Of late I’ve been hearing a lot about the ‘other woman’ in a man’s life. A court verdict has ruled that a man’s second wife/partner is entitled to property rights just like his first wife and if I am not mistaken this applies to a live in relationship as well. I don’t want to go into the legalities of such an arrangement or argue whether such a verdict would or would not act as deterrent to the not so serious flings that men and women tend to have without the commitment that is called marriage. I merely wish to analyze whether it is okay to paint the mistress/second wife black and call her names just because she involved herself knowingly or unknowingly with a married man? Is there perhaps another side to the story? I know it is easy for me to offer my opinion having never faced such a situation but a few cases known to me make me wonder what went wrong and also if those of us who pass judgment are overlooking the trauma faced by the so called ‘other woman’.
As an undergrad student studying in Trichy some years back when I had neither age nor maturity I remember announcing that if my husband ever had an affair, I’d let him go and have nothing to do with him. There was no point, I argued, in continuing my relationship with a cheating husband. I’d show him the door……. We were actually analyzing the situation in a hit movie and our sympathies naturally lay with the unsuspecting, god like heroine who sang soulful songs to express her agony. She finally forgave the errant husband and the other woman was suitably punished.
My friend agreed heartily but added that she’d show him the door too but only after making life hell for him and his mistress. Others too agreed but suggested punishments like rolling him down the stairs, scooping out his eyeballs etc. etc.
But movies are movies and real life stories are different.
Take for instance the case of Veena (name changed) that took place 40 years back around the time we had the above mentioned argument. She was working in a multinational company and fell in love with her married boss and could do nothing about it. She married him against the advice of well wishers. Her parents in law sided with the first wife and the couple moved to the middle-east. She felt guilty about having wronged the first wife and decided not to have children of her own. Unfortunately her husband died. She continued to support his family-got his daughter married and educated his son. Now with the parents in law passing away, the two women live together and the children love her, if not more at least as much as they love their natural mother. Veena was related to me by marriage and I may be biased in my opinion of her. But I find it equally difficult to be harsh on D…….. who I know only from a distance.
D……. was at the receiving end of life’s blows. Her husband was an irresponsible sadist who troubled and tortured her day in and day out. She found solace in the company of a family friend and finally walked out of her marriage and married him who agreed to look after her daughters as well. She was of course highly criticized and I am afraid I too agreed to the view that walking out of an abusive marriage was one thing but marrying an already married man and disturbing his family life was quite another thing . I agree, hers was a marriage of convenience. I noticed that she had to be fiercely protective of her daughters and could not trust them to remain alone with the step father. Nothing in her life was easy. She educated her daughters, got them married and looked after their children while they went to work. She never for a moment kept them under the illusion that her husband was going to support them, the way a natural father would. There was an invisible line drawn and the girls rose to her expectations. It is not easy for grown up girls to support their mother under the circumstances but they did. She is no more and her husband has gone now back to his first family. The girls are happy attending to one another’s needs. They hardly have anything to do with their step father.
I sometimes wonder if she was happy with her choice. Wagging tongues and prying eyes notwithstanding, she perhaps wanted some protection from her first husband both for herself and her daughters. But even after marrying someone known to her she had to worry about their safety and could not bring herself to trust him. Somehow I am not as critical of her as before. One does not know the circumstances that led to her decision.
What are the circumstances that lead to extra marital relationships I wonder? We see highly educated qualified women agreeing to marry men who are already married and never accord them the same respect that they give their first wives. AG married D soon after her graduation. Her father sensed that all was not well and encouraged her to do her Masters and later to appear for the National Eligibility Test for lectureship. Educating girls and encouraging them to work was unheard of in her family. She realized that her husband was having an affair with a divorcee and walked out of the marriage with her children and took up a job in a new town. Today the second wife is insecure and keeps calling her to know the whereabouts of the husband! And despite the misery she caused, AG is inwardly sympathetic towards her. For all you know the man may be having an affair with a third woman, she says.
I can go on and on. It is easy for one to sympathize with the wronged woman. She deserves all the support that can be given to her. But what about the ‘other woman’?
She is neither respected nor supported. Her needs could have been emotional but who cares for her emotions? She is a home breaker and that’s it. Does anyone ever stop to think of the insecurity she may be experiencing? No one seems to criticize the man who abandons his first wife for whatever reason.
‘Men are like that only’ is the famous refrain. Either the first wife was not smart enough or the second wily, crafty and what not. No one seems to think that both of them cared enough for each other and were willing to face the outcome by marrying against all odds.
I hope I am not giving you the impression that I endorse extra marital affairs. Far from it I feel that in the unfortunate event of falling in love with an already married person, one should insist on proper divorce proceedings. Again I say that it is easy for me to sympathize with the women, having never faced the situation myself. Those who have, know the sorrow that inevitably follows and the sense of inadequacy that one feels for having let one’s husband go. This is not a black and white situation and there are several shades of grey that fall in between.