What it feels like... to be the other woman

Does it ever end well?

Being the other woman: A man and woman kissing in a pool
(Image credit: Getty Images)

You'll have heard the phrase "being the other woman": you know, being the other woman someone is with, in addition to their partner. It's a term that's long been used to refer to the mistress, the lover, or the single person engaging in emotional or physical relations with another person who's already taken.

It's common to read stories of people who've been cheated on: stories of heartbreak, despair and trust issues, shock, turmoil and deep, deep hurt. That said, hearing the version of events from the person who instigated the cheating is rarer. 

Below Laura* shares her story - of being the "other woman" but being plagued by feelings of worry and guilt throughout the affair. While these feelings will differ from person to person and we're never here to judge, below, she shares her story. 

Take it as a warning, mere words of wisdom or simply a life lesson, and keep reading for one perspective of what it's really like being the other woman, plus a little on why people cheat, from a woman who's done it themselves.

Read our first-persons on open relationships, having your first threesome, and premature female ejaculation, while you're here. 

What being the other woman really feels like

Laura* started dating her now fiance when she was 22 years old - while he had another partner. 

"There's no way of saying it without sounding like a terrible person, but here goes: when my partner and I got together, he was involved with someone else. I was the other woman."

"The phrase "other woman" is already loaded. She's a character, not a real person. She's supposed to be a predator who goes after men in happy marriages for her own selfish gain. Of course, that's not the reality. In truth, I was a slightly lost twenty-two-year-old receptionist with no desire to "steal" anyone's boyfriend. I fell for my now fiance - hard. Despite being with other people, we couldn't stay away from each other."

"I don't condone infidelity. In fact, I think it's one of the worst things you can do to someone as it crushes your trust and can ruin your relationship. If I discovered that my partner had cheated on me I would be devastated - I've never felt good about what happened."

The reality of being the other woman

"Being the other woman is not fun, whatever films and TV might tell you. There was no glitz or glamour - my life looked the exact same as before, except for an increasingly sexually charged friendship with a man I knew I should be staying away from."

"We were both in relationships - my other half was in a short-term, long-distance situation and I was in a long-term open relationship. That said, the chemistry between us was pretty instant. When we met for our first drink (which was, if I'm honest with myself, a date), there was no question that we were going to end up in bed together. It was just a question of how long we'd manage to resist it."

Separating the physical from the emotional

"We didn't sleep together until we'd broken up with our respective partners and we'd only kissed a couple of times. But the real infidelity was emotional. We were messaging constantly, meeting up to hang out without telling anyone and always thinking about each other, wishing we were together. If my other half was going to cheat on me, I'd far rather he indulged in random sex with a stranger than kept it non-sexual but lay next to me in bed thinking about someone else."

"It all came to a head one morning I woke up after a party. I knew I had to see him, so I snuck out of the bedroom to avoid waking my ex and lay in the spare room, where the man I'd  been crushing on was sleeping. We didn't even touch, we just lay there listening to each other breathing. While there was nothing physical about it, it wasn't innocent, either. Emotionally we were already being unfaithful - of course, eventually our self-control failed and it became physical."

Breaking the news about being the other woman

"Once we'd kissed, we knew we had to tell our partners what had happened. The relationships were over."

"While my ex wasn't especially bothered - we'd been in an open relationship that had run its course - but my boyfriend's ex was heartbroken. Her friends began to target me on social media in defence of her. We both felt terrible about what we'd done and I certainly didn't need strangers using Twitter to call me every name under the sun to reaffirm it."

"Interestingly, the abuse was only ever aimed at me, not at my boyfriend. If anything, it's proof that the world still believes women are capable of "stealing" men. Being the other woman is so stigmatised. Of course, we can't steal men. It takes two people to be unfaithful - no one forces anyone to do it."

Does being the other woman ever end well?

"People always say once a cheater, always a cheater, but I don't think that's true. That said, I've got a vested interest in not believing it. If it is true, then my relationship is in trouble."

"I believe people cheat for a reason. They cheat because they're unhappy in their relationship or they're missing something they need."

"Cheating - despite being an agonising experience - can act as a wake-up call that a relationship has stopped working and that it's time to get out. Of course, it's possible to rebuild and move on but that needs both partners to be invested in trying and understanding how things broke down in the first place."

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Ally Head
Senior Health, Sustainability and Relationships Editor

Ally Head is Marie Claire UK's Senior Health, Sustainability, and Relationships Editor, nine-time marathoner, and Boston Qualifying runner. Day-to-day, she works across site strategy, features, and e-commerce, reporting on the latest health updates, writing the must-read health and wellness content, and rounding up the genuinely sustainable and squat-proof gym leggings worth *adding to basket*. She's won a BSME for her sustainability work, regularly hosts panels and presents for events like the Sustainability Awards, and is a stickler for a strong stat, too, seeing over nine million total impressions on the January 2023 Wellness Issue she oversaw. Follow Ally on Instagram for more or get in touch.