In Defense of The Other Woman
A cautionary tale
written by: Sheila Levin
Of course, there is no defense of The Other Woman – the one at the office who has seduced your husband; perhaps your husband of many years, and threatened your marriage, to say nothing of the relationship of your husband and your children. Your unhappiness, the crying jags, the utter misery she has caused are unforgivable.
You found out accidentally, or he confessed, or, after you confronted him with his late hours many nights a week, he wept, and then asked for a “separation” to think things over. Things you said, what things?
He is silent, his face flushed, and his eyes have that sad look like someone died.
Ok, that’s one side. Is there another? You both agreed to the vows of marriage, he broke them, he has to pay, and you are entitled to your freedom (even if you do not want it), and as much financial support as your lawyer can negotiate.
You imagine The Other Woman is ecstatic – at last, after all the sneaking around, she has your man to herself.
Only it turns out she is miserable – because he is miserable. He has morphed from a romantic, eager lover to a moping, sad, angry, confused boy. Sex is now absent or at best humdrum. He is overwhelmed with guilt, worried about his children, and frantic about the “cost” of his now impending divorce.
Even if he is a lawyer, he’s hired a lawyer. He needs protection from this woman, his wife, who for five, ten, and 30 years has kept his house, cooked his meals, taken care of the children; called the Doctor when one of them was sick, administered the medicine, arranged for the plumber, the gardener, the food, the laundry – plus, until recently, satisfied him in bed.
He looks at HER, the new one, as if she is a stranger – she is a stranger; she really knows little about him. Their affair is child’s play. Yes, she is attractive but awfully young.
She orders take-out, which is Ok for a little while but gets old pretty fast and by the way, ends up costing a fortune. Not as much as the meals out in candle-lit restaurants which have sent his credit cards into the stratosphere. In short, except for the brief times of lovemaking, he is uncomfortable, a stranger in her home.
He’s brought his razor, but her soap is the wrong kind – he doesn’t like the scent – and there are no good noshes in the fridge. Should he confess he really liked the kind of popcorn one makes in the microwave? He doesn’t have all his clothes, just the bare minimum and he isn’t sure exactly how to deal with her about the dry cleaner – he has to watch his money now, as never before.
He barely remembers how it started. He knew her for a year or so before they had their first drink. He thought she was attractive, with great legs crossed seductively in meetings which displayed her curves. But he had no thought of infidelity – in fact, he was planning a surprise holiday weekend for the wife and himself on the Cape – choosing a hotel and composing a note to her for her birthday.
If it hadn’t been for that one meeting eight months ago, one he and SHE had to attend, that meeting that ran late; he even left the room to call his wife to say he would be quite late, if it hadn’t been for that meeting, and the mutual decision to grab a bite to eat at 10:00, when the meeting broke, and her invitation to make him something at her apartment – not far from where they were – and the charm of her apartment, and the music she put on, and the stiff drinks she poured, and the swift change of her clothes from her work uniform to a cute pajama set, and her leftover pasta with homemade Bolognese sauce and the Gin, and then the wine, – if it hadn’t been for all of those unrelated and coincidental and surprising things, none of this would be coming down on him like a ton of bricks and possibly bankrupting him to the bargain.
The Other Woman too is having second thoughts. While she hasn’t mentioned it yet, she has been married once already. A young marriage, she was 18, he was 20, and it failed the first time he struck her, four months into that contract, although he was not a violent man. He was simply overwhelmed, by the marriage, by the financial and social demands, and at that moment by the news that she was pregnant. It’s too soon, he said, implying an abortion. Too soon? She whispered, too soon, I DON’T THINK SO.
The argument escalated quickly, she said one word too many “murderer”, she called him. He smacked her, she tripped, she lost the baby – they tried to get the marriage annulled, but it was too much trouble, so they went through a no-fault divorce.
The whole episode was less than six months – more than 10 years ago.
He moved, and she never saw him again. She was both ashamed and still wary of relationships since then. There were several men after him, but none she trusted – not like this married man.
