What it’s really like being the other woman in an affair
“Being the other woman isn’t just about keeping a secret – you ARE the secret.”
The last conversation Nicola had with the man she’d been having an affair with for 2.5 years was about a tattoo he was thinking of getting. The next day, he vanished from her life.
“Deleted Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Skype. Emails bounced back, WhatsApps were undelivered, and that was that,” she said. At first, she thought he was just taking some space and eventually he’d explain why. But days turned into weeks and weeks turned into 8.5 months.
One evening, she did something she’d done a few times since his disappearance — looked at profiles of people who know him in the hope it’d reveal something about his whereabouts. Nicola looked at his wife’s Facebook page. “Her photo had changed to a picture of her, very pregnant. From the comments below it turned out she was due in the next couple of weeks,” she said. In that moment, Nicola said her “heart broke into a million pieces.”
The affair had started with a conversation at an office party. He was much older than her and very senior in another department in the company. The pair kept that conversation going through emails and Skype messaging all day. Nothing physical happened for eight months — until another work party. “That was where the romantic relationship started. By that time, even though I knew he was with someone, I’d never felt that way before and felt like I couldn’t ignore it,” said Nicola.
“My feelings towards her were a very weird mix of envy and pity”
Did Nicola ever think about his wife? Nicola said she found it “pretty easy” not to think about her. “This sounds horrible, but my feelings towards her were a very weird mix of envy and pity,” she said. “I was so envious that she’d got there first, that she got to have him come home to her. Then pity because she didn’t know, and that made me feel sorry for her in a way.”
Asked if she ever felt guilty about her status as the other woman, Nicola replied: “Nowhere near as much as I should have.”
Two years since she last spoke to her married lover, Nicola has a very different impression of their relationship and its impact. “I feel worse now because she’ll never know, she’ll go through her life thinking she has the perfect husband and father and she’ll never know who he really is,” Nicola said.
Seeing the photo of his wife made Nicola see the man she’d loved clearly for the first time. “Instead of seeing the tortured love of my life, I finally saw a liar, a manipulator, and a coward,” she said. “But I still think about him every single day — how he got to go back to his life like nothing happened, and I got to berate myself for months wondering what I’d done wrong.” She now views the affair as a big mistake. “He got to forget, I get to wonder if anything he told me or anything we shared was real,” she added. “No closure, just feeling like the stupidest girl in the whole world.”
Nicola told me the affair isn’t something she’s ever really spoken about. “Because you’re objectively in the wrong, no one really cares that there can be more to it.”
On our TV and movie screens, the other woman trope is oft presented as a clingy, sex-crazed home-wrecker consumed by jealousy. Think of Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction and Jeanne Tripplehorn in Sliding Doors. Hollywood stereotypes aside, I set out to find out what it’s actually like to be the other woman. Are they consumed with jealousy? Do they feel guilty about what they’re doing? Do they get a cheap thrill from running around behind people’s backs?
The answer to all of those questions is not at all what we’ve all been told to expect.
One woman — who prefers to remain anonymous — told me she had an affair with a much older married man who works in the same industry as her. “The intention from me anyway was never to start anything it took several months before we even started chatting in a sexual way but he kept pushing for it,” she told me. “I don’t blame him either. I did my part in this. But we did genuinely care for each other.”
“He would send me photos of himself while she was in the shower.”
“He was known as a bit of a Lothario, but we had real feelings for each other that built up over time,” she told me. “He was older, rich, more experienced. I wasn’t the only younger women he shagged in the industry, which I found out later.”
Back then, she thought she was in love because he was “sweet, kind, and tender.” In hindsight, she feels she had the wool pulled over her eyes. She described some of his riskier behaviour, which she believes was part of the appeal for him.
“He called me while they were on holiday as a family and before he got into bed with her. He would send me photos of himself while she was in the shower,” she said. “I am not proud of this, but it happened.”
She described herself as feeling jealous of his wife “but not in the way you might imagine.”
“I got upset because we were acting like a couple, but we couldn’t meet up and he couldn’t be there for me when I needed him. Because he wasn’t mine,” she said. That was the reason she ended the affair.
“I remember sitting at home after a horrible day (can’t remember now what had happened but suffice to say it was a crying moment) and I needed him, so tried to call him. But he was with her and wasn’t able to call me, much as he wanted,” she said.
In retrospect, she regrets “being as naive” she she was. “I think I would have regretted it more had she found out as I would never want to inflict that kind of pain on someone,” she added. “But the fact they are divorced helps, as I feel it was inevitable.”
This feeling of loneliness in a relationship is something that Amy Elizabeth Hill felt during two relationships with men who were ‘taken.’ One of those relationships was with a man who had a girlfriend. That girlfriend is now his wife and the mother of his child. Hill is no longer a part of his life.
So, is having an affair exciting? Or, does it have its lowpoints? “Always both,” said Hill.
“Being the other woman isn’t just about keeping a secret – you ARE the secret.”
“Exciting because it’s all the good stuff, without the reality (good lingerie, constantly horny, always positive),” she explained. There’s a caveat, though.
That absence of reality means you can’t always rely on the adulterer for the kind of emotional support you’d get from a, err, less complicated relationship. “The two illegitimate relationships I found myself in both happened when I was emotionally spent and my self-worth was at rock bottom,” she added. “I was lonely all the time; being the other woman isn’t just about keeping a secret – you ARE the secret.”
The other women I spoke to all had very complicated feelings about the women whose boyfriends or husbands they were sleeping with.
One woman — who prefers to remain anonymous — tried not to think about the girlfriend of the man she was seeing. But that strategy didn’t exactly work out for her long-term.
“After we’d been seeing each other for a couple of months we became Facebook friends and that was the first time I saw her in his FB profile picture,” she said. “I was really, really jealous.” She talked to her friend — the only one who knew about her relationship — and spilled everything she knew about the girlfriend. “I said nasty things about her, which I regret. I was so jealous,” she said.
“He’d set out the ground rules at the beginning of our ‘relationship’ so I only got him one night a week if I was lucky. I never thought about her when we were together. But I did when we weren’t, especially if he stood me up because her plans changed,” she said.
“I flitted between absolutely hating myself and hating her. I was jealous of her and I felt terrible for her at the same time,” she explained. “I felt that by choosing to be with him I was actually choosing what kind of person I was and I didn’t particularly like the person I was choosing, but I really liked him.”
It’s an excuse as old as time, but an affair was never something she set out to do, she said. “I went into a relationship with him because I had and do have feelings for him. That doesn’t make it right but it also doesn’t mean that I’m some Jolene-esque man-stealer.”
She still sees him from time to time and feels guilty about her status as the other woman. “I don’t like myself for the decisions I make around him, but at the same time I can’t quite let go,” she added. “He’s like an addiction, and I think I’m the same for him. It’s bad for all of us and there are no winners in this situation.”
Judging by these women’s accounts, it seems there is truth in the idea that there are no winners.
Once you’ve got over the initial lust and the cheap thrill you get from having a dirty secret, the reality is far from sexy. Once you start to feel something more than lust for the person who cannot give you their all, the bloom starts to fade from the rose.