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.