For “The Other Woman” … Second Hand Love, Part One

When you say the words “the other woman/man,” our culture immediately conjures up the idea of  a demented mistress that is out to boil the rabbits of children everywhere.  The “other woman” is a black  widow spider, a thief and a home-wrecker.  We personify this person – man or woman – as a sex siren with no regard for others.  It’s a social black hole: with martial indifference and infidelity at a record high, we’re still assuming that the person caught in a triangulated relationship is both a.) willfully hurting another person (the spouse) who is held up as duped and not complicit, and b.) intentionally attempting to break a bond forged by God himself and written on a stone tablet as meant-to-be.


Not so much for me.

“Meant to be” is a rough sell in my world of writing romance fiction and listening to real world heartbreak.

I’m going to admit in advance that this article isn’t going to condemn or support love outside the lines…it’s going to discuss it.  It’s free thinking out loud.  You may click “go somewhere else” as you chose.  What this is … is brutally honest.

Reality check: Relationships are messy ground, full of human emotions and lots of problems.  While inherently worthwhile, relationships are both our brightest moments and our most serious downfalls in the human race.  “Married” is a complex network of fulfilled promised, unmet expectations, personal growth, compromise, friendship, love, respect and intimacy.  Throw one thing off whack and you’re out of balance ~ and the truth is most of we marrieds are out of balance.  That includes the religious folks, the rich folks, the poor folks, the city folks, the country folks… if you’re human, you qualify.  Relationships are at best a moving entity on a bumpy road fraught with uncertain turns and intermittent bad weather.

I promise you now that if a married person is acting in a not-so-married-way the real issue is between the two folks in that relationship.  It’s hard to hear for the women and men on the outside who were promised a bliss filled forever that will most likely never materialize.  You see, the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.  Psychology 101. All of us have to learn that the way to deal with a failing relationship is not to get into another relationship.  It’s really hard to wear two pair of shoes at the same time.  That’s not a moral indictment – it’s common sense.  If that person you’re in love with is married ~ and not to you ~ they’re not available.  They’re just not.  I mean in the sense of being totally present in your relationship in a way that makes it bloom and grow. I don’t care if they’ve lived in the same house but separate for ten years.  I don’t care if they’re not physically intimate.  I don’t care if she doesn’t support him emotionally or he doesn’t understand her.  I don’t care if they’re staying for the kids (and many miserable marriages are doing just this). Something about that relationship is keeping a foothold in their future, and their now.  If that was not the case, they’d be a divorced person.  For today’s correspondent, that includes married people who aren’t living together, even if they’re “seeing other people.” You see,  they’re not done yet.  Past behavior indicates that when the going gets tough, this person will seek solace elsewhere over talking it out with their significant other, making a decision and following through with it.  An affair is a way to escape reality….and the fact that they’re not willing to make hard choices about changing it.

The “affair” word leads us to beleive that its’ a cheap tawdry thing that has no substance or promise.  Most of the people that I know who have an affair are honestly desperate and hungry for love, make promises that they honestly wish they could keep and are two reasonably decent people in bad circumstances.  Add in a hurt spouse who has a bad case of broken trust and you have an emotional landscape filled with dangerous landmines for all.  Most “other men/women” aren’t sirens at all – they’re great people who are funny, loving and really want to care for people.  Yes, some of them are sleezebag buttheads.

Do affairs work out?  Divorce rate is WAY high.  It can happen, though. My step-monster (a loving term) might have been the other woman, but she was a GREAT wife…and so was my Mom.  It was just that after eight kids, my Dad realized that he really didn’t love my mother, and hadn’t in a long, long time.  The truth is that they’d grown in 25 years of marriage into really different people and hadn’t done the work of that TOGETHER.  My step monster had nothing to do with the fact that they were living the miserable mamba, my Dad way more than my Mom.   Mom was busy with life – kids, scouts, house.  That was her “affair” or her place to hide from the fact that they didn’t communicate and had no idea how to.  Many people just don’t care to, in all honesty.  Add the stress of the kids and you have abuse waiting to happen.  So that idea that the other woman is a home-wrecking bitch is wrong in about 90% of the cases who abound; the other ten percent should put their rabbits someplace safe.

I’ve received many emails here at THM from men and women who believed that the love of their life had come and gone.   Some variation of the following:

“Alison, he’s married/I’m married/we’re married…I know it’s wrong but I’ve never felt this way about anyone before.” 

