The Other Woman

Photo: Zohar Lazar

There is a certain kind of woman who tends to sleep with married men. Sometimes called a backdoor girl, she is usually self-sufficient and lives alone, two qualities that make her appealing to husbands looking for some action on the side. Dana Pearl, a 31-year-old television producer, is one of these women. Curvy, outspoken (and, yes, blonde), she resembles a young Ellen Barkin. By her own estimate, she’s been involved with ten married or otherwise taken men. So is she always hoping the guy will leave his wife for her? On the contrary. “I’m not stupid,” she says. “I would probably never trust them, given how they met me.”

She met her first married man at a party when she was 23. They went back to her place (he was in town from California) and had sex that night. The second time they got together, she told him she’d learned from a mutual friend that he was married. His reply: “I swear I was going to tell you.” “They always tell you after sex,” she says. “People say, ‘You should have just walked out the second you found out.’ Well, it’s a little hard to do that when you’re lying there naked.”

While many of her married guys have been from out of town—she has an uncanny ability to meet non–New Yorkers in New York—she’s also dated some locals. In her early twenties, she was living downtown and seeing a guy named Richie, the bartender at a local Italian restaurant. “After the third or fourth time,” she recalls, “he told me he had a girlfriend who lived in Jersey and never came into the city.” One night, she was out with some friends and spotted him in a bar with his girlfriend. Dana and Richie locked eyes; she spun around and left.

“When the wife is never around and you don’t know her, In your mind, she doesn’t exist.”

When she got home hours later, Richie had called several times. The phone rang. He said he was coming over. “Five minutes later, he’s in my apartment, he totally attacks me, we have amazing sex. He was there about 45 minutes. As he was leaving, I asked where his girlfriend was. He said, ‘At the bar.’ I said, ‘Where did you tell her you were going?’ He said, ‘I told her I was gonna put a quarter in the meter.’ ”

I’m not sure which part of this story I don’t believe—what he told his girlfriend or whether he stayed a full 45 minutes. But however long the interlude, Dana wasn’t bothered. “I really didn’t feel used,” she says. “I felt like, I got laid, I had fun. And I’d already been dating him a few months, so it didn’t feel like a one-night stand.”

Even so, ten guys in eight years is a pattern. Is she afraid of love? “I don’t think I have a fear of relationships. Some of these were relationships. It’s hard to disentangle yourself when a guy is calling you up, taking you to nice dinners, and telling you he wants to be with you.”

Dana says cheaters fall into two categories—working-class guys and masters of the universe. The former is “the guy who has a wife who is pretty much a housewife. She has no career, is not ambitious, and stays at home to raise the kids. The men love and respect them, but they cheat on them with girls like me—who have our own careers, buy our own things, and go out.”

The master of the universe “makes a lot of money, is very successful, is used to conquering as much as he can, and can’t help carrying that over into his personal life. A lot of them have wives who are used to living a certain lifestyle, and sometimes, subconsciously, they know, but they stay.”

She has a funny tone in her voice, as though she doesn’t completely respect women who marry for money or stability. She is the opposite—and the men appreciate her for it. “I can support myself, and I own my apartment,” she says. “I would like a man. But I don’t need one to have the lifestyle that I want. If that confidence is what’s attracting them, well, that’s just who I am, and what am I supposed to do about that?”

I have no trouble understanding how the affairs begin; it’s how they continue that boggles me. The few times I’ve been tempted to sleep with a married man, what has stopped me is the wife, and the thought that she could be me someday. Dana points out that she has never gotten involved with husbands of friends—though there is one who has been hitting on her lately: “That is a line I would not cross.” And when the men are from out of town, it’s easy to pretend they’re single. “When the wife is never around and you don’t know her, in your mind, she doesn’t exist,” Dana says.

Though the stereotype paints women like Dana as home-wreckers, she has always discouraged the men from leaving. In at least one case, that has come back to haunt her. He was a co-worker, Paul, and after lots of flirting in the office, they began getting drinks and dinner, despite the fact that he had a girlfriend. It got as far as kissing at the end of the night. (At Dana’s insistence, they never went further.) When he suggested that maybe he should leave his girlfriend so they could be together, she got scared. “If he made a decision to break up with her to be with me,” she says. “I felt like that was a lot on my shoulders.”

He wound up marrying the girlfriend, and now, Dana says, he’s miserable: “He is a large regret in my life. I wish I had been strong enough then to really tell him what I wanted.”

Dana’s main married man these days is a master-of-the-universe type. Though they’ve slept together on and off for over four years, these days they mainly go to restaurants and talk. She says his wife doesn’t suspect anything, because he usually sees Dana during or immediately after the workday—even when they were sleeping together, it would be right after work. But how could she not suspect? “They don’t have a very communicative relationship,” she says. “He’s into work, and she’s into whatever she does all day. I would never have a marriage like that.”

The Other Woman