03: Labels are for things, not people

What is the term for a male version of a mistress?

I cannot find one.

You could refer to the male counterpart as lover or boyfriend. However, those terms certainly don’t seem to have the same social weight and stigma as calling a woman a mistress. A mistress implies a co-conspirator in a scandalous act. Someone without remorse and willfully engaged in a destructive act to harm another. The mistress is one more shame hidden away with the rest of the secrets and lies, and swept under the rug.

A boyfriend and a lover bestows a title of honor. It also implies a shame on the woman’s primary partner. After all, “She wouldn’t need a lover if he was taking care of his business at home.” The boyfriend is the surrogate for a woman’s other needs.

No wonder so many male cultures legally and culturally minimize honor killings and rape: a woman with a side hustle boyfriend is bringing shame on her primary relationship. Lorena Bobbitt was the story for a reason. She was a woman took the initiative to reclaim her honor. Only men are “allowed” that excuse.

The social stigma for a mistress is significantly more harsh than for a boyfriend. Even the mistress ends up taking the blame. Boys will be boys and mistresses will be sluts and all. The mistress is forever the dangerous lover of Fatal Attraction.

Reading so much about infidelities and the supporting acts of betrayals I realized how much culture hates the mistress. Almost no one chooses that role.

There is no honor in being a mistress for a woman where honor matters; where the Girl Code is actually a code.

And this is one of many harms my actions caused to individual people. I realized recently that I have been using a couple of terms that are overly simplistic to describe the two individuals most directly harmed by my betrayals and lies: Partner and Mistress.

Those are crude reductionist terms for two very dynamic, smart, talented, quirky, creative and beautiful people unwittingly intertwined in my web of lies and betrayal. The Girl Code matters to both of these women. They are strong and powerful feminists and wouldn’t have intentionally betrayed another woman for sex or love. They are both too principled for those types of shenanigans.

For this reason, I’m going to stop calling them in my writing as my “exPartner” and “exMistress”. They are more than my “ex-” anything. They had a history before me and will have one after me. They are important people that I lied to for reasons more nuanced than me being a predator and monster or a sick and twisted person.

Also, reductionist labels.

What I did is wrong and I need to stop reducing it to the simplistic soundbites that reinforce a stereotype of the Partner and Mistress. Perhaps with more honesty, I would still have Painter and Beatrix in my life in meaningful ways. Perhaps if I had seen them as individuals I would have been more willing to trust them with the truth and make better decisions that wouldn’t have resulted in this travesty full of harms.

I’m glad the secret is out. I’ve been wanting to talk about this for two years. The weight of the secrets broke me from being the man either Painter or Beatrix could be proud to call a Partner and friend. I’m finally able to tackle it head on…or as head-on as I can without betraying their anonymity.

My hope is Painter and Beatrix will eventually not have to carry the weight of my betrayal, lies, and selfishness. They deserved more from me and as human beings.

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