I was once the other woman. I was in love with a man who would never love me back, who would never prove to be interested beyond the casual (and wonderfully different) sex that cheating would provide. He told me the things that I wanted to hear, of course — notably that he was no longer in love with his current girlfriend and would soon leave her — but he stayed in the end. She never found out, so I feel very lucky in that way. I know that it’s almost always the other woman who bears the brunt of the disdain, of the judgment. It is always universally her fault that the relationship faltered or dissolved. She is always a homewrecker, no one considers that the very foundations of that home were crumbling long before she got there.
They broke up a year or so later, not that it mattered to me at that point.
And more recently, I was the girlfriend. The good one. The one for whom everyone has limitless sympathy. It didn’t happen in the same way, of course. I found out. He is gone, and to my knowledge, they are still together. I did not have the privilege (or maybe the burden) of living in ignorance about what the people I love had deemed it capable to do behind my back. In the interest of transparency, I will admit that I hated her more. I wanted him back. I wanted to win against her, even though every conceivable prize worth something had already been lost. It was ugly, and we were all ugly for engaging it.
Part of me will always believe, even if I find the overall concept a bit ridiculous, that this has something to do with karma. I don’t think that it has a 1:1 ratio, or that I necessarily deserved what I got, but I do believe that something of what we put out in the world does come back to us in some way. Though this isn’t the reason you shouldn’t be the other woman.
Something truly ugly happens in people when we feel that we’re losing something we love, something that we put in the work for and cared for, such as our significant other. This happens to all of us, but it is so often amplified between women because society as a whole is eager to see us fight. To paint us as good and bad, Madonna and Whore. And the woman who was slighted is filled with irrational hate, with jealousy, with a desire to have some kind of victory over the other. The other is hateful of the girlfriend because she represents everything that she cannot be with any trace of dignity. Both of them are robbed of their respect, of their empathy, of their sanity.
It brings out the worst in us, and makes us distrustful of the very same love around which we base so much of our happiness. It creates rivalries where there should be understanding, even friendship. And though both parties can end up doing ugly things, there is only one of the two who makes the choice to enter into and complicate things. You are not a homewrecker, you are not the sole wrongdoer. You are not the reason why it isn’t working between them. But you are making a choice to hurt another woman, to pit yourself against her, and to make her unable to trust again for years after it’s all over. You are stealing something from her, and it’s not her boyfriend. It’s not her husband. You are stealing her innocence, her desire to see the good in people, and her ability to be calm-headed about the problems in her own relationship. You are going to reduce her to someone who only sees in betrayal and lies.
There may be a million things wrong with her, but no one ever deserves this.
And none of us should ever be the other woman, the one who drives the both of you past the limits that you had always prided yourselves on having. It’s not fair to her, and it’s not fair to you. And even if you think you love someone who is in a relationship, it’s always better to love yourself more. If they really want to be with you, they’ll leave and start things the right way. And you know it.