If you are a single woman that has been seeing a married man for some time and reading this, chances are that you have already gone through the initial stages of infatuation and blinding bliss. In these initial stages you are not wanting to think too deeply about the realities you are creating in your life by pursuing this relationship. But as things progress and the honeymoon period wears off you start to have questions, you bring them up to you lover, but most likely come away with answers that leave you only partially or not at all satisfied. These questions have to do with what you mean to him, whether or not he will leave his wife for you, how he can justify cheating on his wife, whether or not he has done this before, or is cheating on you now. Getting these answers become more and more important as you become more involved and then obsessed with your lover and realize that you are not as central to him as he is to you. (I am using the term “the other woman” as a literary convenience because statistics show that married men have affairs more frequently than do married women. However, most of the following also applies to men who find themselves in this position.)
Rona Subotnik illuminates a list of paradoxical realities that you may find yourself living with as the other woman. Here is my version of her findings:
Treasured, but used
Being in love gives you the feeling that you are precious and treasured by him, but you cannot help but wonder…if it wasn’t for the sex, would he still want to be with me? If you didn’t make it so easy and perfect when he is with you, by not complaining and making sure you look absolutely gorgeous, by having the house spotless…if you were just your ordinary every day self, the way his wife is, would he still treasure you? If you weren’t providing an escape from another relationship, would he still want you?
Intimate, but isolated
You have a wonderful newfound closeness with this man that you may not have had for a very long time. However, as time goes by he becomes one of the few people you can be intimate with because you cannot share what is most important for you in your life with most others. Friends and family sense you are closed off in some way, and can become confused and discouraged about your relationship with them. You can feel this, yet are afraid it would cause more damage to their feelings about you if they knew. Your sense of intimacy with your lover can seem more intense when he becomes one of the few people you can really talk to.
Free, but a prisoner
You have been freed from the dating game, from the painful aspects of being single, yet you are tied to his schedule. You find yourself forgoing activities that you used to enjoy that might make you unavailable to him should he suddenly have time to see you. The silence of the phone can feel like the bars of this prison.
Safe, yet in danger
Being in love creates a sense of safety, yet the foundation for this safety feels, at it’s core, shaky. You know he could decide at any time to stop the affair and try to work on the marriage, or that his wife or someone else can find out and blow his cover. You know you are participating in something that is potentially damaging to many people and that there could be repercussions for yourself. You maintain the sense of safety by trying not to think about these realities.
Self-righteous, yet guilty
You tell yourself you deserve to be happy, that you are making him happy. You may even tell yourself you are helping him to be a better husband by the love and comfort you provide. You tell yourself their marriage is already over anyway, or that it’s not your responsibility, but his, since he is the one cheating and you are not cheating on anyone. However, deep down you know you have made a choice to participate in something that can result in devastation for any number of people.
Powerful, yet powerless
You may feel very powerful in your ability to attract a man who is married, maybe with family and cause him to betray this family. Yet as time goes on, it becomes apparent to you that you frequently feel powerless. You may eventually be giving ultimatums, only to be put off or given false promises. You may find yourself stood up when various situations arise with his family that prevent him from keeping dates. Sitting alone on New Year’s Eve or Saturday night, you feel you have no power at all.
Feeling very good/very bad about yourself
Everyone’s self esteem soars when they experience attracting someone who is attractive to them. However, at the same time you know you are treating yourself as if you do not deserve someone who could be there for you 100%.
Reading the above may bring up strong feelings that you haven’t been aware of before. Participating in an affair necessitates entering an altered state of consciousness where only part of reality can be processed, the part that has to do with pleasure. It’s like being in a trance, complete with it’s own logic. When the full reality begins to hit home, it can be a painful and frightening time. Deep issues can surface, issues that, in the end have to do with your relationship to yourself more than anyone else. If talking to your lover is making it worse, it is important to break your isolation by finding someone who you can trust to talk to. Therapy can be very useful at this point.