Every woman has been affected by The Other Woman at some point in a relationship. It could be that The Other Woman (one of the essayists in this had-to-be-written collection just calls her TOW) is a ghost from a previous relationship who suddenly materializes in a phone call. It could be that TOW is you, swept up in forbidden passion and the deceit that goes with it. The stories in The Other Woman are written by women who have suffered the pangs and indignities of knowing there is another woman out there in their partner's life, and the guilt and secret satisfactions of being TOW.
The writers who have contributed their accounts of experience with TOW (there are 21 in all) include Kathleen Archambeau (Climbng the Corporate Ladder in High Heels) who writes with humor in "Seized" about the other woman who took her woman away, and Maxine Rhea Leighton (An Ellis Island Christmas) who recounts a dark, distressing tale of child abuse and personal vengeance in "The Man with the Big Hands." In "Invite the Bitch to Dinner," Ellen Sussman gives vent to the general notion of TOW "the bitch" who plagues her relationship is pretty ordinary, as it turns out, yet has the power to incite heights of anger, frustration, and masochism: "she reminds that she'll never go away. That one can't take love or lust for granted. We don't need to sleep with other people to jeopardize a marriage." How true that is!
In "Once Upon a Time It Took Three," short-story crafter Binnie Kirschenbaum tells us how the myth of romantic love took over the civilized, Judeo-Christian world. Why are we so stuck on the notion of faithfulness and longevity in monogamous pairing while statistics seem to indicate that a marriage built on other bases than romance and passion, such as financial alliance or class, may weather many storms and survive without divorce? These alliances seem to endure because there is a built-in assumption that men will have their flings, and women their something extra on the side. Look at the kings and queens of Europe why did Diana even imagine that Charles would remain faithful? In a sense, the author points out, Diana was TOW, interloping between Chuck and Camilla from the start.
Connie May Fowler, in "The Uterine Blues," advances the theory that women let themselves be used as second-class, anonymous entities "because we don't respect ourselves enough to demand full citizenship where love and fidelity are concerned. That means we're victimizing ourselves." Men know that women can be manipulated in this way, and take advantage of it. Yet
for every cheating spouse there is always a willing woman, and sometimes an aggressive seductress. Sometimes the story has elements of true tragedy, as in the recent revelations about fallen political idol John Edwards, whose illicit trysting while apparently happily married to a supportive, intelligent woman (and a cancer sufferer) have incited the empathy and ire of many women, including some of his former admirers. Yet at other times, as Kirschenbaum notes, and in other cultures, as in France, the mistress of a great leader may even appear without shame at his funeral.
There's probably no woman outside a convent who will be able to read this varied collection without seeing herself somewhere in the pages. I know I did more than once. As Pam Houston opines in "Not Istanbul," "here's the thing about the other woman. She lives inside your head."