheated yet, it’s because you are still too grateful to be secure, or you have not yet had the opportunity…” OR it’s because some people just have principles. Shit, I know a bunch of people who’ve never cheated, and it’s simply because they’re not selfish dickheads. Moving on: “…or the right color of red hair has not come along and sat down at the bar on a Tuesday when the jukebox was playing Leonard Cohen and your manhattan tasted like the future.” Futuristic Manhattans? On a TUESDAY?? My my, aren’t we continental! Pssssch. This just reminds me of that South Park episode where everybody’s loving the smell of their own farts… Mixed with some very blatant Mad Men fetishism. And maybe even some fanfic.

    • tl

      I still can’t believe I was ever the other woman. I loved the sneaking around, the hot sex, and the way he adored me and had to have me. Until he actually became mine. He did leave her and we did date for a while……and I never fully trusted him, ha! I was living in my own personal hell that I had created.

      I sometimes see his ex around town, and yes, I feel ashamed, and yes, I have regrets. I have no excuses. What I did was extremely wrong but I learned valuable life lessons. And when I’m feeling self-righteous and judgmental, in my head, I’ll think, “hey, you stole somebody’s husband, who the heck are YOU to judge?”

    • JT

      Thank you for sharing this story, Jamie. I’m currently nursing my broken heart as I recently became “the other woman” for the first time in my entire life. I fell for a man who had similar interests as myself and was supportive of my creative pursuits as a DJ. (Not intimated by a woman who isn’t needy/clingy? Score!) He also told me I could always come talk to him about anything. Unfortunately, he had a live-in girlfriend.

      It was strictly plutonic for months when he invited me out and told me that his relationship w/ his gf was over. (His exact words were “this is the end of the road for us.”) I was still hesitant to sleep with him but he told me that I was “thinking too much” and that nothing had to change in our relationship.

      That very same weekend, I received angry texts from an unrecognized phone number. Turned out to be the girlfriend. Needless to say, the douche had lied to me about everything. He was still very much involved with her, had no intentions of being with me and threw me under the bus by naming me as the “guilty” party.

      I’m heartbroken because I genuinely believed he cared about me. He never once apologized and even tried to put the blame on me by saying “what do you really know about me anyway”. I’m also nauseous over how he callously allowed me to become a part of their broken relationship.

      So here’s the good advice my friends have given me: let yourself off the hook.

      We both deserve better.