The songs and stories about the “other woman” didn’t prepare me for the reality of being one

Guest post by Liv

When I met my husband Harold, I was single and he was in a monogamous relationship. He was unhappy in his relationship, and he asked me to be the “other woman” until he could get out of his relationship and be with me. Against all my instincts, I said yes.

He introduced me to his friends, family, and girlfriend as his friend, while in private we were lovers. I fell in love while expecting that he would never leave his girlfriend. I expected to leave his life with my heart broken, with one more suitcase of damage to carry into my future.

Instead, after about a year, he and his girlfriend broke up. Harold and I dated for about a year, then we got married. Several years later, I’m happier and more in love than I have ever been. I don’t regret being the other woman, because I do believe it was the only way we could have started our relationship, but songs and stories about other women didn’t prepare me for the reality of being one.

Being the other woman is an inherently painful place. Unlike the other women in stories, I’m not evil, and I did feel guilty for hurting people… I hurt myself, Harold, and her. I had to suffer through seeing his love for her and her love for him. I had to tell everyone I was single when I was desperately in love. I had to pretend he was just a friend, and I’m not a very good actress. My acting single hurt Harold and me, and it also hurt the people who were interested in me. He was caught between two women, two loves, and that shredded him.

I’m an emotional masochist, so my pain was bearable. But I will never be pleased with the way I hurt a woman who had done nothing to deserve it. His girlfriend was a good woman who treated him well — she just wasn’t the right woman for him.

Once Harold broke up with her and started dating me, I thought the hard part was over. I thought we would be skipping-through-meadows happy. I didn’t realize that Harold still had to move on from his past relationship. All the things people do after a breakup are still necessary if you’re already in another relationship. So when she tried to get him back, I had to fight to keep him. When he cried over her, I had to comfort him. When he didn’t want to get rid of the mementos of their time together, I had to live with them. Eventually he got over their breakup and moved on, but those were horrible months to live through, and they hurt us both quite a bit.

Everyone has heard, “Once a cheater, always a cheater.” Even though Harold promised he would never cheat on me, I didn’t believe him. Every time another woman called him or talked to him on Facebook, I wondered if she was the woman he would cheat on me with. That uncertainty does not make for a very stable relationship or state of mind. Combine that with the months of him getting over his ex, and I was kind of a nervous wreck for most of the beginning of our relationship.

As I said, Harold and I are happier now. We have a stable, loving relationship, and I trust him because he’s spent years proving to me that I can. Like all relationships, once you reach a happy middle, the beginning doesn’t matter as much. But it still matters. It affects our “how we met” story. It affects how long I can tell people we dated. The friends who knew us then are still in the dark, and the friends we’ve met since aren’t told the truth. I no longer worry about Harold’s ex-girlfriend, but I sometimes still dream about him going back to her.

So if anyone were to hear my story and think, “Here’s proof that sometimes cheating works out well,” they’re sort of right. I wouldn’t recommend anyone follow in my footsteps, though.

Cheaters, cheat-ees, cheated? Keeping in mind our comment policy, let’s discuss the value of the lessons you’ve learned from those experiences.

Comments on The songs and stories about the “other woman” didn’t prepare me for the reality of being one

  1. As someone who has been cheated on, I can’t help but feel some hatred toward people who do this. If we aren’t happy, if you’re in love with someone else, if you just want to sleep around, just give me the respect to let me know its not working and break up with me.

    Nothing multiplies the hurt of ending a long term relationship more than finding out that for the past x amount of time your SO was spending their time and affection with someone else. Or worse, if you were trying to “work things out” and finding out they were entertaining other prospects. Just ugh.

  2. I am the other woman and he is the other man. We are both married. It has been one year. No one knows. We live a country apart. I love him, and the prospect of losing him keeps me here. This has been a hugely enlightening post – hearing from the ones who have been cheated on, from the children of cheaters, and from other men and women who have chosen this path. I cry when I think about each of our children and his spouse. I cry when I think about the future we don’t have. And hope one day, sooner than later I have the strength to leave both him and my husband. I never want this secret out. I never want our children to know. Thank you to all who have shared.

