The ‘other woman’ is a loaded phrase we often use to describe women who are involved in affairs, but have you ever stopped to wonder why there isn’t an equivalent title for men?
Recent research suggests straight women are more likely to blame the other woman when discovering their partner has been unfaithful than blame the man.
But as the saying goes, there are two sides to every story.
To dispel myths around what it really means to be the other woman, we spoke to six women about their experiences. Is the other woman really such a villain? We’ll let you decide.
Louise*, Freelance Writer, 32
“I came out of that relationship feeling humiliated.”
Josh* and I met online. We were friends, both married with families. Initially we rarely spoke, but after awhile we started to have some really interesting and meaningful conversations via Facebook. We had a lot in common, we challenged each other intellectually and we laughed a lot. Basically, we just clicked. We supported each other through various challenges in our personal lives. Over the months, I began to think of Josh as one of my closest friends. After more than a year, it became clear we had both been hiding romantic feelings for each other.
Josh and I reluctantly admitted we had strong feelings for each other, but we both believed exploring those feelings any further wasn’t an option. Having an affair wasn’t in line with either of our values and we devised a plan to get some distance and to also work on our own marriages. We agonised over it all. We were best friends and in love and we wanted to be together, but we couldn’t see a way without destroying our spouses and children. He told me that he’d finally met the woman of his dreams, but years too late. It seemed like such an unbearable injustice, one that we must have both shed at least hundreds of tears over.
At the time, I never really considered myself the other woman, because we had never intended to let things progress so far. Ultimately, I separated from my husband. I couldn’t stay married to my husband if I could feel what I felt for Josh. In time, what had been an emotional affair became a physical one.
We spent a brief, blissful period together. We made love, held each other. We went to the beach. We held hands and had a taste of what a life together might be like.
Afterwards he went home to his wife. Josh believed it would be best for his kids if he and his wife stayed together - he told me he would sacrifice his happiness for his children. After he confessed to sleeping with me, she called me, furious, and said some very cruel things. I let her because I figured I owed her that much after what I had done.
I loved him more than I can say but part of me also hated him for being such a coward. It devastated me and I came out of that relationship feeling humiliated, worthless and without hope. His legacy is a series of questions that remain unanswered. I don’t know anything anymore - my very foundations are in tatters and I’m grappling for meaning in anything. If my heart could be wrong about this, I don’t know how to ever trust myself and what I feel again.
Anita*, Bid Writer, 54
“I have been foolish for thinking he would ever be mine.”
We worked in same office. As we broke up for Christmas in 2008, he asked me to come to his car because he had a card and present for me. I was shocked, I didn’t know him that well at all. I felt rude not to (at that time I was recently separated and at that vulnerable not thinking stage). I had to pass his car to get to mine anyway, so I walked with him. He opened the car boot and gave me a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Champagne and a card. When I got home, I read the card and freaked out, cut it up and binned it. Obviously I kept the Champagne. The card only said ‘have a healthy Christmas. Keep well.’ or something, but I felt uncomfortable about it.
That was that until we had to work on a project together in March 2009. Then from about April he started asking me if I would like to join him for a coffee. I wasn’t sure if he was married, I assumed he was but he had never mentioned his wife, so I wondered if maybe there were issues - he could be going through a separation or maybe she was sick. He just didn’t seem like your regular ‘player’ or a mischievous kinda guy. In the end curiosity got the better of me and one lunchtime in May I accepted his offer.
I didn’t fancy him, certainly no lust. After a few lunchtime coffees he invited me out on Saturday. We had only ever discussed work, still nothing had come to light around his home life. I was beside myself with curiosity, what was he after? I wasn’t having a very nice time in my personal life, bringing up three teenagers alone was not fun. So I said yes. And boy oh boy what a beautiful time I had with him. He drove me to London, we walked around St James’s Park, then sat down for a picnic of strawberries and the Champagne from Christmas (I still hadn’t drunk it). Then we went for dinner in a spectacular place, then the theatre. I was blown away. Over time he listened to my struggle with money, kids etc, he was never judgmental. He has helped me make good of my life and given the advice and support that I didn’t get from parents. Sex was never the driving force in this affair, he wanted companionship. I believe he stays married only because divorce would be a failure to him. But who knows?
