And to counterbalance the open letter to men, let’s talk about how to be the other woman… Assuming you aren’t a pro, I’ll start with the obvious:
1) Don’t do it. If you love the man as much as you think you do, if you respect him and think he’s doing this amazing thing for the whole wide world, step away from the party parts. Because you will ruin his life. You won’t mean to. You’ll tell yourself that you’re saving him, that you and you alone understand him, and only you can give him the strength to carry on. That might be true, but if it is, he’s going to leave his wife to have you and he’s going to leave his wife in a way that preserves his dignity, his reputation, and the big important work he’s doing.
2) If it is as cosmic as you think it is, he’s not going to compromise you either. Because you do have a life. I mean, how is Monica Lewinsky ever going to be too much more than the girl the President poked with a cigar? I’m sure she’s smart and successful and carrying on with her life in some way, but let’s face it. You hear Monica Lewinsky, you aren’t thinking “smart girl who’s found success.” You’re thinking about that blue dress. If he loves you, he does not want you to be that woman.
3) There is time. Oh, honey, there is time. And things change over time. What you think you know to be true right now might not be the same in six months. And if six months from now, being with this man is still a burning forest fire of need, and he feels the same, he’s going to do what he has to do to come to you in the right way. Now, are you willing to do the same? End your own marriage, the relationship you were in, rearrange your life for him? Because Romeo and Juliette weren’t true love. They didn’t have to face the dirty dishes together. Ever. It is easy to be cosmic when the mundane isn’t a part of your reality.
4) He is no picnic. Ask his wife. Oh, he looks like the most important person in the whole world, but what about the fact that he never replaces the toilet paper? Yeah, you say that’s trivial now, but wait until you’re on the toilet at 2 in the morning in the dark and you’re coming up empty handed. We’re all wonderful from a certain distance. The bigger the genius, the harder they are to live with. Trust that if nothing else.
But if you are aren’t going to listen to me, if you’re telling me that I don’t understand the need, the burning aching need…
1) Don’t f*ck up anyone’s life over this. It will feel like the most important thing in the world until it turns into you losing everything and then you’ll be looking around at the ruins of your life wondering how you could possibly have been so stupid.
2) Tell one friend. Her job is to stop you if you ever look like you are about to do something abysmally stupid. Abysmally stupid looks like anything that involves driving across the country in Depends.
3) Tell no one else. You are taking on this secret, you’re going to have to carry it to your grave. And its one of those weights that get heavier with every step.
4) Do nothing to invite attention. Like sending threatening e-mails. You alone made the decision to get into this, you alone must deal with the consequences when it ends. Because it will end. You may not spread your misery.
5) If you have something to hide yourself, don’t go calling the FBI to get into your e-mails. Because they are thorough, those FBI Agents, and all your dirty drawers will come out to be aired in public.
6) Remember the part where Jesus said “he who is without sin, cast the first stone.” You are no longer allowed to be sanctimonious or judgmental about anything or anyone. That’s the price.
7) We all know you got into it with the composure and good sense of a high school student with her first boyfriend. But you aren’t in high school. Get out with all the dignity you can scrape together. Borrow some if you have to.
8) Do not keep the evidence.
9) Wrap. It. Up.
10) Do not take photos. Do not send them.
11) Do not use work e-mail accounts for any of this. Ever.
12) Keep in mind what he has to lose. If you love him, protect him from that to the extent that you can.
13) Do not expect that this is going to end in sunshine and glitter. The best possible outcome is that you grieve silently, your heart broken both from the loss of someone you cared about deeply and for the damage that you’ve done to yourself and your life in the process. That is as good as it is going to get, because you will lose. You will lose the man you’re risking everything for or you will lose the life that you treasured before you met him and threw your good sense out with your drawers. Either way, it’s going to suck.
14) Whatever you do with your broken heart, keep it off the front page of the Washington Post. For all of us.
15) Time changes everything. Be kind to your future self and don’t do anything that can’t be undone.
You can thank me later.