  3. I was the ‘other woman’ to some extent. When my partner and I met, he was in a relationship, but I didn’t know–we had what was supposed to be a one night stand that turned into more.

    I think he’s not built to be monogamous, and while that is ok with me (with some limitations) I am starting to realize it’s not ok with HIM. That’s been a huge speed bump in our relationship. He’s trying to force himself into a box that he can’t fit.

    I am ok if you have the semi-random hookup once in a very blue moon, I am not ok if you sleep with a friend or acquaintance. I think commitment can be more than just having sex with one person. Tons of people are committed in that way but lack it in other places.

    His ex knows what happened, and though it took a good long while, we’re cool now. She lets us take her daughter (who he bonded with during their relationship) , and we’ve even talked about more long-term arrangements (mother travels a lot and lives in a town with a crappy school system). We’ll never be friends but at least we can work together.

  4. I’ve been the other woman for almost 2 years now. I think there are 2 big things that get overlooked when it comes to “cheating” and relationships:
    #1 Not every person who steps outside their marriage is miserable or on the verge of divorce or an unquestionable asshole.
    #2 Not every person involved with a secondary relationship is a homewrecker or a horrible person.
    The guy I’ve been in a relationship with LOVES his wife and daughter. They are happy and have a great life and are not on the verge of destruction or constantly fighting or abusive or anything (granted, that would for sure change if she knew about me).
    He came to me out of what I’ve labeled the “marital statute of limitations” after you’ve been with someone for so long it’s awkward at best to have new sexual desires. A guy can rarely go to his wife and start asking for things without it being a HUGE issue. I’m the safe ground it’s not “weird” or “YOU WANT WHAT” to me because it’s where we started. I’ve helped test boundaries he’s been curious about for years in a safe way. YES, it would be better if he found a way to talk to wife about it, but it’s also understandable.
    Second: not everyone is meant to be monogamous. BUT so many people get married young before they know this about themselves or before they even know it’s an option. I was raised in a VERY strict religious home and monogamy was the ONLY version of a relationship I ever knew about. I think this is true even in non-religious homes. But, some people just aren’t meant to be with one person forever. It’s something I’ve learned about myself. But, again, the statue of limitations- how do you go to a wife of 10 years and say you want to be with other people but make her understand you still love her? It’s a very hard line and because it’s such a foreign idea to most it’s usually the end of the line. Again, I was the safe ground. I’m not in a place where I want someone around full time. I’m ok seeing him once in a while and not wanting/needing more. I know he is happy and married and still active in that marriage and I don’t try to interfere or take that away. I’m a supplement. NO, not healthy in the long run for me, but it’s worked while I’ve sorted other things out. NO, not healthy for him in the long run, either. It’s something we talk about often. We both know this isn’t an ideal situation because it does involve lying and stealing time. Unfortunately, we haven’t come up with a good solution yet. AS SUCH, we recently decided to end things amicably because after this long there still isn’t a solution and it still isn’t good for everyone involved.
    Just another perspective to consider.

    • I totally get this. I actually found my husband’s normally low sex drive amped up during the time i told him i was going to be seeing this other guy. And my best friend raved about how affectionate her husband was being during that time, which made her normally not interested in sex with her husband respond and initiate and their sex life improved.

      Maybe one person can’t fulfill all roles all the time for someone else.

    • I truly don’t understand why people in your situation (well, really the cheater’s situation) think that it’s better to avoid an awkward, relationship-changing conversation than to eventually be discovered and have an even worse conversation later. Not to mention the guilt/frustration of secrecy in the meantime. Yes, it would stink to discover after being married for 10 years that monogamy or normal sex or your partner’s sex-drive isn’t working for you. But communication is more important in a relationship than these things. Because if you communicate your problem, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll learn about yourselves and the relationship and you can both make informed decisions that will lead to a better place. If you simply avoid it, and start doing things behind someone’s back, the hurt and confusion that may cause later won’t lead to anything good.
      I appreciate you sharing your perspective, and I completely agree with most of your points, but I completely disagree with your “statute of limitations”. In my mind, when you establish a known relationship, you’re agreeing to grow with your partner as they change, or to at least allow them to grow and if they grow away from you, then so be it. But if the wife isn’t willing to talk about changes like this, then maybe that’s really the issue in the marriage. And again, that’s something that should be brought up and discussed!
      I can see why people would dread it so much that they would choose to do something less than ideal, but it’s so frustrating to see that.

