Ask Polly: Should I Give In And Be The Other Woman?

Appearing here Wednesdays, Turning The Screw provides existential crisis counseling for the faint of heart. Because you can’t always do who you want.

Dear Polly,

I am catnip for guys with girlfriends. Six times a guy I really felt a connection with has informed me that he has a girlfriend after we’ve flirted/kissed/went on incredible dates, etc. Last weekend, I met Number 6 through a friend at a music festival. We totally bonded, hung out casually all night, flirted while he walked me home and then he kissed me. Like, a “holy shit I feel like a damn woman” kiss. A feel it to your toes kiss. And I want him. He messaged me saying he wants to see me again, that he’s not going to be able to get me out of his head.

The next day, when I gushed about it to our mutual friend, she was all, “Holy shit! You mean Number 6? He totally has a gf!” We checked and it was true. I haven’t brought it up with him, and he’s going to be in town again next weekend? I feel like his relationship problems are his own to deal with. I just want this beautiful man on my pillow, stat. I want an affair to exist in its own self-contained universe, where we can just have an awesome moment and explore this connection without anyone getting hurt, but I recognize that that’s not the reality. Talk some sense into me? I am sick of missing out on incredible experiences because of my moral compass, and I’m thinking of going ahead with it.

The Maybe Other Woman?

Dear TMOW,

Missing out on incredible experiences like fucking some dude with a girlfriend?

I suggest you set your sights a little higher. You sound a little proud of your status as catnip for guys with girlfriends. Serving as an intoxicant for a deeply fickle animal is not exactly an honor. One minute he’s rolling around, relishing your specialness. The next minute he sees something shiny glinting across the room, or a fly batting against the window pane, and he’s gone. I mean, look: he told you that he’s not going to be able to get you out of his head until he sleeps with you. So fucking what? He makes you sound less like an incredible person and more like some kind of bacterial infection.

Taking great pride in your ability to attract men and turn them on is a little bit like bragging about the fact that you breathe oxygen and grow your own hair. Look around you. Turning men on is pretty goddamn easy. Men live to be turned on. If you’re not there to drive them crazy, they’ll find something else to do the job: a teen star bending over a pool table in the pages of a shitty magazine, a passing smile from the cashier at Fatburger, a little inadvertent jostling from a stranger on the subway, the luscious curve of a tower shaped like a giant peach. Believing that you’re made of magic because you can make a guy hard? That’s borderline delusional. For some reason the Pussycat Dolls spring to mind, with their angry porno pouts and their “Dontcha wish your girlfriend was hot like me?” pushiness. Billions of women share this magic. Having a moral compass: Now that actually separates you from the herd. Why would you toss it aside for the sake of this girlfriended jackjuice?

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I hit on this friend of a friend at a party, made out with him, then wound up in some giant house in the Hamptons with a bunch of his friends. Sounds kind of assertive and spontaneous and awesome, right? It was, until my guy ran off to the bathroom, and two of the women there told me to “watch out for him.” How do you watch out for a guy you’re sharing a room with, 3000 miles away from home? Turns out he’d had a rotating cast of women out to the house every weekend that summer.

Now, I wanted to roll with it. It’s not like I started the whole thing with him because I was in love. But on the ride up there, talking and drinking coffee, ocean breezes whipping through my magical-rando-arousing hair, I thought that I was special, and that of course he’d see that, and of course he was probably falling in love with me already. So I sat there by the pool next to those two (kind? malevolent? who knew?) women, and I rewound the tape. In fact, the only two revealing things my guy had said to me were 1) that we looked so good together that people on the streets of NYC kept stopping and staring at us (red flag!) and 2) that guys probably found me intimidating because I already had a successful career (giant blaring alarm!). Anyway, he came back from the bathroom, and we talked in “our room.” I told him I felt a little weird. He said what’s the big deal? Meanwhile, the two women in the next room played that Lauryn Hill album, the one about having some self-respect for once in your life, you pathetic little hoochie piece of shit? They played it over and over again, at a very high volume. It was like some kind of divine (malevolent? who knew?) intervention. The next day, I felt less like magic and more like the not-so-flavorful flavor of the week.

We drove back to the city. When I got back to my friend’s apartment, she told me that she thought I was an idiot for being so spontaneous and assertive in the first place. Then I flew home, feeling shitty.

My point is, existing “in some self-contained universe where you can just have an awesome moment and explore this connection” is all well and good, but it pays to consider some of the unknowns. When you picture this man on your pillow, you probably imagine that all of the variables line up the way you prefer: He is attentive and enthralled. He doesn’t mind using a condom. You don’t notice any herpes sores or the like. His cell phone doesn’t ring, and if it does, it’s not his girlfriend. He doesn’t use a really sweet voice you’ve never heard before when he talks to her.

You’re placing yourself in an emotionally dangerous situation which you may believe you’re thick-skinned enough to tolerate. I’d argue that, if you really are that thick-skinned, then you have even bigger problems than the ones currently on the table, and, as a start, you’d be better served to treat yourself with more protective kindness and love instead of throwing yourself into situations that are custom-designed to eat away at your self-esteem.

Women who can disregard the feelings of other people’s girlfriends and wives are women who have been disregarding their own feelings for a long, long time. So first of all: Stop doing that. You deserve better, and so do they.