Something about him, despite his problematic circumstances, moved her. The way he tipped his hat, the way the hair grew on his back – something she could not exactly define – persuaded her He was The One.
After the first time, they fell into the rhythm of having drinks every evening after work – often going back to her apartment with a buzz on and a growing gorge of lust. He betrayed his wife by telling her she had not only gained weight, but she really wasn’t interested in his work – and the children, well, the children loved him but seemed to belong to her, called for her at night and when they were troubled.
She sympathized, but gave up little about herself – not yet, she thought, not yet.
They meant no harm. At first, it was just a fling – but somewhere around four months in, it started to become more serious.
He knew she was a step ahead of him and was on the cusp of thinking about marriage. She was, he thought, exquisite. Slim, with no scars or spots on her body, except a few below her breast, small, tiny tags, he liked to suck on them. She was smart, much smarter than his wife who was smart about their children but not about money, restaurants, or movies. No, not smart about their entertainment, which she would just as soon avoid. She preferred to stay home and devour bagged popcorn instead of sitting third-row center at the theatre.
She read books, always mysteries, horror stories…and then the inevitable “Honey,” she said, “I think you’d like this”. But he didn’t like “this,” he liked poetry, and O’Henry, and much of Shakespeare.
They didn’t fit, except in bed, he had to admit while smiling, they fit in bed. His smile faded, as he remembered the last few times. Few, fewer, fewest – and, if he was true to himself, not so great, in fact pallid, weak, flaccid, boring.
He fit much better with the other, new, woman in bed. Not perfect, but she was taller, slightly wider, and had a habit of humming, which he found charming.
He could sense with each meeting with the new woman their bond was getting tighter – he knew he would soon have to make a decision. The wife, or the Girl. He could not maintain this double life.
He considered himself a good man and found he was slipping up already with excuses and lies, and nonsensical rationals. It was unfair, to him, to have to prevaricate; it hurt him to betray both these nice women with outlandish and long-winded stories of how hard he worked, how much advantage his boss took; why sometimes, he said, he almost fell asleep at his desk.
So one Saturday, he lied to both of them. Said he was going fishing and would not be back until late.
Not forgetting his fishing gear stashed in the trunk, he kissed them goodbye, first the wife, then the girl, and drove as fast as he could to a lake about 100 miles away with a charming hotel and one-room cottages. He had reserved a cottage, behind the lake. He removed his gear and took a Hemingway book, a thermos of Gin and Tonic and a couple of cupcakes, and some cigars and a blanket and chair and went down to the lake, to think it through. He was determined to make a decision by the time he left the hotel.
He swam, it was just so pleasant, so smooth, and the memory of Hemingway washing over him with the warm lake water.
Before long, he spotted a girl, no more than 18, swimming towards him; long blond hair trailing behind her, a perfect stroke, her head moving from side to side, her kick, alternating legs with precision.
When she reached him, she ducked her head fully under the water and came up, so he could see her eyes, green, and glossy. Hi, she said, my name is Sayora. Hi Sayora, mine is Phil. You’re a terrific swimmer, been swimming a long time?
Yup, since I was five. Phil, she hesitated, I know this is bold, but would you like to have some lunch with me, I have a feeling I’d like to know you better.
He hesitated – but not for long. She was so young, so delicious, such a good swimmer, and not afraid; the way his wife and his girl were, afraid they would leave him, afraid he would not love them, just frightened all the time.
Yes, he said, Yes, I would love to have lunch with you. I came here to think through a problem, and I just think you may have solved it, he added. He smiled then, a smile he had almost forgotten he owned. Yes, he said as he extended a hand towards her to help her into his boat, her bathing suit slipped a little, he could see the top of one breast – lunch, he was smiling again, a ritual beginning.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:
Relationships! The pleasure, pain, satisfaction, disappointment – all of it has always fascinated me. They are so various, so elegant, and yet so brutal – they provide an endless and often satisfying story – but, then, there are the others, the failures, the cruelty, the murder of a once hopeful future.
- In Defense of The Other Woman - February 13, 2023
- Knowing - September 18, 2022