The Other Woman
I don’t think you are going to like this post. But, I am going to share it anyway.
I think there are some things that we hold in our collective morality to be black and white, right or wrong. And, when someone is faced with one of these predicaments that typical societal behavior dictates should go a certain way and they pause and consider choosing against what is supposed to be the “right” choice, we aren’t often sympathetic to the internal struggle they might be going through as they ponder their choice.
We encourage them to make the “right” choice or remind them that if they choose the “wrong” thing, they will be relegated to that group of people who may be still our friends, our sibling, our leaders, our parents or even our partners, but whom we turn up our noses at or talk about in hushed tones. Those we relay our disappointment of through verbal and nonverbal commentary.
I am talking about the cheaters. The “other” women or “other” men of the world.
I have a wide range of friends and family all over on the political spectrum and all over on the faith spectrum and I can barely think of a handful of people who feel indifferent about the concept of cheating. It is a topic that brings about very strong emotions. And, I can understand why. Cheating can break up marriages, come between families . It goes hand in hand with the difficult emotions accompanying deception and betrayal. And, while some couples overcome cheating, the majority don’t. It’s a deal breaker for most. And, on top of the threat cheating makes on our individual relationships, it undermines monogamy. Something that, overall, as a society we value deeply.
By now, I think you can tell that I am someone who doesn’t believe subjects should be taboo. And the more set in our thinking we are about something, the more important I believe discourse is. So, I have been debating sharing something with you for a while because I was worried about what you would think. Writing is the best way I know for me to sort out my thoughts. Especially when I find myself conflicted. I have been avoiding taking my thoughts to paper, because I am afraid to even assert that what many people see as black and white, has been causing me many grey thoughts.
I have been faced with the opportunity (that seems the wrong word) to be the other woman. I haven’t taken this opportunity, but I have genuinely considered it. It has consumed a lot of my thought space. While I am fairly certain that being the “other woman ( a phrase I despise by the way-it almost seems to alleviate the guilt of the person who has cheated on their partner and put it on the person they have cheated with)” is not something that fits in my life, I find that assertion not as easy as I would have thought.
This post will explain to you my current situation and in it I will share with you the slew of thoughts (most of them conflicting each other) that have consumed my mind in the past few weeks.
Some of the thoughts aren’t pretty. Some of them are not mainstream and certainly some of them will be upsetting or unsettling to many people. But, I am not ashamed of them. We all have thoughts. We all contemplate our beliefs and our morality on issues ( or at least we should). I am happy that I have come to a place in my life where I am willing to assert my struggles and share not just the conclusion I have come to, but the process of thinking that got me there.
So, I am not looking for agreement on my thought process, but I am looking for the opportunity to express my process with you. But first, I want to make two very important points:
- I am not condemning monogamy in any way. I think two people committing to each other and loving each other is beautiful. I think 3 or more people committing to each other and loving each other is beautiful too. I fully support people’s choice to be monogamous and I fully support those who choose to lead non-monogamous lives. I affirm however love between two consenting adults looks. I was recently told by a long term friend that my poly relationship “spits in face of monogamy. “ That comment devastated me. I want to be clear, I have come to learn that monogamy in the form that we collectively understand it, doesn’t work for me. That doesn’t mean I don’t think it can work. I am still in a committed long-term relationship with my partner (almost 10 years) but we welcome other partners into that. That is what works for us, but I don’t think my relationship type is better or worse then monogamy. I have many friends and family members who are monogamous and have beautiful long-term relationships. I think it is an individual choice. And I support the ability to make choices.
- This blog post is not meant to condone cheating. It is an exploration of conflicting thoughts. An exploration of admitting to myself and others that what once was incredibly black and white to me is no longer so black and white. Having experienced being both the person cheated on and the person who cheated, I have watched how much devastation cheating can leave in a relationship, if the relationship even survives. So do not mistake my thought process as endorsement of cheating.
