Who "The Other Woman" Really Is
... and what she's going through.
Posted April 13, 2009 | Reviewed by Davia Sills
She's the nicest woman you could ever meet; in fact, you probably have met her. You might know her fairly well, and you might like her a lot without being aware, of course, that she's sleeping with your husband.
She is a nice woman, really. This is the only part of her life that can't be examined, that can't be admired, that can't be discussed out loud. It's the only part of her life she doesn't respect herself for, and it keeps her miserable even when she's happy, because she knows that whatever happiness she has is stolen and illegitimate. She's not a fool, even though she knows she's acting like one.
Or she's not sleeping with your husband—maybe you're single, maybe you have different relationships in your life—and so this is a friend of yours, a woman you've come to consider a good and dependable part of your life. She's an elementary school teacher, a physical therapist, a pharmacist, a social worker, a bank executive, a swim coach, an engineer, a computer programmer. She's been your friend since junior high, your college roommate, your best colleague, your neighbor, your confidante, without revealing this part of her life to you, because she suspects that even at your most understanding, you wouldn't understand. You couldn't unless you've been through this, and she knows you haven't. Or she thinks she knows you haven't, but one thing she has learned is that nobody is exempt from the possibility of this happening—if a person could claim exemption, she'd be first on the list.
So she doesn't tell you, her best friend. You might judge her harshly or, even worse, stop speaking to her altogether, and she can't bear the thought of losing you. She's already surrounded by the possibility of loss and will not add to it even at the cost of not talking about the very thing that consumes her waking moments.
Educated, polite, and brought up by a loving family, she's not a particularly hot tomato or the kind of woman usually transported across state lines for immoral purposes. Attractive, fun, attentive, and considerate, she is deeply committed to those she loves, and that's one of the reasons this tears her apart. One of the things she loves about this man, after all, is the way he treats the ones to whom he is closest.
Not her—he can't treat her as if she were really in his life, after all—but others. His real family, the inhabitants of his real life. If he were an emotional bully or an emotional slob, she wouldn't have been drawn to him in the first place. Those aspects of his life he betrays to be with her are the very parts of him she would never wish him to compromise. So she understands how divided he is, how he feels like a piece of meat being sliced up by a rusty knife, how he feels like he's drowning and suffocating and being eaten alive all at once. He, too, is a decent person, except for this business of loving someone he isn't meant to love.
Holidays are hard, but so is spring and so are winter nights, summer mornings, and long early autumn afternoons. The phone is her lifeline, and she has about 17 different ways of being reached in case some shard of time can be broken off and given to her. She'll take what she can get—not a way anyone would think of her, but in this case, it's true. There are codes they use to communicate what can't be spoken or written; these were funny at first, but over time they have become as serious as a car crash.
Maybe it ends when there is a car crash, and they're in the front seat together, returning from a place they never should have been, suddenly having to make up a series of lies to disguise what everybody around them now suspects is the truth. Even if they get away with it, the experience wrecks them, mangles what they had beyond recognition. Or she goes to his kid's high school graduation ceremony and realizes that it's been 12 years already and that she could have had a kid herself by now, one in the sixth grade.
Or it continues. Impossible nights, intolerable weekends, endless violations of everything she knows about how life should be lived, but they have loved each other for so long now, how can it stop? She starts to worry that he'll die of a heart attack, and no one will tell her for days, because why would anyone think to call and tell her an incidental piece of bad news about some guy she never knew very well? Or she starts to think about her own final moments. This is the worst.
She can't believe this is her life. Nobody else would believe it either, even the man. It's a tough, rotten, exhausting routine. Nobody chooses it on purpose. This is not a defense of her: She knows better than you that what she's doing is indefensible. Don't ridicule her, and don't think you don't know her. You do.
Facebook image: Dmytro Zinkevycha/Shutterstock