I recently came across a comment to my Letter to a Cheating Husband in which the writer – who's been propositioned (or more, the note isn't too clear) by a married man – notes that "it's just as hard to be the other woman".
And I had to stop for a second. Really? Harder? It's a blessing and a curse that I'm able to put myself in another's place. And for a split second, I agreed. Because I would HATE to be the Other Woman. I would loathe myself and that would be the worst feeling of all.
But then, I thought...wait a minute. Harder? No way. Not by a long shot.
Thing is, most of grow up thinking that we won't put up with cheating. We can even imagine the moment we find out and, in that particular fantasy, we toss our cheating ass of a husband out the door, dust off our hands, look around the home that now belongs to us alone...and make ourselves a lovely dinner, with perhaps even a glass of wine to toast our strength and conviction.
The reality, as we all know, is nothing like that. We turn to stone. Or we collapse to the floor. We weep. We scream. We beg. We threaten. We become strangers to ourselves, capable of things we never dreamed. We become crazy with grief and fear.
And my guess is this Other Woman can't even imagine that. I couldn't have imagined it...until it happened to me. I was sure I'd be the calm, cool, collected fantasy "betrayed wife". The one who washed her hair of the bastard and strolled into an idyllic future.
The thing with being the Other Woman is that she's got more information than the wife. It might be inaccurate information (ie. "my wife doesn't understand me", "she's not interested in sex", "she's let herself go"), it might be outright lies ("we have an open marriage", "she's got cancer and I can't leave her right now"), but the OW knows we exist. We can't say the same about her.
And it's that level of deception, that bold lie that completely unhinges us. It rocks our very world. It threatens our sense of safety, our trust in ourselves (which is an even more damaging consequence than losing our trust in another), and our conviction that we are safe in this world. We lose our sense that what we see is, in fact, real. The OW is the grown-up version of the boogyman – and this boogyman really has been hiding under the bed. Or in it.
So while I'll acknowledge that being the OW comes with its own pain (or, perhaps more accurately, shame), it's nothing like the pain of being a betrayed wife.
Harder? Not a chance. And I hope you never have to find out just how much harder this is.