If your guy has been cheating, why do you always blame the Other Woman? Could she, in fact, be your ally?
Then, during lunch with a friend one sunny Friday, I checked my phone. I started to shake when I saw a 2,000-word email from his ex. She turned out not to be his ex at all. She calmly explained that she didn’t want to hurt me but it was only fair to let me know that she had found out that he had been seeing both of us. He had been telling her that I was just a good friend and then admitted that I was a momentary indiscretion. He’d been lying to both of us over and over again.
I was shocked because it had genuinely never occurred to me that my boyfriend could be cheating on me. I had always known about this woman, but she had only ever been mentioned in the most disparaging terms. I had accepted his version of her awfulness with few questions, and for that I am ashamed. My initial reaction was to doubt the credibility of her email. How dare this spurned harpy interrupt my new-found happiness? So I called his mother, who admitted without hesitation that it was all true—he’d been, in her words, “a very silly boy.” I felt sick, shaken and humiliated—particularly because he never denied or admitted it. In fact, having been told by his girlfriend that she was going to contact me, he seemed to accept that it would mean the end for us. I simply never heard from him again.
So, yes, I know: At this point in the breakdown of a relationship, it is all too easy to heap blame on the Other Woman. It is considerably less taxing to blame a total stranger than to look at what your own errors of judgment might have been. Pain is easier to deal with when there is a target for your rage beyond a man whom you chose to love—a man who, you now have to admit, did not love you in quite the same way. We all know how it works: “Bad” women steal men, and “weak” men are victims. Perhaps we apply much higher standards of behaviour to our own gender. Or maybe we just prefer to see men as victims? God forbid that men should have some agency over their own deeds. The sense of betrayal that I experienced on realizing the extent of the lies I had been told was intense. My sadness didn’t just come from finding myself without my ex-boyfriend; it came from the destruction of my ability to trust. Suddenly, I doubted my own judgment: I questioned the motives of all those who loved me most and disbelieved their kindest words. I was consumed with anxiety about what other mistakes I might make.
But then I was thrown a lifeline: the Other Woman. In those early, painful days, I assumed that we were polar opposites. She must be an airhead, a nag, a prude. “He can keep her,” I imagined myself spitting, “if that’s what he goes for!” At first, I thought that this would make the heartache easier. But after the initial shock faded, I was able to allow that she was not the cold-hearted creation I had been told about. She appeared from the email to be kind, funny and reasonable. She hadn’t left her boyfriend heartbroken to be with another man. I Googled her, and it made me queasy to see how similar we were. It took a few clicks of the mouse to reveal, via Facebook, that we share the same name (a letter apart), we are the same age (a few years older than him) and we do not look dissimilar. Why cheat on two girls so alike?
For weeks, my friends assumed that she had an agenda in telling me, but, rereading her email, I concluded that, no, she just wanted to warn me that I had been lied to. The conflict was not between us; it was with him.
We began an email conversation, answering each other’s questions about the times we realized he had been lying. Suddenly, things made more sense for the both of us. We let each other know that we understood we were not to blame and continued to check up on each other throughout the summer.
Find out how a meeting with the Other Woman was surprisingly helpful in overcoming heartache, on the next page...