Let’s be clear – I’m not here to crucify these folks but to offer them understanding and love. I have been one of them.

If your the wife or husband of an affair person, I want to support you too. I have also been in your shoes, too – after ten years and two kids.

So here is the deal, peeps.  This article is intended to help everyone move on and see the world from the prism of “all of us.”

“Dear Alison:

I started dating a friend of ten years after he told me his wife of 28 years cheated on him and wanted to see other people. They had been living apart for awhile. I went against my principles by dating him because I stay far away from married men but at the time my Dad was sick and we thought he was dying and I really needed the intimacy.

He said they never had good sex. He said he never felt for her the way be felt for me. He said he loved me and they would divorce. Once she realized he would be okay without her she decided they needed to talk about things for a long time to see if they could work it out. He told me he was inclined to let her have her way. So I ended it. I deserve more than 2nd hand love.

So I realize that if he isn’t the one then it’s best we aren’t together because that makes room for me to meet someone better.  I don’t look back with rose colored glasses. He was a great boyfriend in most ways but not do great in others (i.e. he is married and still in love with his wife).

I still find it hard to let go. I miss him every day and wish we could talk. But we can’t. And I hate that our friendship (the one we had prior to our romantic involvement) was sacrificed to save their marriage.

He cares about me. He would still talk to me if I wanted to. But I know that will only give me false hope so I cut him off. But I hate it. He may not be the guy for me, in fact I know he isn’t because he loves her and the guy for me will only love me, but I still miss him and don’t seem to want to let go.”

Dear Second Hand Loves:

First know that I am sending you my absolute love and affirmation.  I am so sorry that you’re going through this hard time.  Although it doesn’t feel like it right now, you’re going to come out on the other side as a better person – if you chose to.  I hope that I can help you take a couple steps in that direction.

For all of us, lets learn how to analyze what’s going on for real here.  My Secondhand friend has a wealth of info at her disposal.  Before she lept into the pool of eventual bliss and pain, her gut said “don’t do this.”  I remember that one day, I was sitting next to the man that I’d found myself falling in love with thinking “Run, Alison.  Run like hell.”  I loved him, girls and boys.  I didn’t want to run ~ and I stay away from anything that makes me think of what used to be.  I don’t really remember it right anymore, and I know my imagination is a powerful thing.  I know where I belong, and that place is not it.  See, the gut won out after all. Lesson One: Listen to your inner knowledge.

Lesson Two: Learn from reality. Yes, part of me (the part that seems to enjoy being in pain) is really glad that I didn’t run, but much of me – most of me – wishes that I had.  You see, our gut often tells us what our emotions and hormones won’t let us process.  “This isn’t the guy/girl for you.”  Maybe that is forever, maybe that is for right now.  I can’t be the person that tells you that.

Lesson Three: Promises aren’t golden. “He said/she said.”  Okay, we realize that you’ve been somewhat duped by promises that he made and cannot make good on.  He was that way when you got him – breaking the first promises he made – and if you look back, you can see that.  What I can say if that for all the times that my “Big” said I love you, I also knew that he was fighting a war within himself over the girl he’d dated when he was 17 – the one he married?  I heard the duplicity of it all, that one sided plea for my understanding.  We were friends first, too.  I never intended this to happen.   I heard everything he said about loving her like a person, not being in love with her.  We had so very much in common and passion for life that was uniquely matched. He talked about being so lonely he could just die…and I felt the same.  I listened to him talk about knowing that the moment their kids left home, he would too.  I know what he said about the woman he wanted to leave – the one that he was so desperately unhappy with.  The truth is that what we’re hearing as “other loves” isn’t what the spouse is likely hearing.  You see, in the light of day, my Big was more willing to tell her what she wanted to hear than what he really felt.  One of the two wasn’t really true – and then I realized I was okay with that, and what I was hearing was his inner needs coming out to be met the only way he knew how.

We learn to endure lots not to endure the pain of change or losing other people’s respect.  That really did mean more to him than than I.  I was a second hand love – and to silly to see it.  I realized why I didn’t want to stay in that relationship. In reality, I wasn’t willing to settle for how he treated me, his life or the reality of being a partner.  He was to inconsistent and to emotionally unstable for me.  Most people who engage in affairs are just that – emotionally unstable.

Life Lesson 4: If your love is afraid to dive into the waters of leaving without being wet first, you have your ultimate answer.

