A few days ago I was watching a TV program…ok, it was Oprah. Anyhow, she interviewed Men Who Cheated. As I turned it on, I wondered to myself if it was a good idea. I mean, I tend to have a touch of…um…ire for such men.
On the whole, however, I didn’t get angry at them. They were just people, struggling with understanding and living the choices they’d made. There was ONE guy who kept blubbering like a little girl, and I did want to stomp on his instep just ONCE, but that was a fleeting sort of thought.
After talking to the men, Oprah talked to the couples together. In that discussion the question came up: why do women get so angry at the “other woman?” After all, these women aren’t the ones who took the vows; they aren’t the ones who betrayed them. How could they LIVE with the men who’d wronged them, but continue to seethe at the women they had been involved with?
That question stopped me. Why?
I thought about it for days, reliving my own experience.
My ex told me he was sleeping with someone else when Raphael was four months old. I remember the moment. I had known something was wrong – how could I not know? Logic would have pointed to an affair, but I was not terribly logical at the time.
“Could there be someone else?” a friend asked. I thought about it carefully for a moment, and then shook my head.
“No, not him. He couldn’t. I’d know.”
Then that day he looked at me and said,
“Today’s gonna be a hard day for you.”
“Why?” I said, hoping he wouldn’t answer.
“There’s someone else.” Silence, then as if I need the clarification, “a woman.”
It was like a chemical reaction flooded my body. Love turned to acid, and it burned every part of me. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t think. I desperately wanted him back, I desperately wanted him dead. I wanted to die. The shame, the pain, the disbelief. Don’t say that, don’t let it be true. When I had been home with our children, he’d been with this woman…
A click sounded in my brain, and I turned from the chaos inside me at the thought of him. I turned to the thought of her.
Now THAT was something I could deal with.
I called her names. Whore, I spit, slut.
For months, years, every time I saw a little blue Honda like hers, that fiercely self righteous rage swept over me again. I drank it in, because I needed some sort of strength. Thinking of him sucked the air right out of my lungs, left me weak and mute. But thoughts of her caused the hair to stand up on the back of my neck. Muscles tensed and I could feel for a moment the rage I needed.
After all, I didn’t know her. I didn’t care about her. I could hate her without harming myself. It seemed.
“Why do you care about her? HE’S the one who wronged you,” my mom said. I nodded, acknowledging that she was right, and turned away to seethe quietly, where no one could see.
Just today I drove past a little blue Honda. It’s been a long time since I’ve watched for her car, but perhaps because of the things I’ve been thinking about since the Oprah show, I looked at it again. It wasn’t her, of course, but I realized that it wouldn’t matter if it was. As the acid receded, so did my need to hate her. She isn’t the demon I made her out to be, just a person with problems of her own. One of those problems is my ex, and I don’t envy her at all.
I could say I wish I hadn't given her so much thought, I could wish for a more sane and serene reaction, but the truth is we use what we have to in order to get through the hard times.
I like to think that if I were faced with her today, my reaction would be a shrug. I wouldn’t have to react for the same reason I reacted so hatefully then.
It’s not about her.
It never was.