I learned the other night that a couple I know are going through a divorce. The husband was unfaithful; the wife was blind-sided; and I’m taking it pretty hard.
Of course, my instincts tell me to side with the wife – and I do plan to do just that. But in a situation like this one, there are three parties (the cheater, the cuckold, and the mistress), and, in my lifetime, I have been in the shoes of exactly two of them. The bad two. The guilty two. The assholes.
When I was in college, I spent the better part of two years as “the other woman.” And as exciting as it was – because there is a sort of raw, guilty thrill to it – it hurt to know I would never be considered more than second-best. I was good at keeping the secret from my lover’s girlfriend, until the day that she point-blank asked me if anything had ever happened between me and her boyfriend. Then, possessed by self-righteousness, guilt, and a skewed sense of morality (really? was I really going all chicks-before-dicks with this girl, after fucking her boyfriend for two years?), I admitted that it had.
So I understand why, in this more recent story, it wasn’t the husband who confessed his indiscretions to the wife, but the mistress, after the wife had called her up and asked her point-blank. And I can’t help but wonder whether she, the mistress, is feeling guilty or smug; I would imagine a combination of both.
Fast forward a few years of my life: Europe, wedding, a new job, and then I met Doug. And didn’t I do to my ex-husband exactly what this acquaintance of mine just did to his wife?
“No,” interrupted the mutual friend who was telling me the story. “Because you were already separated.”
“Not separated. But, we were fighting a lot. It was going that way.”
I have to ask myself, though: was it going that way? I mean, did my ex-husband know it was going that way? Or did he think everything was fine as I was slowly pulling away, so that he really did wake up one morning, like this wife did, to the sudden realization that his marriage was no longer worth saving?
Sure, I want to hate this guy, and the girl he cheated with. I think that’s natural, and normal, and healthy. But I can’t help but remember how much I suffered in the weeks and months following my divorce: people at work called Doug a home-wrecker (even though they’d never met my ex-husband and had no loyalty to him); some shunned me altogether; my brother told me if he ever saw Doug again, he would kick his ass (they’re now best friends). When I think back on that time, even now, I feel the incredible injustice of everyone seeming out to get me, while I was, whether they believed it or not, struggling with the end of my relationship and the loss of my life as I thought I’d known it. So part of me wants to reach out to the husband in this story, just a simple, “Hey, I’ve been there. Let me know if you need to talk.”
What would I say, though? I’ve been self-accused, tried, and judged to be the asshole in my own divorce. As much as I wanted people on my side during those months, I wouldn’t have been on my side during those months either – which makes me all the more astounded by, and grateful for, the ones who were.
That being said, I have to remember that my stories are different from this story. The couple I came between did not split up; they went on to get married, and last I heard, were working through it, even after the full list of my ex-lover’s indiscretions had come to light. And although I might have been pulling out of my marriage without my ex-husband’s knowledge, it didn’t end because I’d been cheating on him; I cheated on him because it was already over – there was only about a week of overlap. I’m not proud of either of these situations, but they’ve contributed to making me who I am, and I’ve come out the other side a better person, with a broader understanding of the world. And I am damn lucky to never have felt the pain and betrayal of that third side of the story.
This is what I owe to the cheater and the mistress, as someone who has been in their shoes: I will not talk shit, I will not ignore them, I will not treat them any differently. But I’m a few years older and wiser now than I was in college or during my divorce, and my heart has made it pretty clear that, this time, I’ll be supporting the wronged party, instead of the parties in the wrong.