I never felt like the other woman. When I finally asked “are you married?” he said: “you know I’m married”. I didn’t like to ask anymore. Yes stupid, but at the time, one does not think rationally. Over time I hated keeping secrets about the things we did together but he would say, people just want to talk about themselves anyway. It’s quite true actually, if someone in the office says “what did you do at the weekend?” and you throw the question back at them, they talk about them and you don’t actually have to tell them what you did - secret safe!
He is still hanging in there, it’s fizzling out on my side. It has been eight years and I have finally ‘got it’. She wasn’t sick, neither was there a horrid break up. I have been extremely foolish for thinking he would ever be mine. Married men are f**kers. Never blame the woman.
Saskia*, PR Executive, 25
“It was like I was addicted to him.”
He was a hair stylist, so we met when I went in for a consultation. I was instantly attracted to him. We exchanged numbers as I had a few questions about getting my hair done. I couldn’t stop thinking about him for weeks after my appointment, so I texted him on a night out and then the next day told him I shouldn’t have as I had a boyfriend.
Despite this, we both kept texting. I didn’t realise he was married at the time - I found out through some online stalking. I also found out he was 10 years older than me. However, I couldn’t stop texting - even though I knew it was wrong, it was like I was addicted to him. We eventually met up after a few weeks and slept together. I broke up with my boyfriend the next day and told him I couldn’t carry on speaking to him. After a week or so, I text him and we started things up.
Sounds horribly cliché, but the minute I laid my eyes on him it was genuinely like my soul hurt. I’ve never ever had such an intense rush of something for someone. When we met up, my body would physically shake. I was obsessed.
I hated being the other woman. I knew I didn’t want to be in a relationship for a while - I think cheating was the cherry on the cake but I’d been unhappy in my relationship for a long time. But, I was genuinely in love with this guy and having him disappear for long periods of time, knowing he was out pretending everything was perfect with his wife, really hurt. He’d ask me if I’d marry him and tell me how beautiful I was. The longer it went on, the more I fell in to it.
I remember once, drunk, telling him he was my favourite person in the world - I never told him I loved him, as I wanted that bit of control to myself. The next day, he asked me if I meant it and I brushed it off as me being drunk and emotional. A few days later, he told me he felt the same way. It was a total headfuck, particularly when occasionally he’d call it off, then get back in touch.
He would tell me he would keep me safe and would always be there when things were particularly shit. And even though I knew it wasn’t true, I wanted to believe it. I don’t think it helps that whenever I was part of a conversation about affairs, the girl was always to blame. Nasty, vindictive, manipulative... I could not tell you the amount of nights I cried over this guy and the moral issues around it and the fact that he was with someone else instead of me. He’s older than me, charming, gorgeous and an adult capable of making his own decisions. Obviously what I did was wrong, but knowing the fact that people would put the blame entirely on me made me really question myself as a person. Only three of my friends really knew about it, so it was a really isolating experience.
After a while, I decided to end things. He’d still like and favourite my posts on social media and I’d occasionally speak to him when I couldn’t help myself. Eventually I had to block him for my own sanity.
Emma, Educational Progress Coach, 27
“We have two gorgeous children together.”
We initially met on Twitter through little conversations using the 140 character limit which then went to DMs and then text messages. We just spoke about this and that to start with and then realised we had mutual friends which allowed us to share similar interests too. We’d meet for drinks, coffee and food just as friends, until we both realised that there was more to it. I knew that he was with someone else but he had said how unhappy he was and she lived two hours away. I went from his friend to the other woman within about four months of knowing each other.
When we first met there wasn’t any physical attraction there, we just got on really well and it felt like we had known each other for years. He was sweet and funny and was always there for me. We both quickly fell for each other and we had both admitted this after a few months, but I wasn’t ready to commit to a relationship. It went a bit downhill from there as I wasn’t prepared to carry on being the other woman.
At first, being the other woman it didn’t bother me. I didn’t want a relationship and so was happy with how things were, but it wasn’t until I knew that I had feelings that I didn’t like it. I didn’t see why I had to be the secret and that we couldn’t be together. He struggled to come to terms with it too and it took a while (six months) for him to end his other relationship so we could progress ours.
It’s now been eight years since we first met, seven years since we officially got together and six years since we moved in together. We have two gorgeous children aged four and nine weeks, two cats and a dog. So I guess being the other woman isn’t always that bad.
Vicky, Blogger, 36
“I felt awful realising I’d been the other woman.”
