dating

'I thought I was the only mistress. Then I found out about his dozen girlfriends.'

Back in 2013, I was romantically involved with a married blogger who was in the middle of creating a non-profit group that was "spiritual but not religious."

He’d built himself a social media presence across multiple platforms and brought me in to help run Tumblr and Twitter while writing the occasional blog post.

He also decided to start doing these group video chats with Facebook page fans. For all of my introversion, I had fun getting to know people who had a connection to my secret boyfriend. There was a lot about our relationship (like the long-distance and his marital status) that made the whole thing feel unreal.

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It was a fantasy, and to be clear, a bad romance, but I also believed it was love.

Early into the group video chats, I became friendly with one of his coworkers from his "real job" named Jenna, and a teenager named Hunter who knew my boyfriend from a few years back.

Jenna was several years younger than me (I was 31), and Hunter was in high school, yet the three of us got along well and enjoyed chatting after my boyfriend and the rest of the attendees left the video each week.

My boyfriend, however, was not a fan of the budding connection between me and his coworker.

“I don’t think you should be friends with Jenna,” he told me over text. “It’s weird.”

“What are you talking about?” She was his friend, and I thought it was a good thing to get along with his friends. “Oh, are you afraid I’m going to say the wrong thing?”

To this day, I’m still not sure why he didn’t just say yes. It would have been completely believable for him to say that he was afraid that my friendship with his coworker would wind up outing him and the fact that we were having an affair.

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Instead, he insisted that wasn’t the issue and he was just concerned because Jenna was “kind of crazy.”

To say I knew what had happened between them is probably an exaggeration, but it’s also not as if I had no clue.

“Did you date her?” I asked him.

“She seduced me,” he claimed, and then he proceeded to tell me this very long story about how she had always been so flirty and touchy-feely with him at work, and how (essentially) she had worn him down after a long time and an especially bad day.

As he told me the story, I didn’t feel bad for him at all, and I didn’t believe him that the affair was all her fault. But by the way he described it, their indiscretion was a one-time thing, and it was long over with.

He indicated that for a moment, he thought their relationship might work out and become something more, but then he claimed that Jenna just wanted to use him. 

Supposedly, Jenna lived with an older man who didn’t want children, and she was desperate to have a baby.

Somehow, those circumstances amounted to my boyfriend becoming her victim as he believed Jenna only wanted to use him to get back at her partner. The logic was flimsy, at best, but I listened.

He went on to describe how Jenna had driven over to his house on more than one occasion and threatened to tell his wife about them when he didn’t answer the phone.

“I told you she’s crazy,” he said.

But the story would have held more water if he wasn’t still Facebook friends with Jenna. If she was really as “crazy” as he said, it seemed odd for him to invite her to be involved with his non-profit group. 

How could he continue to interact with her like they were just friends with no intimate history and invite her to the video chats if she was such a loose cannon?

So, he told me he didn’t want me to be friends with her because she was supposedly nuts, but I didn’t really believe him since his actions suggested he felt perfectly fine around her.

Jenna and I remained online friends, but my boyfriend’s remarks put me in an awkward place. At the very least, I knew that they had sex and each cheated on their own respective partners with each other. 

And the fact that she wanted to stick around to give a married man her time and money as he worked on a spiritually woke non-profit suggested that she was still into him.

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Before too long, I learned I was right. She called me one evening, wanting to chat. As friends often do, she told me about some struggles going on in her life and with her relationship. 

She briefly began to mention a guy at work when she had to abruptly leave, but she promised to chat the next day and finish her story.

Of course, I had a sense of what was coming, even before she called me back. I didn’t know what to do or say. Should I stop her? Ignore her call? If I’m honest, I think I wanted to hear her side of the story just because I knew I wasn’t getting the whole truth from him.

So, when she called me back, I just listened.

Jenna proceeded to describe a very different story of romance in the workplace. In this story, theirs was a mutual flirtation, but he was the instigator. 

She described the day they finally left work to have sex in a hotel as this incredibly emotionally-charged day. How he was going through some sort of personal crisis at home and she just wanted to be there for him. 

She went on to describe their time together as “magical,” claiming she ended things to focus on her relationship with her fiance, and that she still wondered if she’d made a mistake.

Never once did Jenna suggest that I knew the married man in question. I probably said something lame, like, “Wow, that’s quite a story.”

I did ask her when it all happened, and the dates she gave me overlapped with the first few weeks of our relationship, which meant he’d lied about several things.

He lied when he told me I was the only other woman. He lied when he said he didn’t have other affairs. He lied when he said the thing between Jenna and him was long over, and he lied when he said he didn’t want us to become friends for my sake.

In reality, he just didn’t want me to find out about their relationship and the fact that he wasn’t just cheating with me, but he was also cheating on me.

Bad love is addictive. I still remember making all of the connections and understanding that the man I loved had lied to me, yet I wasn’t angry or jealous. If anything, I was just sad. 

I had sort of resigned myself to the idea that I loved this man, and it seemed like hurting just came with the territory.

I told him some of the stuff Jenna said. He got all sheepish but once again tried to say she seduced him and he was the victim. At the time, I wasn’t sure why there even needed to be a victim in the story.

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Silently, I noted that he didn’t apologise to me or recognise that it might have been an uncomfortable situation. At least, not right away. 

