Saturday, October 31, 2009

The 'other woman'

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.


Sraboney said...

It's easy for outsiders to judge; only those involved know the true dynamics of a relationship...

Renu said...

It is really easy to me to moaralise the situation, as I havent faced it..but I feel that falling for married men is wrong, its more wrong for the woman, as she is hurting another woman.Once married one should follow the commitment , otherwise first get a divorce and then look here and there

Shachi said...

This is a debatable topic. I agree with your thoughts on this. Unless we know the situation, how can we pass a judgement?

Most educated people who get married these days know that they need to be committed. But developing feelings for someone else is not highly abnormal.....there could be various reasons for it. However, at some point, you should be transparent to all concerned and take the right steps to avoid screwing up anyone's life.

Madhumita said...

Marriage is an institution that may not always acknowledge or allow for emotional attachments. Yes, it is about commitment; but it is also naive to be judgemental about falling in love outside one's marriage. What makes a difference is whether or not you act on emotions ... that is really the key. So many factors influence the decisions people make. Its best to keep oneself open to education. And HHG, as always, you rise in my esteem for doing just that. I am never disappointed when I come here :)

Ugich Konitari said...

As you say so rightly, the situation is never black and white, but in shades of grey.

What I wonder is why we always talk about women getting into an affair with a married man. No one talks about the married man who has no business looking for alliances outside. Tali do haat se bajti hai.

We need to judge each case on its own. I know a case where people were actually relieved that the woman walked out on her husband.And what amazes me , is that , so many times, the various wives have a good understanding with each other. ...

Sue said...

There are always shades of gray, HHG, but I personally believe there is also a thing such as free will. No matter how deep your love, you do not break up a marriage. Or help one along its destructive path. I don't know why I'm so judgmental about this, but I always have been and I haven't been able to see it any other way so far.

Hip Grandma said...

Sraboney:i agree and hence this post.

renu:Don't you think that man or woman both are equally responsible for the situation?Why then should a woman accept more than her share of the blame? Society also supports the man and says that as long as the wife is being fed and clothed she should not complain.

Shachi: Being transparent and taking the right steps would be ideal. But for various reasons that may not be possible.

Madhumita Pravin:Love is a strange emotion and it does make one act strange. Having had an arranged marriage I don't know if I really understand the emotions associated with it. Like an employed girl running away with a daily wager not knowing anything about him and feeling insecure the moment he absents himself for more than a few days.Similarly falling in love with an already married person has no logical explanation and is a situation that is better to avoid. At the end of it one gets neither respect nor recognition. The guilt one feels about having ruined another person's life is also not easy to handle. But as I read in an article such relationships are perhaps sought for the emotional fulfillment that it gives. Life's education continues for ever one should be a willing learner that's all.

Ugich:'so many times, the various wives have a good understanding with each other. ...' That reminds me of a college mate whose father married thrice. The first wife had no children so he married the younger sister who was my friend's mother. He married a third woman who was a beauty and attended functions in the college with him. My friend was very comfortable with the third wife whom she called chinnamma. She'd joke saying that the family was actually grateful to chinnamma because she saw to it that he did not marry again. So if the man concerned is the culprit very often the women develop a good understanding.

Sue:I can understand your being judgmental. I was so myself. But in a strange case I know the husband actually confessed to his wife that he was being attracted to a colleague and begged of her to help him overcome his feelings. How many men would feel comfortable saying this to their wedded wife? Or vice versa if it was the woman who was feeling attracted to another man? Their marriage was saved well in time thanks to their mutual trust. Very often the damage is done even before one realizes it. And sometimes it is really no one's fault. Breaking up a marriage is never good, I agree.And if appropriate steps are taken to save it so much the better. But doesn't the onus of saving it rest on the husband/wife rather than the other woman?

Sue said...

The onus lies entirely on the husband/wife, of course. But I also would never get into a relationship with somebody already committed elsewhere. And that isn't hypothetically speaking. I cannot deal with the guilt of breaking somebody else's marriage up.

BTW, Vicky and I had one such conversation. I didn't ask for his help because I'd already made my choices but I did tell him things had gotten a little dangerous.

Hip Grandma said...

Sue:I love and admire you and this is not lip service.

Usha said...

I suppose we can never understand why they get themselves into such a messy and complicated situation. There must be a very compelling reason - otherwise how do you explain some intelligent high-achieving women opting to be the other women in their men's lives and face social stigma, resentment and many times even family support. I am sure they had no legal status until recently.

Manasi said...

Thank you Grandma for this post. I believe women have an equal right to choose their partner. If two married people want to be together no 3rd person can come in between them. It only makes my view stronger that this institution of marriage gets re-defined in every day and age. Even as a happily married woman (I chose my life partner) I don’t think I should follow my very intelligent and accomplished husband everytime.

At every stage of our individual lives we seek different things from our partners depending on how we are growing/maturing in our own spheres. The trick for me has been to keep in mind that I am changing/growing WHILE I keep my eyes ON love as my husband is growing/changing too :-)


shoba said...

What a topic, HHG ! . I don't believe in the institution of marriage, as it is man made and more of a law.It is a convenience for two people to live together.Having said that, once committed to a relationship with another human being, be it a man or a woman, one should be able to keep it up. But,humans are not perfect and our emotions play a big role.
In my opinion,loving someone is easy, but for marriage, just love is not enough.There are lot of practicalities to be considered as living with someone is a totally different scenario with lot of adjustments.Every person's maturity level,personality is different and if a woman falls in love with a married man, I think we should take it at face value instead of being judgmental. As long as the wife is not letting her emotions take over,which is easier said than done, the other woman can be forgiven. All one has to do is put oneself in other's shoes. This goes for the man, the other woman and the wife.
I can go on and on, but if I face such a situation, I have no clue how I would react.I guess it is easier for me to comment about others when I am not in that situation.

Sue said...

Seriously? Thank you. :)

Hip Grandma said...

Usha:When such associations take place in spite of one's best effort I feel like believing in destiny. Or perhaps past life association. Like a story I had narrated earlier about a brilliant IAS aspirant insisted on marrying her father's friend whose children were older than her...No logic can adequately explain these things.

Manasi:'If two married people want to be together no 3rd person can come in between them.'

Exactly. And if it does happen are we to understand that their effort to make their marriage work wasn't enough? The human mind is strange and it tends to get carried away at times. The trick perhaps is to let the heart listen to the head.

shoba:'What a topic, HHG !'

I was wary of your responses and took a while to decide on whether or not to post it. But then I too am a wilful person in my own way and being an Aquarian I cannot help taking up for the underdog.

Putting one's self in another's shoe should help one understand that nothing easy for the wife, husband or the other woman.

sue: :-))!!

artnavy said...

I feel strongly like the hhgmom of trichy on this subject... transparency and trust are so critical to any relationship especially marriage

no room for slyness and cant live happy with if u fall out of love with your spouse- it has to be a clean break....else stay faithful.

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