You’re in the habit of leaping before you look, getting wrapped up in the moment, being swept away by a great kiss before you know the first thing about a man. Believe me, I get it. Back when I lived that way, men told me all the time how mesmerizing and special I was. But they never seemed to want to call me up, sober, and take me out for coffee. It never occurred to me that I might simply sit back and wait for an attractive man to show some real interest in my personality before I agreed to spend time with him.

Think about what you really want for yourself, in the best of all possible worlds. You sleep with this guy, and you’re solidifying your status as drug-for-the-ficklest-of-animals. You’re leaning into your role as flavor of the week. Pick up your fucking moral compass, dust it off, and walk away.


Dear Polly,

I’m having kind of a weird situation with a work colleague. I’ll preface this by saying I’m happily married with two kids, definitely talk about my family a lot at work, etc. Anyway, this guy and I are in the same department and friendly, in the sense that we get coffee (in the building) together sometimes and IM here and there to bitch about bosses, work, etc. But lately he’s starting to weird me out. We already live in the same general area, which is not really a big deal, as we tend to not run into each other outside of the office. But for quite a while now, every single time I work from home, he IMs me with some joke about him coming over to my house for whatever reason or us eating lunch together. And a couple of weeks ago, he just randomly blurted out “so when should I come over tonight?” like an hour after I’d passed on department drinks because my husband had to work late and I had to get the kids. I’m just getting pretty squicked out. I mostly ignore or take forever to respond to his IMs these days, but today I just got another IM about hanging out, and ick.

So I’m not really sure what to do. My bosses are pretty useless at handling conflicts and I’m kind of reluctant to turn this into a harassment thing when it’s not really sexual or threatening. I guess what I’m looking for is a good way for me to diffuse this situation myself. Any thoughts on what I can do?


Sick of Creepy Colleague

Dear SOCC,

I like that term, squicked out. It sounds the way it feels.

Personally, I like to get a little mean in these situations. Sneaky mean. Still friendly, but harsh. Fight his casual insinuations with casual insinuations of your own.

In your case, bringing the mundane and (if possible) disgusting realities of your life into his brain at inopportune times should do the trick. When he IMs “So when should I come over tonight?” you IM back, “Whenever you’re ready to wipe some shit off some little butts.” For times when your husband is in town, you could say, “Definitely come over right now. You can watch the kids while (husband’s name) and I get a hotel room.” He’ll get the message.

During the day, when you’re alone in the house, you can IM things like “I’ve got a sick kid here, actually. Want to scrub the vomit out of the couch cushions for me?” Or say, “[Husband’s name] took the day off to surprise me! Isn’t that sweet of him? Have a nice afternoon! ;)” Don’t forget the winking emoticon at the end, which should shrink his boner faster than an ice cold drink poured straight down the Dockers.

When you see him in person, be sure to talk about how in love you are with your husband, how attracted you still are to him, how you’re planning a weekend away and all you’re going to do is lay around in bed and drink and eat the whole time. If his dating life comes up, always say how lucky you feel that you found someone who’s so perfect for you, who makes you happy every time you see his gorgeous face.

But if that doesn’t work, and you really want to shut this guy up forever and ever, Amen? Mention that your husband is incredibly well-endowed.

I know that sounds absurd, and risky. I’m sure that introducing a sexual topic is not recommended in any of the sexual harassment handbooks. But let me tell you something, those handbooks are written by people who don’t know the first thing about this kind of a guy and what motivates him. What motivates him is the fantasy that you want him, bad. What decimates this motivation is talk of big dicks that don’t belong to him.

I had a male acquaintance who kept saying lewd things to me. It started with him talking about girls he was dating (I was just another frat boy confidant), but then it got more personal, and repetitive. He was sure I wanted him, and simply saying “I have a boyfriend” didn’t do much to convince him otherwise. Plus, it was obvious that he thought my boyfriend was kind of a chump, maybe because he was nice and slightly dorky and didn’t make six figures like Mr. Wonderful himself. It pissed me off, and his nonstop talk of screwing around started to make me uncomfortable, in spite of my running assumption that lewd talk could never get under my skin. So I mentioned in passing that my boyfriend had a really big penis.

I thought this comment would quiet him down for a second, that’s all. Instead, it was like I dropped a nuclear bomb in the room. He looked sick. I almost felt guilty. But there was no more getting squicked out, ever. He didn’t say another word about us. Instead, he’d bitterly say things like “Oh, but you probably want to run home and fuck your big-dicked boyfriend.” The mere mention of my boyfriend’s name upset him.

It was pretty extreme. But I sort of enjoyed how much it tortured him, because I am evil. (My boyfriend liked it, too.)

But if this coworker of yours doesn’t have a giant yuppie ego that’s begging to be whittled down to size, you should just talk about your great husband and your adorable kids constantly. Every time he IMs you, tell him something cute your kid said, then say “Have a great day!” (Insert emoticon here.) Do it over and over again. Do it when your kid isn’t being particularly cute or clever at all.

He won’t want to spend time with you anymore, trust me.


Are you getting squicked out by something? Write to Polly and tell, tell, tell!

Heather Havrilesky (aka Polly Esther) is The Awl’s existential advice columnist. She’s also a regular contributor to The New York Times Magazine, and is the author of the memoir Disaster Preparedness (Riverhead 2011). She blogs here about scratchy pants, personality disorders, and aged cheeses. Catnip photo by Linda MacPhee-Cobb. Giant dong photo by Brendan Wood (heh).