When "The Other Woman" Is A Girl

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There is a scene toward the end of the movie Private Benjamin where the woman played by Goldie Hawn discovers a necklace that isn’t hers in the bed of her fiancé, played ever so arrogantly by Armand Assante. The necklace belongs to their young housekeeper, a woman who when confronted starts to cry and swears that it fell off while she was making the couple’s bed.

Because of previous red flags in the relationship, Goldie’s character, Judy, angrily confronts her soon-to-be husband, Henri, of cheating. Like any true narcissist and pathological liar, Henri responds by shutting down the conversation and turning the blame around on her.

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Henri: Two weeks ago I was like a god to you and now you show me no respect!

Judy: I respect you. (said meekly to his growing anger)

Henri: You just accused me of sleeping with Gabrielle! Do you think I am so low as to seduce a child? Do you?

Judy whispers: I’m sorry.

She then apologizes for believing the man she loved would ever do something so terrible … though the nagging feeling in her gut won’t let go.

Cut to the altar days later: Just as the priest begins the wedding ceremony, Judy tells Henri, I know this is a really awkward time to do this, but I wanna break up. Henri responds by coming clean and confirming her worst fear, which was admitting he slept with the young housekeeper but only a couple of times when Judy was acting crazy.

She responds by walking out, but not before punching him in the face first.

The credits roll and the audience is left with the visual of Judy ripping off her veil and marching away happily … probably because she was lucky enough to find out the kind of man he was before marrying him.

Unlike me.

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The conversation, however, between Judy and Henri was painfully similar to the one I had with the man I had married and been with for fifteen years.

It wasn’t the housekeeper I accused him of cheating with (though I did find bobby pins in one of our beds, which I don’t wear). But instead with one of the four young Russian women who were in our small town on a work visa.

Though my suspicions had been heightened due to smaller signs that hinted things weren’t as they seemed with him and these women, I didn’t have any actual proof. Just like Judy Benjamin, all I had was my gut instinct. Because of that, I was quickly and easily shamed for my accusation. After which, again like Judy, I apologized.

Him: What is wrong with you? They’re just kids! Do you really think I would do something so disgusting?

I turned red from shame. I wanted to take my words back. How could I ever have accused him of such a thing? What was wrong with me?

I’m sorry, I told him and begged him to forgive me, though the nagging feeling in my gut refused to go away.

If it hadn’t been for his use of the word “kids” I may have stuck to my intuition and pressed him further. But his denial was rooted in my belief that a man screwing around with girls who were less than half his age (and also the age of our oldest son) was a disgusting notion as he said himself.

Unimaginable. Unthinkable. And thus, impossible.

His use of the word “girl” also threw me off whenever he spoke about them. He often used the same term to describe a young family friend who had lost both of her parents and who we viewed as a surrogate daughter. This distinction set me up to believe that he did see the difference between us and them. Between parents and children. Between adults and kids.

And between women and girls.

Of course, these “girls” were old enough so my husband wouldn’t get into any legal trouble.

But they were young enough to need him to buy their liquor, after which he sometimes attended their parties, which I found out about much later along with a million other details that had me popping Pepto Bismol five times a day and sleeping by the toilet in the middle of the night.

I had also become more than used to the way he behaved with women and girls in general, no matter their age. Such as when he flirted with our sixteen-year-old babysitter, made suggestive remarks to women we knew, ogled the teenage daughters of our friends, or sent inappropriate texts to the wives of husbands we were couples’ friends with.

Oblivious at the time that I had married a full-blown narcissist who would be clinically diagnosed only at the end of our marriage, I chalked up the pattern of his blurring the lines between women and girls to his own blindness to the difference.

I believed him when he apologized after every incident I witnessed (he wasn’t as forthcoming for whatever happened out of my immediate view, though). When he called what he did with the babysitter or with our oldest son’s friend a “mistake” and agreed it was “inappropriate,” I, too, took on this language to excuse what I couldn’t otherwise fathom because of the horror of the truth.

Plus, the emotional abuse I suffered for so many years had pushed me into a place of exhaustion and apathy. I simply didn’t have the energy nor the courage to see the man I had married for who he really was.

Until it was too late.

Until I discovered, just like Judy Benjamin, that my instincts were right. The man I loved was capable of everything I feared the most. What made it worse was that his initial defense threw me off the scent since he knew what he was doing actually was unthinkable. By shaming me for my accusation, he unknowingly admitted how wrong his behavior was.

Consequently, I not only had to come to terms with the fact that my husband had been unfaithful, which would have been hard enough on its own, but I also had to confront the fact that I had married and loved and had children with a man who was a sexual predator and who groomed young immigrants for his pleasure while exploiting their desperation to stay in the country.

He threw a wide enough net out to all four of them in the hope that he’d catch at least one.

And he was successful.

Meanwhile, my entire existence turned into a cliché as my mid-forties stared back at me in the mirror as I faced being replaced by that which I couldn’t even name. Was she a woman? A girl? A kid, like my husband had called her?

Cue Neil Diamond singing, "Girl, you’ll be a woman soon (soon you’ll need a man)" and I spiraled into a vortex of every aging woman’s dilemma in watching my worth diminish with every candle added to the cake.

Suddenly, I felt like I was in competition with a much younger version of myself. As if I woke up and found myself at the starting line of a race I didn’t want to run, especially when I looked next to me at whom I’d be running against.

I couldn’t compete with a woman/girl whose desperation to stay in the country erased any lines she wouldn’t normally cross if she weren’t desperate (such as taking up with an older man who was married and had children). And I definitely couldn’t compete in a contest based on youth, which I no longer possessed.

The fact that I had been a mother, a wife, a business partner, a lover, and a friend to the man I loved more than anything in the world didn’t carry any weight when compared to the jackpot my husband had hit upon: a desperate and beautiful young woman who would sacrifice whatever necessary (integrity, principles, taste) in exchange for money, comfort, and most importantly, citizenship.

Yet just as my head was about to go under after trying with all my might to keep it above water, I realized that my attention had been focused in the wrong direction: on her. On figuring out what she was while neglecting the fact that my husband had already told me.

And he had already told me who he was, too. All I needed to do then was simply believe him.

I often wondered if Judy Benjamin would have later reflected on the conversation she had with Henri (let’s just pretend this is part two of the movie). That moment when he told her exactly who he was by projecting the shame back onto her, punishing her for her intuition.

Maybe, like me, she replayed the conversation to make herself feel better, to help her realize that the shame never belonged to her in the first place. Maybe, like me, she saw the truth for what it was and thus had a much different answer to his question.

Do you really think I am so low as to seduce a child?

Do you really think I would do something so disgusting?

Why yes, yes we do.

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Suzanna Quintana is an Abuse Recovery Coach Specializing in Narcissistic Abuse. She has been featured in Medium, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, and more. Follow her on Twitter or on her website.

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.