slyly, Claudia revealed she'd gotten involved with a married man. Yes, she was in love. Yes, he was too. It wasn't that this guy hated his wife -- no, quite the opposite. His wife was his best friend, but it just wasn't the same as when they'd gotten married ...
"Blah, blah, blah," I'd said. I rolled my eyes. I'd been the other woman
at one time, so I knew this whole rap. But Claudia, like most people,
didn't understand that my objections against her little love tryst weren't
based on moral grounds. No, my argument against adultery is purely female self-preservation.
Because the fact is, no matter what the circumstances, if you are the Other
Woman, you will never win.
Michael and I worked together at the same magazine, in different
departments. He'd always seemed a little arrogant to me; I'd watched the
way he sauntered down the hall, looking at the ceiling as
if he were supremely bored with even the mere act of crossing the room. Looking
back, something told me even then he was off-limits, though at that time I
didn't know he was married. He didn't wear a ring, he didn't have any
pictures on his desk, he just plain didn't seem married. What I interpreted
as self-centeredness was the fact that he was, to all intents and
In affairs, things escalate quickly. You go from doing
crossword puzzles together one day to waiting by the phone at an
appointed hour the next. One week you're kissing each other, feeling horribly,
horribly excited and guilty, the next you're looking in the Yellow Pages
under Motels. All emotions are suspect. What is his motivation? Lust or love? What's
yours? Does it matter?
Adultery is wrong for a variety of reasons, all having to do with trust
and commitment and integrity. If there are kids in the mix, you can
multiply the complication factor 1,000-fold. And yes, there is that nagging, terrible guilt that will certainly color your relationship with one another. But my argument against
adultery really has nothing to do with any of this -- it's simply that in
this society, you as the other woman will be branded, and you will get
the lion's share of the blame.
Duh, right? Well, somewhere along the way, we young feminists assumed that
by this point, the sexual playing field was pretty level. This may be true
in some arenas, but not this one. And no one will be quicker
to remind you of this inequity than other women.
At the magazine -- like most publication offices, it was positively a
Peyton Place -- it got out fairly quickly that Michael and I were involved.
Electronic mail was zipping around, ablaze with the hot gossip. Soon, everyone
knew. No one ever said anything to me, but Michael felt his male friends
giving him sidelong smiles, elbowing him, heh-heh, all the while
cracking unsubtle jokes. Not so with the women. The married females were
silently heated, unwilling to confront Michael, yet averting their eyes
when they saw me, talking with an edge of bitterness in voices loud enough
that I could hear tone but not content. The Wives' Union, as I called it, had
been called to order, and while the majority of them didn't even know
Michelle, Michael's wife, they did know that I was Hester Prynne.
I should have just worn a scarlet A on my chest and been done with it.
Though Michael and I weren't sleeping together, it didn't matter. Everyone
thought that we were, and that was enough. Truthfully, at that point
neither one of us cared very much what others thought. And I less so than
Michael, despite getting the brunt of bitterness from the Wives' Union. For
one thing, it wasn't me who was doing the lying. I wasn't married, I didn't
have kids, I didn't know Michelle. For another, the sheer hypocrisy of it
all started to alternately amuse and enrage me. Why was I being held up to
a higher standard than Michael? Was he really just swept off his feet by
this Ms. Trouble, this vixen who cared nothing for anyone but herself,
this ... this ... Homewrecker? It was almost laughable.
Eventually, Michelle found out, and yes, a lot of bile and bitterness
and terrible trauma ensued. His parents hated me; his mother declared she
would never, ever accept me or any children we might have. By this point
I'd moved to New York, leaving Michael, who was by now separated, to deal
with the snake pit on his own. Michelle got my phone number and began a
series of calls, begging me to cease and desist. I felt bad for her, and
yet I was irritated. "Aren't you talking to the wrong person?" I asked her.
"Shouldn't you two be dealing with this?" I felt, and still feel, that all of
this adultery business had very little to do with me, and everything to do
with the dynamic between Michael and Michelle.
They did eventually divorce, and Michael and I did stay together for a few
years. To this day I'm not really certain why we're not still together, but it has something to do with the shaky ground on which it was founded. By
the end I felt worn down, exhausted by the experience and frustrated that
I was expected to take on more of the guilt than he was. Michael was bothered,
it was true -- he stood on an island of responsibility that isolated him
from me. But still, our experiences were different. As a man, he was immune
from the more truly vitriolic feelings of those around us.
"I could go on and on," I told Claudia in summary. "What I want to tell
you is that there is rarely a happy ending." That wasn't entirely true,
since Michael is one of my best friends, but she didn't need to be reminded
of that. "Maybe it won't bother you," I added, "but you'll forever be seen
by a whole segment of society -- mostly women -- as something beyond Ms.
Claudia looked up. "No, not ..."
"Yes," I said firmly. "Welcome to the next level: Evil Incarnate."