I think it took him about a week to finally acknowledge that he’d lied to me and then apologise for it. When he finally told me he was sorry, he mentioned how I’d been “so good” about the whole thing.

It was as if his apology came as a reward for my chill attitude. Which, when you think about it, is pretty damn manipulative. 

At this point in our relationship, I understood that holding him accountable or expressing any upset would just backfire on me. On the rare occasion that I did broach an issue with him, his response was predictable. 

He’d say something about how I “knew what this was,” and how he was under so much pressure hiding the affair. Sometimes, he’d use an ultimatum: “If you’re really so unhappy with me, maybe we shouldn’t be together.”

He seemed to think our issues were never his fault. They were all an extension of me and my horrible expectations. And I have to admit that this sort of manipulation worked very well on me. 

I already felt so guilty about being his “mistress.” That label alone led me to feel as if I didn’t deserve respect or honesty. If he cheated on me, I felt like I deserved it since I was the other woman.

When he finally apologised to me about Jenna, my head was so twisted that I actually thought that made him a good guy. 

And it cemented this idea in my head that I should never “nag” him, never complain, and never say anything he might not like. My reward for being so compliant?

He might eventually apologise after hurting me.

The uncomfortable saga with Jenna didn’t end with her telling me about that time she slept with my married boyfriend, however.

He decided to tell her that he was dating me. It hadn’t even occurred to me that he might tell her until he called me looking for comfort after the fact. 

He explained that he’d just told Jenna about us and she was very upset. Apparently, she felt like he was choosing between the two of us, and that I’d “won.”

As he was on the phone complaining to me about all of the stress he was under, she called me and left a voice message saying that she was really disappointed because she liked me so much, but now she needed space.

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The complete thing was shitty. I couldn’t be certain what he told her but it definitely seemed to take himself off the hook and put me on it. 

There seemed to be this suggestion that I’d known a lot longer than I actually did and that I’d been the real betrayer.

And interesting enough, while she needed a break from me, she never needed a break from him. 

She continued to tag him in Facebook posts with silly memes. Still followed all of his social media updates along with the work on his non-profit organization.

Incredibly, Jenna hung around for months.

In May, when we moved in together, there was this humiliating moment when he left me at his house while he went to his office half an hour away. 

Meanwhile, his wife had taken the kids out of state to visit her parents as they worked out the details of the divorce.

Unfortunately, my boyfriend ignored my advice and didn’t tell his wife about me. I thought it was a mistake to try to keep our relationship a secret through their separation since the truth always comes out. But he wouldn’t tell her.

She found out about me in one of the worst possible ways — I was in their house, sitting on their bed with a laptop, and waiting for her soon-to-be ex-husband to get done with work. 

It was her neighbour friend who walked in and found me… and instantly called her. Once again, a woman was so angry with me that it helped direct anger away from her husband.

He wasn’t the big jerk, was he? My presence apparently made it easy to overlook his transgressions and assume they wouldn’t have occurred without me.

When his wife’s friend found me in their home, it became clear that we would have to leave. But he was at work so he called Jenna. 

Which means it was Jenna who dropped everything, drove over to his house to pick me up and then took me to a large parking lot where he was on the phone trying to deal with his wife. 

It was the first time I’d ever met Jenna in real life and the first time we’d talked since she said she needed space.

There she was, bailing me out and running to his aid.

In the parking lot, she took on a motherly role. She looked concerned, rubbed his back, and brought him ice cream. 

I found the whole thing awkward and embarrassing, but I also figured I deserved these dramatic bumps in the road after my part in the whole affair. I held back and waited, unsure of what to do or say.

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After what seemed like forever, he finally got off the phone and he vented some of the details of his no good, very bad day. After yet another bout of “this feels like forever,” Jenna finally said goodbye.

That day became a reminder that loving him meant there would always be other random women in my life.

Six months later, after we found out that I was pregnant — whoops — and he decided to end our relationship, Jenna messaged and said that he’d told her he left me. The way she said it was strange and off-putting.

“I thought you should know,” Jenna began. “He called me and told me he left you.” I could practically hear the smile in her text and I wondered why girls had to be so catty.

“Did he tell you that I’m pregnant?” I asked her earnestly. I really wasn’t trying to be a catty bitch either — but it just seemed like the natural thing to say since… I was pregnant.

“No,” she replied, and we never spoke after that day. She stayed in my ex’s life long after I was out, but I didn’t envy her one bit.

All that drama and unnecessary heartbreak… that’s just what you got when you became involved with this guy. And as silly (or stupid) as it sounds now, he wasn’t an easy person to leave. I was hardly the only woman to hold on and try to catch little scraps of his attention that I mistook for love.

There was also Jenna. And Rachel, and Erin, and Kristy, and April, and more than a dozen other women who were manipulated by my daughter’s dad. Some got shorter sticks than others. Some enjoyed feeling like they had some strange bit of status. Like the mistress who knew him the longest, or the one who first hooked up with him in high school.

“He loves me,” a married woman from Knoxville told me over email. “He’s never going to be faithful to you. You don’t know him like I do.”

Nobody, however — not his kids, his wives, his mistresses, or hookups — ever got his honesty. It took me a long time to figure that out. Once I understood that, however, it became much easier to identify and avoid red flags in others.

Feature Image: Getty.

This post originally appeared on Medium and has been republished here with full permission.

You can read more from Shannon Ashley on Medium, or follow her on  Twitter.

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