      • “In my mind, when you establish a known relationship, you’re agreeing to grow with your partner as they change, or to at least allow them to grow and if they grow away from you, then so be it. But if the wife isn’t willing to talk about changes like this, then maybe that’s really the issue in the marriage. And again, that’s something that should be brought up and discussed!”


  5. I also have a hard time with all of the responses that say “But their relationship was falling apart” or “they weren’t Happy”.

    I wonder if this is something that the “other woman” tells herself to feel better or justified in the affair. Because HE told you that they weren’t happy? And who is Happy 100% of the time?

    There was a time in my own relationship in which I wasn’t happy. It was a time to work on myself and look at our relationship for what it was, to work together and try to get past it. I would hope that anyone who considers themselves “the other woman”, who uses the justification, if it wasn’t me, it would be someone else, or “well they weren’t happy”, would take the time to think about if you have been happy with your spose 100% of the time. Realistically, this is not a reason to cheat, but a reason to get divorced. In the case of the OP, he obviously loved his wife, he grieved over the divorce?

    I think that saying “Well they weren’t happy” or “she was a monster” or “their relationship was destructive” is a way of pushing a personal choice and guilt, off onto someone else, most often the wife.

    You can choose whether or not you will get involved with a married man. And that is a choice that I think should b owned, not passed off as “well they weren’t happy”. It should be, I got in bed with a married man, I knew the consequences, and I made that choice anyway. The OP does a good job of considering that its not just her feelings that matter.

    But unless you are the wife, you will never truly know if their relationship was “destructive” or “happy” because life is all about perception. Reality is really just perception.

    • As someone in a relationship with an abuse survivor, I’ve seen firsthand how difficult it is to disentangle yourself from toxic people who are skilled manipulators. That said, I totally agree with owning your own decisions as exactly what they are–decisions. In terms of stories like OP’s, knowingly participating in that level of willful deceit is hard to brush off as something that just passively ‘happens’–especially in regards to the person who is supposedly monogamous (a party I see excused as totally helpless more often than not).

  6. I have cheated twice, both times the fact that I felt like I ‘needed’ to cheat was the sign that the previous relationship was over. I don’t know if I would have realized how bad or toxic those relationships were without the infidelity. In both cases I ended the previous relationship within a month and began dating the new partner.

    I have been in a variety of poly-fidelity relationships, with different rules and expectations, so I have unknowingly been the ‘the other’ for short term encounters. Never an ongoing thing.

    • I began cheating with permission – we were attempting to open our relationship to bring some life back into it (probably a bad sign!) – but it wasn’t until I did that I realized how unhealthy my marriage was for both of us. At the time, I likened it to living comfortably in a dim room until someone opens the blinds and the light shines in, showing you how grimy and toxic that room is. Suddenly you can’t stand to live in that place anymore.

    • Honest, judgement-free question: wouldn’t you know at the moment you DECIDED to cheat, that your relationship was over? Why did you have to go through with cheating to realize this? Caught up in the moment? I truly don’t understand it.

      • Our minds are really great at rationalizing all kinds of things. For me, it wasn’t “a” decision to cheat, it was a series of small seemingly harmless decisions over the course of several months, the sum of which was cheating. By the time I was at the point of no return, I found myself torn between desperately wanting this new, crazy exciting relationship and desperately not wanting to be the girl who got divorced after two years of marriage … and somehow getting out of this without hurting anyone. Of course, I was already past that point, but again, we’re great at rationalizing.

