It only took 17 years.
The last time I saw her was, of course, at my wedding. She came through the receiving line, then pregnant and thrilled, about to become a single mom by choice. A colleague of my husband’s, she was smart, highly-educated, high-earning, competitive, determined. Three years later, he was her husband.
This week, in a store in a mall in the county where we both live — thankfully on opposite sides of it — I saw her for the first time, shopping with one of their kids. I’d love to say I was calm and cool and it didn’t bother me a bit. My impulses, in order, were to run and hide. Why would seeing her even matter? I’ve long been with, and living with, a lovely man, so it’s not as though I haven’t had the blessing of a second chance.
But when a woman poaches your man, and this was no random event, it can leave you as mistrustful of other women as the men you date. If your first husband was so easily dislodged from his fresh wedding vows, how likely is the next one to stick around? What does that say about your ability to be a good wife? What does a good wife even look like? Wasn’t he a lousy husband? And then there’s her, your nemesis, which my dictionary offers as “a victorious rival.”
The whole idea of woman-as-rival feels tacky, retro, depressing as hell. But (hello, Mrs. Sanford/Spitzer et. al) they are. We are. Short of wrapping razor wire around your man, (not terribly practical, and insecurity is so unattractive), it’s all about trust. They really are working late, traveling, at a movie, out with colleagues. They’re really not catching a plane to Argentina or booking their next hooker. You hope.
Once you’ve discovered a rival, or several, what next? Without the standard glue of kids, it gets trickier. You can throw your dough at a marriage therapist or a divorce attorney.
There are other fish in the sea, not just barracudas and sharks. Not every woman is circling your new guy. Not every husband, should you venture down the aisle again, is going to bail before the final wedding gifts even arrive. But, in addition to rage and betrayal and sadness, there’s a real sense of shame when you’re the discarded one. How could you have been so blind? So stupid? So naive? So…trusting? Without trust in your partner’s commitment to emotional and physical fidelity, (she said, still stubbornly naive perhaps), what do you have? But how, at the same time, do you protect that which you so treasure, the man you love and whose affection you would hate to lose? Must married love remain single-female-friend-free? I win, you lose. Ugh.
When my current sweetie made a new friend through a group they both belonged to — she a thin, gorgeous, highly-educated, high-earning, sophisticated single blond — I wondered. Not so much about him. Him, I trust. Her, I didn’t know. She has since moved far away and they’ve lost touch. (But, hey, Argentina’s pretty far away too. Nowhere is very far if that’s where your heart has moved.)
When and where do you draw the line?