Life Lesson 5: Married people act as a unit…part of the time, and even when they really suck at bring married . Secondhand, I doubt that his wife changed her mind about her husband becasue you were out there….she’s not going to make a life choice becasue she doesn’t want you to have him.  She changed becasue of what he said to her and their history and what she feels for him. She’s going to choose the pain that she knows and decide if it’s worth it to her.  Maybe that is today, maybe it’s a decade from now.  I know that is easier to think she just moved it at the right moment of vulnerability with him – it kind of puts her in the decision role.  Truth is, her husband started acting differently toward her.  For better or worse, his attitude might have altered enough that she began to rethink the relationship that they once had or at least some idealized version of it.

A marriage is a whole lot like an oil painting by two people – with guest strokes from friends, family, community, etc.  It’s about the choices that we make and the love that we give. It’s about the created life we lead.  In this marriage, she had an affair as well, so there was something seriously amiss.

Life Lesson 6: Affairs are not always physical, or even with people. I’ve seen all kinds of ways to have somethin-somethin outside of a empty marriage relationship that includes being addicted to being a pulpit pastor, being a “super” housewife, altruistically seeking approval, being an executive and “meeting” constantly, making deals, driving a car like a crazy – sex, movies, reading, shopping, porn, working out….you can fill up a void in a relationship with fiction writing if you have to.  Anything to stop the bleed.  All that “sex is not that good with her” stuff is baloney…he married her.  Maybe their lack of communication killed their intimacy, I don’t know. Sex was not a great surprise to him with her.  The taboo of a new person adds to the excitement of new love.  In reality, it’s the whole been married for long enough to want to plant my seed elsewhere gene that some men have…and some women, too.

Secondhand, you’re really very smart and upfront about it all…and it sounds like it hurts like hell.   I know that you hate the no contact rule, but leave it there.  It gets easier in time.  The friendship is already dead, dear one.  Maybe in many years when you’re totally through the rain – but now, you’re more important.  Ditch the memories and break the ties that bind. The reality is that there is nothing for you to hold on to. Your guy appears to be doing what feels right to him.  You’re holding on to the idea of a person that you want in your life and he’s the template that you’re comparing others to – and that isn’t bad, as long as he doesn’t become some legend that no one can live up to. You see, you’ve formed a soul tie with him through intimacy and love in a really tough time of life for you.  I married my friend of many years who was my closest confident.  There are times that our friendship is stronger than our romantic relationship – lots of times. But when we’re really intimate and crazy for someone, all those emotions are like life glue.  In the natural, emotions that bind us are intended to keep human creatures together in family settings when the tough parts of life get tougher.  It’s a very natural reflex. Unfortunately, soul ties are also a lot like fly paper when you’re in the wrong relationship.

What is a Soul Tie?

Imagine that you’re a body filled with golden, glowing threads.  Some threads poke from your heart, lace themselves around your fingers and are sticky when you touch another person – like when I hug my sister, kiss my Mom’s cheek, tuck my little girl in her bed at night.  These ties, like thin almost transparent golden string, bind me to those people I love by attaching my soul to theirs. We live life together and get those strings tangled all through us.  We need that connection.  We love that connection. When I make love to my husband, there is a bigger, deeper strand of gold that I give just to him.  It’s a choice that I cannot unmake.

We form soul ties with people when we’re intimate. Religion has nothing to do with it, and does nothing to express the deep and abiding presence that stays with a person when a strong soul tie exists.  For months after leaving behind my relationship with a former love I found that we were so bound together it was as though he was haunting every breath I took.

I’d never felt that connected to another human in my life.

How to let something go that wouldn’t let go of me?

I will not abdicate responsibility for letting soul ties form…or for leaving them intact.  Now what?

It took me a while in pain, and lots of failed attempts, but I did learn how to honestly let go by purging myself of the energy other people leave behind.  It’s transferable – but it’s hard.  This is how I teach my clients a process of letting go of others energy.