        • In the poly community, there is lots of talk about the NRE (New Relationship Energy). It boils down to infatuation and our brains are wired that way for excitement and endorphins and ‘oh god he/she finds me so attractive.’ It always mellows over time, but the crazy exciting boiling water analogy is a good one. For people who don’t understand, I say, ‘remember when you were 14 and got your first crush and it was OMGSOAWESOME,’ it’s like that…except we’re adults…and ‘not supposed’ to have those feelings,…

  7. This is all really enlightening. I was the “other woman”, but didn’t want to be. We met at work and while I knew he had children, I didn’t know he was married when we first hooked up. Admittedly, I had a suspicion. But I naively didn’t outright ask. I, myself, had been separated for 2 years at that point. (There was no chance of reconciliation. We were just lazy I guess). In my own situation, I was unhappy and when I was so unhappy that I found myself on the verge of cheating, I went home and ended my marriage. I figured this guy was a really great guy…of course he must be unmarried. But he wasn’t. And our one night stand stayed just that. But the friendship continued (emotional affair anyone?) and blossomed over the next 4 months. We bonded over craft beer and unhappiness in marriage. And when I realized I was in love with him I told him I couldn’t do this anymore. I’m not the other woman type. It’s not who I want to be. He decided to end his marriage and we’ve been together ever since. I am confident that I did not end his marriage. The end was 15 years in the making. At first he stayed because he thought that’s what he was supposed to do; that divorce wasn’t an option. Then, as his unhappiness grew, he decided to bide his time until his youngest graduated high school. Then he met me and saw a chance at happiness and decided he needed to go for it. And we are happy.

    It’s been a lot of work; an emotional roller coaster dealing with the fallout. I can see how divorce, especially if cheating is involved, can rock a kid’s life. The kids are actually great with me though. We’re not super close but we get along just fine. His ex is bitter and blames me for “speeding up the end” of her marriage, but she acknowledges they weren’t happy for a long time. She just doesn’t seem to be ready to accept her part in the deterioration of their relationship. She wants to believe it ended because he’s a horrible person who cheated, rather than someone who was supremely unhappy; for which she is partly responsible for. His cheating wasn’t the problem, it was a symptom.

    I guess my point in this long post is that people are complicated and don’t always make perfect choices, neither in a relationship or outside of it. It doesn’t mean they’re a horrible person. Just flawed. Just human.

    • I just want to say that I (yes, a random person on the internet whose opinion probably shouldn’t matter to you) think you handled the whole thing really well. Yes, I suppose you could have made sure he wasn’t married before your one-night-stand, but you made the right decision when you found out. And that right decision wasn’t to avoid him completely. You two were attracted to each other and could make each other happy and realized it, and that is perfectly fine. Not letting it become more than that until the other person involved was informed and things were settled was very mature and I’m sure made things better for your future together, and her future as well, honestly.

      The only thing I worry about but hope for in your relationship now (and again this is just my opinion) is that he will now know how to deal with problems cropping up in the relationship, and know to talk about them and work through them rather than escape it by cheating on you. Sounds like he did learn, though, from his previous relationship, and that will make yours even stronger.

      • Thanks for that, I appreciate it. He has learned. My post was getting long so I didn’t mention it before, but communication is one of the things that makes our relationship great. We had some really frank, hard convos about what we learned from our past relationships and what we were looking for in a next relationship. And not just communication, but ‘safe’ communication; where we’re both free and comfortable talking about anything without the other person belittling or shutting it down. And I should also mention that he married young, and for a long time, and they had been in counseling a couple of times. So they did indeed try to fix their marriage.

  8. In my first real longterm relationship ever I was the third woman. My then-boyfriend was a married man, almost 15 years older than me. He was hot, he was exciting and he was mysterious. We met at a bar and the first weeks were just kissing and meeting at bars to hang out, all in front of his friends who of course knew the truth about us, yet no one told his wife. I did not believe that he would ever leave her (and he did not either) and I had a fairly realistic view on our future by then thinking that it would never turn out to be a relationship. It was just some harmless fun with making out and drinking.
    Then one evening he called me in tears, telling me that his wife had a new boyfriend and that she broke up with him. I was a little shocked because honestly I had been feeling very bad during these weeks and I refused to have Sex with him for that reason.

