I’ve never really set out to be “the other man,” but it’s happened a few times.
In my early 20s, I was a bartender for a while. Like all bartenders, I would occasionally take a girl home. Because I am a gentleman, I would drive her back the next day. One night, I met a woman and when I gave her a ride home in the morning her husband was sitting on the steps of her house. As I pulled up, she started yelling, “Drive! Drive! Drive! Drive!” So I drove away but he started running down the middle of the street, chasing us until we got out of sight.
I asked her if she wanted to come back to my house and try to figure it out. And she was like, “No, I’ll just get out here and go back.” And so I dropped her off a little ways from her house. I had no idea she was married, but I probably would have taken her home anyway even if I had known. I had very little guilt during that particular period in my life.
My next experience being “the other man” was also an accident. I was an extra on a movie, and there was a bar scene and they sat me with this beautiful woman. We had to sit together for ten hours while they were shooting, talking the whole time. It sounds crazy but we fell in love. Eventually, we stopped paying attention to the fact that they were filming and started making out. Right at the end, when we were ensconced in this dark corner of this fake nightclub, her husband showed up. We were so involved that we didn’t see him. The movie was being shot in Hong Kong. We were both staying in the same hotel. After seeing us kissing, her husband went back to their room, took all their traveler’s checks, all their money, cleared out their bank account, got on a plane, and went home. And so I went from basically having a one-night stand to having a dependent in a ten-hour period. We got married and stayed together for ten years.
Later, in my early 30s, after I was divorced, there was a woman whom I was working with, and we had always been very chummy. When she resigned she said, “We’re all gonna go have drinks. It’s my last day. Will you come?” She gave me the name of the place and when I showed up, it was just her. I knew she was married, and I knew her husband was out of town. She was moving, that’s why she quit her job, and he’d already moved, so she was going to join him. She didn’t tell me at the bar, but the next day she said she had decided not to move. She called her husband from my apartment and they had a huge fight on the phone — then she jumped in a cab and went home. I felt really uncomfortable. Then he used star-69, called me back, and told me that I was a bad person. It was tough because I didn’t love this woman. I thought this was a very no-strings-attached kind of thing. We did end up going on a couple of dates afterward, but she was establishing her independence in probably the most hurtful way she could think of. She wanted to unravel her life.
I would like to think I’m not such a bad person that I would truly ever be a kind of premeditated version of “the other man.” That kind of hard-core pursuit happens either at bars, which is sort of predatory, or in the office, where people are sort of thrown together in weird power relationships. I’ve been able to fool myself at several points into thinking that it’s fine, because in each particular circumstance, it seems very okay. And, you know, I’m not this firm believer in monogamy being the only way two people should be together.
In retrospect, it seems to me that the times I ended up in situations like that it was because the woman I was with was desperately unhappy and looking for a way of exploding her relationship. I’m sympathetic to that, especially if you marry really young or if you marry someone wrong. And because of the way we’re set up in the world, it seems like a very hard thing to get out of. It’s so very hard to justify it to yourself. Like, “Yeah, I’m gonna leave my husband and my kids.” A woman doing that is going against the stream of a lot of societal pressure. Women have it much harder when it comes to those choices. I think it’s possible to have extramarital affairs that don’t blow up relationships, in theory, but I don’t know of any that haven’t been damaged by them.
The only way it might work is if you thought, I’ve met the love of my life. The fact that she’s married is a detail. They’ll just break up and get divorced and we’ll get married and then it’ll be fine. I know a lot of people who have done that — people who are married to somebody they met while that person was married to someone else. And some of those relationships are happy and long lasting, but I think everybody has to save themselves. And the damage we do is inevitable anyway; those people are going to break up no matter what, so why should we deprive ourselves of happiness? But the older I get, the more I get interested in long-term, lasting relationships. My life revolves around people more than it has for a long time.