Most of our knowledge comes from experience, but if you’ve never experienced a specific situation then you can’t actually know what it’s like. The next best way to understand is by learning about other people’s experiences.
That’s why, for a long time, my only knowledge of who the other woman is came from stories told by friends, and characters I watched on screens. My main takeaway was when a man is in a committed relationship, but cheats on his partner, the person he cheats with, is known as a home-wrecker. Aka, someone who breaks up a home.
My perception of the other woman was someone mischievous and conniving. It appeared her sole joy came from seducing other women’s unwilling husbands and boyfriends as some kind of game — just to see if she could. Everything changed when I woke up one morning to find a voicemail waiting.
The Voice Mail
The message came from a woman’s voice I didn’t recognize. She said her name is Madeline — Brandon’s girlfriend. She said she knew I was sleeping with Brandon and asked me to, “please stop”. No hint of rage in her voice, instead it was shaky and uncertain. Then she hung up.
Well, this is new, I thought.
I’d only been dating Brandon for a couple of weeks. Despite my better judgment, I met him at a club— the first of two guys I’d ever meet at one. Brandon was tall, worked at the Boys and Girls Club helping kids in after school programs, and knew everything I wanted to hear. By the time I received Madeline’s voicemail, I was beginning to think Brandon and my relationship could turn into something more.
I called her back without the slightest clue of what to say. She didn’t answer but when I heard the beep, words came tumbling out. I told her I was oblivious Brandon had a girlfriend. I’d stayed at his apartment more than once and never saw a hint of a girlfriend. I apologized for my part, and promised to break things off, but requested she confronts him instead of me.
I’d never been the other woman before, but this is not what I expected the situation to be. Everything I thought I knew vanished in an instant. What’s the protocol now? My mind was still whirling when Madeline’s number appeared again. Do I answer? I did.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, but her friendly tone wasn’t it. Fifteen minutes later I learned Madeline and Brandon had been together for two years. The bed I’d slept in was theirs, but she’d been away visiting family in Hawaii.
On pure instinct, I dialed Brandon next. His voice sounded groggy as if I woke him, “Good morning baby, why are you calling so early? You know I don’t wake up until ten”, he crooned in my ear.
“Well,” I stated, “I just had a great conversation with Madeline. I’m on my way over”, then I hung up. Honestly, I don’t know what I was thinking. There’s no logical reason for why I went, but I went anyway.
The Doctor’s Appointment
I was about two blocks away from their apartment building when Madeline called again. More news — Madeline and Brandon were trying to get pregnant. She had a doctor's appointment in thirty minutes across town, but Brandon took off with their car after his conversation with me.
Three minutes after offering to take her myself, I spotted her coming out of the entrance. Madeline was tall and slim, with pale skin and the sort of effortless curly red hair I’d only seen on shampoo bottles. Why would anyone cheat on someone so gorgeous? I wondered while flagging her down.
I drove her to the doctors and flipped through magazines in the waiting room when she went in. Her eyebrows lifted when she spotted me in a chair afterward, apparently, she didn’t think I’d stay. I told her there’s no way I’d take her, then abandon her. After all, it wasn’t her fault she didn’t have a ride.
By the time we reached her apartment, we had spent hours discussing our situation and ironing out the lies Brandon created. For example, Brandon was actually an early riser, but Madeline left for work at ten. Which is why he preferred if I didn’t call him before then.
Madeline seemed like a genuinely good person. Confused and hurt by the situation, obviously, but she was kind and compassionate. We found ways to laugh together at the ridiculous nature of the situation and under different circumstances, I thought we could be friends.
She must have had similar ideas because before she got out, she hesitated, then looked at me and said, “Do you want to come up for lunch? Or would that be weird?”
Everything looked the same, well, almost the same. The same burnt orange walls and unmade bed where I’d done more than just sleep. Except now there were pictures of Madeline and Brandon, both together and apart, throughout. Her toiletries returned as did her clothes.
We didn’t eat. Instead, Madeline fretted about Brandon while asking me, of all people, for relationship advice. Her ringtone interrupted her rant, it was Brandon. She put him on speaker while I stayed quiet.
He wasted no time launching into apologizing. I might go so far as to call it groveling. He told her I’m crazy, just some chick he met at a bar who wouldn’t leave him alone, and then he begged to come back and talk.
Madeline ate up every word. Relief washed over her face as she hung up. Less than ten seconds later, Brandon called me. Taking my cue from Madeline, I put him on speaker while she fell silent.
Brandon’s apology to me was almost verbatim what he previously told Madeline, except this time, Madeline was the crazy one. He said he tried to break up with her but she wouldn’t listen. Then he ended it with the cherry on top — begging to come over after he, “broke things off for good”, with Madeline.
These Are the Days of Our Lives
An awkward silence lingered. I went to leave but Madeline stopped me. She asked if I would stay a little while longer, just until Brandon gets back. This way, she figured, we could confront him together and he couldn’t weasel out with more lies.
The look on her face — betrayal, heartache, exhaustion — tugged at my empathy. I stayed.
Excited, Madeline constructed a plan in seconds which consisted of me hiding in the coat closet by the front door. She’d open it partway so I could see through the crack by the hinges. After that, well, neither of us knew. There’s no handbook for this sort of thing.
Me in the closet, her in the doorway, we were both shaking with nerves and anxiety. A moment later, Madeline disappeared into the bathroom then reemerged with one upturned palm. “I’m going to take a Vicodin to calm me down, do you want one?”, she asked while uncurling her fingers to reveal two pills in the palm of her hand.
These are the days of our lives, I thought as I took one. I was just beginning to feel my stomach and muscles ease right when Brandon walked in.
From the darkness of the closet, I watched Brandon launch into another apology. His excuses were the same, but he brought flowers this time. I heard Madeline cry, though I couldn’t see her.
She reminded him about her doctor’s appointment and their plans for a baby. She already told me earlier in the car that she wasn’t pregnant yet, but Brandon didn’t know that, and she didn’t tell him.
Then Madeline turned the conversation back to Brandon’s cheating. Willing my heart to slow down, I listened to Brandon recite the story he already told both of us, about each other. Except at the very end, he added a new creative twist — he told her he’d tried to end things with me that day but I told him I loved him and wouldn’t stop crying.
“I’m sorry, I said what?”, I pushed the closet door open. Brandon’s jaw froze in mid-speech. His brown eyes darted between me and Madeline while registering his new situation. Without another word, he turned and ran out the door, for the second time that day. This time, dropping the flowers in his wake.
Madeline and I turned to each other, then burst into laughter. What else could we do?
Brandon had the guts to show up at my place the next morning, where he was not received, nor acknowledged. I never heard from him after that, but I did hear from Madeline about two months later.
She stayed together with Brandon despite everything. Though she moved back to Hawaii and Brandon didn’t. The Saturday night she called, she was looking for Brandon because he said he’d call her but didn’t.
“Madeline, you seemed like an amazing person, but we are not friends. I’m the other woman, remember? If he didn’t stay faithful while you shared an apartment, what makes you think he will while you live in a different time zone?” I asked, but she skipped right over my questions, and politely asked me to let her know if I do hear from him.
My perception of who the other woman is changed after that day. She isn’t always a sexy villain who spends her time tempting unavailable men. Sometimes, she’s a nice girl who’s totally oblivious to the situation.
Despite the popular storyline, no good comes from two hurt women going after each other when, instead, they can band together against the person who’s actually at fault — the cheater.
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