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“Besides a few minor gripes about his wife’s quirks, he described himself as happily married…”
How Tina Became The Other Woman
For two years, Tina* and Brandon, both thirtysomething account execs at a marketing firm, were work buddies. They sat together through snore-inducing meetings, bounced client ideas off each other, had lunch together in the canteen several days a week, clinked countless drinks after long work nights, even swapped stories about their love lives.
Tina had been in and out of a few relationships, and Brandon, besides a few minor gripes about his wife’s quirks, described himself as happily married.
Then one night after work, everything changed. “He grabbed me first, I think,” Tina says of that initial kiss. “All I remember is that it was an incredibly hot moment. We just surrendered to it.” And just like that, Tina, an attractive, successful, sensible, independent woman, launched into a year-long affair, stepping into a role she never thought she’d play: the Other Woman.
The media has traditionally depicted the Other Woman as either a lonely psycho (Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction), a young Lolita desperate for male approval (Mena Suvari in American Beauty) or a dim-witted bimbo plotting social advancement. But now there’s a new breed of Other Woman who, like Tina, doesn’t fit the stereotypes of slut or sad-sack.
If the other woman is no longer a social pariah come to tear your marriage to shreds, then who is she?
Could She Be You?
According to an online poll conducted by Women’s Health International, she might be you. Though 79% of respondents said it was never acceptable to fool around with a taken man, a surprising 46% admitted to having done it – and more than half said they felt no regrets. Even more intriguing, when asked whether you’d rather be a mistress or a deceived wife, more than 62% of you opted for the former.
What gives? Is being the Other Woman truly losing its stigma? Are husbands no longer off-limits? And, hey, whatever happened to the vaunted sisterhood – aren’t women supposed to be watching each other’s backs?
What’s in it for Her?
There’s still an assumption that the Other Woman has a premeditated plan to displace the missus and become Wife No. 2. While that stereotype may apply to some, it’s based on the belief that most women are looking for something quasi-permanent. In fact, a woman may take the plunge into an affair precisely because she knows it will be short-term. Nearly 62% of poll respondents who have had affairs with married men said their forbidden fling wasn’t part of any scheme to snag a husband and that they had no desire to marry the guy.
The majority of Other Women we spoke to said they actually didn’t set out to sleep with someone else’s significant other. And of all poll respondents, a little more than 44% said that a man’s “taken” status had no bearing on his appeal; they just wanted him.
Sometimes a man’s troubled marriage can provide the springboard for dalliance. The chance to play saviour is a common reason women end up in bed with men who are already taken, says Mira Kirshenbaum, a couples therapist and the author of When Good People Have Affairs: Inside the Hearts and Minds of People in Two Relationships.
We Can’t Resist – It’s In Our Genes
Whatever a woman’s motivation to bed another’s man, there’s plenty of evolutionary research to explain the behaviour. Scientists say mate poaching happens in almost every society on earth; it sparks an estimated 10 to 15 percent of all romantic relationships, according to a survey of nearly 17 000 people worldwide by evolutionary psychologist Dr David Schmitt.
“From a historical perspective, women compete with each other for the best mates,” says evolutionary psychologist Dr David Buss, author of The Evolution of Desire: Strategies of Human Mating. “Mate poaching is an effective strategy because high-quality men are often in scarce supply, so women are in competition for access to them.” In other words, when it comes to choosing a mate, evolution has shaped individuals to look out for numero uno – sisterhood be damned.
How Sacred is Marriage, Anyway?
Why are “Other Women” no longer shunned? Because, some experts believe, our views of marriage are changing. With the divorce rate hovering so high, it’s not unreasonable to assume a huge number of husbands will be back on the market eventually. And a number of studies have shown that about half of all married men and women have cheated.
These stats may explain why we no longer instantly brand any and all mate poachers as devil spawn and why so many women are willing to compromise other people’s commitments.
As a culture, we understand that relationships are complicated and change over time. “We no longer expect most marriages to last a lifetime,” Kirshenbaum says, “so when a woman gets involved with a married man, or vice versa, it doesn’t shock us the way it used to.” We almost expect it. (That doesn’t mean we think cheating is justified: in the poll, 57% of respondents said they respect a woman friend less if you know that she has been with a taken guy, and 77% have less regard for a male friend who’s been unfaithful.)
But if you would sooner be single forever than tramp all over another woman’s heart, here’s some consolation: according to our experts relationships that stem from extramarital flings are as shaky as Patsy’s sobriety. One survey, of 4126 male business executives, found that only three percent of those who left their wives pursued a serious relationship with their mistresses. And 86% of Women’s Health poll respondents who’d cheated said that they didn’t end up with their poached paramour either. That’s good news for women who are after fleeting fun, but anyone expecting lasting happiness with a borrowed man isn’t just deceiving a fellow female – she’s kidding herself.