Seated in a comfortable leather chair in my therapist’s office, an oasis from the chaos of post college life, I finally posed the question that had been nagging at me for months.
“Why don’t you ever discourage me from seeing him? The man is still married, after all.”
Without skipping a beat, the short, white-haired, 70-something psychologist I’d been visiting weekly for about a year, replied: “Because he makes you happy. And you’re not the one cheating, anyway.”
A solid point, I thought. I wasn’t the one breaking any promises, vows, or contracts. I wasn’t the one violating any religious sacraments. My only crime was falling for a man who happened to be married. I wasn’t attached at the time. I was entirely single—free to do as I pleased, even if that meant sleeping with a man who was stuck in a lousy marriage.
* * *
It’s been almost almost a decade since I met that married guy, and nearly five years since his divorce became official—and our coupledom earned its quasi socially acceptable status.
Yes, we were secretive about our relationship in the beginning. Yes, we refrained from hanging out in public. Yes, he often left my place in the middle of the night, shortly after showering.
But I didn’t seduce the man with secret sensual powers, or target him in some kind of plot to demolish his former life. I didn’t lure him into any traps. And I never cheated on anyone. I simply followed my heart.
So why did I feel even the least bit guilty—until my therapist set me straight?
Probably for the same reason I’ve been called a whore and a home wrecker so often by people who disapprove of my relationship with my now divorced boyfriend. The same reason Monica Lewinsky was ostracized for blowing Bill Clinton, while he escaped the scandal with barely a bruise to his reputation. The same reason the Internet became obsessed with identifying and vilifying “Becky with the good hair”—the woman from Lemonade accused of sleeping with Beyoncé’s husband—while far less ire was directed towards Jay Z, the alleged hip-hop philanderer.
* * *
I understand that we, as a society, have a complicated relationship with sex, and an even more complicated relationship with fidelity. I also understand that our anger towards cheaters stems from the all too relatable fear of being betrayed by our own partners one day. That stomach knot inducing stress we all experience when imagining our mate’s limbs intertwined with another’s is probably some kind of evolutionary adaptation designed to keep couples from straying so people stick around to nurture their hypothetical young, or something.
What’s perplexing is that we always seem to blame the other woman disproportionately when love affairs transpire. I get why people were so angry at “Becky with the good hair,” but why weren’t they at least equally pissed at Jay Z? Wasn’t he equally responsible for whatever went down? It’s baffling for a man to skirt judgment in this scenario while the unnamed woman he slept with fielded so much hate.
And yet, in the context of our attitude towards female sexuality, it all makes sense.
Our refusal to hold men accountable for cheating seems like an offshoot of our tendency to admonish women for being sexual—to slut shame them for the very same behavior that earns men “player” status. We have such a hard time accepting women as sexual beings with vaginas who deserve to orgasm. We teach Anatomy with despicably insufficient renderings of female genitalia. We consider movies depicting female masturbation highly offensive, while the sight of a guy jerking off on-screen barely warrants a headline. We have the audacity to suggest that some women “ask” to be raped by wearing “inappropriate” clothing.
When a man strays from his significant other, we’re conditioned to blame the other woman. (We even have a special term just for her!) We cast her as a beguiling temptress—the oversexed seductress who manipulates her way into her victim’s life. The home wrecker. The whore. The raging cunt.
But you know what? That’s fucked up, and arguably un-feminist.
If you’re going to hate on people who offend your sense of what’s moral or just, at least divide the hate equally.