Being a Second Lover Means Loving Yourself First

The other woman has time to manicure her nails
The other woman is perfect where her rival fails
And she’s never seen with pin curls in her hair, anywhere.

The other woman enchants her clothes with French perfume
The other woman keeps fresh cut flowers in each room
There are never toys that’s scattered everywhere

And when her old man comes to call
He finds her waiting like a lonesome queen
‘Cause to be by her side
It’s such a change from old routine

But the other woman will always cry herself to sleep
The other woman will never have his love to keep
And as the years go by the other woman
Will spend her life alone


I heard Nina Simone sing this song before I had ever really had a boyfriend. Or a girlfriend. Or even a proper crush. I loved it the way a child loves things she can’t comprehend—before I knew about sex, commitment, betrayal, cheating, mistresses. It sounded romantic and sophisticated. At that age I loved serious poetry, NYC and Paris, stamps, and elegance. I romanticized the “other woman’s” independence and allure. I ignored the final verse.

In high school I learned that being the other woman was the worst. The “other women”, I thought, were homewrecking sluts who could not be trusted. But in my twenties I was, sometimes, the other woman. I knew, sometimes, what was going on, and I made contorted internal assessments that it was ok. I was starved for touch and performing my sexual confidence. I did what I thought was desired and required of me to be a contemporary woman: exercise independence, be sexual, and take what I wanted.

There were a lot of reasons for that messiness. I was insecure in my fatness. I was figuring out sex in an America which demands a virgin-whore in perfect balance. I was nonmonogamous but didn’t know yet how to ask for it, let alone practice it. This is the biggest reason I was drawn to the lifestyle of the other woman. In the traditional relationships I’d witnessed, relationships were spaces of obligation and contortion, and what I wanted was romantic and sexual connection. I wanted to feel free to make my own choices, great in my body, and get to be exactly myself. Being secondary allowed room to experience connection on my own terms.

One of the hardest and most liberating lessons is learning how to be direct with potential new lovers about whether we’re both actually available to have sex. When people cheat, a lot of crucial information is often left unspoken—like what are the agreements and boundaries with their partner, whether they have told their partner about you or have a plan to say anything, or even if they are ever going to tell their partner THAT THEY ARE CHEATING.

I don’t initiate flirtation with someone if I know they are in a partnership. If they do, I’ve learned to ask the questions and honor their boundaries which includes, sometimes, helping them hold their own boundaries.

Another big lesson has been being able to say, without shame, that I really enjoy being a second. You have to be honest with yourself about this or it won’t work. A friend, who also enjoys being a second, helped me name what’s pleasureable. Here are some key features of being second.

  1. Second is not necessarily a numeric thing, it’s just being a non-primary lover/partner to someone who is transparent and open with a primary partner/lover.
  2. Being a second only works with clear communication. Not perfect communication, but clear communication. But being a proper second requires being able to say: What’s your relationship status? Is it open? And if it is, live your best life. If it’s not, figure out the necessary boundaries.
  3. Being a second can be a phase of life—it’s a great role to play between big relationships. Or as you’re learning how you want to navigate open relationships. Or you might just be second to a particular person. I also enjoy being a primary, an only, or one of many.
  4. For some people, second can be an intimacy preference. I really enjoy being the other woman in a transparent scenario. I love doing my own work all week and having someone show up to romance and touch me and then go home. I love knowing my lovers have stability and support and home, that I am only responsible for my/our pleasure. I love having abundant nonstop sexy time for a few days and then not having to worry about anyone else’s needs until the next visit.
  5. Being second is very different from what I grew up learning about mistresses/affairs - the goal is not to steal your lover from their partner. You aren’t diminutive or pining. You’re satisfied.
  6. And, in alignment, your lover’s goal isn’t to keep you a secret, or to become first in your life, to displace your work or other lovers or other commitments. They’re enjoying the miracle of pleasure from another body. Ideally, they’re as grateful for your pre-existing commitments as you are for theirs.

Your Pleasure Homework: If you’re in a committed relationship, reflect on how it could benefit from you or your partner taking on a second. If you’re single or nonmonogamous, reflect on whether you might be a budding second.




by adrienne maree brown
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adrienne maree brown is a pleasure activist, writer and facilitator living in detroit. Co-editor of Octavia’s Brood, author of Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds 

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