The summer after I graduated high school, I moved by myself to an apartment in a college town. I was new to the city, didn't know a single person, and eagerly looked to make friends. Luckily, my apartment complex was comprised of mostly college students who were taking classes or working at internships. One morning, I met my two next-door neighbors, who I will call Alan and Curtis. They were juniors going into their senior year, and hanging around for the summer to take a class or two. We became friends (well, one of them I became more than friends with).
Alan and I hooked up all summer. I wasn't interested in anything more than a friend to have fun with, and he felt the same. It seemed like the perfect arrangement. Then, a week before I was supposed to start a new lease, I learned that Alan had a girlfriend.
I immediately confronted him. After a few weak attempts at trying to justify his behavior by claiming they were "on a break" or that "she wouldn't care," I threatened to send her a message to see if that was true. Suffice to say, he confessed: they had been together for two years, and he wasn't sure if he wanted to stay together. He hadn't meant to sleep with me, and he still loved her, so he wasn't sure what to do. She was his high school sweetheart, and she still lived in his hometown, so they had a long distance relationship and it was so hard. I felt awful. I had unknowingly become "The Other Woman."
I debated what to do for weeks. Should I tell his girlfriend? Should I ignore it? Should I key his car on her behalf? Was there some sort of womanly loyalty that created a duty between her and I? I drafted a two-page message to her, filled with apologies and sincere dismay at having to be the bearer of bad news, but I still had doubts over whether it was my place to tell her. A small part of me believed that it was none of my business. Still, this was the first time I had encountered this kind of situation and I simply didn't know what was the morally right thing to do.
My friends all rallied around me and supported me telling his girlfriend. "Wouldn't you want to know?" they asked. "I would!"
So, with doubts still lingering in my mind but quieted a lot by my friends, I sent the message. Nothing happened for two days. I sat on the edge of my seat, nervously waiting for a response. I hoped that she would thank me for telling her the truth. I imagined that she would be cool and polite and say she was going to break up with him now. He would be the ultimate loser in this situation when we both dumped him. It was very John Tucker Must Die, in my mind.
That, of course, didn't happen.
On the third day after sending the message, I received a horrible, hated-filled email that condemned me for sleeping with him, even though I did it unknowingly. If I felt awful before, this definitely multiplied that feeling. Alan also texted me, telling me I was a terrible person for trying to break them up even though I didn't want anything to do with him anymore. At that point, I thankfully moved. I didn't communicate with either Alan or his girlfriend again. But I later heard that he and his girlfriend ended up staying together.
That was the first time I hooked up with someone else's boyfriend. It wasn't the last, but it was the last time I felt that guilty and responsible to right the "wrong."
I don't go around looking to hook up with unavailable men, but I'm tired of my friends telling me I should feel guilty about hooking up with someone else's boyfriend. I shouldn't be the one who feels guilt or a responsibility to monitor other people's relationships. I shouldn't bear the burden of having to ask if he is single, or taken, or in a complicated situation. It is his job to avoid hooking up with anyone if he is unavailable. I came to this conclusion after two men didn't tell me they were in a relationship and after my own personal experience.
A few years ago, I was the girlfriend whose boyfriend cheated on her and had the other woman tell me. It was probably the worst emotional pain I've ever felt. The sadder part is that I continued dating the guy who cheated on me for another year! I didn't trust him ever again, though, and that poisoned the relationship into a slow death.
At first, I blamed the other woman. She enticed him. She knew he wasn't single. She still went for it. I focused all the hate and blame on her for months and it was oh so easy to pardon my boyfriend's behavior. Then I realized the hypocrisy of my own thoughts. My boyfriend was the one who was supposed to be monogamous to me, not her. Even if she enticed him with every seductive tool in her belt, he still made the ultimate decision to cheat on me.
When you are in a relationship with someone, you both enter into a monogamous — or whatever you decide — agreement. You make promises to each other. And that contract is solely between you two. The third person has nothing to do with it.
If someone makes the choice to cheat, that is the person in the relationship's fault, not the outsider. They were the one who broke the promise to their partner. But it is all too common to blame the third party , like my experience with Alan's girlfriend, and my own previous relationship.
I think it becomes all too easy to shift the blame completely to the "Other Person." I felt better when I did it. I loved my boyfriend at time and didn't want to see him as someone with such a capacity to hurt me. It was so much easier to see a stranger as the villain. But I don't think that is fair. Because she was a stranger, she didn't owe me anything. He did.
So now I don't worry about guys' relationship status. I don't plan on actively seeking unavailable men — not really my thing — but I don't take on the burden of trying to discern the truth. My default assumption is, if you are flirting or hitting on me or wanting to hookup, then you are single. If I find out otherwise, it isn't my business, and I don't feel guilty for your decisions.
If I hook up with your boyfriend, don't expect me to feel bad. I probably didn't do it on purpose, but even if I did, he is the one who betrayed your trust.
Place the blame where it belongs — on the cheater.