Google “affairs,” “cheating,” and “infidelity,” and most of what comes up focuses on helping the cheated-on person; or on how to rebuild the marriage once an affair is discovered. Even my favorite relationship experts, therapists Mark Smith and Jerry Wise, don’t talk about the other woman (or man).
Most people aren’t Googling the other woman anyway; either we’re the ones struggling to recover from the impact she had on our lives, or we just reflexively hate her, whether we’ve ever been cheated on or not.
Except in one curious case: The case of free-and-harmless sex. The affair that seems to be okay.
One writer (and I’m not providing a link!) posts triumphantly about her sexual awakening following her husband’s accident, which resulted in ED. He generously gave her permission to sleep with other men.
She’s picked exclusively married men, with the attitude that “Whatever is going on in their marriages isn’t my problem.”
She has fans, and, oddly enough, I’m the only person to have written any comment that takes issue with her cheating philosophy—and I’m a former “other woman!”
Considering the way people have ganged up on every other self-confessed other woman, I find this a bit puzzling.
In every other case I see, even when she was in love with the guy, even when they got engaged, even when they had a child, even when the guy dumped her, lying the whole time and cheating with someone else—the other woman gets routinely and roundly trashed.
Why is this?
There are three, and only three, possible affairs. The three faces of the other woman (or man):
1.) The Psychopathic Other Woman
Most of the people leaving judgmental comments on my affair website, or on any of the posts I’ve written or read about affairs, seem to be asking the same thing of those of us who find ourselves attracted to the married: Think about the wife or husband.
“I want to have sex with your spouse, I’m going to, and I don’t give a rat’s ass about you or your marriage.”
I honestly can come up with only one word for this attitude: Psychopathy.
Sad to say, that is one face of the Other Woman: She who’s only out for what she wants, and she really doesn’t give a crap about other people. (That is pretty much textbook psychopathic behavior, right?)
By contrast: Those of us who actually do worry about other people’s feelings are, by definition, not psychopaths, yet we’re mostly treated as if we are.
She’s seeing a married person; she must not care about anyone’s feelings.
In most cases, that isn’t true.
In my own case, I did care about the spouse of the guy I was with; I cared about her feelings quite a lot. I had to decide whose side I was on, his or hers, and I had to make a decision I knew I could live with. Three times. Twice, it was actually in her favor.
So why are those of us who do struggle with the implications of what we’ve done, or might do, trashed as the worst form of low, while those who coast breezily along on the drooz of free-and-easy sex are given a pass as “harmless?”
If it’s all in the name of sexual awakening, freedom, and we’re alive to the pleasure of our previously repressed bodies and desires, does that mean it’s okay? Some folks seem to think so.
Having said all that, the truth is that every single situation is different.
Which brings us to the second type of affair:
2.) The Other Woman Who’s Really The Right Relationship
Yes, on occasion, it does turn out that having an affair might be the right thing to do. But it’s very seldom.
I’m thinking of a case like a place I worked once, a husband-and-wife-owned business where the wife went completely off the deep end, started drinking, and resisted all attempts at help.
We were witness to some pretty extreme behavior. She started drunk-dialing employees at night, drinking on the job, and one employee went out to her house when she didn’t show up for work one morning and discovered she was so drunk she’d urinated on the floor.
The husband found solace with one of my coworkers, and she literally saved his life. They got married, had two kids, and she nursed him through lung cancer. They’re still happily together.
I was openly scornful of that relationship then, but I stand corrected today.
When the marriage is an abusive or an addiction situation, it’s not getting better, and the spouse meets someone prior to initiating divorce proceedings, they need to go where they’re better off, no matter when they met the new partner.
You only live once.
As for the ED-sex writer, who knows? Some of the marriages she’s dallying in might be in much the same situation hers is in. Some of those men might have “permission,” too. In those cases, extramarital pleasure might indeed be harmless and a benefit to all.
But, just because you want to believe your situation is a clear-cut case that you’re the right person for the cheating spouse, or a case of just some harmless fun, doesn’t mean it is.
Here’s where we come to the third and by far most common face of the other woman:
3.) The Emotionally Confused.
These cheaters are unwilling or unable to look deeply at the situation. This was me.
I once thought I was rescuing somebody, but the truth is, there’s only one way out of the codependency and low-self worth this adult child of an alcoholic struggled in: Himself.
I can tell a guy til I’m blue in the face that he’s not repulsive, he’s not unlovable, and he really deserves to be treated better than the ultra-estranged marriage with an avoidantly-attached distancer that he was in.
But I can’t make him do the emotional work of looking at how he was raised, developing skills he didn’t develop in childhood, and getting himself out of that relationship. That is all his choice, and all his work.
Thank heavens, I had the sense to stand aside and leave him to it.
My work was about where I got this terrible compulsion to rescue other people in the first place. It was my job to go back to my childhood with my BPD mother and understand that my self-worth does not revolve around “fixing” other people.
Ahh, but when you’re The Emotionally Confused Other Woman, this stuff gets all mixed up with love and romance and sex and Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, and you might have to get your heart broken pretty badly before you find this out.
It’s so easy, when you’re in your affair out of the toxicity of relational problems spawned by a bad childhood, to convince yourself that It’s Really The Right Relationship when it isn’t.
Here’s where affairs spiral into years of heartache for everyone. Here’s where the extramarital affair gets its bad, bad name.
Here’s where people dilly and dally for years, struggling to know what the right thing is and to find the strength to do it.
So, here’s my question:
If, in some cases of extramarital affairs, It’s Really The Right Relationship, and in most cases, the people are all Emotionally Confused ...
If the affair scars everyone’s hearts and all their concepts of themselves as fundamentally good people, leaving them sorting through the debris in order to eventually become better people at last …
Why do we give the Psychopathic Other Woman a free pass, and the other two are our own images of the very devil?