  1. Understand the idea of human soul energy. To do this you must be able to acknowledge that this kind of energy is possible.  You cannot work with what you will not acknowledge. When you’re connected to one another an exchange of energy happens.  Some people naturally drain all your energy to balance themselves – they’re like soul siphons.  Some people have harmonious energy that mixes with yours to create even more, like soul combustion in a positive way. They feel very complete together.  Some people have a calm or depleted energy that can be overwhelmed by another.  Some souls are energy carnivores.  All of the threads that you’ve created and maintained over a lifetime both feed and feed from your energy as a soul.  That is why other people are important to have in relationship – a balance of give and take that is dynamic and changing.
  2. Visualize the ties that bind.  I will be the first to admit that I couldn’t close my eyes without seeing his face for a long time.  I could feel him all around me.  When I finally made my way off the floor and dried my tears for a few minutes, I also realized that I’d let that “golden thread” simply drain every ounce of love that I had in me.  He expended a huge amount of emotional energy at this time – maybe that is the dynamic of it all.  Over time, I began to visualize that cord to him changing color.  I’d visualize it withering, dwindling, losing it’s hold on me.  When I was angry at the situation, it was easy to say “I’d given it all up” and practice “stop it” therapy.  Neither was true. The reality was that I missed him so very much.  I held on to that dwindling cord, resenting the fact that it was losing it’s hold on me.  I fed it enough to keep it alive.  After the He became an idea instead of a person.
  3. Ask yourself what you’re holding on to.  Why are you holding on?  Broken glass cannot be glued back together to reform what once was.  Big had chosen the same path that I did – and now I see the good in that “goodbye.”  But even with goodbye, it was so hard to let go.  Imagine that cord dwindling again, seeing it come transparent in places, frayed in others.  The cord will naturally atrophy in time – but I have met many people who kept hold of the dying cord, throwing their lives down an empty tube that was severed on the other end.  One THM reader insists that the love of her life some thirty years ago is still her only happiness…. not true.  Her real attachment isn’t to the memory of this person but of an idea.  If he were here, she would barely know who he was.  He, like all other humans, grew and changed.  He chose never to come back to her.  She chooses not to acknowledge that but instead to make a ton of bullshit excuses. What we beleive in our hearts is not always real in humanity.  You must CHOOSE to let the cord fall from your grasp and stop feeding it.  It might happen a moment at a time…but it will.
  4. Visualize the reasons to let go.   When I think of all the reasons to let go, I imagine them as precious stones that are filling up the empty places in my soul.   There were so many good and compelling reasons to let go of this person that I honestly loved – but wasn’t in lasting .  I know me, and what I value.  I love my children, my sister, my family.  Long term, this is what I really care about.  This is what I would give my life for- so why not live my life for it? I imagined people in his life that deserved his wholehearted love and devotion.  I imagined all of the pieces that make me … me.  As a wife, I would encourage people to realize that we wives and husbands aren’t perfect, and our spouses know a lot about us.  We’re together through stuff you never see.  It’s not always pretty.  I can’t imagine my hubster comparing me to a younger, thinner model with fewer stretch marks and many years less life.  My reasons to stay here in my home and life are stronger than any reason I would have to leave – and that is why I’m here.  It’s why you are where you are.  Visualize the reasons that are best for you – be happy that there are unanswered prayers.  You may not be seeing the big picture that women like me (the married ones with less than perfect track records) are living in.
  5. Chose to release the energy back to the universe.  In all the places that the cord begins to fray, imagine that the anticoagulant in your connection begins to fall from you, dripping into the ground, going deep into the earth to the center of its fiery core.  Let it burn clean there and return to the person that owns that energy.  I am standing in this place with a person in my life – I need to finally let the last pieces of that relationship go.  My sister and I are planning to hold our own ceremony on her mountain July 14th (I’m going for birthday celebration.)  We’re going to bring those letters and photographs from my past turn to ash and bury them with our sister and dad in the North Carolina mountains that I love.  It’s time for the energy of the universe to let me free of all ties – and I am ready, too.  But it takes a moment to grieve and be present in that change.
  6. Focus on peace and empty yourself of angst.  Constantly talking over or rethinking the loss of any relationship keeps it alive within you… but not really ALIVE.  You see, it’s like a bug bite – when the bug bites you, it injects you with it’s own necessary chemicals that allow it to consume your energy (the protein in your blood) and to keep that channel open. Your body reacts to those chemicals with an immune system response.  All that redness and itching isn’t the bug – it’s your body refusing an alien presence.  The more that you scratch it, the more your body thinks it’s being bitten.  More swelling, more itching, more redness and there is no more bug juice causing it.  It’s all us.

Continued in a few days with two more letters on Second hand love.  Write in your comments….

Next – For “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do”




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