I recently read an article that asserted that a higher percentage of people than ever report cheating as unacceptable. The article suggested that this was because, in general, we have less of a problem with premarital sex. And, the theory goes that since people can have as much sex as they want before marriage and there isn’t as much pressure to settle down, that once we commit we better be all the way committed. It is an interesting trend. The article also suggested that people were becoming more liberal in several areas, including views on sexuality, except in the area of fidelity.
Here is the situation:
A partner that I have been seeing had been in a long-term relationship (7 years) before we met. That relationship had ended a few months before we met. I was completely aware of this relationship and knew they were still talking. I knew that it was one of those relationships that the door wasn’t 100% closed. I was aware that at some point, they might try again. I was ok with that, as long as my partner kept me posted on where he was with his ex.
My partner doesn’t identify as “poly” and I am his first partner to have another partner. His ex doesn’t know anything about me. I think that is fine and not really my decision. What a partner tells an ex is their decision, not mine. As long as I feel my partner is being transparent with me and any other current partners, I think that is fine.
Well, here is where it gets complicated. A few weeks ago, my partner and his ex decided to give their relationship a try again. I was really sad, because I knew that meant he and I were done since I know his ex is not poly. But, I understand what it is like to want to give something another shot, so we ended our relationship really abruptly. It was painful and it sucked, but I didn’t want to get in the way of what he was trying to build with her. I am married. I have a child. He is younger than me and his partner is closer to his age and, like him, not married. He wants to get married and have children, and I can’t exactly offer him that, but he may be able to have that kind of future with her. So, I get why he wanted to try again with her. Don’t get me wrong it wasn’t this beautiful amicable parting. It was painful and ugly and neither of us handled it well.
So, a week or two goes by and we don’t talk at all and I am just trying to integrate the idea that he isn’t one of my partners anymore. I texted him to tell him I missed him. I know- not the best choice. Well, he texted back that he missed me and wanted to know if we could get together to talk. I, being the type of person who constantly feels to need to have closure and to talk all things out, said “yes.” It didn’t really occur to me that seeing him and talking things out may make things more difficult for me.
When I first got to his house I was stand offish and avoided eye contact, totally something I do when I am hurt. Soon, we were hugging and talking everything out. We got to this great place of understanding with each other. I told him that I thought he was someone I probably would have fallen in love with if we had kept seeing each other. He said he felt the same way. Hours later, after tons more talking, we looked at each other and both said, almost simultaneously, “I think I already do love you.” So, if we were avoiding complicated, that certainly wouldn’t be the way to do it. He told me that he wanted to stay together and that he didn’t want us to be over. I asked if he was still trying to make it work with his girlfriend and if she knew about me. He said he was still trying to make it work and that she didn’t know. So, I told him the question was irrelevant. It didn’t matter if we loved each other or if we wanted to still be together, if he was trying to make it work with someone else then that was the answer. I asked him if he ever considered telling her that he loved her and wanted to make it work, but he also wanted to see other people. He didn’t think she would take that well. I can appreciate that.
So, he left it up to me. She lives several states away, he is here going to school. He said he wanted to be with me and with her. I would have no problem with this, if she knew about it and was ok with it too. But, it doesn’t seem right (there is that word, “right”) that she wouldn’t know. Also, it didn’t seem fair to me that for all practical purposes I would do all the girlfriend duties, but on paper, she would be his girlfriend. He said that he totally understood if I couldn’t be with him. He didn’t pressure me at all, but it was still difficult. Eventually, I left, crying and said if you ever tell her, or if your situation ever changes, call me and we will see where we are at.
Before, I tell you what happened next, let me address something. Anyone thinking at this point that this guy is a total scumbag and that I’m getting played? Totally possible.
