You’re probably familiar with the catchy tune, Midnight Starring by DJ Maphorisa ft DJ Tira, Busiswa and Moonchild Sanelly.

The song is about a mistress telling a wife that while the wife can do all she can for her husband, it’s the mistress who will always be the star. It’s popular, with nearly four million views on YouTube.

Uthando Nes'thembu, an equally popular TV show, is well into season two. The series is about a man with four wives, and his attempts to marry a fifth. Sounds a bit like our previous presidency, actually. 

This narrative, of a man with many women or wives, is not new, but it seems to be becoming more and more prevalent among those in their 20s. Talking with a number of women, it seems the concept of a man dating as many as five people at once is accepted and often even expected. 

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Sometimes these women are aware of each other, other times they find out and leave the relationship. Allegedly, when the wife or girlfriend - the ‘main chick’ - is aware of the other women, and is okay with this, she will refer to herself as the ‘560’, a reference to the Mercedes Benz 560 model, a classic car that in its prime was loved and wanted by all. The other women are referred to as ‘side pieces’. 

Chanté, a computer programmer completing an internship in Cape Town, shared with us that in her experience, having a 'side piece' is definitely a normal part of dating in 2018. She explained that there are even some basic rules around this kind of dating. They include never calling, only ever messaging, never meeting at home, and no PDAs.  

While she hasn’t been a side chick herself, as far as she can tell, Chanté says many of her friends have experienced this kind of relationship. “The idea of the side chick is definitely becoming the norm, part of the culture. When people have been hurt a few times, or they just want to keep it light, they will end up having more than one relationship at a time while they try to work out what they want.”

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Dr Marlene Wasserman, a local sex therapist and founder of the Dr Eve brand, agreed that cheating is on the increase, mostly due to the increase in online relationships. “Cheating is much more prevalent online,” she told us “but near impossible to measure. I’ve even seen women who thought their husbands where cheating, but the husbands didn’t consider what they were doing to be cheating.” 

“Being in a grey, amorphous relationship leads to heartache and pain, especially when women have traditional expectations for relationships. But women are often also too scared to push for commitment, as they are afraid the guy will leave instead.”  This leads to messy situations where the man has the balance of power, she explains. 

“Women are dis-empowered when they have high expectations of the relationship. When these expectations are not met, they are then emotionally vulnerable. He’s not investing his resources into her alone, and there is an incredible amount of emotional pain involved, which is really harmful to both women and men,” she told us.  

Not to mention, everyone involved is at risk of disease such as HIV and STIs, as well as ruined marriages and friendships. 

"I am the side chick"

Durban based Ayanda* told us how she inadvertently found herself in a ‘situationship’ recently. “I dated this guy for seven months,” she explained “and then discovered he was actually married. He didn’t wear his ring. I only found out when a friend of mine saw him dropping me off on campus, and recognised the car. Turns out the car was his wife’s!”  

The finance student didn’t leave things there, but when she confronted him “he said it was none of my business. Obviously, I broke it off.”  

Ayanda isn’t the only one who was oblivious to her man’s secret life, or secret wife in her case. 

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Lesedi*, who works in advertising in Johannesburg, explains how she dated her high school crush after university, and things were going well when he just stopped responding to messages. Confused, she reached out to mutual friends only to discover that he was engaged to be married, to someone else.  

“When I was dating the guy, he seemed normal you know; he was cool,” Lesedi shared with us. “He had time for me, called me, texted me.”

“Even though I have no proof of this, I think my guy was in a relationship with his now fiancé before I was even in the picture,” Lesedi said. “I have no idea why he came to me, but for whatever reason when he wanted to propose or work on his future with his fiancé, he decided to ghost me. But the time we were together, he was really nice, there was nothing suspicious; he never once treated me like a side chick.” 

“Being on ‘the side’ is never pleasant, for both genders I’m guessing, especially if you’re emotionally invested and attached. But I suppose if you don’t mind being on the side, then it’s your life and people shouldn’t judge; at the end of the day, it’s your happiness and life that matters.”
Lesedi*

Lesedi is happy to say that she didn’t try to save the relationship after she found out he was getting married. “It took a lot in me, but he also sort of helped me in letting go by ignoring me. I do still wish that we could speak about this, I believe in communication, so I still wish he would explain himself to me and why he did what he did. He still doesn’t know that I know that he’s getting married.” 

As for women who continue a relationship when they know they’re not the only one dating a guy, Lesedi says, “Being on ‘the side’ is never pleasant, for both genders I’m guessing, especially if you’re emotionally invested and attached. But I suppose if you don’t mind being on the side, then it’s your life and people shouldn’t judge; at the end of the day, it’s your happiness and life that matters.” 

And what do the guys think? 

We also spoke to Dylan*, who preferred to remain anonymous. He told us that he considers himself a 'Consultant' who provides services to a number of women. He says he has multiple girlfriends, or clients as he refers to them, who do not want a relationship that will become a burden in the future. 

“They are well aware of the arrangement and its conditions,” he says, “But they have no knowledge of each other. I bring pleasure and satisfaction to them, and for myself the experience of engaging with different personalities. And it helps me to understand women much better.”

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Dylan told us it’s “normal to have multiple relationships at once, depending on what stage of your life you are in.” He says those aged 18 to 25 are most likely, in his experience, to juggle several serious relationships at once.

He says he has noticed that after age 25 his friends started to settle down with one person, “apart from a select few such as myself who still feel that they have no need to conform to society's formalities and want to focus on their goals and aspirations while continuing to have fun.” 

*Names have been changed.

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