    It felt very wrong and I somehow had the feeling that he had brought this situation up as well by not fighting as much for her as he would have when I had not been around. I felt as a part of the reasons why they broke up their almost 17 year long relationship. And the worst part about it was that I did not know if it was that serious for me as it seemed to be to him during the breakup going down.
    This made it very difficult for me to start into that relationship and I was emotionally reluctant because of course I did not know what to believe and he was emotionally reluctant because he somehow lost his trust in relationships as well from his experiences with his wife and since he was dealing with her loss. Although they had both cheated on each other, they had known each other since their youth and shared half a life of experiences and going through problems together. He once said, without her, he had killed himself at some point in his life, she was his saviour and only friend for long parts of his life. It is understandable, that our relationship grew very slowly, not as I would have started with another man. And his ex wife living next to us wasn’t helpfull either.

    He called me his girlfriend only almost half a year after we met. And we decided to keep our relationship open for Sex with others. An agreement that worked quite well for me and which I felt comfortable with. I invested more and more feelings into our relationship and eventually came to a point where I told him, I loved him and where he told me he loved me too.
    I would probably still be together with him if not one day after 2 years he had told me, he has another girlfriend.
    This was not understandable for me since in an open relationship, where he could have sex with any girl he wanted and where the only thing I asked for is being faithfull with his feelings, how could he fall in love with another woman? But it was over from that point on. I could not accept him loving someone else and even if he had dumped her, I could not have gone on living like this. I felt like this was some kind of Karma happening to me.

    I don’t want to lie, this all was no normal relationship (also in other perspectives) and the further I get away from it, the weirder it seems nowadays. But we had a really good time and honestly loved each other. It was an experience that showed me, what I wanted from life and I am going to marry my true love this summer.
    My Ex is still together with the girl with whom he “emotionally cheated” on me. For 5 years now already. So I guess he has found his luck in life, partly also because I was there to catch him after his very deep fall from his marriage. I am happy for him that it worked out for him at last because I do still care for him although we do not talk any more.

    Maybe, if we had met at another point of his life, our relationship would have been very different, I came into his life at it’s worst low.
    I just feel that starting a relationship off from this point of another relationship just about to end is the worst grip you can get on a life together, so many heavy loads are resting on this fresh love, it has to be very strong to survive all that.

  9. When I cheated on my significant other, our relationship had been spiraling downward for months. Years even. The man I cheated on him with was also in a terrible, toxic relationship. I don’t want to call this a reason or excuse, it’s simply the facts. We hated the situations we felt trapped in and we took solace in each other. My significant other had also cheated on me numerous times at this point, but like a fool, I just kept hangin’ around. I know now (7 years later) that my reluctance to leave when it was so obviously over (then looking for comfort in another man) was out of fear, selfishness, and cowardice. I by no means am saying these terms apply to everyone in similar situations, but they sure applied to me. I was convinced that if we broke up, my friends would take his side and I’d have no one. Fear. I was scared at the prospect of having to find a new place to live. Selfish. And I realized later that I was crippled at the thought of being alone. Cowardice.

    After my infidelity came to light, my significant other and I spent quite some time forcing things back together, but it was too irreparably damaged. He became very psychologically abusive towards me. I stopped speaking to the man I had cheated with. We eventually fell apart. 3 years later, I started talking to the other man again, because I missed having him as my friend. Turns out his relationship fell apart quite quickly, both because of what we had done, but also because BEFORE we had cheated with each other, his wife had gotten pregnant by another man.

    We’ve been together for the last 3 years. I’ve never been more in love. I would never, ever advocate taking the route I did or copying my decisions. I spent a very long time wracked with guilt, for a time I had panic attacks, and I did lose some friends in the process. But the pain changed me and my now partner into people that are actually better suited for one another. We’ve talked a lot about how the whole ordeal was necessary for us to learn about what is a bad vs a good relationship. I don’t prescribe to the “once a cheater, always a cheater” mentality, because I have never before or since then felt the urge to stray from my relationship. And we agreed, should one of us feel the same trapped or panicked feelings that we did in with our previous partners, COMMUNICATE IT. If need be, we’ll end things.

  10. I was cheated on several times but never blamed the women as my ex always told them he was single…Honestly the post caught my eye when I saw “Liv is twentysomething” and got a little confused as to why I was publishing haha

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