I mean, essentially he is saying he is totally fine with cheating on his girlfriend and asking me to be in a relationship that goes against my value of transparency. I’m not defending him. I think he is being an ass in a lot of ways. I would never want him as my primary partner, because I wouldn’t know if I could trust him. Arguably, you shouldn’t be with any partner you aren’t sure you can trust. But, he wasn’t lying to me about who he was sleeping with. I was aware of his other partners when we were together and it was a non issue for me. This begs the question, do you need to trust your other partners in the same way that you trust your primary partner? I am not sure. I think it depends how much of your life you share with them. This partner has proven incredibly trustworthy in other areas and I love the way I feel when I spend time with him. I leave feeling refreshed and rejuvenated and I love that. He is horrific at being monogamous. From what I understand, he has cheated on almost everyone he has ever been with. He was really upfront about that with me right away. When I was single, if someone said something like that to me I would have stopped seeing them. Being married to me primary partner, there are some things that I let slide in secondary partners, because I am not building a life with them. The idea of expectations and standards in other partners is a blog all its own. But, arguably, even though I wasn’t concerned about him cheating on me, it could have been a red flag about his integrity.
Anyway, after I left his house that night, I started having some serious doubts that I made the best choice for me. I started to think, why not stay with him. Who would it really hurt? In the last few years, I have been trying to give myself the freedom to choice in the direction of happiness and to not always be so worried about what is the “right” choice. Several years ago a friend of mine said that very few things were right or wrong, most things were just choices. We have to live with the choices of our decisions, but most things were not intrinsically right or wrong. That blew my mind! I looked at her like she was nuts. I had never heard someone say something like that. It took several years before I ever entertained the idea that she was right.
I have since come to believe that a lot of morality is subjective. My governing idea is that I try not to make choices that infringe on the ability of choice for another person. And, I look at the issue of consent a lot to guide me in my choices. If the people involved consent then is it wrong? If there is a party that isn’t consenting then that is a choice that makes sense to say no to. I think about intent a lot too. What is my intention in my action or in the choice I want to make. But, I no longer have this huge list of right and wrong. For the most part, I am happy that I look at things this way now. But sometimes, I miss the way the fear of hell made decisions very clear to me.
I began to wonder if it would really hurt anyone if we stayed together. My husband knew about it and we talked it out during the whole process. My husband, Adam, said he supported me in whatever choice I made. My main goal in being poly is to always be transparent with my husband. I think it is cheating if either of us do something behind the other person’s back. But, aside from that, who do I answer to? I expect my partners to be transparent with me and I guarantee them that I will be transparent with them. I hope that they are transparent with their other partners, but I have no way of policing that. But, where is it my responsibility to be sure my partners are being transparent with their other partners and where is it their responsibility. Am I only responsibly to my husband and my partner? If the three of us are in agreement is that enough.?
I don’t know his girlfriend, she doesn’t know me. She lives far away. What about that whole adage, “what they don’t know can’t hurt them.” As some one who perpetually tells on herself, I always thought that adage was such bullshit. But, this isn’t mine to tell. It would be the responsibility of my partner to tell his girlfriend. But, I know that he wouldn’t. So, that is a little different. I am armed with the information that, for sure, he will not tell her. That is certainly different then trusting someone to tell their partner.
Then I began to think: Well, he will probably cheat on her with someone else anyway so why should I give up something that makes me happy to protect her?” Then I started to think about the negative things I knew about her and I thought about using those to justify staying with him.
Don’t worry, I hear what I sound like. Not super flattering, I know. I’m just being honest. Bear with me. Keep reading…
I don’t have any illusions about this man. I think his faults are pretty glaringly obvious. But, I still like him. Mostly, I like how I feel with him. He relaxes me. And, as someone who tends towards being highly stressed, that has been such a nice thing. He make me feel great and really rejuvenated when I return home. So, it isn’t just the idea of breaking up with him, but giving up those things that I was struggling with.
Then there is the whole, what could have been. I was enjoying seeing where our relationship was going, and I am bummed to have such an abrupt ending. I over analyze everything. With him, I was able to just be present and not obsess about things, and that was delightful and rare for me. So, yeah my reasons for wanting to stay with him are/were just as selfish as his motives for not wanting to tell his girlfriend. So it isn’t really an issue of me “being better than that,” because I don’t think I am better than this situation. I think given the right circumstances, most of us are capable of many things “good” or “bad” that we wouldn’t have thought we would be.
I examined my intent. My intent was to be happy, to be fully present in a situation in front of me and to get to know another person. My intent was not to hurt his girlfriend in any way.
