by: Kathryn Carlisle
I recently went through another round of my significant other’s ex girlfriend inserting herself into our relationship. Beyond any question of cheating (we were in a presumably monogamous relationship), physical or otherwise, I was struck by her fixation with me.
I’m not a possessive person when it comes to relationships or even friendships. I’m not the girlfriend who freaks out over another person flirting with my partner in public. I understand that for most people, there will be past relationships and, honestly, if you don’t have exes then I have a few questions.
But this girl. Oh, she got to me.
She’d send me pictures of the two of them, text messages saying he wanted her and that I was some side piece who he never actually cared about. She’d try to get me on the phone. She referred to me as “white” and “bitch”, not realizing that my sense of self goes way beyond my race or some gender taunting name-calling, though it did make me question how she knew so many details about me. Lucky for her, I didn’t want to—ahem—dignify her messages with a response, so none of my head-spinningly impervious comebacks ever made it past the inside of my own scull.
The more she contacted me, and it happened a lot, the more I thought about why she would take issue with me. “Why are you talking to me when you could be trying to win him back?” I thought. She obviously wanted him and she obviously wanted him all to herself. I wondered over and over why she was chasing a man who she knew was actively dating someone else. In my mind, I was the new girlfriend and he had chosen me. Maybe she just wanted to make other people feel the misery that their breakup had caused her. Maybe she thought she was doing me a favor because he really was cheating. I still don’t know for sure.
All I do know is that my relationship was with him; just like her relationship was with him. Nothing between the two of them was up to me. If I had my way, he would have lost her number long ago and she would have moved on to some other sucker. So, why was I the target of her ridiculously outrageous aggressions? Why was I the villain in her eyes? If she believed I was the other woman, why would she want to stay with a person who was cheating?
He made no effort to end our relationship. He assured me that they were broken up and that he wanted to be with me. Maybe foolishly, I trusted him.
Let’s be serious though, he was playing us both. It would have been far more satisfying for the two of us to team up and make his life a living hell. It would have been easier, too. I wanted to do what I told myself was taking the high road. In reality, I needed to trust the man I had let into my bed and into my heart, even if that meant ignoring situations that left the taste of another woman in my mouth.
So, instead, she and I became entrenched in a battle of the ladies. She tried to run me off, in hopes that my simply not being around would make him her’s by default. Maybe she wanted him to be alone, like she was alone. Again, I don’t know.
But either way, neither one placed the blame on the person who continued to string us both along. We fell into the trap of the girl on girl, he’s-mine-not-yours clash of the girlfriends. With every one of her words, I became more possessive, a little less forgiving, and a lot less able to be the partner, or the person, that I wanted to be in our relationship.
When it finally came to the point of telling him that I didn’t want him to see her at all, ever, a request that I never wanted to make in any relationship, he responded with a simple “yes”. In a fairly short time, I felt we had weathered this difficult attack and were better able to communicate our feelings and reactions with each other. I had been released from the perpetual doubt that her presence brought over me because she would no longer be in contact with him. Suddenly, our path forward looked possible. Though no less lengthy, dealing with my family’s doubts about him and both our character flaws, we could finally move past this road block toward the future.
And then I found that that simple “yes”, was a simple lie. It doesn’t matter much how, but a week or so later, I found out with reasonable certainty that he was, in fact, still spending time with her, even after my uncharacteristically straight forward request.
Needless to say, my head has taken over more of my thinking on this situation and I am no longer seeing him, though my heart still clings to a glimmer of hope in his lack of admission. Neither piece of me has fully healed, but they are on their way back to wholeness. The lesson, I hope, is meaningful for both myself and others who find it difficult to fish in a sea that is seemingly never calm.
I don’t think I’m the only person to have an experience with a partner’s infidelity nor the only one to navigate how ex relationships are lived and relived in the present.
But I do think that my experience aligns itself with our definitions of male masculinity.
For some reason, there is still a subconscious understanding that our male partners are unable to control themselves and our remedy is to scare away any perceived opportunity for them to fall prey to their oh, so manly vices. We take our partner’s fidelity upon ourselves, reflecting their actions back on our own self worth, and the worth of the other individual involved. Either I wasn’t enough or he fell prey to a man-poacher.
But, all three of us had our role to play. I ignored things that I probably shouldn’t have, didn’t communicate my feelings or expectations effectively; she came flailing beyond that imaginary do-not-cross line that falls somewhere between past and present relationships; he took advantage of us both. We pointed our fingers right past him at each other and he never acknowledged that some, if not most, of the responsibility falls on him. For so long she and I made the conflict about the women in our sordid triangle, while the man sat by with a cake in each hands, eating away.
But, it isn’t about me and it isn’t about her. I won’t say that I like her, that I think they should be together, or that she should be with anyone really…but that isn’t my decision. Just like his behavior wasn’t my decision. The only roll I played in the whole saga was where I choose to place the blame. I fell into the trap of blaming the other woman.
Women do that. Women take the blame or put it on each other. Men aren’t capable of controlling their own sexuality or understanding their emotions or making a rational decision about relationships. That is our territory, so it must be our fault. My fault or her fault.
I have fully admitted that I bear partial responsibility for what happened. But, at a certain point, I believe I had done all I could do and made my expectation as clear as crystal. At a certain point, his decision was a conscious or unconscious choice between following my request and continuing a behavior that he knew made me uncomfortable. For whatever reason, he chose the latter. For that, he never apologized.
Here’s the thing, it’s not necessarily about the other woman, but rather the deliberate and exact rejection of my simple request. Don’t see her. We had made a commitment, implicit and otherwise, to respect each other’s feelings and to make the other happy. Isn’t that the point of committing? The reason relationships are comforting? Respect, would have been one of two choices: either making the choice that lived up to the commitment or being honest with the fact that he couldn’t.
He’s a man, but that doesn’t mean he was incapable of making that choice.
So, at the ripe old age of twenty-two I’ve learned that the first thing I need from a partner is respect. If the respect is present, honesty will be there too. And I’ll venture to guess, that those other vague words, that we all know are essential ingredients to a good relationship, will follow along as well.
For me, the greater lesson is to examine a relationship and a partner for their disappointments and failings. And not the little annoyances that are of no real consequence, however maddening a mild frustration can be. I mean the real things, that you know, deep down, might rock the relationship to its core. It might be like plates shifting beneath a fault line bringing a void to the surface in a massive undeniable crevice to the light of day. You might have to admit that the foundation of the relationship is not as rock solid as you once thought.
I see now, that I didn’t necessarily need him to be impervious to his own wants or needs; I simply needed a certain level of respect and honesty that would have saved me one very hurtful moment. And I needed to see that the respect wasn’t there before that hurtful moment happened. I’m hoping that, as I have realized my faults in this particular relationship, that I might be able to better recognize the faults of my partners. Making an honest and complete decision on the reality of a relationship, rather than waiting for that crater to appear, should help make future partnerships all the more successful and respectful for myself, my partner and the exes. Maybe then, we can all be saved the stress and aggravation of yet another fateful battle of the girlfriends.
Kathryn Carlisle is a recent graduate of DePaul University with her BA in Journalism and Political Science. Kate is a member of the board for the World Orphanage Relief Coalition, volunteering with the Department of Research and the Women’s Empowerment branch. She also sings with the DePaul Gospel Choir and attempts to be graceful in classes at the Joffrey Ballet Academy. Kate is currently working in the exciting world of customer service, but is not dismissing the possibility of a one way ticket to somewhere exotic.