real life

"I was the other woman. At first by accident, then on purpose."

I was the other woman once. At first by accident, then on purpose.

This guy I used to know asked me out. Believing he was single and free, I said yes. We had a date that ended in a hot make-out session, and in the following weeks, I found myself ready and eager for more. Until I found out he had a serious girlfriend with whom he was supposed to be monogamous with.

My first reaction was anger. I was angry I had been fooled into putting myself in a position I had always despised: that of the other woman. I felt used, lied to, almost as wronged as the woman he was cheating on. I decided to end it all.

Around that time, however, he went on a trip abroad, and for a while I couldn’t reach him to unload my frustration. During the time he was away, I cooled my head. The distance allowed me to not only stop and think, but to start rationalising what I had just been through.

I rationalised that it wasn’t my fault. He was the cheater, and if he had that little respect for his girlfriend, then that was his problem, not mine. I wasn’t about to go after him anymore, and that could be it. End of story.

Except he did come after me again. Reminding myself that it wasn’t my fault that he was a cheater, I agreed to meet him, and just like that, it wasn’t the end of the story anymore, but a new beginning.

It wasn’t my fault. He was the cheater, not I.

Through mutual friends, I learned that his girlfriend was really upset. She had hacked into his Facebook account and seen the messages he had sent me. The messages I had sent him. She had even used a phoney excuse to try to obtain my home address from a mutual friend. She wanted to confront me. Luckily, that friend was more loyal to me than to her, and too smart to fall for her number. The confrontation she craved never happened.

I eventually got fed up with that “relationship” and called it quits. I later learned that his girlfriend broke up with him about a year after. Good for her.

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That whole situation took my perspective on who’s to blame for cheating on a complete 360. At first, I felt guilty, responsible; then “I’m not the cheater” became my mantra; and eventually, I came back to the realisation that even though I wasn’t solely responsible, I did have my share of blame.

He could have been the cheater, but I didn’t have to make it so easy for him. When he messaged, I didn’t have to respond. When he called, I didn’t have to pick up. When he asked to meet me, I didn’t have to be available. It would have been one thing if I had remained in ignorance of his relationship status, but that ignorance was extinguished pretty quickly. For most of the time, I knew.

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If it wasn’t me, it would have been someone else (and in fact, there were several others), that much is true, but by allowing it to be me, I not only accepted, but encouraged his bad behaviour.

I often see articles about how the other woman is not to blame when a man cheats. How, by going after the other woman instead of confronting their men, wives and girlfriends who have been cheated on are only fostering the notion that these men are helpless victims of their own desires, that they “just can’t help themselves.” I agree 100 per cent with that.

No man is a helpless victim of his own desires. The image of the mistress as an inescapable temptress, akin to a sorcerer set on seducing men and leading them from the straight path, is not only antiquated, but inaccurate and unfair.

I personally think there’s very little point in going after the other woman, after all, she really isn’t the one who’s cheating. However, excusing her from any blame whatsoever is another extreme with which I can’t agree.

When you’re the other woman, “I’m not the cheater” is comfortable. It’s safe. It allows you to get what you want and still sleep at night. It tells you that, deep down, you’re still a good person, despite the fact that you’re involved in something that’s at least morally questionable.

As the other woman, “I’m not the cheater” is also the easy answer for when you’re not inclined to really think about what you’re doing. “I’m not the cheater” is the lazy, easy way to find self absolution without actually taking a deep look into your actions and their consequences. It’s morality gymnastics.

“I’m not the cheater” goes right next to “he’s not happy in his marriage,” and “she tempted me away from my wife” in the hall of fame of lame excuses for cheating.

Let’s be clear: no woman is responsible for keeping someone else’s man faithful. When men (or women) are inclined to cheat, they will. They find partners to cheat with, they find ways to lie, deceive, conceal.

The primary person at fault is always the cheater.

Going after the person your significant other cheated with without holding said SO accountable first is a mistake. Do what you will to your cheating partner, forgive him or leave him, but don’t waste your time going after the other woman. What will that accomplish? Nothing. What’s done is done, and if it wasn’t her, it would have been someone else.

I maintain, however, that that doesn’t make the other woman completely blameless.

As far as being the other woman goes, sticking with “I’m not the cheater” is attaching your innocence to a technicality. It’s desperately seeking a loophole so you can continue to game the system free of guilt.

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"Do what you will to your cheating partner, forgive him or leave him, but don’t waste your time going after the other woman." Image: Getty.

Every man should always be held accountable for his actions, but what’s the point of sisterhood, if women can’t turn their backs around each other? What’s the point of sisterhood, if all it takes for some of us to become an accomplice at causing another woman pain is a flimsy “I’m not the one who’s cheating”?

The other woman may not be the one responsible for a man’s actions, but she should at least have the decency to not consider herself entirely blameless.

My point-of-view, of course, comes largely from my experience of feeling guilty for the part I played in that particular situation, and I understand not everyone in my position feels the same. Part of my guilt is also anger at having allowed myself to be used, at having wasted my time in a relationship that was clearly going nowhere.

These days, there are so many options for polyamory and open relationships, that cheating when you were supposed to be in an exclusive relationship has become even more despicable. I understand that it happens, that people make mistakes, but they still have to deal with the consequences of their actions and the extent of their guilt.

As for being the other woman, for me once was enough. Never again, if I can help it.

This post originally appeared on Medium by Tesia Blake and has been republished with full permission.

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