I examined the issue of consent: Adam completely consented to me continuing my relationship with this partner if I wanted to and my partner consented to it. But, his girlfriend couldn’t consent because she didn’t know. She wasn’t given the choice to consent. So whose consent do I really need?
I considered the concept of infringing on another’s choice: Was I really infringing on her choice to be with him is she knew nothing about me. Did me being with him, several states away really change their relationship? Could the relationships really be separate? Or is he just an opportunist?
In addition to all of these conflicting thoughts, I kept thinking about my family and about the risks of staying with him. I thought about the fact that my family knew I had broken up with him. If I started spending time with him, I would either have to lie about who I was seeing, or I would have to say that he broke up with his girlfriend. I would have to lie, because I know they wouldn’t approve and I couldn’t live with their disapproval. I have been loosing family and friends left and right for a multitude of reasons and I couldn’t handle the disapproval of the people I have left. That would devastate me and it wouldn’t feel worth it. That being said, I couldn’t lie either. I mean, I could. But, I am really a tell the truth kind of girl. I tell the truth when it probably would be best to just shut up. So, I wouldn’t do well having to keep something a secret.
Last week this partner left for a week to visit his family back home. I was happy because it gave me some time to sort all of these emotions out: What part of this is social pressure? What part of this is selfishness? What part of this is philosophical versus actually plausible? What part of this decision, as a dear friend put it, am I making “above the tits,” What part of it am I making “below the tits?” Who am I answering to? Whom, do I owe a specific response to? Which decision makes me the most happy? Which makes me feel the most authentic? Are they the same.
I spent a week obsessing through all of these things and configuring them in every way I could. When he got back to town and I agreed to pick him up at the bus station, I wasn’t relieved to see him. I was sad. I wasn’t ready to make a choice. His trip had gone too fast.
So, at 8am in the morning in a creepy parking lot, my dog and I waited for him to get off the bus. I hugged him, but I felt like I didn’t know him anymore. Perhaps it was the emotional distance I put between us, knowing the choice I would make. Or perhaps it was that I know he visited his girlfriend and that made him feel foreign to me. I’m not sure. I asked how his trip was and I found myself increasingly jealous as he spoke. Knowing he spent time with his girlfriend. I wasn’t in touch with that altruistic part of me. I thought it sucked. And then, I just cried. He touched my face and my hair and I pulled away.
“You know I can’t do this,” I say to him. He is sweet and he says he understands. His voice is soft and kind but also sad. I tell him not to be nice, “It makes it worse, “ I smile through crying.
“It’s just, I have given up so much fighting for my identity as a poly person. I have lost family and friends and had my parenting called into question. It has completely sucked and it has been devastating to me in many ways, but I believe in the poly lifestyle for Adam and I so much that I have given up all of that. And so much of what it means to be poly is to have mutual respect and transparency in all levels of our relationships, so how then can I be ok with this when it is so clearly not transparent?”
He just looks at me and says he completely understands my choice and that he wishes it were different. But he doesn’t say it in a pushy way. But rather in a matter of fact tone of voice. I appreciate that he doesn’t pressure me to stay together, but it irritates me that he acts as though he has no power to fix this situation. I tell him he has the power to make it different, but since I don’t see that happening, that we can’t continue.
We talked for a while and he explained to me that his girlfriend doesn’t have any other family and that he has been it for her for years and that he couldn’t hurt her and that he believes telling her would really hurt her. Logically, I ask, “Isn’t being willing to cheat on her hurting her?” But, I also get what he is saying and somehow seeing how he cares for her makes this a little easier for me.
So, we hugged each other and I told him if his situation ever changes he can call me and we could see where we are both at. I hugged him and told him that I had a lot of fun and I was glad I had met him. I tried to walk out of his house composed and strong looking.
I got back in my car and pulled out of the driveway. As soon as I hit the street I started sobbing. I cried all the way through town until I hit my exit to get on the highway and then I just stopped crying. I turned up my music, rolled down the windows and just sang at the top of my lungs.