Like most things in life (privacy, decency, and the like), monogamy can either be respected or ignored. Today, it seems that everyone is either in a relationship or trying to break one up. The concept of breaking your vows of monogamy is not new. People have been cheating since the population grew big enough that for every one person you were with, there were three people who you also could be with. Only a few months ago, a woman began a relationship with my boyfriend that seemed innocent at first. They only went out together in a professional setting and they spoke seldom, and only about professional matters. Eventually their professional conversations became lighter and lighter and friendship turned to flirting and flirting turned to something more. Granted, I was not cheated on. My boyfriend had the decency to not “betray” me; he didn’t break our “vows” of monogamy. I can’t help but wonder, though, how the situation would’ve been different if he had cheated on me. Would I be any more angry? Any more hurt? What did our promise to be exclusive matter, when he ended up breaking up with me to date her anyway?
These questions had long since left my mind by the time I was introduced to an unavailable co-worker. At first, our relationship was nothing more than an awkward friendship. We were professional friends. If we had lunch together or took the train together, we spoke only of work-related matters. We quickly became real friends. We both lamented over the tribulations of being an unpaid intern, we shared humorous stories about our separate bosses, and our walks to and from the train became more intimate: our arms brushed together and I felt sparks fly from our skin, our faces grew nearer as the train swayed through subway stations, and we spoke of personal matters as we walked from station to station. At some point, I developed a crush. I will admit that when I first met him I thought something could and should happen, but the moment the words “girlfriend” slipped out of his lips, I backed off. I knew what it was like to be betrayed by a significant other, even if it wasn’t technically “betrayal”. I was his girlfriend in another life. I was the girl who thought everything was under control and even, dare I say, near perfect in my relationship.
Sure, I was uncomfortable with the amount of time my boyfriend spent texting the other woman, but I never thought anything would ever actually happen. I trusted that part of his promise to be exclusive. As a part of my single girl vows, I promised myself and all boyfriend-clad girls that I would never, ever, be the other woman. But I couldn’t help gushing to my friends about the heat that pulsed between us when we sat near each other, or the ease that slowly and unconsciously developed between us when we talked. I began to wonder – could he be for me? Could this be one of those exceptions to the rule where he’s actually unhappy with his girlfriend and I’d be rescuing them both? Could I actually be helping by getting involved with him? I had stepped into complicated territory. Who am I kidding … I fell into that territory. I never wanted to be in the other woman position. But there I was, blatantly flirting with an unavailable man, secretly hoping and rationalizing my crush on him.
Ultimately, I decided that I didn’t want to be the other woman. While my crush still surges on every time he smiles at me from across the maze of cubicles, and although my heart still leaps when I think about what surprises await me the next day when I see him, I respect his unknown girlfriend too much to hurt her in the way that I was hurt. If a world exists when he no longer wants to be in a relationship with her or anyone else, and more importantly, wants to begin dating me (which is highly unlikely considering we go our separate ways at the end of the summer). Given that the pair has had time to heal and move on, maybe I could begin something with him. Or maybe the pain of being hurt in the same fashion will haunt me every time I see him and hallucinate seeing my ex-boyfriend. Maybe I’d look in the mirror and see the other woman who I was wronged by. I still can’t help but wonder about the concept of monogamy, though. Why do the boundaries of monogamy exist, if we’re just going to break them down? What do relationships matter if you’re going to start the next one when you’re not finished with the first? When does flirting become cheating?
In cases like mine, I’d suggest to refrain from anything that you wouldn’t want your significant other doing. Shameless flirting with someone you’ll never see again is one thing. Yes, it’s OK to smize at the cute guy on the train, and it’s perfectly acceptable to flirtily complement the waitress at your lunchtime hangout. If the person is someone you’re in regular contact with, and they’ve made it clear that they’re in a relationship, I particularly feel like I have an obligation to respect those boundaries, even if the person I liked didn’t. In matters where you’re close with someone and the possibility of something happens becomes more and more real, treat it as a serious matter if you respect the concept of monogamy.
If you think there’s a possibility of it actually leading to someone getting hurt, don’t do it. Conversely, if you actually think that something more could and should occur with them, and it’s been made clear that they feel the same way, say something. Ask them what they want with what’s going on between you two. If you’re not that kind of person, make it clear that you don’t want to be “the other person”. If they want you to be that person, they just want the best of both worlds, and no one should jeopardize their dignity or some unsuspecting significant other’s dignity for a crush. And if you’re that unsuspecting significant other, and you’re uncomfortable with the amount of time your love interest spends texting someone else, trust your gut. The one thing I wish, more than anything, is that I had trusted mine. This time, though, I will. What I found from reliving the horror of my boyfriend falling for someone else, was that being the almost-other-woman, if you have a conscience, isn’t too fun either. And if you don’t believe in monogamy, I guess anything goes.