The mistress or the “other woman” is a role and archetype that has existed all throughout history garnering disdain and intrigue. More often than not, the mistress to a married man, or otherwise “spoken for” man, becomes the target of scorn and attack instead of placing the blame on both parties (gasp, the man plays a role too!). But the book, “Raised By The Mistress” candidly explores the mistress from another vantage point: from the eyes of a woman who grew up as the daughter of a married man’s mistress of over 20 years. Scandalous.
Self disclosure: I know the author, Jamilah Creekmur. We went to college together and I had the pleasure to work for her and husband at Allhiphop.com many moons ago. During this time, I never knew anything about her family history and the hurt and frustration she experienced growing up; I only saw her as a focused student, a happily-married driven career woman and devoted mother. However beneath the surface, she was dealing with a lot of pain learning to make her way as a woman despite the mixed messages she learned at home.
The book not only deals with infidelity but also with alcoholism, childhood sexual abuse and domestic violence. It opens with a physical fight between Jamilah and her mother, Valli…over the married man, Wayne. It then chronicles from each of their viewpoints how the relationship started, progressed and ended up in marriage. Yes, the mistress gets her man in the end. Knowing this doesn’t spoil the story because there is 20+ years of drama that makes you wonder how in the hell they ended up with their “happily-ever-after.”
The point of this book is not to encourage women to seek out married men/men in relationships and date them with the hopes that they will leave their wife/girlfriend to marry you one day. To me, the idea is that relationships are not one-size-fits-all. It speaks to the judgment that we (society) place on people’s relationships when they don’t fit the standard man+woman united in holy matrimony mold. Despite both Valli and Wayne being married (and divorced) to other people before they met and during their relationship, they experienced what they defined as true love with each other and ultimately made each other better people. But that was (ironically) not without commitment to each other and themselves.
The memoir also recognizes how childhood sexual trauma and the repression of the emotions surrounding these incidents can express itself later in life with self-destructive behavior to mask the pain. It can shape ideas of sex and relationships and lead to addictions, chemical or otherwise. There was a lot of healing, communication and difficult self-examination that had to be done but there was beauty in that struggle and in the process.
By understanding the events that triggered so much of their behavior, you can understand their motivations and despite the problematic nature of their relationship, you begin to cheer for them…maybe as a way of cheering for love. It questions our thoughts about marriage and children, shining a light on how the idea of the sanctity of marriage influences our decision-making. Do we stay together for the children at the expense of ourselves? Does this ultimately help or hurt parent-child relationships? What do children learn from their parents’ romantic and/or sexual relationships, and how does that affect them as adults?
As someone prefers nerdy non-fiction books to novels or memoirs , I breezed through this book. It was way more entertaining than any “love” reality shows I watch (cringe) because it was actually real and wasn’t glossy or pretty. It challenged my ideas of marriage, commitment, and love. It reminded me of times when I dealt with “involved” men and what pain I was masking. But in the end, it opened my heart to the idea that with love, especially of self, anything is possible.