My first serious relationship was with a married man. He was decades my senior, my Dominant and my first lover. I don’t have shame saying any of that, and it’s not because I’m smug about being one of the other women, (he had a girlfriend as well) but rather I’m a firm believer in making informed opinions based on lived experience. I’ve always felt it easier to understand things that I’ve gone through, I suppose I need to work on my empathy. Regardless, my relationship with this man, someone to this day I care very deeply about, taught me not just about myself, but about the world, the nature of romance and why I’ve never really been a fan of monogamy.
Shame, I’ve realized, is the first thing people want you to feel when you’re in a relationship with a married person and when you don’t perform shame well or at all, you become the batting ram for all of their relationship insecurities. I believe accountability is important, and despite the tone of this discussion I’d like ya’ll to know I am holding myself accountable for the role I played in someones infidelity, I just won’t turn myself into a villain.
When I met this man, I was 19. For the sake of personal privacy we’ll call him, Issac, now I met Issac like most people do these days, on a dating app, (an app specific to people in the kink community seeking partners). I placed a personal ad and a few days later while I was at work on lunch, I was reading through my messages when one caught my eye. This older man, Issac had messaged me wanting to meet up for coffee and discuss our mutual interest in certain kinks and kinds of play. He was polite yet firm, confident and witty, I was enthralled by him and when he told me he was married, it didn’t deter me. If anything, it made him more appealing because then he wouldn’t expect too much from me. It’s safe to say that relationships are like a mirror for your shortcomings, a physical manifestation of things you refuse to work on until it becomes apparent you won’t be happy until it’s resolved. We set a coffee date in Chelsea for a sunny day in August and by the middle of my fall semester of college, I was in love with him.
They don’t tell you certain things in the movies or the books, the “other women” is rarely narrating her own tale but rather talked about or talked at. She’s mocked, degraded, treated like scum and it’s acceptable. Somewhere along the way, women began to bear the burden of infidelity whether they are the perpetrator or the victim while men skate on misogynistic ideas that excuse any onus of active participation in what for some people is the biggest deception in a relationship. I realized quite early on that all of the sympathy afforded to single women was not available to mistresses. Nobody says “You can’t help who you love”, nobody shares the excitement you have at finally getting to speak on the phone at night freely without fear of getting caught, nobody offers tissues when he makes you cry because he couldn’t show up the one time you needed him to. The mistress is alone, subject to the disgust and vitriol of the world whether she deserves it or not.
And by no means is this a plea for pity. I stand in my truth confidently and I offered up this story because it can lead to more complex discourse, the way it did in my life. During this relationship, I was able to examine the factors that led to me being okay, comfortable even as the mistress. I reminisced about my childhood and how there was no recollection of watching the people in my life be jealous partners. I laughed at the schemes I aided one of my older brothers in, in order to transition between his girlfriends seamlessly. I thought about being the only person in my friend group disinterested in marriage since I was a kid and all of those thoughts made me realize what I believe the sting of infidelity is about: security.
We view relationships as security, be it physical, emotional, financial or sexual, the idea is this person is gonna hold me down and no one else. That train of thought didn’t get birthed overnight, if anything, it was a calculated effort started millennia ago that has chained people to compulsory monogamy to this day. (If you’d like to learn more about that I’ll link one of my favorite books about human sexuality as it relates to monogamy after my sign off) For many people, their partner has filled every role that social creatures such as humans thrive on in communities, your spouse is your best friend, your lover, confidant, spiritual advisor, teacher and student, the list goes on and on. So when a partner decides to become any of those things to someone else, even if it’s to no detriment of you, it’s a betrayal. And to some degree I get that. Sometimes it’s less about what a person’s done and more about the deception, I’ve heard it a million times, “If he would have just told me…things may have been different.” Due to being privy to many of these conversations and seeing the aftermath I know the honesty, sad as it is, rarely lessens the burn. In some cases it makes it worse, cause how could you really regret doing something you told me about so freely? Affairs are complex. The fallout from the discovery of an affair is even worse and though in my experience, his wife never found out about either of us, I always wondered a bit what he would say if she did.
Would he defend himself? Would he deny? Would he claim all the words he said to me and his other mistress were sweet nothings? Possibly, and if he did any of those things, it would have been of no consequence to me because the mistress is invisible, a phantom of perfume and sighed names in sleep, erotic text messages and nudes that were here one day and gone the next. That’s the part I found most interesting, how empty my role can be reduced to for someone who absorbed so much of his life. I knew his life more intimately than was appropriate for our prescribed relationship. If quizzed I could tell you all about his wife, her name and occupation, how she preferred the elliptical to the treadmill as she aged, how hellish her pregnancy with their only child was. I could tell you her favorite flowers and restaurant, where she wanted to travel to when Issac finally retired, the hobbies she picked up with to cope with menopause. I belonged as much to her as I did to him because she was the phantom in my relationship, a gentle reminder that I existed in a delicate hierarchy that would never be disrupted. That knowledge is what made me wise up to the real betrayal.
