Feature: The Other Woman

Some people attract commitment-phobes. Others attract loveaholics. I, on the other hand, attract a mutant combination of both: taken men who keep on looking. At first I thought this was merely a bad luck streak. But after being hit on, pursued by, or inadvertently involved with seven attached men in half a year’s time, I have determined that infidelity is not just something in the air. This is cosmic revenge.
For weeks, I willingly play the part of other woman to an attached man, before I start to pay the price. Kyle is good-looking, confident, and newly single when we meet and first hook up. But not long after, his relationship resumes it course, while I stay on as an unexpected hitchhiker. It takes me three months to end things.

Soon after, I find myself sitting across the bed from a man with intentions as murky as the hotel room he has arranged for me to stay in. He is my friend’s boyfriend, and we have just finished dinner. He says his girlfriend is unsettled by the notion of us spending time alone together. He asks that I keep the hotel room a secret to avoid feeding her insecurities. The whole thing strikes me as odd. Then he confides that there are other things he was hoping we could do and keep secret as well.

I feel sick. Despite the radiator humming in the background, I can feel goosebumps forming on the surface of my skin and bile rising in my throat. I didn’t find him attractive when he met me earlier that evening in the train station and at the moment, I can’t decide if my repulsion for him makes this situation better or worse. When I tell him that I consider his girlfriend a close friend, he says he’s sorry for misjudging the situation. As if I had done something to make him think sex between us was a possibility.

Though I tell her what has transpired, my friend decides to forgive him. Theirs is a new relationship; what happened was a misunderstanding. But I’m not nearly as sympathetic. I have never felt more vulnerable than I did when sitting alone with him in that hotel room I never asked for, purchased with intentions I didn’t know of. He made me feel like I owed him something.

In two months, they’re over. In that same time, I encounter two more cheaters and become more disillusioned with men than ever before. One of them leads me on for weeks; the other turns out to be dating a friend I have lost touch with. There are more who come after them in quick succession: men in relationships that are “open” only to them, men angry with their girlfriends after petty fights, men who simply don’t care enough to restrain themselves. Maybe I am prime cheating material because of what I wear. Maybe my laissez faire persona tricks men into believing that they can stray with me and get away with it. Whatever it is, I know it’s not just chance. The guys are all quite different, cheat for varied reasons, and react to the aftermath so distinctively that every explanation I have for this unfortunate phenomenon begin and end with me.

Yet for all the looking in the mirror, I can’t believe their audacity. I can’t believe the risk they put their relationships in. But what’s hardest to believe is the reaction of the women, whose capacity for self-delusion and forgiveness is rivaled only by their boyfriends’ rapid explanations once they are found out.

There are stories everywhere about couples recovering from infidelity. They yammer away on before talk show audiences or write books with words like “survivors” and “recovery”. It makes infidelity seem more like an illness than an unacceptable character flaw. My favorite are the women’s magazine columns with he said/she said angles, complete with accompanying psychobabble about “where we go from now”. How about someone run a column with what he said, what she said, and what the other she said? Perhaps her insight would reveal that where the couple can go from here is nowhere at all. But you never hear about the other woman or where she went or what she did. Her story ends with the deception revealed.

I want to think of my position as something to be grateful for. The men are trapped by their lies; the women are trapped by their love. But once I have notified the appropriate parties, I simply exit as gracefully as possible. I don’t have to ponder the pros and cons of staying with someone who I love but no longer trust. In some ways, that makes me the most empowered party involved. And yet there is a part of me that can’t get over the role I may have played in the dissolution of other people’s relationships. I wonder if I am merely a vague, uncomfortable memory or if my existence has broken someone’s trust irrevocably. I am long gone but for a couple out there, I could be a source of permanent tension brought up bitterly in spats or obsessed over when a forgiven-but-not-forgotten partner stays out later than expected.

If karma returns threefold then some might say I have far overcompensated for my transgression. Yet it is not until long after Kyle, long into my now nine-cheater streak, that I have begun to feel bad about what happened between us. Maybe I am experiencing belated guilt because I never learned a moral lesson from that situation, because I left my fling with him feeling a little too smug over escaping unscathed. Or maybe it stems from the knowledge that I have something his girlfriend never did or will: an easy way out. Had she found out about us, her choice would’ve been infinitely more difficult than mine, and that is what ultimately differentiates us beyond than any tenuous claim to ownership of a man’s heart or body. I may be the other woman, a third party as easily lured in as she is pushed out, but I can walk away with minimal bruising and my heart mostly in tact. For that freedom, I’m grateful that my position is neither that of the cheater or the cheated.