I have been the other woman twice and both times I didn’t realise I was until later. The first time it happened it was a man from work who began emailing me and calling down to my desk for no real reason. He told me he was married, but that his wife and he had been “best friends” and only got married because of family pressures; now they couldn’t afford to divorce or to sell their house so they were stuck, but the marriage was dead. I believed him and went out with him a few times, but then ended it because he was so unreliable and his excuses for not turning up were not very believable.
After I’d ended it a friend who worked in his department told me he was still very much with his wife and had been sharing stories of a new kitten climbing into bed with them. It was awful, but I know I was far from the first or the last person he did this with and his wife eventually got rid of him a few years later.
The second time it happened it was a man who was assistant manager at a small hotel at another pub that I worked in. We got together one night and went back to the hotel because it was closer than either of our houses. Soon after that the manager went on holiday for a couple of weeks, so the assistant manager was living in the hotel to take care of things in his absence. He invited me to come down and spend time with him, which I did. After that it sort of petered out - I thought it was strange that he only wanted to meet at the hotel or in the hotel bar.
Then one day I got a phone call out of the blue from someone asking me if I’d been sleeping with this guy. I asked who was calling and she said “his fiancée”. When I got off the phone with her I tried to call him but couldn’t get through so I sent a message asking why I was getting calls from his fiancée. He replied begging me to please tell her I didn’t know him. At the time she seemed to understand that I had been as duped by him as she was, but she then went on a bit of a rampage, trolling me on Facebook and saying I steal other people’s men. Safe to say I don’t have much luck or good judgement when it comes to men.
I felt awful realising I’d been the other woman. There’s a tendency in these situations to blame the woman for “stealing” the man but I honestly had no idea what was going on until after the fact. It’s made me more understanding of situations and the other woman when I was cheated on years later; I realised she was probably being spun just as many lines as I was.
Amaani, Law Student, 25
“I knew this man could protect me.”
I was a 19 year old girl from the Maldives and had just got a job in the city, where Hassan* was a senior employee.
Back then I was dating my high school boyfriend. He was a controlling man who rarely let me go anywhere without him. The insecurities and the jealousy led to several fights, most which led to him beating me, with some bad enough to leave nail marks and bruises.
For the first few months at work, I stayed away from Hassan, but he did attempt to engage in a conversation after finding out that I was interested in a career in Human Resources. Things started to change when in April 2012 when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Soon my parents left to India for treatment. Life was very hard without my mother. It gave my boyfriend an even bigger role to come in to my life and control me.
I’m not entirely sure how the affair started. Hassan found out about my mother one day and he asked me to come into his office and sat me down. He asked me if I needed time off to go and visit my mother. I refused. He asked me if there was anything he could do. I told him there wasn’t. He started to regularly check on me after finding out my phone number. He would text regularly.
Hassan was 34 years old and of course, married. The secret conversations were a thrill to my dull, trapped life. He stared to share his own thoughts to me - how he was unhappy with his marriage, how he wanted a child and she didn’t want one yet. The next thing he did was attempt to buy me things. He would always ask what I wanted. What did I need? Clothes? Makeup? Shoes? New phone? Slowly I started to let him.
By then, I was sure this was my way out of my relationship. I knew this man could protect me. So one day I sat my boyfriend down and told him I wanted to break up. Naturally he flipped out, but begrudgingly he left my house.
I continued the affair with Hassan. We started meeting at night, car rides and dinners at expensive places. He would give me money every week to buy whatever I wanted. I was thrilled. I was living the life I wanted - a pampered princess, finally. He bought me the latest iPhone and I was ecstatic.
I would tell anyone who would listen that he was going to leave his wife and marry me. I continued the relationship without a thought. Our secret dates slowly turned to secret apartment meet ups. This was his true intention. After he got what he wanted, he dumped me like yesterday’s leftovers and didn’t even say why. He stayed with his wife for a while, but she was done. She divorced him couple of months later and last I heard remarried. Five years later, he also remarried and had a baby boy.
As for me, I’m in my fourth year of law school (as an international student of the University of London) and I work for my brother-in-law in a private company. I like to think all this happened for a cause and that was because the universe had a bigger plan for me than to meet a guy and get married. I’m a smart girl and I got great grades in school. I’ll be done with law school and I will be focusing on becoming one of the best lawyers this country has ever seen.
All names marked * have been changed to protect anonymity.