Recently, Woman’s Hour on Radio Four began asking what it was like to be, and why you may become, The Other Woman.
For me, the experience is, or was, twofold. On one side there is the ego-boosting spell of knowing that you are the glamorous and exotic untouchable in opposition to a monotonous Wife he never has sex with. Instead of being the one who talks of children and becoming a housewife, you are the one who shares all of his intellectual interests and makes pretentious jokes about Art with him. You are never the one who will always be there with any certainty. Maybe you will run away one day, this year or the next and become a Doctor or a novelist or both. He has to book time with you, be a part of your schedule, where as she is always there, even when he does not want her to be. You know that you are the mermaid, the siren, La Belle Dame Sans Merci and this is so much more exciting, so much more luxurious than being faithful Penelope or insipid Georgiana waiting by the stove at home. You are told she would be jealous of you, because you are pretty and dress, as Kate Moss would say, not like a wife. He says you are like a sip of Lapsang Souchong and buys you rosebud tea when she probably just gets Tetley. He says you are the only thing that really makes him happy and that he has never felt like this before – meaning, never felt like this with her. Finally he says he will leave her and buy a Christmas tree with you before the year is out.
But he doesn’t, because part of why he likes you is because you are part-myth. Doesn’t really want to know quite seriously if Cecilia shits or not. Doesn’t really want to know if you would give up your career expectations to have children with him and sort out electricity bills with him. Doesn’t really want to know about the tins you thought of putting in the kitchen. And you say to him, ‘you treat me like Christmas lights – temporarily beguiling and beautiful, but only interesting for so long.’ Strings of Christmas lights wrapped around Harrods, this is what being the other woman is like: briefly infatuating. And whilst you twinkle for a while and then get dismissed and packed away, it is she who then buys the Christmas tree with him. This year and all the ones following.