Our grandfathers had them, and their fathers had them. It is typical for male figures in most homes to keep mistresses and even second families. Almost all of my peers have half-siblings by their father's mistresses. Some are even children of mistresses. It's almost a given that most Filipino men have girlfriends on the side. The truly faithful husband is a very rare exception to this macho rule.
Enter the kabit, the querida, the Number Two. Often portrayed as a money-grubbing younger seductress, the mistress has starred in numerous movies as the solace of an unhappy husband when the wife becomes a mother and begins to age.
In real life, the kabit is the third party whose relationship with the man begins as an "innocent" flirtation, until one thing leads to another, and the two begin to lead a secret double life.
The nature of secrets is that they are eventually revealed, and when the two erring parties are found out, the focus is inevitably on the woman as the cause of the marital problems.
"Kasi nilandi sya, e (He was seduced)," the wife will say as the reason her husband strayed. "Bihis pokpok kasi! (She dresses like a slut!)" the wife and her friends will go on. The blame will almost solely rest on the shoulders of the other woman, who must have thrown herself at the man we all believe to be simply incapable of resistance.
The home wrecker
It is much easier to blame the other woman than to find out why men cheat. The term "home-wrecker" itself is one that couldn't have possibly been coined by a man. Its use deflects all blame and responsibility from the husband and the marriage, and instead shames men's lovers - as if it is the other woman's responsibility to keep the man's family intact.
The spurned wife, instead of directing her energies at the cause of her husband's affair, remains fixated on the mistress, believing the affair wouldn't have commenced if the woman did not agree.
What about the man? Why is he treated like he is helpless to all temptations and doesn't have his own judgment when it comes to his marriage vows and the integrity of his family life? Why is it that the mistress must always be this irresistible force who must have thrown herself at a man for him to stray?
The devil mistress
Demonizing mistresses gives philandering men a free pass, when in reality no mistress becomes one without a man violating his marriage vows.
We know many mistresses. Some of us have even been one, or currently are one. Many of them are simply women who have fallen in love with the wrong guy. Some are gold diggers who have a financial arrangement with their lovers, but many wives have that arrangement, too (a marriage contract does not miraculously change the nature of a relationship).
Drawing a blanket over all mistresses and labeling them all bad may make us feel that husbands wouldn't stray if there weren’t this seductive home-wrecker taking him away from his family. But the truth is that a man who will cheat will do so regardless of what kind of woman is before him. A failing marriage will cause one or both parties to be unfaithful in some respect regardless of whether a third party is involved.
In an ideal situation, we may wish that mistresses had enough moral character to leave married men alone. But it is a far bigger moral requirement for a man to remain faithful to his own marriage. It is the man who made a promise to be faithful to his wife. A mistress made no such vows.
Accountability vs. blame
Maybe when we start holding men accountable for their actions, we can stop blaming women for men's indiscretions. The man is not an innocent bystander. In most cases, he even pursued the (usually young, naive, attractive) woman and promised her he would leave his wife.
Often, he feeds his other woman ideas that he is neglected, sexually deprived, and misunderstood by his wife. But when the secret is out, why does everyone pretend that the marriage was perfect and intact and the third party just interfered?
It's just easier to think of the mistress as this sex addict who jumps on men and casts a spell on them to defy their families. Give men a little more credit than that. They have their own minds, morals, and judgment and don't just fall into affairs without their full participation.
It's funny because we trust men to rule our homes, our countries, companies, and worlds. We trust their judgment at all times. But should they happen to end up in the wrong woman's bed, they’re suddenly are faultless? It doesn't take a genius to see the lack of logic in this one.
Not an absolution
I'm not absolving mistresses or condoning extramarital affairs. It's just silly to keep blaming another woman for a husband's repeated infidelity. In a way, the life of a mistress is her own consequence. Never being able to marry the man she loves and subjecting her children to the stigma of being illegitimate spawn is a great burden to carry.
But what is the consequence for the man who has it both ways? Or "Ganyan talaga ang lalaki (boys will be boys)," and "Inakit lang siya (He was just seduced)"? To be a man in this society is to be the recipient of a get-out-of-jail card when it comes to one's libido.
Marriage takes hard work from both parties, and I'm of the belief that affairs are not the cause of marital turmoil but the symptom. Is a monogamous relationship too idealistic an endeavor? Maybe. But if one person does stray, don't make it the fault of the person they're straying with without examining the true offender and his motivations.
Blaming third parties for all marital indiscretions will just cause a repetition of that behavior with succeeding affairs.
There is a Greek saying that translates roughly to "The third person can only fit in the space between the first two."
Constantly blaming an intruder for breaking into your home is useless if a family member keeps leaving the door open and inviting the burglar in with a smile.
Shakira Andrea Sison is a two-time Palanca-winning essayist. She currently works in finance and spends her non-working hours writing stories in subway trains. She is a veterinarian by education and was managing a retail corporation in Manila before relocating to New York in 2002.
This story was first published in Rappler.com, a Manila-based social news network where stories inspire community engagement and digitally fuelled actions for social change.