Lately, my mind has been tripping along the roads of fidelity and commitment. Of open relationships and the meaning of poly. Of being an adult and married with a kid. Of being seen as “straight” forever. For-Ev-Er. In other words, lately, my mind has been exploding.
Today I read an article about how blaming the other woman when a man (or woman) cheats on a man is anti-feminist. When I first read it, I agreed with it. Of course, a relationship is a pact between two (or more) people. Sometimes, the support of their friends is included. Therefore, if another person comes in and stirs the mix, why would it be their fault at all?
A lot of people agreed with me. After all, it makes sense in the feminist, poly, queer world that a relationship belongs to the people inside it, because they are the ones who constructed it and they are responsible for its care.
But perhaps my thoughts were too black and white. There are always shades of grey. What if she knew the man was in a relationship? What if she knew it would hurt the other woman? What if she was friends with them? Surely, she bears some responsibility for the pain that is felt when a relationship is snuffed out ‘before its time.’ (And what if it wasn’t before its time? What if the couple was clinging to a dead shell, then is she forgiven? Thanked?)
Really, it comes down to the concept of greater social responsibility- a contract between every living being to not hurt each other, to care for each other, to support each other. The unwritten rules of dating and marriage- that after x many dates a couple becomes exclusive, even if they have not talked about it, that one friends backs off when their friend likes a boy, even if they also like him, that the romantic relationship is the most sacred. (Here’s a hint- it doesn’t have to be).
For those of us who immerse ourselves in feminist, queer, or poly culture, we spend years deconstructing these latent social agreements. We redefine commitment. One man, one woman? What about two women? What about three men? We tear down the ideas of what relationships are and then we actively build our relationships. In order to build a new contract between two people- one that has room for exploration, for homosexuality, for gender queerness, for multiple partners, or even for gender equality- we first destroy the assumptions that are socialized into us from the greater social contract since birth.
It is easy, sometimes, to forget that the greater social contract- the one that we deconstructed in our own lives, is still there in the lives of people all around us- that they adhere to it and respect it. It is hard, sometimes, to learn how to trust those that we have not negotiated our basic contracts with- to trust that they adhere to a certain basic moral code.
Am I making things up? Possibly.
I had a friend who was the other woman. I was never angry with the man who left me for her, simply because we had no commitments, but there was a deep unspoken commitment with her. I had thought she was my friend. I spent countless hours confiding to her the way I felt about that man and she never shared how she felt. I felt she pulled the rug out from beneath me in a way I don’t think I would have minded had she been a stranger or even a friend who I didn’t talk about that particular relationship with. So that expectation is still there. That you will respect my relationships if we are socially intimate.
I remember being the other woman. I hated it when I found out. I felt guilty and, in many ways, used by the man that I had come to trust. I still slept with him though. To this day I can’t say why, besides that there was an undeniable attraction between us that demanded to be explored and I was an impulsive 20-something with little self-control. Would it have been different if I had known his wife? Met her? Seen a picture?
What it comes down to is that we live in a huge social contract that can be complex and difficult to negotiate and, at times, altogether wrong. But we cannot explicitly build every relationship in our lives. As purposeful and honest as we may be, something will remain inherent, unspoken, believed. There will always be faith and there will always be trust, and with that comes a certain responsibility, not only to our relationships, but to the relationships of others.
As a young woman, I was greedy. I desired so very much. As I get older, I realize that what I really value is simple happiness and joy in those around me, and I would love to take some responsibility for my part in building that.