It wasn’t his whispered words to me, the gifts and attention, it wasn’t the sex in his office at work when he was “catching up on paperwork” that stung. It was the possibility that all the intimacy shared between the two of them was really shared between the 3 or 4 of us. That their whispered conversations filled with frustrations and hopes and conflict and love was public knowledge to be dissected by someone else, someone who didn’t have her permission to know. That I took all of her security and said “gimme that, you’re sharing now.” I was an interloper who knew all the secrets. This level of understanding felt so foreign at first that I ignored it, until all the minor inconveniences of working around his marriage made it a neon sign that wouldn’t stop blinking. What I was doing wasn’t right, I was happily aiding this man I loved in juggling women who didn’t realize they were being tossed around. The empathy came like a wave breaking shore and stuck around because who hasn’t known betrayal? Who hasn’t been sold a pile of dust marketed as gold before? Who hasn’t wanted someone to look them in the eye and mean what they say to them, not just in that moment but forever?
Even having this light bulb moment didn’t make me end things with Issac. I feel it’s important to mention that because I want to be as honest and raw about this experience as I can. It wasn’t a deal breaker which led me to another realization. People are rarely honest with themselves about their deal breakers so when they’re confronted with “faux deal breakers”, (what I’ve more accurately coined “deal benders”) they find themselves at a crux, this crossroads of should I or should I not? I never find myself there. Maybe it’s because I’ve never had much interest in owning people or reserving the right to all of their sexual/romantic energy but to this day I’m not an advocate for monogamy. If anything, being with Issac for those years made me more firm about being in polyamorous relationships. I’m just very adamant about stressing how important honesty is to me because lies don’t only have emotional repercussions but physical , financial and sexual ones as well. I’ve witnessed first hand, participated in it. So, I urge people to have candid conversations with themselves, right that shit down if you have to and list your real deal breakers then structure relationships in a way that respect those boundaries. I’ll share a few of mine for reference.
- My partner(s) should notify me when they have other sexual partners
- Contraception is a mandate when engaging in sexual activity with my partner(s)
- My partner(s) must notify all metamours when seeking additional relationships
- Everyone needs to be honest about their expectations for the relationship
I have more but I feel four is a fair place to stop on this platform, just for the sake of not dragging on because I love to talk about polyam, sue me. (If you want to have more convo about polyam with me, head to my Instagram @shakingsheets where we can chat all day about polyam, sex, dating and all the things!)
Issac and I have since gone separate ways romantically, it wasn’t some huge dramatic production. We just had a conversation about our needs and realized we couldn’t meet each others anymore, very anti-climatic, sorry. I’d be a liar if I said that I don’t still have love for him, he played a huge role in my maturation as a sexual being, a kinkster and an adult, he’ll always have a place in this heart and despite the problematic nature of our relationship (the infidelity and age difference being the most apparent things), I’ll always remember him fondly. How attentive he was when I spoke, how he’d stay on the phone with me for hours when I was commuting after night classes to make sure I got home safe, how he could make my body sing with a few words, those memories will always be dear to me. I’ve just decided to be more careful about the relationships I enter with married people. Namely making sure their spouses are aware of me before things get serious and only engaging in ethical non-monogamy.
For the mistresses and side pieces out there reading this, I want you to know that I don’t blame you. You’re not a homewrecker, you’re not a femme fatale, you’re not a heartless bitch. You’re a human who seeks connection and love and happened to do so with a married person. Anyone who dismisses how difficult it is to leave that position hasn’t experienced it the way you have and probably never will. Allow yourself some empathy even if everyone else says you’re undeserving. Growth hurts but you don’t have to take on other peoples pain as well.
I don’t have any profound words for those who understand or those who wish to villainize me anyway, all I can say is relationships are more complicated than people tend to realize and the key to healthy relationships are boundaries communicated well and early on. The best lesson I’ve learned since dating and attempting relationships is that people show up when you demand it and when they don’t, it’s your job to enforce your boundaries and deal breakers, be confident when vocalizing needs and allow yourself to be vulnerable because it can lead to something special, albeit complicated, but special nonetheless.
The Wives *Not an educational text but an entertaining novel that I think is semi relevant to this post https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/43262893-the-wives?from_search=true&from_srp=true&qid=h9BWI4jJWa&rank=1